Poughkeepsie NY Journal, 6 May 1977
In rock music so many bands adapt or imitate the style of other performers, few groups stand out as being unique. Procol Harum, which visits the Mid-Hudson Civic Center tonight, is one of these few groups.
In the ten years since the group was formed, Procol Harum has forged its own distinctive and often remarkable music. However, many of the band’s efforts have gone unnoticed.
The English group burst on to the scene In the mid-60s with A Whiter Shade of Pale which quickly became a number one hit in England and America. At that time, the group was hailed by some critics as the successors to the Beatles.
Procol Harum recorded a number of other dramatic songs on its first album entitled A Whiter Shade of Pale and its second release named Shine on Brightly. The group then released A Salty Dog which is now considered classic by many critics.
Despite the continuing production of elegant and innovative music, Procol Harum surprisingly did not achieve the [sic] wide popular appeal after its initial success. ‘I guess we have always been a little different from the times,’ said Procol Harum pianist and vocalist Gary Brooker. ‘We have always been a little off center so that we were not readily accepted.’
Where Procol Harum differed most prominently was that it brought a rare intellectual approach to rock music. While other groups were flailing out chords in order to create a powerful sound, Procol Harum relied more on the mellower piano of Brooker and organ played by Matthew Fisher.
Procol Harum did not need driving guitars for energy because the group had drummer BJ Wilson, who is believed by many to be the best drummer to ever play for a rock band. Wilson has never seemed to be content with standard rhythms and has continually produced innovative and starkly powerful drumming.
Lyricist Keith Reid added another unusual element to the group although he does not actually perform in the band. His lyrics, especially during the band’s early phases, were often mysterious and haunting and created an ethereal feeling to Procol Harum songs. After the Salty Dog album, Procol Harum turned to tougher, more guitar-powered music. Guitarist Robin Trower, who had earlier excelled at extending solo notes into almost a primal yell, began to play a more dominant role in Home and Broken Barricades, the group’s two ensuing albums.
As the group developed a harder rock style, Brooker became fascinated by the possibilities of orchestration in rock music. Brooker, who writes most Procol Harum songs, began to introduce strings and chorale [sic] singers into the band’s music. The group recorded an album with the Edmonton, Canada, Symphony.
The group’s use of orchestration and more powerful guitar achieved the most satisfying results in Grand Hotel, a record that Brooker considers the group’s best work. However, the record gained only modest popular success. In later albums, Exotic Birds and Fruit andProcol’s Ninth, the group began simplifying its songs, both in arrangements and lyrics. Through this evolution in style, Procol Harum has greatly altered its original sound.
‘Each of the albums has been done differently,’ said Brooker by telephone from Detroit. ‘We always started an album with an idea, and when we completed that idea, we would move on to something else.’
The change to a more polished rock style has dismayed some of the original Procol Harum enthusiasts, and sales of the last two albums have dropped off. The group recently released an album Something Magic in an effort to stem the slide. The album is again a commitment to the group’s recent style of polished, powerful music.
Wizard Man and Mark of the Claw show that Procol Harum can play hard rock as well as any band. Skating on Thin Ice is about the only reminder of the band’s early style of fragile, but compelling songs. Whether Something Magic and the present tour re-establishes some of Procol Harum’s stature or not, Brooker said the group is going to continue playing. After the tour, Procol Harum returns to England to work on material for a new album, he said.
This past year has been ‘fairly quiet’ because of a band reshuffling in which bassist Alan Cartwright departed, organist Chris Copping moved to bass, and Peter Solley was introduced as organist and synthesiser performer, Brooker said.
With this behind, now Brooker wants to concentrate on continuing the ten-year tradition of innovative Procol Harum music.
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