Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

'Beyond the Pale'

The Procol biography, reviewed by Bert Saraco (USA)

First off, every Procol Harum fan needs to go out, log on, call in or whatever you have to do and get Claes Johansen's book, Procol Harum Beyond the Pale. Next step, read it. Now, let the fighting begin.

Actually, that last bit was just a joke (!) but there certainly will be a lot of opinions about various aspects of the book. First, you should know that the book is loaded with first-hand interviews and anecdotes that will delight any true Paler! The quotes from band members alone make the book worth every pound (or penny) that you will spend. There's a great deal of historical data about the band that was unknown, at least to me, that's fascinating to read.

So, what's to fight about? Well, nothing, really. The author does some skilful footwork to avoid taking sides in the obvious Big Controversy that has haunted the band for years (I've learned not to get into that anymore) although there are some very 'telling' statements from band members that will let you (I have to say it) ....draw your own conclusions. As you read, you'll drool (Gary played the unused tracks from the Something Magic sessions for the author!), laugh (Keith hid under the piano doubled up laughing at some guitar auditions after they lost Robin), moan (the orchestra at Edmonton I getting up to leave mid-way through the rehearsal of A Salty Dog - union rules, ya' know!) and sometimes just shake your head and be glad that they stayed the course and kept putting out great music.


If you're like me (or not like me) you'll find yourself disagreeing with the author on different points. I see Grand Hotel as a breakthrough album, for instance - almost a rebirth of the band - it certainly brought in PH's 'new era' was the beginning of a period of a more permanent, stable line-up and the establishment of (for the most part) Gary Brooker's emergence as the sole party responsible for the musical direction of the band; a plus for some, a minus for others - but it was sink-or-swim time for the band and they came through very well, in my opinion. Grand Hotel certainly didn't sound 'pretty much a cold execution' to me. Unfortunately, this great album is still perceived as being too lushly orchestrated - I say, give it a careful listening and find out how many songs used a string section at all'll be surprised! Surely, Fires (Which Burnt Brightly) used an orchestra, right? Listen again. Yes, this was a re-born Procol Harum. If anything, the author seems to let the nostalgia of the 'old' days color his view of musical change and growth. The 'old' was great. The 'new' was great - they were both different things.

The over-analysis of song lyrics might cause you to snicker from time-to-time. I'm betting that not even Keith knew exactly what he was saying all the time. Gotta be careful analyzing stream-of-consciousness word imagery. The author also presumes to have a 'better' track order for the Home album than the one that was released. Why was Whisky Train a bad choice to start the album? The author's 'version' results in a very somber side 2, where the official release provides a good mix and the necessary 'relief' of Your Own Choice following the intense Whaling Stories. I think that they knew what they were doing.

As far as the 4-man 'Home' line-up sounding bad in a live setting? I saw them at the Fillmore and they were incredible! Most of us have heard the WPLJ broadcast and it's a very strong performance (oddly enough, the only weakness in that recording is the rare occurrence of Gary going flat a couple of times - from between-song comments, it seems that he was having trouble hearing the monitors)!

I have to wonder if the day-to-day picture was really as depressing as the author seems to paint it. There had to be a lot of great times, too - I would like to have read more about some of the triumphs as well as the tragedies. In fact, in the many times that I had seen the band I can only recall two shows that indicated there might be something wrong: a college show in '71 with David Ball (figure it out!) and the next-to-last show in '77 (ditto). As a matter of fact, in contrast to the account in the book, the band was very energetic and 'up' at the last show. I was fortunate enough to be in the audience and backstage after. Yes, the previous show featured a low-key Procol, but at the Academy of Music in May of '77 the band was as good as they'd ever been and in good spirits. As far as Gary not realizing that it was the 10th anniversary of AWSoP ... well, we shared a piece of anniversary cake backstage (see illustration)!

This is all minor stuff - go get the book (OK, ignore the cover photo!). It's a must-have for any fan.  

Order from the publishers

Order from Amazon USA

Order from Amazon UK

Index page about this book

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home