Procol Harum

the Pale

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Something Magic

1976: Friday Music re-issue, 2005

1977 seemed to be the turning point for Procol Harum. For over a decade, the band had enjoyed a significant run of albums and singles throughout the world. However, music was changing drastically as Punk Rock and Disco music were becoming the new rage. Radio outlets were obviously affected as many of your progressive rock stations were morphing into more research driven and repetitive Top 40 style Rock programming. By the time their fine achievement known as Something Magic was being recorded, it seemed the band’s reign was coming to a [sic] unfortunate close, but only for a decade or so …

For the first time in their career, Procol Harum decided to record this album in the States, and they collaborated with producers Ron and Howie Albert at Criteria Studios in Miami. Armed with a portfolio of new songs and a set of new producers, Gary Brooker and Keith Reid decided to change things up with some new blood in the band. Bassist Alan Cartwright was replaced by their multi-talented organist Chris Copping. His chores were now handled by their newest member Pete Solley. The late Barrie Wilson on drums and guitarist Mick Grabham rounded out the new sound that would soon unfold as Something Magic.

The title track Something Magic opens this album with the fanfare usually accorded to this legendary rock band. As fantastic horns and percussion greet the listener in a royal fashion, Keith Reid’s lyrics hark back to the Home and Exotic Birds and Fruit albums with a familiar Brooker delivery “In the dawning of the day, nightmares panic swept away.” The addition of Pete Solley’s electric keyboards exemplifies the modern approach the band was going for on this track as well as throughout the entire album. This new formula truly worked well.

Skating On Thin Ice sounds almost autobiographical for the band’s state of affairs at the time. A very solemn Gary Brooker delivers a convincing poetic approach which highlights this haunting ballad. “We were always skating on thin ice, shaking the wrong dice, swimming against the tide, playing on the wrong side.” Classic Keith Reid lyrics, a compelling Chris Copping arrangement, and imaginative band musicianship helped create one of the more poignant songs from this classic effort.

A solid showcase for Mick Grabham was in order as his own Mark Of The Claw displayed the intricate guitar styling that Procol fans had been getting used to for the last several albums. Unfortunately, this was one of his last recordings with the band, but this swan song, which was also a collaborative effort with Keith Reid, was one of the more memorable tracks from this album.

Not to leave their radio audience empty handed, Wizard Man received some nice airplay as their last official single from the Chrysalis era. Again, the masterful lyrics and musical interplay between Gary Brooker and Keith Reid helped create a winter tale filled with imagery of snow, traveling shows, and that infamous “magic tooth.”

Probably one of the more misunderstood pieces of music to accompany this album you are now holding was the epic The Worm and The Tree. Not foreign to long pieces of music, Brooker, Reid and Matthew Fisher had already penned the classic In Held 'Twas in I a few years earlier for their Shine on Brightly album. Procol Harum managed to pull out all the stops again with this three part tale about the people and circumstances that helped undermine the band. Metaphoric in design, The Worm took on the role of the forces against the band, and The Tree could have been called Procol Harum.

Although not sung, The Worm and The Tree utilized Brooker’s poetic reading against the backdrop of some very skilled musicianship. At the time, it was all lost in the moment of being a very long track encompassing an entire side of an album, which wasn’t the typical standard fare of the day.

Moving ahead decades while remastering this unique work, I can fondly say that this displaced masterpiece deserves a careful re-examination. Just picture an exceptional band playing in a mini drama, Brooker is the actor and Reid’s story is a bidding farewell to the career that was once the classic era of Procol Harum. In retrospect, one could argue that if Gary had sung his parts, this tune could have stood proudly with the rest of their work. However, this was the unique thing about this band. They were always looking for something new, something different, always reaching for the higher note. Sadly, all you hear at the end of this great track is the faint solo piano notes played by Brooker, which could be interpreted as a haunting goodbye to our beloved band.

Something Magic was their tenth and final album of the classic rock era. Gary Brooker and Keith Reid disbanded Procol Harum after a final tour of America in 1977. Gary went on to record some very fine solo LPs as well as find a permanent home in the piano chair with such applauded artists as Eric Clapton and other rock royalty. Robin Trower became the legendary guitarist with many hit albums to his credit. Matthew Fisher went on [sic] to release solo albums as well as produce Trower. Chris Copping continued to write and record with many artists and resides today in Europe. Keith Reid continued to write and collaborate with others as well as manage artists. Unfortunately, the true heart and soul brother of the band Barrie Wilson died in 1990.

But like the ashes of The Tree which was burnt down, regeneration did indeed occur in 1991 as these architects of progressive rock reformed and released their critically acclaimed eleventh album The Prodigal Stranger. Four of the originals were back together again, Brooker, Reid, Trower and Fisher. Many more concert tours ensued, and the rest as they say is rock history. In 2005, they [sic] continue to tour as well as release new recordings under the creative hand of Gary Brooker and Keith Reid along with Geoff Whitehorn, Matt Pegg, and Mark Brzezicki.

Friday Music is very excited to release Something Magic for the first time on compact disc in North America. As a special gift of commemoration to the fans in honor of this special remastered release, Gary Brooker located the original rare b-side of Wizard Man in the UK Backgammon, which is now making it’s [sic] North American début. It truly captures the spirit of the soul groove instrumentals of the early 60s as well as adding to this already extraordinary collection. Something Magic may have been a little ahead of it’s [sic] time, but definitely classic Procol Harum.

Joe Reagoso 2005 (thanks, Jill, for typing)

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