Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum reissued and remastered 

Salvo reissues Nos 5, 6 and 7, reviewed by Richard Solly

The next three Salvo re-releases arrived yesterday and live up to expectations. Having bought the original LPs and CD reissues, what more could there be? Breathing new life into old bottles ... new lamps for old? I think back to some of the wonderful albums I had in the early 70s. The Doors' LA Woman, Led Zeppelin 3, Thick as a Brick, Dark Side of the Moon and Paris 1919 ...  but more of that later!

Broken Barricades
Procol were getting rockier. it is documented that Gary Brooker didn't have a lot of material for Broken Barricades. The album is quite short and almost half of it is composed by Robin Trower. For all that it does contain three absolute Brooker classics: the wonderful wonderful title track, the barnstorming Simple Sister and the beautiful Luskus Delph. The references to war in Broken Barricades would recur in As Strong as Samson, The Unquiet Zone, The Final Thrust, Holding On and The Blink of An Eye. Keith Reid captures this so well. It's all so futile, man's inhumanity to man: speaking in many tongues but not saying a word, and not listening.

The Brooker/Reid combination works especially well on Luskus Delph: a song about sex dressed up in the shimmering silk of one of Gary Brooker's loveliest melodies. Who but Procol Harum could produce a song like this? Like the teasing of the silk you 'almost' know what Keith's words are about in most songs but a lot is left to your own imagination ... your own choice.

The tidying up of the album is very well handled indeed. Memorial Drive and Poor Mohammed really belt along. I was very lucky to see BJ Wilson perform Power Failure on stage. There was criticism from people expecting a thundering drum solo on this album; it is subtle yet strong, Fred Astaire on skins. A marvellous song.

I was happily surprised that the 'raw' track of Broken Barricades had singing on it. Almost an alternate take but not with all the final bits and pieces it is still mesmeric. The other additional track which is of interest is Song For a Dreamer: you can hear a lot of BJ Wilson in there which is great.

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Live in Edmonton
You read the notes and it is a wonder this concert/album ever happened. The sound quality is very good. Conquistador awakened my passion for rock plus orchestra. I played this single to death in the 70s. The climax to A Salty Dog is still so uplifting and In Held 'Twas In I is just brilliant: Everyman finding himself through all the twists and turns and realising you just have to look to your soul. Or as the Moodies' Mike Pinder states, 'We're all as one / we're all the same / and life is just a simple game'.

The references to the fact that the band were not allowed to tape the rehearsals didn't augur well for the two rehearsal tracks here. Presumably Hermann had his tape running because there are two rehearsal tracks here. Make no mistake, the quality obviously isn't as good as the concert, but they ain't bad! I have to admit that in Simple Sister Gary Brooker seems to have fallen into the orchestra pit because the vocals aren't as prominent as I would have liked but they flesh out this album nicely.

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Grand Hotel
Ah, this album takes me there. I'm in that ball room ... what a title track! Again the sound is great. However there seems to be a wobble at the beginning. The first line of singing is slightly muted before the volume gets turned up rather suddenly. It was probably always there but one wasn't aware of it. Re-mastering is sometimes a double-edged sword. Apart from that, all is well.

You hear little bits and pieces for the first time. BJ Wilson in particular: Captain Wilson's mandolin! Fires really benefits from this digital housekeeping and I still love Toujours l'Amour and TV Ceasar.

According to the liner notes A Souvenir of London is about a leaking pencil. Yeah right ... the type with plenty of lead in it! Banned by the Beeb, Procol's Butterfly Boys learn their lesson in true contrition by releasing Robert's Box as a follow up: a drug song inspired by the Beatles' Revolver tracks with Dr Robert handing out his yellow submarines. But like Luskus Delph the music is amazing, with a lavish crescendo lifting the calypso verses. This juxtaposition of wrapping up these taboo subjects in majestic music appeals to my Catholic sensitivities.

The inclusion of the two bonus tracks is fascinating. 'Raw' they may be but they still have vocals on them. Grand Hotel is very powerful without the orchestra. What this band achieves under all those strings, bells and whistles is a testament to their musicality. Chris Thomas did an ace job but it's good to hear the band too! Bringing Home the Bacon is a real gem, very different it thunders along happily. It's a shame Dave Ball's solo in the middle is almost inaudible! Apart from that it's all good fun.

The packaging is excellent, especially the pictures with Dave Ball before Mick Grabham was pasted on! My only slight niggles are that you only get the lyrics to Grand Hotel and not the whole nine yards. There's so much crammed in here it's not surprising. Not a problem for us purists but probably irritating if you don't have any earlier copies of the CD/album. Likewise in the Repertoire Broken Barricades you got the peep-hole cover. You don't get that here – but what the hell.

I mentioned Paris 1919. This gets a mention in the liner notes. Appropriate as BtP is running a series on other music Procolers may enjoy. I've had this album for years. Produced by Chris Thomas,  it's a wonderful fusion of orchestra/rock and thought provoking words. Worth a listen. The first track, A Child's Christmas in Wales, is quite Procolish in places.

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And so it was that later ... three excellent albums that you must have ... again. Keep the dream alive!

'Another brief note from the offices of Good Captain Claptrap'.

Richard Solly

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