Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Exotic Birds and Fruit

The eighth reissue reviewed online by Matthew R. Perrine

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Procol Harum (the A Whiter Shade of Pale group) readies reissues
UK-based reissues specialist Union Square Music ( is reissuing expanded digital versions of Procol Harum’s classic albums Grand Hotel, Exotic Birds and Fruit, Procol’s Ninth and Something Magic on 1 November 2010 allowing fans of sophisticated music the chance to re-evaluate one of rock’s most consistently innovative bands. Careful remastering has brought out hitherto elusive nuances; judiciously-selected bonus tracks offer a unique insight into the compositions of Gary Brooker (music), Keith Reid (words) and their less-frequent collaborators, and into Procol Harum’s studio methodology.

Exotic Birds And Fruits [sic]

“Is it on, Tommy?” guitarist Mick Grabham can be heard enquiring chirpily of long-time Procol Harum producer Chris Thomas – even before the album proper begins… And then with a jolt, the thundrous Nothing But The Truth lets rip, providing a roistering opening to Procol Harum’s eighth album, a powerhouse set entitled Exotic Birds & Fruit.

The strangely exotic nature of this record was signalled both by its title and by the use of Jacob Bogdani’s 17th century painting for the cover - in itself, an unusual choice for a new LP from a band like Procol Harum. Except of course, that then, as now, there really weren’t any other bands like Procol Harum.

Procol’s preceding album, 1973’s Grand Hotel - a grandiose effort that recalled earlier majestic achievements like A Whiter Shade Of Pale and A Salty Dog - had been hallmarked by its symphonic sweep. But for 1974’s Exotic Birds & Fruit, Procol Harum can be heard going back to basics. This was clearly an album custom built for a working band on the road.

“We made the live album with an orchestra,” (1972’s Procol Harum Live In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra) Gary Brooker recalled. “We’d then taken an orchestra into the studio on Grand Hotel and did a lot of work with that in easier surroundings - we could work on it for a week instead of only one night. But I think after Grand Hotel and a few concerts… we said we’d had enough of orchestras. Let’s get back and just be a band again.”

The original Side 1 (Nothing But The Truth, Beyond the Pale, As Strong As Samson, The Idol) was as fine a selection of songs as Procol had ever lent their name to - and indeed, as powerful an opening as any long player of the decade. The formidable Brooker and Reid partnership had once again triumphed. Even today, The Idol seems a prescient and strangely timeless piece… And thus, back in the day of three-day weeks, Kung Fu Fighting at No.1, and hot pants everywhere, Side 1 of Exotic Birds & Fruit drew to its majestic close.

The remainder of the tracks were reminiscent of a lighter shade of Procol. Monsieur R. Monde (a reworking of 1967’s Monsieur Armand), was a tongue-in-cheek catalogue of afterlife visitors including Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde and that perennial festive party-pooper, Ebenezer Scrooge. On the upbeat Fresh Fruit we get Gary singing the praises of Vitamin C, as well as the delights of seeds, juice and pulp. “It was very much based on the sort of thing The Coasters might have done,” he later said.

Coincidentally, those prime Coasters songwriters Leiber & Stoller would be brought in to produce Procol on their next album.

Meanwhile, the current album wound down with Butterfly Boys, a none too subtle dig at the band’s then-label Chrysalis (whose logo was a butterfly). And finally, the stately ballad New Lamps For Old, which supplied a dignified end to an extraordinarily varied album.

The digital release is augmented by two bonus tracks selected by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid – Drunk Again and As Strong As Samson.

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