Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum • The Secrets of the Hive

2007 compilation reviewed by Clare O'Brien at Subba Cultcha

Light fantastic: symphonic Southenders remastered for a new generation

Born out of the ashes of early 60s pop band The Paramounts, Gary Brooker’s Procol Harum was one of the earliest pioneers of symphonic rock. The one everyone knows – psychedelic anthem A Whiter Shade Of Pale – topped the charts in the summer of love, selling an astounding six million copies. It opens this 2CD collection, but there was much more to the band than trippy lyrics and solemn retreads of themes by Bach.

Defiantly English (they came from Southend) and obstinately literary – their songs referenced everything from Spanish history to Greek myth – the band were also one of the rash of prog-rockers to effectively meld with full orchestra. Their 1972 album Live With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra yields two tracks here, the dramatic Conquistador and live favourite A Salty Dog. Unlike some others to jump on the orchestral bandwagon, Brooker knew how to arrange for orchestra and the classical collaborations are exactly that – genuine musical interaction rather than simply an expensive symphonic accompaniment.

The musicianship is excellent throughout, aided and abetted by a quality remaster. It’s the solid songwriting of pianist Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid that really shines through, though, from the stately pathos of 1967’s Homburg to the jauntily mysterious 1975 hit Pandora’s Box.

After years in the wilderness, the resurgence of modern prog via bands like Muse and Wolfmother has meant that the time is ripe for rediscovery of bands like Procol Harum. Dig out that homburg, get out the old overcoat and rock.

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