Liner note by Roland from BtP • February 2019
BAND OF CHANGES
‘The only thing that I really know about them is that Whiter Shade of Pale … .’ Thus began a memorably preposterous assessment of Procol Harum, published by Rolling Stone in 1969, in which the interviewee, Robbie Robertson from The Band, went on to say that he’d ‘… heard vaguely a few records by them, and they’re still singing that same song. I don’t know why they want to do that.’
Well of course they didn’t do that: Procol’s evolution from record to record was striking, and 2017’s Novum album still bears witness to the progressive spirit in which Gary Brooker and Keith Reid founded the band fifty years before, displaying a sustained reluctance to cover the same ground twice. Arguably that epithet ‘progressive’ (not to be confused with its tiresome offshoot, ‘Prog’) guarantees that every Procol Harum album can be classified in some way as ‘transitional’: but this Esoteric re-issue comprises a triptych portrait of the group in 1971, the year of their most conspicuous changes of all.
CD A presents Procol’s fifth studio album, Broken Barricades, first released in May 1971, with a ‘bonus’ version of every track. CD B features a live US radio broadcast, predating the album’s release and featuring its four musicians (Gary Brooker, voice and piano; Chris Copping, bass and organ; Robin Trower, guitar, bass and vocal; and BJ Wilson, drums and percussion) followed by a four-song BBC studio spot recorded a half-year later by the five-piece Procol (Brooker and Wilson, with Chris Copping on organ only, and ‘new boys’ Dave Ball on guitar and Alan Cartwright on bass). CD C, recorded just nine days later, contains a Swedish radio concert given on 16 October.
This brief essay starts with some background, considers the Barricades tracks and their variants, then surveys the ‘legacy tracks’, from earlier records, aggregated in chronological order of their release.
An NME interview from 5 June 1971 – much relied-upon by subsequent commentators – mistakenly says that recording started in February 1971; in fact an extant tape-box (see illustration opposite) lists three Barricades songs on a master-reel (oddly, ‘#2 of 1’) dated 29 December 1970, suggesting work had begun within weeks of Procol’s return from North America on 26 November. Furthermore the studio diary of tape-operator Chris Michie (archived at ‘Beyond the Pale’, www.procolharum.com) logs some sixteen sessions – starting at 2pm and often running into the small hours – during January.
The band used Associated Independent Recording, opened 6 October 1970 by George Martin and associates, on the fourth floor of 214 Oxford Street in London. AIR was ‘a top studio at the time,’ Robin Trower told me, ‘in fact, the studio.’ Procol usually had ‘a big struggle to sound good on record,’ as Keith Reid puts it now; but AIR’s sound left them ‘knocked out’. As well as Michie, ‘a lovely bloke’ according to Keith, the team included John Punter, ‘a great engineer, a very “up” person’, and of course producer Chris Thomas (‘much more laid-back’).
‘We actually found Chris in a back room in George Martin’s offices,’ Gary Brooker told me. ‘We’d been talking to George because we needed a producer once recording Home with Matthew Fisher fell apart.’ Thomas had played on the Beatles’ ‘White Album’ and ‘had produced just one record, for the Climax Blues Band : but I’d liked him. By Broken Barricades he’d really proved himself.’
‘We recorded the rhythm tracks live, and did overdubs as required,’ says Gary now. Barricades ‘took longer than Home,’ Thomas told Canadian journo Ritchie Yorke, ‘but a lot of time was spent fooling around.’ About this, more below …
The new album was given a promising title, unlike 1970’s ignominious, monosyllabic Home. A slightly flabby NME rationalisation (5 June 1971) linked ‘the aptly-named Broken Barricades’ with ‘new directions in contemporary music’, claiming Procol had ‘broken down the barricades presently surrounding rock’. That break-out image ran counter to the title-track itself, whose lyric tells of flood-barriers breached, and baleful forces compromising an erstwhile paradise by breaking in.
I asked Brooker if the title reflected Procol’s liberation
– having fulfilled a four-album contract – from fusty Regal Zonophone (his
musician father Harry Brooker’s label, a generation before). ‘That’s probably a
happy coincidence,’ he felt, ‘but Chrysalis were certainly more interested,
younger, more happening … and also on the way up.’
Chrysalis had been founded in 1968 by Chris Wright and Terry Ellis (‘Chris’ + ‘Ellis’ provided their company name). ‘Chris said to me, “I’ve just discovered Procol Harum: you should get into them,”’ Terry Ellis recalls today. ‘A Salty Dog was a revelation, nothing to do with Whiter Shade. We started going to their shows as fans, and got to know the band. We said we’d like to represent them, and were thrilled when they agreed. We all became friends.’
Chrysalis had an art supervisor, whereas Keith Reid’s partner Dickinson had contributed the Zonophone album covers, excepting George Underwood’s classic Shine on Brightly (‘and that got chucked out by A&M,’ says Gary, no fan of the trite, green-tinged substitute). ‘Barricades was a first, in design terms,’ says Brooker: four sepulchral faces, hovering behind die-cut peep-holes, are revealed inside as Procol’s musicians, pictured with instruments for the first time. Their lyricist is represented – starkly isolated from his alphabetically-ordered bandmates – both by a portrait in negative and by four song-selections. ‘Reid chose those,’ Gary told me. ‘He’d always been against having words on the sleeve, and when he relented, it was only some of them.’ (Keith’s 1973 thinking, reported in Melody Maker, was that ‘my words must work on paper as well as on the record. I couldn’t possibly do it any other way.’).
Brooker didn’t rate the fun-and-games Home cover – ‘it didn’t seem to fit the dark content’ – and his praise for its successor is pallid: ‘I had nothing against it.’ He seems to feel the sleeves might have been better switched: Broken Barricades, he notes, is the one with ‘mixed content’.
‘Procol’s career wasn’t going anywhere,’ says Terry Ellis, ‘and they were frustrated. We were good friends with Jerry Moss, and started hounding A&M in the USA to get behind the band properly, move their career in the right direction.’ On 1 April 1971, as Procol began their tenth North American tour, A&M grandiloquently announced that – acting on a ‘conviction that Procol rank well within the top five of currently practising rock and roll bands’ – they were planning to raise the band’s popular stature ‘to a position correspondent to its artistic peerlessness.’
They issued an extravagant (now highly-collectible) promo box entitled Procol Harum Lives: it contained a white-label copy of Barricades, and five historic cuts showcasing a range of styles; a six-page biography; a controversial band history by John Ned Mendelsohn; press-releases for the music papers, trade and popular; group photos and performance shots; an article about Reid’s song-words; and a studio recording of Mendelsohn interviewing Procol, who sang, to Copping’s ponderous piano, Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner (words and chords both oddly-remembered).
Though intriguing, this interview (transcript available at ‘Beyond the Pale’) scarcely radiates the star quality A&M’s strapline ‘Procol Harum for the millions!’ presupposed. Procol’s downbeat topics included lack of image, poor management, legal hassles and press hostility. Likewise, when Brooker and Reid were promoting Barricades during a radio spot with WPLJ-FM’s DJ Alex Bennett, ‘They weren’t very forthcoming,’ as local musician Ronnie D’Addario told me. ‘It was a tough interview, as I remember.’
It was a different story when, the following week, Bennett’s poptastic tones introduced Procol’s music to a potential eight million WPLJ listeners in a concert broadcast from A&R Studios (the former Columbia premises on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan). WPLJ was New York’s cool, free-form station; its name was no ordinary callsign, but an initialism for White Port and Lemon Juice, the Four Deuces’ 1956 doo-wop number covered by Frank Zappa (‘What a silly lot they are, over there,’ Gary remarks, on learning this etymology).
Procol certainly played brilliantly, to a studio audience that needed little warming-up. Brooker remembers WPLJ as ‘… a good New York night, though it was The Singer Show, and sewing machines were mentioned frequently: why wasn’t there a Bacardi Rum Show we could’ve played on?’ Bennett’s commercial responsibilities were clear: the last minute of his valediction namechecks ‘Singer’ seven times, ‘Procol Harum’ but once. Gary’s civilised/peculiar patter during the ‘Procol Harum half-hour, or hour, or hour-and-a-half’ must have fallen strangely on new listeners’ ears; but among the cognoscenti, who recorded the broadcast, phrases like ‘mental blocks are frequent’ quickly seeped into common parlance. ‘We’d be very honoured if someone brought out a bootleg of us,’ Brooker told Hit Parader: but the various WPLJ long-players – such as The Elusive Procol Harum, with its mistaken track-titles Normie and Fare Thee Well – did not reflect the band’s high standards.
In the UK Chrysalis waited until June to launch Broken Barricades, ‘an album that will probably sell a few measly copies in Britain and thousands across the water’ in Melody Maker’s words. But live gigs were on hold, at this crucial time, while Procol replaced Robin Trower, who had embarked on his solo path to axe-hero status.
‘Robin came to me,’ Terry Ellis remembers, ‘and told me he was leaving Procol: “We’re not really getting anywhere,” he said.’ Ellis had just bought a Jaguar; knowing Trower admired that marque, he took him into the country for a drive. ‘I told him he was making a terrible mistake; we had A&M fully on board, and the future was going to be everything he dreamed of.’ But Robin remained resolute. ‘He had some new music on cassette,’ says Ellis, ‘and it was great. “I still think it’s the wrong move,” I told him, “but if you go, we’d like to have you on Chrysalis”.’
Newcomers Alan Cartwright (bass) and Dave Ball (guitar) made their Procol début on 30 July in Phoenix, Arizona (a briefly-contemplated reunion with organist Matthew Fisher – see press clipping on page 15 – had quickly fizzled to nothing). Cartwright had been at school in Edmonton, North London, with BJ Wilson; Ball, a Brummie, had blagged a Procol audition by dint of charming the secretaries at Chrysalis after the eighty-strong list had closed (Mick Grabham, another tardy hopeful, but boasting less chutzpah, got his Procol break when Dave himself left). Ball was a Clapton and Otis Rush fan: his breezy vitality was endearing, but he knew little of Procol’s work. Fans didn’t give him any grief, Dave told Italy’s Radio Azzurra (1999), though ‘one or two in the press might have preferred Robin’s style.’ Some US fans apparently ‘didn’t even notice that he’d gone: I don’t know whether to be flattered or not!’
The new line-up’s first London concert (17 September, Queen Elizabeth Hall) garnered some reactionary press. Disc and Music Echo ‘mourned the passing of the sophisticated Procol,’ claiming that ‘raucous guitar work … reduces them to the level of other bands around who rely on noise rather than skill.’ Steve Peacock, in Sounds, noted ‘moments of crass insensibility [sic] to their music’ from Ball and Wilson. His intended criticism, that Wilson ‘thrashed about like an octopus in a hot bath,’ proved to have legs: it has been quoted – approvingly – by BJ fans ever since.
Procol Harum’s Sounds of the Seventies BBC session – recorded in Studio T1, Kensington House, Shepherds Bush – allowed a nationwide public to draw their own conclusions. Margaret Ball, who logged her son’s gigs, noted 6 October as ‘John Peel’: in fact their host was the likewise influential ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, who rated Barricades ‘my favourite album of the year’ and quietly championed its title-track. Procol’s four Radio 1 offerings (three new, one old, aired on 25 October) left fans reassured. Mainland Europe followed on Margaret’s list: between recording TV concerts in France (Pop II, 11 October) and Germany (Beat-Club Workshop, 25 October) Procol entertained their fervent fanbase in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, where this collection’s CD C was recorded.
Numerous Swedish towns have a Folkets Hus (‘House of the People’), a gathering-place originally associated with the labour movement. Stockholm’s example (opened 1960) resembles unassuming city-centre offices, but contains two auditoria; the larger, where Procol played on 16 October, accommodates about 760. Their show was co-promoted by Thomas Johansson, much associated with the band in the 1970s. Hooked since hearing Whiter Shade in Paris with The Move, Thomas first saw Procol at Gothenburg’s Cue Club; decades later he still remembers them fondly, especially ‘Keith, with his Mickey Mouse watch’.
Sveriges Radio (Sweden’s national broadcaster) recorded rock shows at various venues (Procol’s Stockholm Circus concert in 1992, for example) and remixed them for broadcast. Back in 1971 the capital’s prestigious Konserthuset was unavailable, due to reconstruction work (though 1975 saw Procol play there, and the Trower trio made a high-charting live album of their own Konserthuset broadcast). The unsettled sound at Procol’s Folkets Hus show was atypical, Johansson reckons; regrettably it obliged Sveriges Radio to scrap certain tracks, as noted below.
ON THE RECORD
During five years’ touring Procol Harum had played alongside many famous acts, and been exposed to many influences. Their monumental Simple Sister [A01], often introduced in concert as ‘our heavy-metal number’, originated, Brooker now states, as ‘an I’ll-put-you-off-heavy-guitar sort of riff’. Procol didn’t rate ‘the heavy inevitables’, as A&M called the early Seventies’ vogue bands. BJ Wilson, once fancied by Page and Plant as drummer for their nascent supergroup, told a 1971 interviewer that Led Zeppelin were ‘rubbish’; and Robin Trower, in our 2019 conversation, declared Purple, Sabbath et al ‘not my cup of tea.’ As for the vocal style, Gary had no time for ‘doing that screamy thing all night, injecting steroids before you go on.’ Recalling favourite bands Procol shared stages with, he lavishes most praise – ‘they made a miraculous racket!’ – on Teegarden & Van Winkle, ‘two country boys in dungarees’, seated at drums and organ respectively, not a guitar in sight.
Nonetheless, a monster riff kickstarts Broken Barricades : surprisingly it originated on Brooker’s piano, though ‘he knew it would be for guitar,’ Robin told me. Copping’s bass style is unmistakable. With four musicians covering five instruments, Procol’s organ-quotient, already waning in the Salty Dog era, plummeted. When Hammond is audible on Barricades tracks it’s just glimpses, mere rock-pool reminders of a once-swollen tide.
In another strongly-felt change, Brooker’s writing is simpler: several new songs rely on only one or two four-bar chord sequences, frequently repeated. Touring, and attending to business, had eaten into composing time, but once in the studio – arranging and playing – his attention to detail revived. For Simple Sister he envisaged a haunting sonic build-up, akin to the musical storm in 1970’s Whaling Stories. Though Chris Thomas was at hand with AIR’s three-suitcase Moog synthesiser, Gary laboriously achieved the desired effect on piano, slowing the tape-speed and multi-tracking the shifting notes an octave below their eventual playback pitch.
Brooker’s arrangement for strings and three trumpets (conducted by his future solo-album producer, George Martin) also repeats small ideas: to assess its cumulative effectiveness, however, listen to A09’s pre-orchestral mix. Most Procol borrowings from ‘serious’ music draw on European Baroque or Romantic traditions, but Simple Sister’s repetitive layering recalls the contemporary Minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Procol’s reiterations are leavened with well-planned irregularities: Brooker and Copping, both dot-readers, coordinate their varied turnbacks in the break-down section (a descendant of The Capitols’ 1966 single, Cool Jerk) by reference to a written score.
BJ Wilson was a volcano of variation, both within songs and from performance to performance: his work on B04, B13 and C07 sparkles with joyful inventiveness. These live outings lack the thrilling ‘Cool Jerk’ build-up, which was not reproducible in concert. The five-piece versions offer strong organ by way of compensation. Procol’s established rig – tonewheel Hammond and Leslie cabinet – gives organists a head start if they want to imitate the band’s classic sound; guitarists face a trickier problem, since Trower’s particular sound resided in his fingers, not in any chosen guitar, amp or effect. Wisely Dave Ball does not attempt the impossible, but turns in a characteristic, vigorous performance.
Engineer Punter nicknamed this song ‘Pimple Blister’, reflecting Reid’s unsavoury text. In few words, plain and undescriptive, it splices misogynistic cruelty with inexplicable pettiness, perverse themes that later tracks will revisit.
Broken Barricades, on the other hand, is verbally elaborate, delicate as well as hard-hitting. ‘I find that lyric very interesting,’ Gary told me. ‘I’m not quite sure what’s broken, but things are getting polluted and ruined.’ He responds emotionally to Keith’s imagery, while singing, but ‘I don’t have a thought for every line.’ His classy setting [A02] stands out from the album’s other compositions. ‘It was written at the same time,’ he told me, ‘just more thought-out.’ Unusually for Procol it harbours a middle-eight, in which Gary’s Fender Rhodes underlies four riddling ruminations, perhaps exploring griefs personal to the band. The resulting micro-dose of optimism – the final verse’s ‘brave words’ – has moved many listeners, including Rock’s Anne-Marie Micklo, for whom it shored up ‘a sorely-lacking conviction that it was worth going on’ (July 1971). The UK’s Record Mirror (19 June) judged this composition ‘one of their best’.
BJ Wilson stars in the playout (engineer Punter, himself a drummer, records the kit vividly), alongside two Moog tracks, panned left and right; some unintended pitch-drift adds to the mesmerising effect. The Minimalist influence is again apparent, though on A10 we hear BJ interrupt the pattern with a new rhythmic motif.
In live shows Copping’s right-hand Hammond took the Moog line; at WPLJ [B08] his left hand plays an early-Sixties Fender Rhodes Piano Bass – a cut-down electric piano, voiced to imitate the pitch-range of a bass guitar – which Procol called ‘The Fart Machine’. Alan Cartwright, well-versed in Tamla and Stax, had heard this live ‘and the sound had seemed to be wrong’; the BBC track [B15] shows him putting things to rights.
WPLJ-era fans were still attuned to the ‘classical’ Harum sound; symptomatically, promoter Bill Graham had selected The Winter Consort – featuring ’cello, English horn, and soprano sax – as support for Procol’s Fillmore East show eleven days later. ‘We were thrilled,’ Paul Winter told me. ‘No band like ours had played the Fillmore before: Procol were my favourite rock group after The Beatles, and their classical dimension – always harmonically interesting – made for a good match.’ A Fillmore reviewer spotted that ‘the old Procol sound was present in ‘Buttered Barricade’; the new titles were unfamiliar to US audiences until A&M released Barricades (c/w Power Failure) on single in May 1971 (the edited A-side lasting barely 140 seconds).
Chris Copping’s tremendous bass guitar feel is exemplified on the rocking Memorial Drive [A03] and on the WPLJ curtain-raiser [B01]: like BJ on drums, he knows where to leave holes. Trower’s guitar is similarly economical; his soloing on A12 may be a fleeting arrangement idea, or just a spontaneous jam from four musicians who enjoyed playing together (as ‘Liquorice John Death’ they’d recorded 1970’s legendary all-night session – released in 1998 as Ain’t Nothing to Get Excited About – recreating The Paramounts’ repertoire with which they’d all paid their dues in the early Sixties). In the event, it’s Brooker’s acoustic piano that handles the Memorial soloing; and the live performance (albeit sans Fender Rhodes) sounds much like the record.
‘I didn’t try to reproduce the actual sound of the album,’ Robin told me. ‘I try to get a good sound in the studio, and a good sound live, but the two things are different.’ BJ’s live magnificence shines out in the transition from the solos into the final vocal. A11, with its harmony voices, suggests a half-hearted attempt to elaborate the live studio performance – was this what Chris Thomas meant by ‘fooling around’?
A&M’s advertising painted a Procol ‘slightly more cerebral, more disposed to darkness than the competition’. The present lyric – another stab at Still There’ll Be More’s female degradation theme – surely merits such cautious apologetics. Perhaps the backward-looking title, Memorial Drive, helps locate the song’s disquieting narrative – ‘sold … shipped … branded … crying’ – in the past. ‘We can talk about slavery now,’ Gary suggests, ‘because we know what it was, and what people went through.’ It’s one of few Trower compositions Procol still play onstage: ‘The reason is probably that I sang it,’ Brooker offers, ‘so it still sounds like it did originally.’
A&M’s press release speaks of ‘Reid writing searingly direct words’, but BJ Wilson, talking to Rolling Stone, warned that Keith’s lyrics were ‘a few levels of consciousness below the spoken word form, and it’s pointless trying to make literal sense out of them.’ Reid’s elusive coinage, Luskus Delph [A04], appears to support BJ’s view, but Gary has ‘unpacked’ the neologisms on various occasions, most persuasively as phonic amalgams of ‘lust/suck’ and ‘demon/elf’. Keith himself told me (February 2019) the title was ‘me being impressionistic, attempting to form sounds that refer to the woman I’m writing about’. Monet and his fellow Impressionists sought, in addition to figurative depiction, to mimic the quality of light given off by their subjects; what more natural, for a poet, than to pursue a parallel ideal in sound? The searingly direct Reid added that he’d ‘wanted to write about sex without actually saying “I want to fuck you,” or whatever.’ ‘Widow’s crack’, he advises, is ‘me trying to summon a vaginal image.’
Gary remembers first reading this lyric, realising ‘I know what a lot of these things are!’ Disliking the ranting explicitude of Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love – ‘every inch of my love’ etc – he matched his decorous Luskus setting to ‘the gentle title’, which called to mind ‘some little, good spirit.’ It’s another simple, yet delightful, conception – two four-bar chord patterns, in alternating keys – and again much elaboration was heaped on the bare rhythm track. ‘Luscious Delph’ on the 1970 tape already has strings in place, but two vocals are audible throughout. ‘Luskus Delphi’ [A13] preserves an earlier attempt to marry text with tune, while noodling organ and Rhodes quavers search for the appropriate mood and texture.
There’s no Luskus Trower in the vaults: ‘Usually I chose not to play a song if it didn’t need guitar, if it wasn’t that kind of thing,’ Robin says now. The arrangement is sensually completed by Brooker’s smooth oohing, and melodic Moog. Gary liked the synth – ‘full of sounds nobody had made before’ – but deployed it so unostentatiously here that most fans took it for a flute. Two Moog-only tracks are listed on the 1970 tape box: #1 is a meandering A♭ waltz sketch, perhaps a Brooker original, which – foreshadowing the close of 1973’s A Souvenir of London – ends after 140 seconds when Gary laughingly calls ‘I haven’t finished yet!’. ‘Peter Gunne’, recorded in March 1971, features some seven dozen iterations – Minimalism again! – of Henry Mancini’s riff. Brooker soon bought himself an ARP, ‘like a Moog, but a different make’, and took to ‘messing around on that.’
The WPLJ Luskus Delph [B05] uses Trower on bass, and Copping orchestrating from the Hammond; the song has dropped a semitone since the recording. The ritardando ending, and the A minor seventh end-chord, are familiar from the Edmonton album; it’s surprising this song wasn’t played at Folkets Hus in the run-up to that concert recording.
Pounding drums, tumbling piano chords, and guitars that roar like sparring lions across the stereo field: side two of Barricades opens thrillingly, ushering in a sparkling set of words about travelling band-life. A single twenty-second musical sequence occurs again and again (the final two verses are literal tape-clones) echoing the cumulative effects (‘climbing’ … ‘crashing’ … ‘keeping’) in Reid’s writing. This undeveloped music is ‘just a bit of tempo,’ according to Gary. ‘To me “Power Failure” literally meant drum solo, end of story.’ He recalls various gigs when BJ kept Procol’s audience enthralled while the crew strove to restore tripped electricity to a blacked-out stage.
Wilson duly recorded a solo; then – as with Brooker’s chattering pianos on Simple Sister, and Trower’s massed guitars on Song for a Dreamer – AIR’s sixteen tracks tempted him to compile something larger than life. Had Procol hankered for such overdub-fests, back in four-track days? It was pointless, Gary told me, to long for what was unattainable ‘unless you were The Beatles, bouncing sounds to-and-fro under the utmost supervision, so as not to lose quality.’ Most bands needed to be thriftier with money and time.
Power Failure [A05] is an uneasy artifice. BJ’s overdubbing – tabla, shakers, various small percussion – creates a solo not even an octopus could have played; the grafted-on applause (perhaps a nod to Pepper-era Beatles, introducing ‘Billy Shears’) suggests stage power has returned, but paradoxically it never credibly failed (the guitars played on); and no live performance could fade out so smoothly. Does Wilson’s hollered ‘Rubbish!’ (2:51) mirror the Beatles’ laughter following Within You Without You, pre-empting criticism of an experiment the band felt ambivalent about? ‘BJ kept slipping from 5/4 to 4/4,’ Brooker explains, ‘which is what he wanted to do, otherwise it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge. But finding where the one is … I did challenge him a couple of times.’
A14 spares us the pretend audience; but for genuine, unvarnished drum-solos we have the concert versions [B12, B16, C05], where the visceral genius of ‘Ravious Wislon’ makes the studio solo seem cerebral and stiff. Critics who felt Procol had succumbed to a trendy performance-gimmick overlooked the way this number doesn’t merely contain a drum-solo, it’s about one, and uses it to symbolise touring entropy. Social structures, sexual habits, dietary health, accommodation and transport arrangements are in jeopardy: all roads lead to Power Failure.
Arguably the vinyl expression of this subtle conceit suffers from the very ennui it seeks to portray; ideally Procol might have road-tested Power Failure rather than creating it in the studio. Live, there’s terrific band detail: churning organ, thundering bass, Copping’s rhythm guitar and vocal harmony. The insistently-cycling structure becomes hypnotic: we’re transported by imagined lights and vicarious adrenaline; ribcages throb as BJ’s kick-drum pounds on the doors of the heart.
SONG FOR A DREAMER
‘BJ Wilson’s drumming is unremarkable for the first time since Shine on Brightly.’ Thus the provocative Rolling Stone (June 1971), referring not to Power Failure but to the new album’s underrated masterpiece, Song for a Dreamer [A06]. In 1971 Keith Reid selected four Barricades lyrics for the gatefold cover, and, in 2000, four for his anthology, My Own Choice: three of the choices are identical, but Broken Barricades is displaced in the book by Song for a Dreamer. ‘I haven’t listened to the album in years,’ Keith told me, ‘but that one, I call it up on YouTube from time to time: a wonderful, wonderful track.’ Pressed to nominate his own favourite, Gary mentions Simple Sister (‘It came out just how I hoped’) then adds, ‘But actually, I really like Song for a Dreamer: so swimmy, a swirling pool of … something.’
Procol mythology suggests that, after Jimi Hendrix died (18 September 1970), Reid was writing in one room, Trower in another, independently producing the serendipitously-matching words and music that constitute the present tribute. Unusually, the Procolers I consulted all agreed about the song’s genesis … but not about the myth.
Procol’s history with Hendrix went back to the beginning. Reid: ‘We met him at the Speakeasy, the first night we’d done Top of the Pops [25 May 1967]’. Brooker: ‘We played Morning Dew, and Jimi liked that: he didn’t fancy grabbing the guitar off Ray Royer, so he got the bass off sweet David Knights, and played it upside-down.’ Reid: ‘[Hendrix] liked Procol; I took our first album round to his place near Marble Arch: he called Robin ‘a young player with a lot of fire’. Brooker: ‘I don’t remember Trower liking Hendrix that much.’ Trower: ‘I think I had his first album, but to be honest I was into Albert King and Howling Wolf at that time.’
Procol’s 1968 song about ‘King Jimi’ prophetically places Hendrix before a philistine crowd who ‘could not see the joke’. Gary jumps forward to 4 September 1970, Jimi headlining at Berlin’s Deutschlandhalle, Procol watching from the wings. ‘His playing was superb, with Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass; but the [4,000-strong] audience didn’t want to hear Hendrix being what he was that year. Rob went absolutely spare, talking to himself, “Why are they booing, what the fuck’s going on?”’ Post-gig, backstage, Keith found the ‘always modest’ Jimi ‘very down’. ‘They’d just wanted him to burn his guitar,’ he remembers.
Hendrix departed for the Isle of Fehmarn, his last show. Flying back from Germany, Keith happened to meet Jimi’s manager, Jerry Stickles; they shared an airport taxi and Reid dropped Stickles off near Lansdowne Studios on his own way home to Holborn. ‘On Shaftesbury Avenue I saw the headline, “Hendrix dead”. And I thought how Jerry’s life would change forever as he went into his house and heard the news. A huge change, in those few seconds.’ Reid penned Song for a Dreamer, not immediately, but ‘in tribute to Jimi’s spirit as I experienced him’. The two men had written together, swapping lines in a game of verbal ‘consequences’ (‘I find that paper from time to time. I never throw it away.’). He found Hendrix ‘a very spacey kind of person’, and the lyric tried to capture ‘the depth of sadness in him, suffering, turmoil, wanting to move on, but imprisoned by his image.’
Referring to past Trower/Reid collaborations, Robin recalls devising pieces of music, whereupon ‘Keith would throw some words at me and say “See if you can make them fit”.’ Song for a Dreamer was ‘probably the only time he ever came to me: he said he had some lyrics and wanted to do a Hendrix tribute. I went and listened to a couple of his albums, studied a bit, to see if I could kind of capture the vibe. I did absorb quite a lot, and he definitely became my mentor when I left Procol. We played Dreamer in the early days of the trio.’
Lyrically and musically Song for a Dreamer touches on the otherworldly vibe of Hendrix’s 1983 … A Merman I Should Turn to Be, with its ‘take our last walk / through the noise to the sea / not to die but to be re-born’. Sounds (October 1971) applauded Procol’s ‘fine track with a little monologue through it, echoes, a dream-like sequence’ and commented on the ‘tightly controlled guitar passages.’ ‘Everything was done live,’ says Trower now, ‘apart from the dubbed leads and vocals.’ Compare A06 and A15 to appreciate what Chris Thomas brought to the overall effect: ‘a talented guy!’ in Robin’s words. Procol’s rolling drums and distant Rhodes piano, Trower’s Leslified leads and (sometimes) backward vocals, all make for ‘a very good piece’ in Gary’s words, ‘a great performance from the guys’ in Keith’s. And the stereo collapse about five minutes in, as the treated guitars die away and Robin’s clean-toned Strat, tuned to open E, rings out hopefully, is Chris Thomas’s master-stroke.
PLAYMATE OF THE MOUTH
BJ Wilson told Ritchie Yorke that Playmate of the Mouth [A07] was ‘one of the tracks we have to cross out when we send our albums to our mothers,’ to forestall a verdict that ‘“Keith Reid is getting more perverted every album”.’ Wilson told a similar story about Luskus Delph, the other pillar of Procol’s Kama Sutra, likewise painted in metaphors both coy and lurid. Speaking in 2019, Brooker is critical of Playmate. ‘Usually I try to find a song that fits the words, but I don’t think this one is a great match.’ Readers are invited to swap partners, singing one song to the tune of another: does the genteel Luskus music sanitise some of the Playmate lyric’s sleaze? Does Playmate’s cruder setting liberate some of Luskus’s sublimated longings?
In addition to their shared metre, both songs ride on four-chord patterns; one has a plunging melodic shape, while the other’s contour rises, like the ‘baby sandwich’ anticipating Passionata’s ministrations as she initiates the ash-robed ‘sceptic at the feast’. Brooker reported Reid’s shifting preoccupations to Yorke: ‘Last year it was death, this year it’s sex … and violence.’ Maybe so, but death is still strongly implied in images like ‘widow’s crack’ and ‘funeral parlour’. In Playmate the language of romance – ‘old and mouldy’ – is laid waste by the orgiast, ‘Savage Rose’. Her name occurs (‘at the Arabian crossing … where Savage Rose & Fixable live simply in their wild animal luxury’) in Bob Dylan’s 1965 liner note on Highway 61 Revisited, the album that so influenced early Procol writing. ‘I must have read that,’ Keith told me, ‘but, hand-on-heart, it didn’t come from there.’
‘The Boyard’s Ball’, doubtless a mishearing of ‘Voyeurs’ Ball’, is an early song-name handwritten on master-tape boxes, spotlighting the first verse’s role-playing debaucheries; whereas the replacement title, Playmate of the Mouth, punningly slips oral sex into its evocation of the centrefold nudes – Marilyn Monroe, in 1953, was the first – commodified monthly for Playboy customers’ gratification. Reid’s ‘neon captions’, suggestive of strip-club signage, underlines the song’s remoteness from romantic, personal intimacy.
Trower’s dirty blues timbre nicely matches the verbal tone, but Brooker protests that, though ‘the idea of the composition is good, it didn’t ever go anywhere. It’s so boring, we never play it!’ Procol brought in ‘a couple of trombones and a trumpet’ to relieve the perceived tedium with a touch of New Orleans. ‘It was hard, getting that out of classical musicians,’ Gary remembers. ‘We did send them down the pub at one point; but if it sounds as though they’re hanging loose, it’s because of my ‘hang-loose’ writing.’ His skilful score includes all ‘the ad-lib parts you’d expect from a Dixieland jazz-band, even a British one.’ ‘Fooling about’, perhaps, but it works: the ‘naked’ track, A16, is audibly missing a worthwhile dimension. The beaten-up bar-room piano sound was another trick. Though Gary reports that ‘most good studios kept an out-of-tune piano, in case Russ Conway came by’, tape-op Michie remembers an upright being prepared specifically for Procol’s use: ‘one of the three strings for each of the treble notes was detuned a specific amount.’
Through such detailed, labour-intensive work, the ‘boring’ song proved … ‘Fixable’. (Yet the team didn’t ‘fix’ Brooker’s vocal which, though full of feeling, clearly betrays a heavy cold; the 29 December recording – as well as being overdubbed with maracas – signs off with a sneeze). ‘Apart from the playing, the sound and everything, Playmate of the Mouth was probably the worst Procol track ever,’ is Gary’s conclusion.
In 2019’s social climate the final Barricades track feels problematic. ‘It wouldn’t have struck me, at the time, as anything inappropriate,’ Keith Reid told me. ‘He’s an imaginary Arab and I certainly felt sorry for him.’ Whereas the imaginary Arab in Song for a Dreamer is some kind of ethereal helmsman, Poor Mohammed [A08] is an earthly victim of hellish spite and degradation. ‘It was a portrait of savagery and cruelty, me playing with language to create feelings,’ Keith says. ‘I wasn’t concerned with literal meanings.’ Gary calls this ‘a good way of writing, to observe, then put the listener in that position’, yet he declined to sing the number. ‘It didn’t seem my kind of thing. Robin sang the demo, and it sounded all right. He’s got a lot of soul: he can really put an idea across vocally.’ But what idea, exactly? Trower’s recollection is of ‘a very strange lyric: I can’t make anything of it, to be honest.’
On Procol Harum Lives Keith ventures that ‘as a writer you’ve given of yourself … to people that are strangers. They’ve got a strong understanding of you.’ But in 2019 he admitted ‘It was only much later I came to realise people might associate these songs with my actual thoughts.’ The album’s multicultural imagery – Arab, Mexican, Turkish, Zulu – is apparently nothing conscious: ‘It may appear as a theme, but it’s just the effect of background work in the mind.’ Such willing trust of his own subconscious, and healthy indifference to popular trend, are hallmarks of ‘the outstanding lyricist of his generation’, as Terry Ellis terms Reid now.
Rolling Stone found Poor Mohammed ‘the first noteworthy cut on the whole second side,’ and to A&M themselves it was ‘the album’s obvious choice for a single’. Its sound (even easier to admire on A17) is exemplary, from the subliminal maracas to Trower’s steel, singing on his Les Paul frets (‘I didn’t really play slide,’ he told me, ‘I just thought it would be nice for this one.’). But 1971 saw no chart smashes. As Ritchie Yorke explained (July 1971), ‘Procol is simply too good for the often moronic tastes of the people that program Top 40 radio in North America.’
Mohammed was Robin Trower’s valedictory Procol statement (until he contributed to 1991’s The Prodigal Stranger). Whereas early Procol albums typically end with stirring instrumental passages, this was an 85-second, single-chord anti-climax. Brooker, sparsely represented on the track, says ‘It doesn’t do much, does it?’ and now concedes that Song for a Dreamer might have made a more fetching finale. ‘We could reissue the album that way,’ he says, ‘but there’s something to be said for leaving it: if we were wrong, we were wrong.’ Chrysalis were at fault too, he feels, lacking the experience to bring out their artists’ best. ‘They should have said, “We haven’t got the big one here, something radio will play,” and pushed us for something a little bit commercial.’
Huge commercial success beckoned for Trower, and Barricades was his springboard to stadium stardom. ‘I always thought of Procol as my schooling,’ he told me. He hadn’t suffered from George Harrison syndrome – his own material sidelined by more established writers – he’d been ‘fundamentally a lazy musician in Procol Harum. I wasn’t ambitious, nor frustrated. I just realised finally that the most fun would be writing my own stuff and having my own band.’ Gary feels that Robin underrates his Procol career: ‘His playing – even when he wasn’t sure of the chords and just went ‘pwwonnnng’ – really added something, and started something different.’ ‘Once I got into my own three-piece,’ says Robin, ‘I had to up my game quite a bit. But I really enjoyed doing Broken Barricades: there’s a lot of potent stuff on there, great confidence in the performances; it was my favourite album with Procol.’
Matthew Fisher’s Repent Walpurgis [C10] is the earliest ‘legacy track’ in this collection. 1971’s restoration of a full-time organist allowed some of Procol’s statelier numbers to emerge from hibernation: the Folkets Hus setlist has a surprising half-dozen Fisher writing-credits, and none for the more-recent departure, Robin Trower (whereas the WPLJ scoreline, six months earlier, was Trower 3, Fisher 0).
Ball’s soloing here is relatively measured, if not as memorably tuneful as his predecessor’s ‘compositional’ style. (‘Such great memories of Robin,’ says Terry Ellis now, ‘a very special guitarist: you can’t replace him. Dave Ball was good, but he wasn’t Robin.’). Erratic mixing muffles the start of Bach’s Prelude No 1 from The Well-Tempered Clavier (Book I) which Brooker performs in full (as with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, 33 days later), expanding the original excerpt by 100 seconds. The drum-punctuations separating 1967’s final chords blossomed into BJ’s later percussion solos; here they provide a dramatic false ending for the live concert but, since Sveriges Radio didn’t broadcast Repent, home audiences didn’t register the ensuing In Held numbers as an encore.
In both this collection’s live versions of Quite Rightly So Procol’s reflective, between-verse dallyings interrupt the jaunty momentum of the original 1968 single; it’s still ‘one of the nicest things they’ve ever done’, according to Whispering Bob’s back-announcement [B14]. Ball’s devil-may-care guitar break exemplifies his remark, to Radio Azzurra, that ‘I very rarely worked anything out … I just tended to play intuitively.’ He takes flight at the end, while the chords shift (Homburg-style) over a static bass note: unusually for a BBC session, producer Pete Dauncey fades the ending. But piano, organ and drums all contribute to an emphatic rallentando finale at Stockholm [C04]; the song is well received, though arch-fan Jonas Sjöberg recalls how non-specialist Folkets Hus patrons would have preferred the earlier singles, Whiter Shade and Homburg.
In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence [C01] was Procol Harum’s third B-side, and never saw album release. Despite its attractive melody, mysterious verbal melancholia, and uncharacteristic, bright key-change, it has rarely been heard in concert. Though the playing is sprightly – Cartwright’s muscular bass stands out, BJ’s ending has energy to spare, and the clarifying mix reveals Ball’s rhythm guitar prowess – this performance was omitted from the broadcast.
At Sixties’ gigs, alongside The Doors, Brooker had seen Rhodes Piano Bass used by organist Ray Manzarek to supply ‘bottom end’; Gary’s future colleague Peter Solley worked similarly in the Terry Reid trio. Peter – ‘still a proud Procoler’, as he described himself to me – enjoyed that ersatz bassist role, and used a foot control for his Hammond’s Leslie cabinet, so his left hand could remain on the Fender (‘clunky machine, shitty action’). Chris Copping had been lauded as a more exciting bass-guitarist than his Procol predecessor Dave Knights, whose lines too often followed Brooker’s left hand: yet arrangements that needed Chris’s ‘Fart Machine’ – like Shine on Brightly – obliged him to back-pedal, translating inherited basslines back into piano technique. As well as misdirecting his talent, this hampered drawbar-tweaking and other Hammond finesse. For Solley or Manzarek, playing two separate keyboards presented little problem: like any pianist, they effectively had a brain in each hand. Arguably Manzarek’s left-hand style didn’t sound like a real bass-player anyway, but in the case of Copping – an expert bona-fide bassist – his hands wanted to think not just in two parts but also in two distinct idioms.
The two versions of Shine on Brightly here allow us to compare four- and five-piece approaches to this 1968 title-track. At WPLJ [B06] we sense constraint; in Sweden, liberation. Gone is WPLJ’s dutiful recreation of Fisher’s elegant organ-break; Chris forges something vibrantly new in the moment. The new guitarist is also liberated: whereas Trower’s Morse-like monotony was a disciplined compositional element, Ball modifies the line with personal touches.
Though judged unfit for broadcast, the Swedish version is interesting. Until the sound-crew retrieve Gary’s awol vocal, BJ is our prime ear-magnet, maintaining a brilliant level of impudent originality. ‘I like to be rude when I play,’ Wilson told Melody Maker in 1973. ‘I put all the energy I’ve got into playing.’ In the same feature Alan Cartwright explained that ‘we can’t get a perfect sound on stage … we’re using an amplified acoustic piano and an organ, and the difference in the sound levels makes for technical problems.’ Luckily Brooker could call on producer Chris Thomas, at Folkets Hus, to resolve issues as they arose. [Nonetheless, as we go to press, Esoteric Records has decided against releasing the flawed Shine on Brightly discussed above.]
Flashes of exuberant banter alternate with some poignant material during the Swedish recital. The innocence of Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) [C08] mimics the Shine on Brightly original; the patent piano/organ blend, and Boys’ Brigade snare-work, leave little space for Ball’s guitar, which struggles to find a worthwhile toehold.
Just a month after Folkets Hus Procol Harum were in Canada, rehearsing for their iconic concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra: it’s no surprise that so much of 1968’s In Held ’Twas in I graced setlists earlier in the tour. These are not just intricate songs, they involve complex transitions: In the Autumn of my Madness [C11a] is two pieces in itself: the mournful Fisher ballad, and the heavy instrumental reprise of Brooker’s wordless Held Close theme, prefaced by the Trower riff, which Cartwright and Ball deliver spectacularly at Folkets Hus. Gary doesn’t nail all the fearless high notes in Look to Your Soul [C11b], but Wilson pulls off some brazenly bizarre fills. Keyboard work in Grand Finale [C11c] suffers from the wayward mix, but the climax is cathartic, the band reluctant to let go. Procol also filmed this abridged In Held for Radio Bremen’s Beat-Club Workshop nine days later, footage first seen in Esoteric’s fiftieth-anniversary boxed set, Still There’ll be More.
‘Five new songs out of twelve [played at WPLJ] is quite a heavy contribution from the new album,’ says Brooker now. ‘It’s a broadcast, not just some gig: you had to think a bit commercially.’ Hence, no doubt, the inclusion of A Salty Dog, 1969’s chart hit manqué. B10 is not the most convincing version, however: wavering intonation, drama somewhat muted. The ‘bottom end’ is Robin on bass guitar, not something he’d used in other bands (‘He often played it like a guitar,’ says Gary, citing Dead Man’s Dream). At Folkets Hus, however, a feeling and flexible performance [C09] is rapturously applauded.
Juicy John Pink [B09] is the most-played of three Trower co-writes on the Salty Dog album, more various even than his trio of Barricades contributions. Originally recorded with minimal instrumentation, it benefits here from drums, and gradually-added bass and piano. Reid’s words feel like timelessly-authentic blues, whereas Trower’s generic twelve-bar sequence features occasional first-inversion subdominants, and diminished substitutions.
The ‘little folk song’ [C03] from A Salty Dog – given the portmanteau mis-title ‘All This and Be More’ for the night – was being readied for its orchestral Edmonton outing, by which time Dave’s lyrical countermelody would decorate the final verse only. This performance, despite its firm rubato, sounds over-excited; its Canadian airing, however, is poignantly reflective, as Keith’s libretto requires.
Pilgrim’s Progress [C06] has outlived the departure of composer Matthew Fisher (‘taking with him, to the relief of many, the omnipresent liturgical organ’ according to Jon Mendelsohn’s promo aforesaid). In Copping’s (two) hands the Hammond enters later than it did in 1969, making the song less like a ‘junior’ Whiter Shade (Mendelsohn again); yet Brooker’s inimitable voice, taking over (and re-shuffling) Reid’s narrative, does enhance a passing resemblance to Procol’s famous début, which the band declined to perform at this era.
‘With Whisky Train, Gary said, “Come up with a guitar riff, and we’ll see if we can write a song round it”,’ Robin told me. So arresting was the resulting guitar statement, which opened Home, that Procol re-used the trope a year later, asserting Trower’s burgeoning dominance right from the start of Broken Barricades. Yet Rolling Stone (June 1971) reckoned Robin’s part, both ‘solo space and general role’, was ‘much smaller than on past albums.’
The hurtling WPLJ Whisky Train [B11], driven by BJ in ‘octopus’ mode, epitomises high-energy four-piece Procol: high subtlety too, as witness the telepathically synchronised drop-outs around 2:37. Not until Geoff Whitehorn’s time did this song become a Procol standard again.
The aforementioned Rolling Stone article ranks Still There’ll be More, ‘organ-less and worlds less pompous than the PH of the past’, among ‘the huge list of their best’. Dynamic, classy performances from all four musicians on B02 carry the WPLJ crowd before them. Somehow the flat-out five-piece version [C02] emanates effort over achievement, though one cannot fault the bass/drum synergy from friends reunited Cartwright and Wilson. Everyone survives BJ’s ‘rude’ risk-taking before the second guitar-break, and the Swedes warm to Ball’s blustering, so different from Trower’s serpentine counterpoints. ‘Pedal or skin?’ asks Gary at the end, suggesting that – perhaps unsurprisingly – something has broken in kick-drum land.
Nothing that I Didn’t Know [B03] follows Still There’ll be More in Home order, a second exploration – starkly contrasting – of female fragility. Copping’s solos ‘are effective because they are so modest, like a George Harrison guitar solo’, in novelist Sebastian Faulks’s words. A last-minute major chord from the piano brightens the dying moments of this lament, which is not really ‘Scottish’ (nor was its broadcast heard by ‘fifty million people’ – a quarter of the US population – though one printed book seemingly takes that throwaway Brookerism literally).
Whaling Stories in performance has often attracted bolt-on instrumental preludes; the 70-second intro to B07 comprises a fragment of Oh Yeah-era Mingus, some generic Procol funk, a jazzy Brooker original dating from Home rehearsals (Gone to da Country to Rethink da Music as he now titles it), and ends with the album-version’s opening bitonal chords, suitably disguised. This crazy-paving preface developed, on the road, as early as July 1970; otherwise little has changed since the Home album. Trower plays expressively, his tone majestic; Brooker sings passionately (note especially ‘bloodhounds’!); Copping’s simultaneous bass and organ underpin the ensemble. Wilson is the perennial wild-card: the cowbell soliloquy following the 5/4 chords, the terrific fill preceding the ‘final scream’. Fans who consider Home an unrivalled masterwork may be startled by Robin’s recent disclosure that he ‘didn’t really like that album a lot … I’m not sure we had it together great … but it did lead up to Broken Barricades’.
CELLARFUL OF DIAMONDS
And where did Broken Barricades lead? To the departure of Procol Harum’s star guitarist, then – most unexpectedly – a top-twenty chart hit, Conquistador, with Dave Ball, and an iconic gold album (Procol gave one gold disc to Ritchie Yorke, who’d brokered the partnership that led to Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra). This anomalous album (containing no new material at all) outsold the rest of Procol’s oeuvre, satisfying the strident prediction A&M had made for Broken Barricades; it went to #5 in the USA’s Billboard chart, whereas Barricades peaked at #32 (level pegging with A Salty Dog), and hit the low forties in UK and German charts.
Then Ball left, having played some 120 Procol gigs, in nine countries – Hawaii (under 1%), Norway (under 1%), Sweden 1.5%, Germany 3%, Japan 3%, Denmark 4%, Canada 7%, UK 16%, and USA 64% – and begun recording Grand Hotel. After joining Long John Baldry he served in the British Army, then worked in computer programming. His Don’t Forget your Alligator (2012) marked a return to the music business, sadly curtailed by his death in 2015.
With Mick Grabham on guitar the Procols achieved enhanced stability, and their following pair of albums contained nineteen fine Brooker/Reid songs, amply fulfilling Yorke’s 1971 non-definition of their unique selling point, ‘rock music which is virtually indefinable because of its paradoxical intricacy and simplicity.’ Barricades tends towards simplicity but – as Gary’s ‘mixed content’ remark, cited above, suggests – every track is arguably an anomaly. The album now stands as a definitive rebuttal of Nik Cohn’s brattish assessment, ‘As for Procol Harum, they made one classic record, A Whiter Shade of Pale, and then kept reviving it under different names and disguises until everyone got sick to death of it.’ (Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, 1969).
A&M’s prediction that Procol would ‘become universally successful’ was optimistically misjudged, as was the claim that Barricades would ‘inspire the listener not to contemplate, but to leap atop his seat to whoop and boogie joyously.’ It was not, ‘at long last, Procol Harum for the millions,’ yet the band has played to millions since that time, inspiring contemplation and joyous whooping in equal measure.
Not many fans rate the present album – dark, puzzling, scary – an all-time Procol favourite, but it has proved to be a ‘cellar full of diamonds’: three tracks sparkled at sold-out London orchestral shows in the present decade; and half its songs were still in the fiftieth-anniversary repertoire, in which respect it outweighs several earlier albums. And at the time of writing, Procol Harum have just completed their third triumphant back-to-back club gig here in Manhattan, wowing sold-out audiences with the magisterial muscle they perfected on Broken Barricades. They’ve never sounded better.
© Roland Clare, New York City, February 2019
Many thanks to Gary Brooker MBE, Keith Reid and Robin Trower, who gave fresh interviews for this essay, and to Dave Ball, Chris Copping, and Chris Michie for less recent assistance; to Terry Ellis, Thomas Johansson, Peter Solley and Paul Winter for fruitful conversations, and to thoughtful fellow-fans Jacob Cunningham, Ronnie D’Addario, Christoffer Frances and Bert Saraco; to Procol scholar Frans Steensma for generously-shared research; and to Prof Sam Cameron, my collaborator in the ongoing ‘Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes’ pages at www.procolharum.com, to which readers are referred for more detailed consideration of many of the songs discussed above.
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