Liner note by Roland from BtP • April 2018
The Prodigal Stranger
‘The Prodigal Son’ in the New Testament (Luke 15:11–22) was a spendthrift who squandered his inheritance with riotous living, but was welcomed back from extended absence by a merciful family. In titling their 1991 comeback album ‘The Prodigal Stranger’, Procol Harum were possibly inviting us to welcome them back after a long silence – they’d last played live in 1977 – that had left them apparent strangers to the record-buying public.
Procol lyricist Keith Reid often took a resonant phrase from common parlance and modified it for fresh effect. ‘We skipped the light fandango’ – the five words that introduced him to the world in 1967 – is a classic example. This new beginning, two dozen years down the line, was perhaps playing on a widespread misconception that ‘prodigal’ means ‘returning’. The regrouping Procol had been anything but prodigal in the dictionary sense of the word: their talents had not been squandered, but enriched by the passage of time.
The world was ready for more Procol Harum; fans responded warmly to the Prodigal album’s generous helping of evocative and intriguing songs. The general feeling was that the band had moved on, but down a recognisable and characteristic route, and that the new recording was something worthwhile in itself, quite aside from the contribution it made to an illustrious body of existing work.
But what of the fourteen-year hiatus? Swimming against the tide of Punk, the Procols – whose megahit début had unwittingly come to symbolise the so-called ‘Summer of Love’ – had folded unceremoniously, and with pedantic fatalism, on the tenth anniversary of A Whiter Shade of Pale’s release. ‘It was very much “Goodbye everybody”,’ Gary Brooker now recalls. The band, in his view, had come full circle, and fresh opportunities beckoned. ‘We didn’t say, “It’s time for a break.” We just packed our suitcases in New York, at the end of the tour, and all went home.’
Brooker soon embarked on his series of solo records, as well as playing Procol pieces by invitation with European orchestras under the ‘Rock meets Classic’ banner, and touring and recording with his friend and fly-fishing pupil, Eric Clapton. Of his former Procolmates only guitarist Mick Grabham remained on British soil, retreating into East Anglia to gig with local peers. In time Keith Reid would move to Manhattan, emerging from his Procol niche as a lyricist for hire, and incidentally scoring another impressive worldwide hit with John Farnham’s You’re the Voice.
Bassist Chris Copping settled in Australia as a composer in the advertising industry; organist Peter Solley became a Grammy-nominated platinum-selling album producer, and a Billboard chart-topping songwriter, in the USA. And the band’s sparkling, dramatic percussionist BJ Wilson played with Frankie Miller, and toured with Joe Cocker over five years. He’d moved to Oregon with his American wife and daughters, but played his last recorded work in the UK, on Brooker’s third solo album, 1985’s Echoes in the Night.
‘Being that dispersed,’ Gary explains, ‘we weren’t expecting to meet now and then for a drink.’ Life moved on busily, and Procol Harum receded into the past. And yet, he told me, ‘By 1989 I had a bee in my bonnet that perhaps Procol would live again.’ Three factors had set him buzzing. First was a series of music events in London – at Bill Wyman’s ‘Sticky Fingers’ Restaurant, Abbey Road studios, and similar iconic venues – where handfuls of top American DJs would interview British rockers, live on air, about music of mutual interest. ‘To a man, they all had a great respect for Procol, as if we were current in their minds, and still very relevant.’
Secondly, Brooker had vicariously become aware of internet chatrooms, where
music fans were busy making worldwide friends, gleefully discovering that their
admiration for Procol Harum was no isolated phenomenon. And the third factor was
the prospect of helping BJ
Wilson – Gary’s friend and musical right-hand man since their
early days peddling R&B covers in The Paramounts – who was now critically ill.
Soon Gary Brooker and Keith Reid were in New York, writing fresh songs together. Armed with demos (of which more below) Gary would cross the States to sit at Barrie Wilson’s bedside in an Oregon hospital. ‘BJ was in a coma, and I played him what we’d been doing: probably five or six songs in all. Music has brought people out of comas, it’s documented, and BJ wasn’t responding to anything else: so it might have worked. I was sure he would have realised it was Gary singing; and I thought, “If he hears a drum-machine on there, he’ll go mad and wake up.” But he didn’t.
‘It was heart-breaking, terrible: I always went with Sue, his wife … hope, hope, hope. I wasn’t able to go once a week or anything. But … I wanted our drummer back. On another occasion, I got a piano into his room, and sang live to try and stir him up. It didn’t work; the machines were keeping him alive, but the damage was done. I don’t think anyone else from the band went over to visit BJ in hospital, but in 1990 Keith Reid and I attended his funeral. In his Procol Harum rhinestoned tee-shirt, arms crossed with drumsticks in his hands, he finally looked at peace. I carried the coffin, with some others. And he was bloody heavy.’
When The Prodigal Stranger was released, fans noticed the album opened and closed, unusually for Procol, with drum sounds. But the dedication – ‘… to Barrie James (BJ) Wilson, who will always be with us’ – was for most the first inkling that rock’s finest drummer was gone.
A further shock, when fans explored the Prodigal small print, was that only one of a dozen songs was credited solely to Brooker / Reid. Who was this Matt Noble, joint-author of half the material? When Brooker and Reid had reconvened – as in 1966, writing exploratory songs before assembling a band – Keith had suggested Noble as an engineer who could help them make demos. In the new, digital world of The Loft in Bronxville a song was effectively written and demoed at the same time, and Noble had the machines and musicality to supply ersatz drums and basslines to flesh out Brooker’s developing compositions. These recordings, palimpsested over numerous overdubs and excisions, would end up on the finished album: and Noble’s foundational assistance earned him co-writing credits.
Two bonus tracks on the present re-issue illustrate different stages of the new process. A Real Attitude (track 14) is a preliminary sketch featuring just two musicians: Brooker sings, and plays piano, synth and organ; Noble provides – from percussion-pads and keyboards – drum and bass parts of his own invention. Noble is metronomic, a real contrast to BJ’s attitude; yet the keyboards remain loose, playful, indeterminate in places: no quantising! ‘Most of the Bronxville tracks started like this,’ Gary remembers. ‘I’ve started playing something, suddenly Matt Noble joins in and it’s alive with rhythm. Then he gets a great bassline going, I do vocals and harmonise with myself.’ The words of course are Reid’s (‘I know no more about this lyric than I do about A Whiter Shade of Pale,’ Gary told me. ‘I just get my own thoughts from it. She may be a supermodel, but she’s not all goodness and beauty …’). His singing gives the word ‘attitude’ a pugnacious, transAtlantic emphasis. ‘I was having a bit of atti-tood myself,’ he clarifies. ‘My atti-tood was to say “atti-tood”.’ It could have been a contender, but the song was never finished, and its sole performance to date was given by Gary Brooker and Friends at Guildford Civic Hall in 1999: in the hands of live players the inchoate doodle became ‘a big-boned rocker’, in guitarist Geoff Whitehorn’s words. ‘I loved that one,’ he told me. ‘It’s quite lairy, real Grabham-period Procol.’
Into the Flood (track 13) is a second Brooker / Reid / Noble demo (a high proportion of its words already set to music on the 1981 Trower / Reid song, Gone Too Far; in fact the economical Reid had also recycled some of them on the 1988 children’s album, Tabaluga and the Magic Jadestone). The recording is unfinished, but has passed beyond the two-man phase of A Real Attitude, and sounds more like a rock band in action. ‘That’s Bobby Mayo on guitar,’ Gary reveals. As well as having played with Peter Frampton, Foreigner and Aerosmith, Mayo was an habitué of The Loft, and played in the tastily-named ‘Bergers and Mayo’ with its owner Al Hemberger and his brother. This demo proved its worth when Brooker orchestrated Into the Flood for Procol to play at Edmonton in 1992: ‘Geoff follows Mayo exactly,’ Gary recalls, ‘same sound and everything.’ The cursory backing-vocal in the demo’s fadeout became a full-blown choral call-and-response routine, and the orchestra was furnished with a punishing hoe-down interlude. What other Procol song has been performed so little, yet changed so much?
Thus developing technology played a significant part in shaping the new Procol Harum repertoire. Brooker was unfazed; familiar with MIDI since the Echoes in the Night sessions, he’d used sequencers and synths to realise an entire orchestral score (Delta, commissioned by the Royal Danish Ballet, opened in Copenhagen, 20 December 1990). ‘Anyone can do it after a few weeks, if you put your mind to it,’ he now asserts. ‘But not as quickly or as efficiently as Matt Noble.’
The quality of the work thus far prompted Brooker to invite two seminal ex-Procols back on board: Matthew Fisher (veteran of three early albums) and Robin Trower (five albums) collaborated on the song-writing front (four and one co-writes respectively). Robin’s guitar and Matthew’s Hammond organ also superseded the placeholder sounds of Mayo and keyboardist Tommy Eyre (ex-Joe Cocker, Wham!, Gary Moore et al). Later, in the UK, two new and significant figures entered the Procol world to provide authentic drums and bass. Mark Brzezicki, Big Country’s drummer, was put forward by Chris Briggs, who’d looked after Gary’s second and third solo albums on Polygram; and Dave Bronze was recruited through a chain of connections (in the early 1980s he’d joined Southend’s Mickey Jupp Band, then managed by Keith Reid, which led to his playing on Echoes In the Night and – via Gary’s R&B band, No Stiletto Shoes – to the Prodigal Stranger work). ‘Mark and I mostly played at the same time, as I recall,’ Dave told me. ‘Typically I’d listen to the [Noble] demo, assimilate the bass part, then alter or embellish it as I saw fit.’
Not all drum and bass parts were replaced. ‘It was probably just an artistic decision,’ says Bronze. ‘Synth bass was very popular on records then, as now!’ And additional work was needed on the guitar front. ‘After Robin recorded his contributions, during his spell with us in New York,’ Gary recalls, ‘we took the tracks back to England. “Does something need a bit more here,” we were thinking, “to make the texture right, or fill a hole?” Jerry Stevenson from Be Sharp – a Kent boy, I think – helped us out. He also added Spanish guitar here and there, and some mandoliny sounds on Holding On.’ Brooker himself supplied the lilting acoustic guitar on The King of Hearts. ‘I don’t often get up and strum, but on that one I did.’
Following a good couple of years’ incubation at The Loft, The Stone Room (London), Black Barn (Surrey UK), Old Barn (Croydon UK) and Battery Studios (NY), The Prodigal Stranger was finally hatched. ‘A really good re-entry album, good songs, great to play live,’ is the assessment of Geoff Whitehorn, Procol’s longest-serving guitarist. But regarding the characteristic late 1980s’ production (‘those big reverbs and studio enhancements’) he feels there is ‘… no real band entity in the sound. Which isn’t surprising, as there wasn’t actually a band!’
Post-recording, Bronze and Brzezicki accepted the invitation to play on the promotional tour, but Trower did not participate. ‘There’s a volume problem,’ Keith Reid told a journalist. ‘Robin likes to play loud – ear-splittingly loud – in the studio and in concert, and that hasn’t been resolved.’ ‘They had to shut Robin in a special room for recording, so he didn’t shake the whole of Bronxville apart,’ Brooker remembers. ‘But he played some lovely stuff. I thought he was in, but his management had some dissatisfaction with the business arrangements, which I never got to the bottom of. If it had come to negotiation I would have wanted to encourage him.’ When Trower dropped out, though, ‘We didn’t even have time to think, “This is a complete disaster.” We made a few calls, and it all came together with my friend Tim Renwick, “Bertie” as we call him. Very good player, picks it all up quickly, loves being on stage.’
This substitution caused some disappointment with conservative fans, primed to expect three original Procols on stage. Gary remembers when ‘… some bikers stood up during the first number, yelled “Where’s fucking Trower?” in thick Swedish accents, then stormed out.’ But ‘Bertie’ came with convincing Procol credentials: he’d played with the band before, on BJ’s last-ever gig (18 October 1977 at London’s Britannia Awards, when Whiter Shade jointly won Best British Pop Single 1952–77: he’d recently left The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, where his absence, symmetrically, was covered by ex-Procol Mick Grabham). Renwick went on to play guitar on Brooker’s first three solo albums, and in 1989 demoed four proto-Prodigal numbers – later re-recorded with Noble these became the present Tracks 1, 5, 6 and 11 – with Brooker, Fisher, Bronze and Henry Spinetti.
1. The Truth Won’t Fade Away
(Brooker / Reid / Fisher)
It’s Spinetti who opens The Prodigal Stranger, his drumming retained from a Stone Room demo: he remembers ‘overdubbing something Gary and Matthew had already worked on’. At that stage no Procol project had been mentioned: Brooker had just asked him ‘to play on a few tracks.’ ‘I was treated very fairly,’ he told me. ‘Paid for the demos, and again when it went on the album.’
The track feels insistent and harmonically ordinary (until that one-off inverted chord in the final verse). ‘It’s pop basics, no solos, nothing spectacular,’ according to Geoff Whitehorn, who auditioned with it in December 1991 when Gary’s keyboard technician suggested him as Tim Renwick’s successor. Geoff recalls ‘a peculiar suggestion’ from John ‘Kellogs’ Kalinowski (Procol’s one-time roadie, later manager), ‘… not to listen to anything else by Procol Harum, just to learn that track.’ Whitehorn knew and loved Procol Harum – his favourite album was Home: perhaps Kellogs picked Fade Away to signify the band’s shifting direction. In any event, Geoff got the gig, and kept it: on[R4] both occasions when Procol lost Trower, the short-haul replacement guitarists (Dave Ball, Tim Renwick) were followed, in Grabham and Whitehorn, by towering mainstays.
Keith Reid’s words pursue the paradoxical investigations of ‘truth’ that pervaded his earlier output; symptomatically the final syllable of ‘fade away’ doesn’t fade naturally, but is digitally prolonged. Live performances of this song often ended hilariously, the ‘fade away’ refrain harmonised in an improbable range of accents and styles, from Fairport Convention to The Bee Gees to Trio Bulgarka.
2. Holding On
(Brooker / Reid)
The imposing Holding On, with its attractive churchy harmonies, and guitar and organ harking back to the band’s early sound, has found great favour with fans, notably novelist and arch-Procoholic Douglas Adams. Its composer has orchestrated it both for symphonic Procol shows and for his own chamber group, the Gary Brooker Ensemble. Unlike the album’s other backing-vocals, the third-world vocalisations were added in England. The unidentifiable ‘Zika nor nama … hesa!’ adds a novel dimension and helps universalise an already non-specific – albeit highly topical – narrative of hope (an optimistic descendant, perhaps, of the world-weary critique in 1974’s As Strong as Samson). As an Autumn 1991 single, while high-profile hostage Terry Waite was holding on in Beirut, it might have made a memorable success.
Whitehorn’s stinging guitar and Brooker’s Sprechstimme-inflected vocal stand out in track 15’s live performance from Stuttgart (22 March 2003); Matt Pegg’s surging bass, Brzezicki’s swinging drums, and Fisher’s tasty Hammond registrations all surpass the power and beauty of the studio cut … as live Procol performances typically do.
3. Man with a Mission
(Brooker / Reid / Noble)
Brooker’s R&B side-project, No Stiletto Shoes, gave this lyric’s début performance in 1989 at London’s 100 Club, before Gary’s New York writing sessions started. It was then an unrecognisably-different funk number, propelled by Boz Burrell’s bass, its melodic content derived from Lalo Schifrin’s Mission Impossible theme (though not in 5/4), its words – including something like ‘First to the post, I’m picking up time / I’m cutting in close, straight down the line’ – delivered in an urgently-paced rap. Later, at The Loft (where a version with added Mayo was entitled The Missionary Position), it acquired its demanding sawtooth vocal melody; the subsequent addition of voices and effects made it a Prodigal standout. It also supplies the album’s title.
Here Reid’s mosaicist technique (later revisited in 2003’s Shadow Boxed) juxtaposes numerous literary and political references, using or subverting many set phrases, in the build-up to the super-confident hook. After years on the shelf, the song featured on 69% of the promiotional shows for Procol’s 2017 album, Novum: ‘The groove slots very nicely into what we do now,’ says Geoff Whitehorn.
4. (You Can’t) Turn Back the Page
(Brooker / Reid / Noble)
This rueful, nostalgic number strikes some as a tribute to the album’s dedicatee, but Gary counters that the words were written before BJ’s passing. ‘Keith never said, “I’ve come up with something about BJ”. I could have written something marvellous in that case.’ Though Wilson was Brooker’s drummer of choice, Brzezicki was ‘very respectful: from listening to repertoire songs he got BJ’s light and shade, little tinkles, raps on the snare drum, military bits here and there. It all adds to the atmosphere.’
‘Thoughts … of the lonely kind’ are evoked not only by the playing, but also by judicious mixing of sonic elements, in and out. Reid’s implied narrative is complex: the court section perhaps suggests that time – which obligingly ran backwards in Homburg days – now condemns us all inexorably. Shrill backing voices (Whitehorn recalls the stage equivalent as ‘just me screaming away in the background’) emphasise the verdict, though the reversed guitar line arguably undermines it.
5. One More Time
(Brooker / Reid / Fisher)
This number is harmonically more artful than a first hearing suggests, and the music’s escalating emotion makes it enjoyable to play. Geoff regards it as a favourite: ‘Loads of blues guitar!’ (in fact the soloing on the lightweight 1989 demo was busy, rather than bluesy). The phrase ‘one more time’ (which also occurs in the previous track) became the title of Procol’s new live album (from February 1992, Utrecht, NL). The band loaded the One More Time backing vocals on to Fisher’s AKAI sampler, for use in concert! But the Bronxville period did include straightforward live playing: both Gary and Matthew sat in with local bands, alongside musicians from the long Prodigal credits list.
Reid’s wording here is exceptionally direct for a Procol song. The conversational idioms and conventional, contemporary story meant that hidebound aficionados of Keith’s formative ‘Existential Gothic’ period found irony – presumably unintended – in ‘we had something special: where did it go?’
6. A Dream in Ev’ry Home
(Brooker / Reid / Fisher)
Compositionally this mild-mannered song, which started life as a Fisher sketch, presents structural parallels with the boisterous Learn to Fly: alternating dominant and subdominant chords, underlying the verse, blossom into a classic Procol chord-progression in the tonic-based chorus. It was Whitehorn’s début performance with the band (Johnny Carson’s US TV show, 13 December 1991, live): ‘nice song, well put-together, not a standout’ is Geoff’s 2018 assessment. It was released as a US promo-single that month; the words from the early demo were rejigged, perhaps to woo that market: ‘a dream without a home’ was the original hook.
Verbally intricate, it may have been too bittersweet for the charts. The bed-sharing telly, all-seeing in 1973’s TV Ceasar, now ‘flickers silently’, half-illuminating a kiss’n’tell collage of penetrations (fist/glove, hand/purse) and peeping (pearls revealed, secrets laid bare), a voyeuristic outsider’s memory of joys first explored in Luskus Delph (1971). The ‘knew this day would come’ line, redeployed so triumphally in Learn to Fly, here hints rather at unfulfilled resignation.
7. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle
(Brooker / Reid / Thompson)
A catchy chorus (and title) mark this collaboration with Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann’s Earthband, ‘another Reid cohort’ in Gary’s words, and the original singer of You’re the Voice. The outboard collaborator may perhaps be implicated in the uncharacteristic ‘woah-woah’ declamations, and perhaps in the antiphonal ‘hand that rocks’ vocal arrangement. A lot of care went into this, but it wasn’t attempted live. The ensemble chugs weightily under pounding drums and stand-out organ elaborations; the acoustic rhythm guitar injects additional excitement.
Phrases like ‘nothing to believe’, ‘right or wrong’ and ‘visionary sister’ make the verses feel like seminal Procol, and the previously-rare ‘secret’ becomes quite prominently established on this album. The paucity of rhyme, however, is atypical; and, for some, ‘gotta be gentle and strong’ carries unwanted overtones of a bathroom-product advertisement.
8. The King of Hearts
(Brooker / Reid / Noble)
This song doesn’t merely recycle ‘I wandered through my playing cards’ from Procol’s most famous hit; it provides a narrative context in which the phrase plays a pivotal part. When the stranger ‘tried to understand her’ (‘try’ is a pervasive verb in Reid, often epitomising a frustrating inability to interpret or participate in circumstances) he’s presumably using the cards for divination. The woman in black is not just a foxy cliché: she personifies the most ominous card in the pack, which – operating as a gambler, not as a seer – she will ‘lay’ to trump the King of Hearts, leaving him broken. This character/card assimilation may owe something to Reid’s frequent touchstones Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865) or Bob Dylan (Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, 1975).
The Procol fan may feel she or he has also ‘wound up where I started’. The words are Whiter Shady, as is the pace of the ballad, likewise the Hammond’s trick of decorating verses with austere counterpoints and broadening to a fast Leslie chorus for the refrains. As on other Prodigal ‘slowies’, this heartfelt plaint begins with piano and percussion; despite the unexpected nylon-strung guitar, the effect is classic Procol. ‘A rather lovely thing,’ is Geoff Whitehorn’s verdict.
9. All Our Dreams are Sold
(Brooker / Reid / Trower)
Through their Bluebeard Music company Brooker and Reid themselves financed the long development of the Prodigal album, eventually signing up with America’s small, independent Zoo Records. The label’s chart research suggested this song as lead single, and radio promotion did take it briefly to No 29. But the band felt the track didn’t represent the album well. Some fans feel that the lyric proved prophetic, that Procol were led by the collar, their dreams indeed sold. In ‘make us live again’ a reincarnated band begs for success, but the ‘mighty’ dollar is surely ironic: Reid’s critique of American capitalism is pointed.
The number has
little in common, apart from its high vocal tessitura, with the same
writing-team’s other Procol tune, Too Much Between Us (1969). After a
dreamy opening we wait a good minute for any definitive chord-change. Trower’s
showcase guitar is impressive for tone, articulation and mood, but doesn’t
aspire to the melodic impact of his early work with the band. Brooker liked
playing this song, but ‘it was a tough vocal, pitched so high.’ Whitehorn later
enjoyed ‘the nice riff, bit of wah-wah, general showing off.’
10. Perpetual Motion
(Brooker / Reid / Noble)
This beguiling melody, deliciously arranged, is an album highlight. ‘I like it,’ says Gary Brooker, ‘but I’m never able to play it off the top of my head: key-changes all over the place, it’s a lot harder than you’d think.’ In edited form it could have made a single, had Procol wished their comeback to emphasise the ‘gauzy, celestial sound of prime Procol Harum’ that one contemporary reviewer described.
Musically akin to A Rum Tale, its melody is partly ‘stolen’ by Gary from his own Alaskan King Fever (which he premièred in 2007 at the ‘Procol Rarum’ concert staged in London by ‘Beyond the Pale’, www.procolharum.com). Like All Our Dreams, this lyric starts with ‘Rings’, but its ensuing emphasis is more literary, featuring self-quotation (‘silken sheets’) and many Shakespearean hints (Reid’s title, for instance, comes from Henry IV Pt II). For Whitehorn, ‘It’s almost a blues’: wretchedly the dancers only half-inhabit the security of a romantic hotel ballroom; they’re also half at sea, prey to currents of fate that threaten their affair will not last ‘for keeps’.
11. Learn to Fly
(Brooker / Reid / Fisher)
Learn to Fly is a song that divides fans as it apparently divides the present Procol Harum. ‘I always enjoy playing that one,’ says Brooker, whereas Whitehorn is less enamoured: ‘Rob’s guitar was very nice on it, less so the sub-Stones rhythm part.’ (Intriguingly the demo’s featured guitar solo was ditched for Gary’s vigorous piano work-out).
Compositionally it’s of divided origin too: the rhythmic ostinato aforesaid – similar to the two-chord verses in A Dream in Ev’ry Home – is unexpectedly Fisher’s contribution, whereas Brooker’s Procolesque hook-harmonies derive from the opening two bars of The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One, Prelude 21, collapsed from Bach’s semiquaver figuration into block chords.
A sticking-point for some long-time listeners is Reid’s bombastic, upbeat lyric, rather reliant on off-the-shelf imagery; a cousin of the shouty polemics in You’re the Voice, it bears little relation to (for instance) the memorable cauldron of seething imagery that animates Memorial Drive.
12. The Pursuit of Happiness
(Brooker / Reid / Noble)
This haunting finale is a fan favourite. Though Procol have played it in rehearsal, no public airing has been noted (Whitehorn: ‘with a repertoire as large as ours, some songs do just slip under the radar’). Gary Brooker’s rendering with The Palers’ Band (26 May 2016, Zoetermeer, NL) must be accounted its live première.
The splintery piano opening is unusual, the non-natural bass and drum sounds – presumably Noble – conspicuous. The organ, given its opening Rachmaninov quotation, is surely Fisher, the brief guitar obligato pure Trower. The thought-provoking lyric, rife with imagery of futility and oblivion, is set unusually in F major, and marked by unpredictable, disquieting phrase-lengths.
Reid’s title recalls the US constitution, which prescribes ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ as inalienable citizens’ rights: ‘worth a cent’ and ‘wait in line’ confirm the transAtlantic context. ‘Time and tide in man’s affairs’ adapts Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a play that shares the song’s concern with the malleability and emptiness of popular opinion. ‘Two out of three don’t know’: happiness is now directed by market pressures, the focus of All Our Dreams are Sold, the song’s close cousin.
In summary …
‘Gary B and the Reidtones’ was the drolly non-committal name used at The Loft for the early sessions in which the Procol songsmiths speculatively rekindled their lapsed partnership. It turned out that much of Reid’s work was as engaging as ever, and he enshrined five lyrics (tracks 2, 3, 6, 9 and 12) in his 2000 Charnel House anthology, My Own Choice (out of print). As for the music: ‘I never had any doubts,’ says Brooker – now the band’s sole constant over fifty-one years, and counting – ‘and I was happy with the way things went, though it wasn’t quite the way I expected.’
As originally released, The Prodigal Stranger was the longest Procol Harum album to date. Had A Real Attitude and Into the Flood made the cut, it would have been close to an hour of new songs. And Gary’s vault contains two further Brooker / Noble / Reid songs, in a similar state of completion to Into the Flood. ‘I don’t think they’ll ever see the light of day,’ he told me. ‘One of them, the lyrics never quite meshed with the song idea, but it’s got some typically Procolly or Brooker parts. The other one, it should never have been on a Procol album. And it wasn’t.’
The Prodigal aftermath
Critics didn’t quite slaughter the fatted calf for Procol’s return, but as the One More Time album demonstrates, the new material worked brilliantly live, and audiences loved it. Zoo had proved ‘a pretty useful ground-force’, in Gary’s words, though their contract was for only one studio album. Bill Graham, a long-term fan who’d always booked Procol into his Fillmore theatres, East and West, had become their new manager. They felt at home with his Organisation (which included Gary’s Southend schoolmate, Mick Brigden) and Bill’s accidental death, on 25 October 1991, hit everyone hard. Graham’s European rep., the legendary Kellogs, now ‘came out of the woodwork’ to take the band forward.
Fans had their hopes, they had their dreams … and our future didn’t self-destruct. By 1993, Bronze having returned to Dr Feelgood, Procol acquired bassist Matt Pegg; Ian Wallace and Graham Broad served as interim drummers; but it was the established line-up of Brooker, Brzezicki, Fisher, Pegg and Whitehorn that delivered the next album, The Well’s on Fire, in 2003.
Procol Harum’s second innings continues to this day, with vigorous panache, and sees the famous band – Brooker, Pegg and Whitehorn joined, since 2006, by Geoff Dunn (drums) and Josh Phillips (Hammond) – as respected as ever for live performance, even if the anticipation between releases is now a dozen times more protracted than ever. 2017’s Novum was the third studio recording in the series inaugurated by the Prodigal reunion. ‘I never liked the words “reunion album”, mind,’ Gary warns. ‘It was more of a … well … I’d have to get my Thesaurus out to finish that sentence.’
© Roland Clare, Perth WA, April 2018
Many thanks to Dave Bronze, Gary Brooker MBE, Henry Spinetti and Geoff Whitehorn for assistance with these notes; also to Hermann Braunschmidt, Dave Evans and Frans Steensma, and particularly 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 the songs discussed above.
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