Procol Harum

the Pale

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Richard Solly: my favourite Procol album

Exotic Birds & Fruit -- in honour of my favourite Procol album

 In 1973 I had just returned from spending some years in Australia and had by now all the Procol LPs up to Grand Hotel. When Exotic Birds came out I was stunned by a record that was very different from its predecessor and yet so obviously by the same band. It's an album that I consider to be Procol's best and in 23 years I still play it regularly.

Let's get the criticisms out of the way first. No lyric sheet. I would have thought Keith would have insisted on it. Perhaps Chrysalis Records were a bit awkward. Butterfly Boys is on the LP after all. Secondly the production. Chris Thomas 'Wall of Sound' worked extremely well on Grand Hotel but on EBaF it takes the edge off some real powerful music.

The style of the album is set very early on with Nothing But The Truth. If I was on a desert island and had to choose my eight favourite Procol songs it would be almost impossible. With their variety of sound and large number of songs for every mood the list would probably change daily, but I suspect Nothing But The Truth would always be there. It's economic, tight and exciting, one of Gary / Keith's finest and a firm favourite with me. I often find myself going 'Do be do be do'.

Beyond The Pale has a very mysterious feel to it. I once saw Procol (Wimbledon Theatre I think) play this with Gary on the banjo and Chris Copping on the old joanna. Again, a very economic song with some fine snatches of the whole band and in particular BJ Wilson and Mick Grabham.

It's interesting to note when As Strong As Samson was released as a single it was heavily remixed allowing for the drums and pedal steel guitar of BJ Cole to come to the fore. A superb piece of music. It glides along effortlessly with the words and music blending beautifully. The organ swirls like honey around Gary's piano. Gary sang it very well. When previewing EBaF Gary mentioned in a Capital Radio interview that he really loves this song. We all do.

The Idol follows. I heard this played at the Festival Hall in 1973. Presumably new, Gary played it solo on the piano as a 3 minute number. I can't get that line 'He knew that he would neither sink nor swim' out of my mind. Again, some superb drummery and an excellent guitar solo. If the production weren't so fuzzy it would really cook.

The Thin End Of The Wedge is so atmospheric as it be deliciously claustrophobic, screaming guitar and plodding bass. It would fit on Shine On Brightly or even Home. Creepy stuff with some fine singing and clomping piano sounds.

There's a lot of BJ clattering around in Monsieur R. Monde. A great rocker this one with plenty of guitar. Almost as spooky as Wedge.

With perfect taste the band lighten the feeling with Fresh Fruit. Mabelesque and great fun.

This song exists better live than this recorded version. Butterfly Boys rocks briskly. Lots of drums and guitar. The piano's great. I was pleasantly surprised to see this on Symphonic Music. One of my favourites. Keith's got it in for somebody!!

I love New Lamps For Old. Cobbled stone streets of old London, fog, sitting by the fire with brandy reflecting. Gary sings it so well. The song shuffles away into the distance with the whole band playing their part, particularly Chris's organ. The production works very well on this one. I've always thought it slightly reminiscent of Broken Barricades. After Lamps I always sit for a few seconds soaking up the album before taking it off. Wonderful stuff.

What makes this album so good is that it's a true band album. Everyone shines. A lot of voices in there handled perfectly by Gary. An album with immense feeling and soul.

This LP was a brave move after Grand Hotel but to me it counts as their best.

Back to 'Shine On-line' November 1997

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