These excerpts from New Musical Express, kindly selected and commented upon for 'Beyond the Pale' by Yan Friis, show Procol Harum postponing gigs, releasing an ill-received album and single, playing good live sets (though not the Jubilee show at Tower Bridge) and then losing their guitarist ...
NME, March 5, 1977:
Front page headlines:
U.K. welcomes Iggy Pop (full page pic)
And NME celebrates its very own (and nobody else's) Silver Jubilee
Mounties bust Keef'n'Anita
Southside Johnny / Ted Nugent / Frank Zappa / Who vs Zeppelin
NME Top 5:
1 (1) When I Need You, Leo Sayer
2 (4) Boogie Nights, Heatwave
3 (5) Chanson D'Amour, Manhattan Transfer
4 (3) Don't Cry For Me Argentina, Julie Covington
5 (9) Romeo, Mr Big
1 (1) 20 Golden Greats, The Shadows
2 (2) Animals, Pink Floyd
3 (4) Endless Flight, Leo Sayer
4 (3) Evita, Various Artists
5 (11) Arrival, ABBA
On The Road
Procol Harum have cancelled their scheduled gigs at Preston Polytechnic (this Sunday) and Newcastle Mayfair (March 11) for "contractual reasons". But they have set new dates at Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall (March 16) and Hatfield Polytechnic.
Full page ad for Something Magic on page 18.
Main single reviews by Phil McNeill:
Metro, Criminal World
Suzi Quatro, Tear me Apart
Ultravox, Dangerous Rhythm
Billy Joel, Say Goodbye To Hollywood
Billy Ocean, Red Light
Sweet, Fever Of Love
The Damned, Neat Neat Neat
ABBA, Knowing Me Knowing You
Kansas, Carry On Wayward Son
Roy Harper, One Of Those Days In England
Steve Hillage, Hurdy Gurdy Man
Joni Mitchell, Coyote
Barclay James Harvest, Live (EP)
AC/DC, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Elkie Brooks, Pearl's A Singer
Bad Company, Everything I Need
PROCOL HARUM: Wizard Man (Chrysalis).
Laid-back mid-tempo wallpaper, slight appeal in its predictability.
(Yan's comment: that was the complete review, honest!)
Main album reviews:
The Kinks, Sleepwalker
City Boy, Dinner At The Ritz
Jethro Tull, Songs From The Wood
Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nicks, Buckingham Nicks
John Lodge, Natural Avenue
Justin Hayward, Songwriter
Status Quo, Live
Deaf School, Don't Stop The World
Johnny Cash, The Last Gunfighter Ballad
Procol Harum: Something Magic (Chrysalis)
It's unfortunate that Procol Harum are lumbered with this image of being purveyors of humourless, Gothic Rock, trying to maintain their dignity as they play their rococo music in the emptying ballroom of a once grand hotel.
Even now, ten years on, mention Procol Harum and most people still think of Whiter Shade of Pale but that particular sword of Damocles (good title for a Brooker / Reid song that) must be behind them now after a series of consistently excellent albums, from the majesty of Salty Dog (which must rank as one of the seminal 60s albums) to the hardcore rock of Exotic Birds And Fruit.
And then there's Something Magic.
I'd like to say it's their best yet, or at least a "worthy addition to a distinguished canon", but alas it's not. It's another Procol Harum album that will probably please their old fans, but won't blow many cobwebs away from their reputation. It's not a bad album - I don't think Procol are capable of producing a real stinker - but it's a disappointing release to mark a decade of otherwise excellent music.
There's little but a feeling that we've all been here before - not in the sense of revisiting former triumphs, but rather that through lack of direction the group have come to a full stop.
My particular bone of contention is the latest Brooker / Reid magnum opus The Worm And The Tree, which takes up the whole of side two. The last time Procol attempted anything of this nature was the magnificent In Held 'Twas In I, which occupied half of the Live at Edmonton album. That particular piece had the scope and wealth of ideas that Worm so frustratingly lacks.
Gary Brooker insists on reciting the seven verses of the parable in a "Pay attention at the back I'll be asking questions afterwards" sort of voice (which means you can't even dance to it), and the words don't supply any glimpses of nirvana, just a tedious fable which ends "The worm can be killed yet the tree may not be dead / For from the roots of the elder a new life will spread". And I hope they'll be very happy together, but to take over 18 minutes to get that message across is excessive, especially galling since in the past Procol have been masters of economy.
As it is they've gone calamitously down in an overblown parody of their former glory.
As for the music; no real surprises there, pseudo spectacular stuff with little real excitement, only occasionally livened up, as on Expectancy, where newcomer Pete Solley plays around with his keyboards.
However, like a slice of toast, there is another side, which is more the Procol I know and love. The title track opens with a regal sounding orchestra heralding the entry of Brooker. It's a typical Procol song, with Reid's lyrics back in their natural domain of "The dark hour of the soul when nightmares take their toll" and the music demonstrating the grandeur for which Procol are renowned.
The album's piece de resistance is Skating On Thin Ice, with a melody which reminded me of a music box tune. Choir and orchestra blend beautifully behind Brooker's voice and piano as he sings Reid's doomy, Tarot inspired lyrics, while BJ Wilson's cymbals and Pete Solley's synthesisers swish away in good atmospheric vein. Wizard Man (for some reason omitted from the sleeve) is a strong choice for a single, short and simply effective, filled out by Mick Grabham's restrained guitar. Mark Of The Claw is up to scratch, and Strangers In Space is ethereal stuff.
I was looking forward to giving this album a good review, it being Jubilee Year and ten years on from Whiter Shade, and this being Procol's tenth album, but in all honesty it is a disappointment.
Procol Harum, Edinburgh
You could never accuse Procol Harum for over-exposing themselves to the British public. This long overdue tour marks a welcome attempt on their part to re-establish themselves in the nation's collective consciousness. There is also, surprise, a new LP to be aired and a new member to be introduced.
Let's take the new material first, which took up a good half of the set. To be frank, I wasn't all that impressed with it - but it was, after all, a first hearing, and new Procol material always takes time to settle; witness the vastly underrated Exotic Birds And Fruit. But they continue to tread their own distinctive path with a bit more solidity than the rather flimsy Procol's Ninth.
The rest of the set came from their treasure chest of oldies - Conquistador, Beyond The Pale, Grand Hotel (complete with Palm Court section), Pandora's Box, Unquiet Zone (including multi-rhythmed drum solo) and Salty Dog.
The encores were firstly the new single Wizard Man, and a hoedown, This Old Dog, and secondly a string of rock'n'roll oldies as the audience refused to let them go - Roll Over Beethoven, Long Tall Sally, Jailhouse Rock and Oh [sic] Black Joe. And you thought Procol Harum were pedestrian ...
The only possible way to stop was to dust off Whiter Shade of Pale again. But here's one for the Believe It Or Not Dept: Gary Brooker actually got the words wrong after the number of times he must have sung that song!
Now for the new member - on keyboards, Pete Solley, a name that will bring a smile to those who remember that ace original Terry Reid trio. This man is an astute acquisition. He slotted right in, and his excellent synthesiser work is a fine foil to Brooker and Mick Grabham. Talking of Grabham, he must be the most underrated guitarist this side of the Zambesi - and probably the other side as well. Definitely one of the most powerful but tasteful axemen on the boards.
I have certainly heard them play better, but at no stage could they be said to be poor, and it was vastly enjoyable. The band evidently enjoyed it too - they played for 2 1/4 hours.
It's unfortunate that Procol Harum's lack of appearances has let them become saddled with a grandiose Grand Hotel type image, but this tour should rectify all that.
Their music demands some effort and attention from the audience - commodities in short supply it seems - and they are not the easiest band to get into.
Mike Heron's new band Heron supported, and I've heard far worse headlining bands. This is about as far removed as you could imagine from ISB - real mainstream rock but imaginatively so, and heavily scored for the electric guitar and synthesiser. The potential is tremendous.
NME, March 12, 1977
A strange series of advertisements run on pages 5, 22, 41 and 55 - each one no bigger than a large stamp, and making no sense separately
NME, March 19, 1977
Another push for Something Magic, this time a big ad on page 37
NME, March 26, 1977
On The Road
Procol Harum were forced to cancel their gig at Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall on March 16, as their equipment was delayed by bad weather when being returned from the band's Irish dates. The show has now been re-arranged for April 1
Just been through the May 14 edition of the NME. No Procol. Just goes to show. We're passing the 10 year mark for the NME Procol Harum press, and they're all gone.
Never had the face of rock'n'roll changed more rapidly than during the recent six months. Something Magic could never have won. Not only because the album was no good, but because it represented everything everybody suddenly resented.
Long tunes, ambitious arrangements and highbrow lyrics. Now who had time for things like that in a world of The Stranglers, The Jam, The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Ramones, Blondie and loads of other groups that did everything in short two-three minute bursts, vibrating of adrenaline, sex and excitement.
The Worm And The Tree?!? Who fuckin' cared?
But it wasn't new wave, punk rock or journalistic attitude that tore Procol Harum down from the heavens. It was all their own doing. As can be seen in the two last interviews that Brooker / Reid gave the NME (in 1976 and 1977). Now that's what I call attitude ... Blaming the outside world for their own slip-sliding away is simply pathetic. And their arrogance is unbearable. (Just check the way Reid reacts to that very innocent question regarding why he is always travelling with the group when they tour; if that's not paranoia, what is?)
Hope they see it a bit more clearly today, 21 years on.
Procol Harum lost it (at least creatively) sometime around 1974 and Brooker's bickering about Chris Thomas and their one last great album is strange, really strange...
Maybe he's got a point regarding the producers, though. The Leiber-Stoller thing was a disaster. And when Brooker/Reid finally took over completely, it was the last nail in the coffin. They had no distance to what they were doing. They needed the guidance only the right producer could have given them. There is after all some good stuff on their final two albums. It just doesn't sound right.
NME, June 4, 1977
Tull, Procol in big top?
Jethro Tull, Procol Harum and Jon Lord are among acts being negotiated for an ambitious series of concerts, to be staged in a huge marquee alongside London's Tower Bridge during the summer. The venue, claimed to be the largest tended auditorium ever erected in Britain, will present 50 concerts from late July until October.
The series covers the whole spectrum of contemporary music over the past 25 years, and is expected to include about 20 rock gigs. Tull are said to be keenly interested in the venture, while both Procol and Lord will be accompained by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Other plans include a 1950 Oh Boy type rock'n'roll show and a country-rock bill. Full details will be announced shortly, the marquee will seat over 6,000 people and it is being erected on a riverside site on the South band, opposite the Tower of London. The series goes under the banner of "The Jubilee Concerts".
NME, June 11, 1977
Front page headlines
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (full page pic of atomic
NME Top 5:
1. ( 1) I Don't Want To Talk About It / The First
Cut Is The Deepest, Rod Stewart
2. ( 3) Lucille, Kenny Rogers
3. ( 4) A Star Is Born (Evergreen), Barbra Streisand
4. ( 2) Ain't Gonna Bump No More, Joe Tex
5. ( 9) Halfway Down The Stairs, The Muppets
6. (27) God Save The Queen, Sex Pistols
1. ( 2) Arrival, ABBA
2. ( 3) Deceptive Bends, 10 c.c.
3. ( 1) Hotel California, The Eagles
4. ( 4) A Star Is Born, Soundtrack
5. ( 5) Live At The Hollywood Bowl, The Beatles
Grabham: 'I've quit Procols'
Guitarist Mick Grabham has left Procol Harum after five years with the band. He came into the line-up in 1972, filling the spot vacated a few months before by Robin Trower, but now he has decided he wants the freedom to choose his own work. He is currently in the studio with the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, taking over temporarily from Tim Renwick while the band prepare and record their new album. And when that is finished, says Grabham, he may form his own group.
He told NME: "I have been generally dissatisfied with my role in Procol Harum for some months. I didn't think that what musical ability I may have was being used to best advantage. It was during our last American tour that I finally decided to leave, and I quit when we returned to Britain recently." [see also here]
Grabham insists that the other Harum members fully accepted his reasons for going, and that the split was amicable. But it has left the band in a state of flux, and they are apparently still considering how best to cope.
Main single reviews by Phil McNeill:
Cat Stevens, Remember The Days Of The Old School Yard
UFO, Alone Again Or
Supertramp, Give A Little Bit
Ultravox, Young Savage
Crosby Stills & Nash, Just A Song Before I Go
Hot Chocolate, So You Win Again
Dave Edmunds, I Knew The Bride
John Miles, Slow Down
Main album reviews:
Neil Young, American Stars'n'Bars
Rock Follies Of '77, Various
Tony Joe White, Eyes
The Vibrators, Pure Mania
UFO, Lights Out
Peter Frampton, I'm In You
The Moody Blues, Caught Live + 5
Yellow Dog, Yellow Dog
Judas Priest, Sin After Sin
The Mammoth Task: Yan's extracts from the first 52 weeks of Procol press in the NME
Swimming Against the Tide: Yan's extracts from the remaining ten years of Procol press in the NME