Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum's NME coverage ...

1, 8, 22 + 29 January, 12 + 19 February 1977

These excerpts from New Musical Express, kindly selected for 'Beyond the Pale' by Yan Friis, show Brooker buying a pub before Procol undertake their huge UK tour to promote Something Magic; Brooker, Reid and Copping are a bit unforthcoming in a big interview, and French fans clap along to The Worm and the Tree.

NME, January 1, 1977:


Jojo Laine, la cherie amour of Denny Laine, has opened a second-hand bric-a-brac shop in Weybridge (Why are you telling us these things - Ed.?)

But that's nothing: Sterling English squire Gary Brooker has just bought a pub called The Parrot in the same area. The locals apparently find him absolutely fascinating ...

NME, January 8, 1977:

Front page headlines:
The Homecoming of Joe Cocker
(full page pic)
Pistols ultimatum, Support us or we quit

Procol Harum set out next month on the most extensive British tour they have undertaken for several years. They will be playing over 20 dates, 16 of which have already been confirmed, including a major London concert at the Hammersmith Odeon. And to tie in with their schedule, their tenth album is released by Chrysalis on February 15, titled Something Magic.

Unusual picture, Solley in SNAFU regalia again

Dates finalised so far are at Coventry Warwick University (February 10), Edinburgh University (11), Glasgow Strathclyde University (12), Hull City Hall (14), Cardiff University (18), Exeter University (19), Wolverhampton Civic Hall (20), Liverpool University (23), London Hammersmith Odeon (26), Croydon Fairfield Hall (27), Birmingham Town Hall (28), Bristol Colston Hall (March 1), Sheffield University (7), Leeds University (9), Newcastle Mayfair (11) and Aylesbury Friars at Vale Hall (12). At least six more dates are to be announced.

Prior to these British gigs, Harum are spending the whole of January touring Europe - visiting Belgium, France, Switzerland and Germany. Then in mid-March, they leave for a prolonged American tour.

Their new album is noteworthy for the fact that the whole of the second side is devoted to an epic piece called The Worm And The Tree, a concept work which the band have been preparing for more than two years.

NME Top 5:
1 (1) When A Child Is Born, Johnny Mathis
2 (2) Under The Moon Of Love, Showaddywaddy
3 (4) Money Money Money, ABBA
4 (13) Don't Give Up On Us, David Soul
5 (6) Portsmouth, Mike Oldfield

NME albums:
1 (1) Arrival, ABBA
2 (3) Songs In The Key Of Life, Stevie Wonder
3 (2) 20 Golden Greats, Glen Campbell
4 (14) Showaddywaddy Greatest Hits, Showaddywaddy
5 (6) A Day At The Races, Queen

Main single reviews by Julie Burchill:
The Water Pistols, Gimme That Punk Junk
Nilsson, Me And My Arrow
The Eagles, New Kid In Town
George Harrison, This Song
Rose Royce, Car Wash
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes: Don't Leave Me This Way
Gary Glitter, It Takes All Night Long (parts 1 & 2)

Main album reviews:

Average White Band, Person To Person
Stephen Bishop, Careless
Various Artists, Phil Spector Wall Of Sound Vol. Six, Rare Masters No. 2"
John Miles, Stranger In The City

NME, January 22, 1977:

Cowbell Agency celebrates their first year in the business with a 8 page middle section in the NME. Three ads, including the full two page centre-spread, name-checks Procol Harum.

NME, January 29, 1977:

News pages:
Procol, Rory add


Procol Harum have added another five dates to their British concert tour itinerary, exclusively reported by NME three weeks ago. They are Oxford New Theatre (February 16), Bath Forum (22), Guildford Surrey University (March 4), Leicester Polytechnic (5) and Preston Guildhall (6). The band's new album Something Magic is released by Chrysalis on February 11 ...

NME, February 12, 1977:

Front page headlines:

I'm a hog for you baby (Full page of Pink Floyd's Animals sleeve + hog's head)
Sheep kiss floors Harper

NME Top 5:

1 (2) Don't Cry For Me Argentina, Julie Covington
2 (1) Don't Give Up On Us, David Soul
3 (5) When I Need You, Leo Sayer
4 (3) Side Show, Barry Biggs
5 (7) Daddy Cool, Boney M

NME albums
1 (1) Red River Valley, Slim Whitman
2 (6) Evita, Various Artists
3 (2) David Soul, David Soul
4 (4) Arrival, ABBA
5 (3) Songs In The Key Of Life, Stevie Wonder

News pages:

On The Road


Procol Harum have added Manchester Apollo on February 24 to their tour schedule, opening this weekend. Their gig on March 5 is switched from Leicester Polytechnic to Southend Kursaal.

Main single reviews by Angie Errigo
Emmylou Harris, You Never Can Tell
Linda Ronstadt, Crazy
Barbara Dickson, Another Suitcase In Another Hall
Mary MacGregor, Torn Between Two Lovers
Mike Oldfield, William Tell Overture
Eric Clapton, Carnival
Lynyrd Skynyrd, Free Bird (live)
Elton John, Crazy Water
Buzzcocks, Spiral Scratch (EP)
Max Romeo, Heads A Go Roll

Main album reviews:
Pink Floyd, Animals
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours
ZZ Top, Tejas
Sly & The Family Stone, Heard Ya Missed Me Well I'm Back
Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Dancer With Bruised Knees
Rick Wakeman, White Rock
Funkadelic, Hardcore Jollies
Parliament, The Clones Of Dr Funkenstein

Nationwide gig guide


Procol Harum don't believe in outwearing their welcome on the British circuit, and their new tour is the longest they have undertaken in this country for several years. They're playing over 20 dates, starting at Coventry (Thursday), Edinburgh (Friday), Glasgow (Saturday), Hull (Monday) and Oxford (Wednesday).

And their new album Something Magic is released next week to coincide with their gigs.



NME, February 19, 1977

Front page headlines:

Racing Cars / Hank & The Shads / Procol Harum
1977 Readers' Honours List
(full page pic of Eddie & The Hot Rods' Barrie Masters)

NME Top 5:
1 (1) Don't Cry For Me Argentina, Julie Covington
2 (3) When I Need You, Leo Sayer
3 (2) Don't Give Up On Us, David Soul
4 (9) Don't Leave Me This Way, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
5 (4) Side Show, Barry Biggs

NME albums:

1 (2) Evita, Various Artists
2 (3) David Soul, David Soul
3 (10) 20 Golden Greats, The Shadows
4 (1) Red River Valley, Slim Whitman
5 (7) Endless Flight, Leo Sayer

News pages:

What's new
Procol Harum's new single, issued by Chrysalis tomorrow (Friday), is Wizard Man. It is taken from their forthcoming album Something Magic.

Procol Harum triumph over worms

That seems to be the gist of it. Like, if you're attacked by worms, here's some good news from a bunch of lads who've suffered badly. Tony Stewart reports...

The worm was so greedy it ate more each day
And each day it ate more the tree shrank away
The worm was so loathsome it felt no disgrace
The birds had been silenced the sun shunned that place
And all of the forest grew fearful to see
What terrible fate lay in store for the tree

Gary and Keith, smiling

Ouch! Keith Reid's agony lies naked in The Worm And The Tree, the lyrically symbolic poem set to music that occupies the whole of the second side of Procol Harum's new album.

"Really, it's about how the press nearly caused the band to break up," Reid states, with a hint of bitterness in his voice. "That was three years ago, but we've been on the point of disbanding many times."

Typewriter torment?

But this lyrical Hostility is hardly what you'd expect from Procol's writer. After all, his main concern over the years has seemed to be in creating elaborate tapestries of imagery, or what those people not so well disposed towards the band describe as high-brow classical sea shanties, like Whaling Stories.

Now this worm squirms uneasily as Reid scrutinises him through thick-lensed spectacles. The glare is almost as chilling as having the cold steel nozzle of a double-barrel shotgun inches from your face.

The conversation started off idly enough. Following Procol's concert at the Pavilion de Paris we've all gone along to the opening of a new nightclub. Self-conscious of our scruffiness as the fashionable French feigned enthusiasm for the live music of Al Jarreau and his group, the band, myself, and small entourage have formed a conspicuous bunch near the door.

There's Chris Copping, now appointed bassist since he moved off organ to make way for the new recruit Pete Solley, standing at the bar wearing an incongruous woolly hat, guzzling the free champagne and excitedly talking about football, or the aphrodisiac qualities of the caviar he's also scoffing liberally.

NME's favourite picture of Mick Grabham

Guitarist Mick Grabham and drummer Barrie Wilson reconnoitre the club half-heartedly; Solley, wearing a crisp, black velvet suit, quietly sits watching Jarreau on the closed-circuit TV screen, Gary Brooker and his Swiss wife have popped off to talk with chanteuse Christianne Legrande; and I inadvertently touch a sensitive nerve of Reid's by asking why he always travels with the band although he doesn't play on stage.

"The press," he snaps irritably, "always ask me to justify my role..." He pauses, a trifle exasperated, to collect his thoughts. "Without me ... and Gary ... Procol Harum wouldn't exist. There would be no Procol," he emphasises.

"We are Procol Harum."

Ooops. He's frostier than the champers glass.

Reid, however, is not being unduly immodest. Together with vocalist-pianist Brooker, he has been the virtually unchallenged creative fulcrum of the band. This year marks the completion of a decade in the music biz for Harum, and the coincidental celebration is the release of their tenth album, Something Magic, and an extensive British tour.

Even though Procol have had a distinguished career as one of the few bands able to marry their inclinations for orchestral scores with rock music, producing a notable series of albums, to the British public they're still an enigmatic ensemble.

Not surprisingly their public character reflects their reticence to divulge much about themselves. For instance, last year bassist Alan Cartwright resigned, and the only explanation that Brooker offer is; "It's just one of those things. He wanted a change. Change is as good as a rest."

And then to ask Copping whether he prefers being back on bass rather than keyboards results in a curiously terse response. "Do you have to ask that? As long as he's on drums," he indicates Wilson as he whispers, "it's great. But shhh. Don't tell him. He'll get bigheaded."

In fact, Procol are a peculiar band of seemingly mismatched personalities, as is revealed when they're backstage at the Pavilion for the third concert of their Euro-tour.

Reid's role goes beyond just the lyricist, and he occupies himself as a somewhat severe disciplinarian organising the others for the stage, and generally acting the part normally associated with a manager. It's only to be expected that he's sometimes the target of some light-hearted ridicule from Wilson, Copping and Grabham, who huddle together around a table, cracking jokes and rolling smokes.

Brooker, on the other hand, has the bearing of a rather conservative headmaster. He wears a navy blue cord suit, shirt and Robin Day dickie-bow, and holds a pipe. When being interviewed he remains genial, but about as animated as a portly bullfrog soaking the sun, as he enjoys a light meal of fish and wine supplied in the dressing room by the promoter.

You're never really sure whether or not you're being subjected to Brooker's quiet, sardonic sense of humour. For example, he unexpectedly insists that being on the road on such an extensive schedule is far from being a pressure.

"Lately I've been finding it very relaxing," he croaks. "Most people think it's good to get home and relax, but I do it the other way round. Now, I get more knackered staying at home."

Overall Procol exude a casual, almost uncaring attitude; an approach which has justifiably led to their reputation as a veritable musical institution.

"Ha," cackles Brooker ambiguously, "it should be an institution".

"It's always been pretty much to itself, though. Its members have come and gone, but, unlike some groups, it hasn't really been a lifting ground for anybody to start solo careers; although one or two people have done that."

Robin Trower and Matthew Fisher are two notable former members who now have solo success.

"We've always been a pretty solid outfit for usually three or four years at a time," he continues. "I wonder when we'll stop.

"We're going great guns at the moment. We're really enjoying it. We've definitely got a new lease of life with this album. It sounds fresh, and it sounds as if we're doing what we're interested in. Which we are."

And that sounds like a clichéd bunch of platitudes he's just expressed.

But Brooker's tone belies the real importance of this stage of their career. Solley, formerly of Snafu, who joined the band last summer, has yet to fully establish himself with them on stage. And their latest set, Something Magic, is their first recent attempt to produce themselves following the severance of a long working relationship with Chris Thomas, and a shorter spell with Leiber and Stoller for Procol's Ninth.

The reason for this, Brooker explains, without any noticeable regret, was because they were dissatisfied with what was becoming an increasingly tedious, and unrepresentative, recording progress.

"I think we worked better in the studio on the last one - Ninth. Exotic Birds And Fruit was the last we did with Chris Thomas, and we'd just about come to the end of the road with him, and that came over on the album. I didn't like the production. To me, it was very disjointed.

"There was no animosity or anything, we'd just been working with Chris too long. He knew the band too well, because he'd been our sound man on tours for three or four years. There was nothing fresh about going in the studio. We'd been in the same studio at the same time for the third year running with the same people, and that wasn't what we needed really.

"Ninth was a reaction against that, because, for a start, we changed our situation by going to a different studio with different producers.

"Then we realized we were going into the studios with all the ideas, and very often the ideas were just being blocked or changed, because that was what a producer was meant to do. Really, the albums weren't coming out how we wanted them. We'd made nine albums and obviously we knew enough about it to be able to go in and sort it out. Which is what we did."

Although Procol had a large repertoire of new material from which to draw for Magic, the actual recording sessions seem to have been undertaken with the characteristically leisurely air of the band. There was no deliberate attempt, for instance, to make a stylistic change with the inclusion of The Worm And The Tree, recited by Brooker. And the story behind it sounds like a happy accident.

"Well, it came like a bolt out of the blue," guffaws Gary. "When we went in there it could have turned out to be like Exotic Birds or Ninth. We didn't even know we were going to do The Worm.

"We just played it one morning. Nobody knew it and it was very much improvised on the spot. Whereas if you go in with producers, after six weeks you end up doing only the numbers you told them about on the very first day.

"But I think we're more aware of what the songs are like and how they should sound. So, because we were producing, this album is much more what we're like."

He's hardly standing on his head with verbal confidence, but then that would probably upset the digestion of his fish. Actually, however, Something Magic has more satisfying qualities for the listener as well, coming across as Procol's most positive musical statement since Grand Hotel, the album which broke them in Europe.

Yet side two, the story of the worm trying to destroy the tree only to be killed itself, will doubtless draw adverse criticism from those sceptics who consider the subject, or its symbolic connotations, pretentious or tiresomely trite. The fact that it is spoken will also be thought a dubious affection.

Brooker, however, seems unconcerned.

"If I'd worked another year," he says, "I could have probably worked out how to sing it as well." And any analysing, he explains, will be in the mind of the listener, because he claims it's merely about, "the infinity of things. Although something will get ruined by some outside influence, and be spoiled, it can be saved, and it's not really dead."

Further inquiries into the theme he charmingly averts. "Keith's probably more qualified to speak than I am, because he wrote the words."

He then smiles affably, less perturbed about potential disfavour than his partner, Reid. Instead, he's content to answer questions in an almost perfunctory manner, and the conversation drifts over him uncontroversially, like ... well, water off a bullfrog's back.

"Yeah, it is pretty casual," he agrees. "We don't discuss anything. I think it's just one of those groups where we all respect each other as musicians."

Or, could it be that this reluctance to make public proclamations about Procol's worth is rather subtle defence mechanism?

"We don't make a spectacle of what we do," Brooker continues mildly. "We won't make a spectacle of this album either. Perhaps we should scream at the world that there's a long, talking side on it, but we'd much rather have people buy, find it on the B-side, and them decide for themselves if they like it. See what happens.

"If," he adds with a crafty twinkle, "they don't like it they can't say we pushed it on them. "

All they're trying to do musically is, "stir something somewhere," he says vaguely.

Perhaps it's as well they don't rely on Brooker's conversational conviction for this. Few people would have heard about them.

The mystical power of Reid's 'Tree' is when the dead wood (during interviews) is planted on the Pavilion stage, and then over the course of almost two hours gradually grows into a sturdy musical oak, from which comes the delightful little acorns of their best compositions.

This worm wriggles with delight from the dilapidated floorboards of the mammoth hall: the 'Tree's' greenhouse, containing a few thousand frogs and snails. (Ouch! Again.)

There's a decisive air about the group, which more than compensates for their lack of verbal aggression, as they open with a brand new song, the title track of the album. That it doesn't come across so well is due to no lack of enthusiasm on their part, but merely because, by tradition, Procol's sound and music is usually unsettled during the initial stages of a concert.

They run through two oldies, Conquistador and Beyond The Pale, before the music develops into something with a little more sensitivity on another new song, Skating On Thin Ice. This has all the qualities of a Procol classic, with a strong melody and excellent, systematic instrumentation behind Brooker's stout voice and fragile piano figures.

And then the show opens up properly with an elaborate version of Grand Hotel, allowing a more positive contribution from Solley on organ, which with its humour, with snatches of such dance songs as Fernando's Hideaway, draws the audience closer to the band.

In effect the show develops into the almost perfect epitome of Procol's character, revealing more depth and aspects than their somewhat redundant image as a neo-classical band; which dates bach (oops) to their '67 hit, A Whiter Shade Of Pale.

With that purpose they juxtapose Mark Of The Claw, yet another song from Something Magic, which features the vulgar blues guitar lines of Grabham, and a rock'n'roll track called [sic] I'm Drunk Again, with the eerily melodic Strangers In Space.

Then comes the complete performance of The Worm And The Tree, which is received with some confusion by the French fans, and no doubt because of the nature of the set they doggedly attempt to clap along as soon as the number reaches the second of its three movements. It's a decidedly fruitless attempt at participation, as they soon realize when Brooker once again begins to recite the words.

Those unfamiliar with the breadth of Procol's style are no doubt even more bewildered when the precision of The Worm And The Tree, with its growing intensity, is then forsaken for the hard rock of Pandora's Box, followed by an explosive drum solo by Wilson on The Unquiet Zone, followed by a return to the former musical eloquence for A Salty Dog.

It is, of course, a deliberate shift of moods, allowing each musician his own, individual vehicle, while collectively the songs retain common characteristics, largely stemming from Brooker's voice and his somewhat deliberate piano style, and from Solley, who moves about on organ and synthesiser with imaginative zeal.

Not surprisingly Procol confound the situation even further when they encore, first with a simple pop ditty, their new single, The [sic] Wizard Man, then a country tune called [sic] I've Had Too Many, on which Solley plays an excellent fiddle, and withholding the penultimate A Whiter Shade Of Pale until the very end [sic!!].

The set is not without fault, like occasional manifestations of ragged timing and the odd lethargic rhythmic base from Copper and Wilson, but overall it's the kind of show which reaffirms the masterly musical and lyrical colour of an undoubtedly talented Tree ... I mean, Band!

And it's in this set, with the last two lines of The Worm that Procol's aphorism is stated with more defiance than they're even able to do in conversation.

The worm can be killed yet the tree be not dead
For from the roots of the elder a new life will spread*


* Lyrics of The Worm And The Tree reprinted by kind permission of Bluebeard Music.

Main singles reviewed by Roy Carr:
Ry Cooder, He'll Have To Go
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, American Girl
Andrew Gold, Lonely Boy
Barbra Streisand, Love Theme From 'A Star Is Born'
David Bowie, Sound And Vision
Mick Ronson, Billy Porter
The Shirts, Poe
Mink de Ville, Let Me Dream If I Want To
Wings, Maybe I'm Amazed / Soily

Main album reviews:
The Steve Gibbons Band, Rollin' On
The Shadows, 20 Golden Greats
Jefferson Airplane, Flight Log 1966-76
The Damned, Damned Damned Damned
Rufus, Ask Rufus
Blondie, Blondie

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

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