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Class C

Main Category: Art Rock
Also applicable: Lush Pop, Rhythm & Blues
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years, The Interim Years,

The Punk/New Wave Years, From Grunge To The Present Day




APPENDIX B: Thomas Silvestri's recollections of PH live shows

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Nobody knows much about Procol Harum these days. SAD. Just because all the people who ignore their existence, deliberately or not, miss quite a lot. Yes, one might dismiss the band on first listen - they're not an easy nut to sink your teeth into. Simplicity lovers will despise them for their pomp and pretentions. Hardcore prog lovers will neglect them for the lack of immaculate musical virtuosity. And, finally, those who just want to have a good time with their favourite bands will probably complain at them for their lack of diversity - after all, every next damn Procol Harum record sounds exactly like the previous one.

They're all wrong, of course. Yes, the band had a very narrow style throughout all of its ten years - all based on Brooker's tenor voice and keyboard playing; but, well, so did Led Zeppelin, and it seems nobody reproaches them. Moreover, I swear that Procol Harum were more diverse than Led Zeppelin - simply because their songs set quite a wide series of moods, ranging from silly comic throwaways to grandiose Bach-inspired symphonies. Yes, the band lacked true virtuosos; but all of its musicians were quite skilled, and Robin Trower was more than just your ordinary guitarist: together with Fripp, those two were probably the best Hendrix imitators one could find on the rock scene. Finally, about the pomp and pretentions.

Procol Harum are not a prog rock band by any means. Prog rock demands technical perfection and total mastership as one of its required components, and prog rock is always combined with meaningless, but overbloated lyrics. Procol Harum were not technically perfect, and their lyrics had meaning. Yes, you heard right. Keith Reid, the band's official lyricist, was probably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rock poets in existence. You can hear a lot of influences in his words, Dylan not last of them, but ultimately he developed his own style which nobody was able to top. And he wasn't that pretentious, except for a couple of their lengthy suites like 'In Held Twas In I'. His lyrics usually dealt with small topics of little significance, or, at least, they were stylistically narrowed. But the imagery is just fantastic, you gotta admit it. Listen to their debut album and tell me I'm wrong. The lyrics, in fact, constitute a large part of Procol's attraction - rather like Dylan's. However, the melodies attached to these lyrics aren't usually less superb. Most of the complaints about them probably result from the fact that Keith was primarily a poet, not a lyricist: he wrote poetry, and poetry doesn't need to have a diverse rhythmic structure. All the more, one has to admire the band's talents in adjusting his compositions to their music (Elton John fared much worse while struggling to fit Taupin's words into his song structures).

If you know anything about anything, and that anything happens to be Procol Harum, then that anything is certainly 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale'. But believe me, there is really much more to the band than that first (most worthy, of course, but still not the only) single. You just need to take some time. Not too long - their style will have you grabbed by the collar quite soon, I guarantee. Meanwhile, take a walk with me and let's have a look at some of the albums of this, arguably one of the world's most intelligent, bands, shall we?

Lineup: the band was originally known as the Paramounts. These were formed in the beginning of the Sixties and mostly played R'n'B covers. By 1967, however, the band split up, and Brooker, one of its co-founders, formed Procol Harum in its place. The first lineup that recorded 'Whiter Shade Of Pale' consisted of: Gary Brooker - keyboards, vocals; Matthew Fisher - keyboards; Dave Knights - bass; Bobby Harrison - drums; Ray Royer - guitar. Note that Keith Reid, the lyricist, was also considered a formal (sixth) member of the band, although he never joined them on stage, staying behind the curtains.

This lineup, however, wasn't stable, and even before they recorded their first LP, Harrison and Royer left, replaced by: B. J. Wilson (drums), Robin Trower (guitar). This is the classic Procol Harum lineup as we know it (1967-69). Both Fisher and Knights left in 1970, replaced by Chris Copping who functioned as both a bass and a keyboard player. Robin Trower left, 1971, replaced by Dave Ball. If you didn't love early Harum to death, you might just as well stop here: Fisher's and Trower's departure thin the sound, and the band was never the same (but I still love it). Ball left, 1972, replaced by Mick Grabham. Alan Cartwright added on base, 1972, but left before their final album in 1977 which also featured Pete Solley on keyboards. A good mess, as you can see: Brooker was the only constant member of the band, with drummer B. J. Wilson coming close (unfortunately, he died in 1989).

The original lineup kinda reformed in 1991 for an album and a tour; I got the album and, as you'll read below, it's seriously below par. Nevertheless, what I just want to add is that Procol Harum amazes me as one of the most consistent art rock groups in history - for years, they've been pumping out album after album, quite a lot of which either are masterpieces or come close; loss of key members like Fisher or Trower didn't really have any serious impact on the individual talents of Brooker as a composer or Reid as a lyricist. Just follow my reviews and see the endless row of eights and nines - you'll get the idea. And don't you dare thinking I'm biased towards Procol Harum - I started out with a bias against the band, in fact.



Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Arguably the first serious and mature art rock record with some of the best keyboard playing in history.


Track listing: 1) A Whiter Shade Of Pale; 2) Conquistador; 3) She Wandered Through The Garden Fence; 4) Something Following Me; 5) Mabel; 6) Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of); 7) A Christmas Camel; 8) Kaleidoscope; 9) Salad Days (Are Here Again); 10) Good Captain Clack; 11) Repent Walpurgis; [BONUS TRACKS:] 12) Lime Street Blues; 13) Homburg; 14) Monseigneur Armand; 15) Seem To Have The Blues All The Time.

You might make the mistake of thinking 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' is the only good song on the album, just because it's that notorious. Don't. Contrary to rumour, the album isn't packed with filler at all - even if they did have to rush to the studio and record it as quickly as possible on the heels of their sudden success. Of course, the song is outstanding: the way they intertwine Bach's 'Air On A G String' with blues patterns and Reid's mystical lyrics is simply incredible. Perhaps the tune doesn't sound as terrific now as it did way back in the summer of 1967 - after all, it was probably the first major venture into the world of art rock. But I still hold a soft spot in my heart for it as one of the best representatives of the magnificent sound of Procol Harum. The only thing it lacks is a guitar - Robin Trower hadn't yet joined at this point; but even without the guitar it still manages to convey that feeling of measured majesty which makes Procol captivating.

Yeah, but this is not the only high point. They might have recorded individual songs of higher quality in the future, but it's on here that they really burst out with an innovative, totally groundbreaking set of numbers. I'm perfectly aware that most of them are built on the same musical principle - that is, combining classical elements, primarily Bach, with slow, moody Ray Charles-ish soul and Brooker's high, unrestrained vocals; but that doesn't make the music less fascinating, because they didn't forget to provide most of their material with clever, catchy hooks. Not to mention the lyrics - some of the best rock poetry on here, no doubt.

You wanna some proof? Okay, here we go. 'Conquistador' might be the second best song on here, based on Reid's brilliant allegory of the vanity of victory. And, as much as I'm not a fan of the Brooker tone, I must confess that he pulls off the song just fine, clearly getting Reid's message. The best moment, of course, comes in the chorus, with the scary descending guitar riff over the confused lines 'And though I hoped for something to find/I could see no maze to unwind'! BOO! Sounds almost like 'Boris The Spider' to me, only the dark humour vibe is replaced by the really frightening one. Yet another spooky tune is 'Outside The Gates Of Cerdes' (what's Cerdes, may I ask, and what's its relations with Hades?) Ever seen a painting of the Final Judgement by Bosch? That's what the lyrics seem to be all about, and the keyboards and the dark bass line create a mood that's simply perfect. Finally, if you're not yet scared out of your pants, you get a gloomy account of Brooker always running into his own tombstone in 'Something Following Me'. Need I add that both songs are highlighted by Trower's vicious Hendrix-inspired solos and Fisher's beautiful organ?

There's also some romantic ballads on here - like the silly 'She Wandered Through The Garden Fence', or the groovy 'Salad Days (Are Here Again)', and a couple of songs might seem throwaways, like the repetitive 'Kaleidoscope' or the short good-time ditty 'Good Captain Clack'. But even then, they're still listenable, and you won't regret buying the album while listening to such monsters as their greatest Ray Charles rip-off ('A Christmas Camel', with maybe the funniest lyrics on the entire album), or the closing instrumental 'Repent Walpurgis' which sounds close to 'Shade Of Pale', yet is different. IMHO, it's one of the most gorgeous classical-style rock compositions ever, standing right there, together with Jethro Tull's 'Bouree'. Funny how all the gorgeous classical-style rock compositions are based on Bach, isn't it? In fact, if I might allow myself a little digression, it's interesting that Bach seems to be the primary influence for all 'serious' bands, and not only art rock ones: even Jack Bruce admitted Bach's influence in his work. I still have no idea why. Sure, Bach is a great composer, but there are so many more... why does nobody ever quote Mozart as an influence? Too lightweight? Too bad, I say!

All right, I was talking about 'Repent Walpurgis'. It's a great instrumental, with the pounding organ and Trower's guitar building up to shattering climaxes. Hell, I caught myself on using as many 'greatest', 'shattering' and 'gorgeous' epithets in this here review as I'd probably never use on a whole page devoted to lots of other bands. Well, you gotta excuse me: this record is truly like nothing else (except for later Procol Harum records, of course). I'd bet its primary uniqueness of course, lies in a definite differentiation between the piano (courtesy of Brooker) and the organ (courtesy of Fisher). This results in a very rich layer of keyboard sound which neither Yes nor ELP, the two greatest keyboard prog rock bands of all time, could afford. Another distinction is that it manages to sound intelligent and serious without sounding at all pretentious - courtesy of Keith Reid and the goaty singing of Mr Brooker. And even if you think that it's pretentious, just listen to the ridiculous fun on 'Mabel', the track that should really and truly belong to a drunken cabaret party... nah. It's as great as everything else on here.

Oh! And don't forget the bonus tracks! The B-side of 'Shade Of Pale' is actually a jumpy R'n'B number ('Lime Street Blues') that denotes their Paramounts past. Then there's 'Homburg', their classic second single which is a carbon, but certainly not a dull, copy of 'Shade Of Pale', except that the piano is featured more prominently than the organ, giving the song a complaintive rather than majestic feel. 'Monseigneur Armand' is a throwaway, but 'Seem To Have The Blues All Of The Time' is top-notch, built on a grumbling, almost heavy metal riff (I wonder how much innovatory the song was for its time? There were no Led Zeppelin back then, remember that!) In all, the record is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful... geez, I'm gonna go put it on one more time now. Go get it.



Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

A little too overblown with too few departures from the first album to match its pretentiousness.


Track listing: 1) Quite Rightly So; 2) Shine On Brightly; 3) Skip Softly (My Moonbeams); 4) Wish Me Well; 5) Rambling On; 6) Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone); 7) In Held Twas In I; [BONUS TRACKS:] 8) In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence; 9) Il Tuo Diamante; 10) Homburg (stereo version).

Ever so slightly weaker than A Whiter Shade Of Pale, just because there are almost no serious musical advances here (what the huckle - there would really be few serious musical advances for the next ten years, let's admit it frankly; but isn't that the fate of most art-rock bands?), this is still a solid effort. The main Procol warhorse is still the center of attention: Reid's Dylanish lyrics set to Brooker's dancing keyboards. There's a little less Trower on the record, which makes it harder to assimilate: after all, how can you fare without a cool Hendrix guitarline now and then? However, if you listen very hard, you'll actually discover Robin on almost every track: it's just that he's diversified his sound, often using less distortion and a higher, more squeaky tone; he also gets to demonstrate some really weird, chaotic lines on 'Skip Softly', the kind of which he was too shy to include on the previous record. Unsatisfying as it is, it's still a sign of life - Procol Harum were never a pure keyboards band, at least, not until Trower's departure.

The album, of course, is built around the epic, 17-minute long, half-classical, half-rock suite 'In Held Twas In I' The suite itself is revolutionary, of course: prog rock with its rock symphonies hadn't yet been born at that moment, and Brooker and company can be really called pioneers in that direction. They even did this before the Beatles - one year before the second side of Abbey Road! However, from the musical side 'In Held Twas In I' can in no way be ranked equal, not to mention surpassing, Abbey Road. It has its great and groovy moments - the confessional 'In The Autumn Of My Madness', for one, or the cool guitar line leading into 'Look To Your Soul'. And the 'Grand Finale' is terrific, although too close to a pale carbon copy of 'Repent Walpurgis'. Still good. Still gets my mind flowing, and Trower's guitar is cathartic to the core. But the way the suite starts, the ridiculous and overbloated spoken 'Glimpses Of Nirvana' with its Buddhist coan, and the very main body of 'Look To Your Soul' itself are, eek, boring. I know that's the kind of word I should never pronounce while reviewing Procol Harum, because once I named one of their songs boring, I'll be sure to extend the procedure to others and others and others, but I'm finally beat. Blame it on the seventeen-minute length of the track: this was the first musical experience of the kind, and they might have thought its flaws would be less evident in the light of its groundbreakingness. Maybe they were in 1968, but time lays open all the traps. To put it short, there are way too few musical ideas for a seventeen-minute running time, and that's that.

Better seek salvation in the shorter numbers. Me, I'd eagerly seek it most of them. 'Quite Rightly So' is a definite higlight, with delightful soulful singing from Gary and a very pathetic organ melody. Or take the title track, highlighted by that excellent 'screeching' guitar line in the choruses and 'decadent' singing. Yeah, I know the melody's recycled from 'A Christmas Camel', but that don't make the song less exciting, at least, not first time around. Then there's 'Skip Softly (My Moonbeams)', the weird one of the album - nothing can be more weird than 'Mabel', of course, but it's still weird. It has a funny, almost ragtime keyboard rhythm, then it goes off shattered into guitar solos and finally ends with a grotesque organ quote from some famous classical melody I just can't remember the name right now.

There's the scary 'Wish Me Well', a group-sung blues number that tries to emulate 'Outside The Gates Of Cerdes', and there's the clever lyrical stunt 'Rambling On' where Brooker tells a story about his yearning to fly like Batman and what came out of it. Beats 'Something Following Me' all to hell. Yeah, these short numbers might get monotonous, but they're always entertaining. Except for the dragging 'Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone)' which is so sleep-inducing that I heartily welcome 'In Held Twas In I' coming in its fall.

See, I keep comparing this record to its predecessor, because that's the very natural thing to do: if there's any sort of inspiration here, it's only provided by A Whiter Shade Of Pale, none of these stupid outside influences. If you loved their debut album to death, you'll get as much out of Shine On Brightly. If you're like me, however, you'll be left a little disappointed. Not enough disappointed, though, to rate the album more than two points less of perfection. Yes. The bonus tracks aren't as interesting as the ones to Shade Of Pale, by the way. Okay, there's a cute little poetical rant called 'In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence' which I kinda like. But the Italian version of 'Shine On Brightly' ('Il Tuo Diamante') is ridiculous - Brooker sings like a naughty schoolboy who's been always missing his Italian lessons. And the stereo version of 'Homburg' adds little to the excellent mono version on the previous album. Why are better albums always accompanied by better bonus tracks?



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

More personal songs and more carefully crafted music. A great showcase for the guitar, too.

Best song: A SALTY DOG

Track listing: 1) A Salty Dog; 2) The Milk Of Human Kindness; 3) Too Much Between Us; 4) The Devil Came From Kansas; 5) Boredom; 6) Juicy John Pink; 7) Wreck Of The Hesperus; 8) All This And More; 9) Crucifixion Lane; 10) Pilgrim's Progress.

Probably their second best album, this one marks the transition into the stable, steady and flourishing period of 1969-71 - the brief shining moment when Procol Harum was, arguably, the world's best art rock band. Of course, the individual albums and songs varied in quality, but the richness of sound generally just couldn't be topped, and, moreover, they were probably the only band that managed not to sound pretentious by tackling material which in any other hands would only cause brows to be raised and shoulders to be shrugged. Shine On Brightly, even with all of its glorious highlights, was somewhat patchy and insecure - it was like they were painfully trying to find the perfect balance between all band members, and ended up almost disqualifying Trower. A Salty Dog finds the band in perfect state: the songs are still mostly based on Brooker/Fisher's piano/organ interplay, but Trower's guitar re-instates itself as a third equal and, in fact, quite a lot of songs on here are only made significant by Trower's contributions (most notably 'The Milk Of Human Kindness' and 'All This More').

Here they abandon the pomposity of 'In Held Twas In I' and mostly stick to relatively short, tight, compact songs, few of which have as much immediate impact as their debut album (that is, if you heard that one first), but most of which turn out to be little musical chef-d'aeuvres in the end. Keith Reid is also at the peak of his lyricist talents, turning in one blistering set of imagery after another and interchanging them with emotional confessions. The title track is a genuine Procol classic - when the orchestra comes in, it's like I'm right there in the middle of the sea together with the salty dog, in the 'parts unknown to men/Where ships come home to die'. It sounds very close to 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' and yet it ain't no rip-off, 'cause the mood it sets on you is totally different. Anyway, stop crabbing and realize that Procol Harum is probably the only art-rock band in the world that could make real good use of strings when it came to orchestration.

Then there's the menacing, almost burning 'The Milk Of Human Kindness', highlighted by fantastic Brooker/Trower interplay; that fuzzy guitar riff simply shakes my bowels and the 'quiet desperation' of the song is unsurpassed. 'Too Much Between Us' is another nice ballad built on acoustic guitar, although I admit it might sound boring to you if you're not in the mood; me, I find the melody charming in its almost childish naivety, and Brooker's plaintive, sentimental rerrain is so sensitive and movving that it almost makes one cry. Trower shines on the rockers 'The Devil Came From Kansas' (although this is probably one of the weakest tunes on here, because the melody is totally primitive and they don't compensate it with their pedestrian singing either) and 'All This And More' (much, much better, the second best guitar line on the album is here - Trower's climactic flourishes after each verse are exceptional, almost trumpet-imitating).

The album's also much more democratic than before: not only are Trower and Fisher allowed to offer their own contributions (most of the songs on the previous two albums are credited to Brooker/Reid), they're even allowed to sing them - and they got better voices than Gary, even though all the diehard fans might disagree. Well, screw the diehard fans, I say. Have you heard 'Crucifiction Lane'? It's built on the same generic melody that's featured on 'House Of The Rising Sun' and that the Stones would simply steal for 'I Got The Blues' two years later (which is, strange enough, a worse song than this), but somehow they manage to make the best out of it, and Robin offers a blistering solo, too. Fisher's contributions aren't bad, either: 'Boredom' is folkish fun and 'Wreck Of The Hesperus' is the album's second orchestrated epic (besides the title track). It was like Matthew was holding a competition with Brooker, but I'm not sure who won. Gary probably won in the 'commercial' sense, since it's 'A Salty Dog' that became a fan favourite, but 'Wreck Of The Hesperus' is almost just as good. Funny thing: George Harrison, a close friend of Brooker, also wrote a song called 'Wreck Of The Hesperus' for his 1987 Cloud 9 album. But that's a different matter. Fisher also gets the honour of closing the album with the contemplative 'Pilgrim's Progress', a relative throwaway but a pleasant tune by itself.

The only misfire is Trower's two-minute 'Juicy John Pink', a raw recording of a heavy blues tune: it doesn't sound at all bad, but it just doesn't fit in with the band's sound. I don't mind diversity, but this is a peculiar oddity rather than an attempt to diversify the style. Get that on a B-side and gimme something like 'Boredom' instead. But, anyway, this is as cleverly crafted a collection of songs as you're ever going to get. Yes, the sound is a wee bit more uniform than before, but you have to get over that. After all, this is what they call symph rock, isn't it? Classical music transformed into rock. Few bands managed the transgression; get this record and learn all the benefits of great art rock.

But I warn you - you'll have to relax and get into it. This ain't the kind of music that makes you clench your fist or tap your feet. No music-hall sendups here, either: everything is getting very serious. That's why I can't quite award this a 10: too much mid-tempo and too much sameyness. I really can't blame the melodies, but I think that the album's structure and composition leave something to be desired. Although I certainly can see as to why this is universally acclaimed as the band's finest moment, and is generally the diehards' best bet for a true chef-d'oeuvre.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Aggressive and pessimistic, that's what this one is. And it's somewhat a departure from the earlier sound, which some might welcome.


Track listing: 1) Whisky Train; 2) The Dead Man's Dream; 3) Still There'll Be More; 4) Nothing That I Didn't Know; 5) About To Die; 6) Barnyard Story; 7) Piggy Pig Pig; 8) Whaling Stories; 9) Your Own Choice.

Oh dear, Procol Harum can rock. We'd always suspected that, since Trower's primary idol was Hendrix, after all. However, the basic sound of Procol - the organ/piano interplay - always prevented them from doing exactly that; whatever they forked out, it all ended up sounding like a Bach rip-off. Now that Matthew Fisher has left the band, this interplay was all but gone. His replacement, Chris Copping, isn't really much of a keyboard player - after all, how can one guy handle both bass and keyboards, even in the studio (not to mention live)? I know only Ray Manzarek, and his handling of both duties always caused the Doors a lot of criticism. So this album is much more guitar-based than the previous three: Trower suddenly rises up to the stage and convinces us all that he's not really mellow (as if his guitarwork on 'Repent Walpurgis' left any doubt). The first song on the album, 'Whisky Train', breaks in with such a rip-roarin', intoxicating melody that you could hardly believe it was Procol in the first place: a heavy, distorted riff, no pianos, straightforward lyrics about an old boozer who decided to quit drinking, and only Brooker's usual voice somehow links the song to the traditional Procol style. Nevertheless, the song is great; it's one of the few compositions in the entire catalogue that really sets your heart afire and gets your feet tapping. The guitar is awesome.

The rest of the album is somehow more traditional, although the guitar is much more prominent everywhere. Also, Keith Reid must have been having a really bad time, 'cause most of the lyrics deal with death and loss of hope and torture and abuse and other unattractive subjects (the word 'death' gets repeated in almost every song, in fact. And the titles? 'The Dead Man's Dream', 'About To Die'! They should have called the album 'Death', but they were probably afraid nobody would buy it under such a straightforward name). That's not to say the lyrics are bad (except for 'Whaling Stories', an unsuccessful venture into the world of prog rock): they just get so paranoid after a while that the whole album leaves a heavy feeling. In that respect, 'Whisky Train' might seem deceptive, because even if it's a hard rock song by definition, it's not a pessimistic song.

It's right at the end of it that the drama begins, with Brooker singing about a horrible dream of his - 'Dead Man's Dream' has a melody that sounds like a whining beaten dog, a plain old-fashioned dirge with funeral organ around and Brooker basically sounding like he's totally at the end of the line. The lyrics sound like they're taken from an old goth tale ("And the corpses were rotten, yet each one was living/Their eyes were alive with maggots crawling" - yuck!). Thank God musical videos weren't all that popular in 1970, or we would have gotten something real nasty from these guys.

After that, for a short period of time, Brooker turns to threats with the almost lyrically punkish 'Still There'll Be More' with lyrics like 'I'll blacken your Christmas and piss on your door, you'll be crying for mercy but still there'll be more'; then he passes on to cynical revelations ('Nothing That I Didn't Know', with multiple references to dead young girls), murky, chillin' prophecies ('About To Die', perhaps the most gruesome number on the album, with a dirty guitar/organ interplay and Gary impersonating a Biblical hero, no less) and broken expectations (the slightly less interesting musically 'Barnyard Story').

It all comes to a culmination in 'Piggy Pig Pig': the song itself isn't very impressive, with a nice but not great melody, but the climax (the band furiously shouting 'PIGGY - PIG -PIG' over multiple gruntings and swooshing noises) is frightening, sounding like a death sentence to the 'piggified' society. The song ranks right there, on the same level with Harrison's 'Piggies' and Waters' 'Pigs (Three Different Ones)', in its brilliant use of the swine allegory, although it's definitely a wee bit more complicated in the current situation than in the two other ones.

For many fans the album's masterpiece is the seven minute long 'Whaling Stories', but I can't really find any justification to that fact, except for the very reason that it's the longest song on the album and thus pretends to be its magnum opus. It has its moments, but for the most part it's slow, dreamy, and doesn't really fit in with the other songs on here - neither musically nor lyrically. It just seems like a retread of 'A Salty Dog' to me, both in the lyrical department, with multiple marine allegories, and in the 'grand slow epic' sense, but without the swooping string climaxes and a weaker melody. I do admit that the grandiose mid-section is awesome enough in the sonic department so as to compensate for lack of strings.

Still, I far prefer the album closer 'Your Own Choice' - it's faster, it makes more sense, it's hummable, and it's unpretentious - if you don't see any pretensions in lyrics condemning the human race, of course.

On the whole, though, the album's just as enjoyable as the first three. And, anyway, expression of world sorrow had always characterized Procol Harum music - it's just that they get a little over the top on here. On the other hand, it is all compensated by Trower's filling up the space of Fisher, so if you want your rock music to rock, grab this one. Better still, try to find a compilation that has 'Whisky Train' on it. I'm sure you'll succeed. And dig that album cover. If you scan it closely, you'll notice it's structured in the form of a mock-board game, with one Procoler (Trower, I suppose) chasing after another (Brooker, I presume) and shouting 'Come back, you scamp!' Hilarious.



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Procol Harum metamorphose into a hard rock band. For a short while. But a worth while.


Track listing: 1) Simple Sister; 2) Broken Barricades; 3) Memorial Drive; 4) Luskus Delph; 5) Power Failure; 6) Song For A Dreamer; 7) Playmate Of The Mouth; 8) Poor Mohammed.

Youpee, another great Procol Harum record. Lord save me but I can't help liking these guys. There's almost nothing particularly impressive about this particular one, in fact it doesn't contain even a single all-time classic like 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' or 'A Salty Dog' or even 'Whaling Stories'. And yet, it's just so cleverly constructed, so brilliantly arranged and performed, and manages to be artsy and memorable at the same time. The closest thing to a 'prog epic' on here is 'Song For A Dreamer', and even this one is shorter than six minutes. And it's good. The main thing about the album, though, is an almost complete, if unexpected, dominance of Trower and his guitar: quite a few of the Brooker-written and sung tunes are all based on heavy riffs, and he contributes three compositions himself. God only knows what Robin could have transformed the band into... if he hadn't unexpectedly left it right after the album's release. One of the most unexpected decisions in rock history (maybe only compared with Gabriel's leaving Genesis after the triumph of The Lamb): the man had just solidified his presence in the band, turning them into a mighty 'hard-art' ensemble and then this! My hypothesis is that the others have rebelled against him, but that's behind the curtains, really, and it shouldn't interest you unless you're one of these sharks that keeps distributing photos of Keith Richards naked.

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. The album's surprisingly short, with only eight songs on it, and they're more or less evenly split between 'kick ass' rockers and more traditional Brooker keyboard incantations. The rockin' part is all good, although I must say that a fan of 'classical' Procol Harum might be severely disappointed first time around. Trower is a fine guitarist, with an almost perfect brand of riffage and enough talent to produce a tasty solo; and we all know about Keith Reid's magnificent poetic lyrics and Brooker's piano arrangements. However, when taken together, these things don't seem to really fit in, not at once, at least. Quite a few times I caught myself on the thought that they remind me of some output from certain patchy New Wave bands that wanted to rock out and sound artistic at the same time and ended up sounding like lame derivative rockers with stupid pretensions. Here, it's vice versa: can you really imagine Gary Brooker as a rocker? Well, you'll just have to, and once you get over yourself, you'll get quite a lot of pleasure from such weird tunes as the punchy 'Memorial Drive', or what is probably the best (and the best known) song on the record: Brooker's 'Simple Sister', built on a riff that bears a suspicious resemblance to Townshend's 'We're Not Gonna Take It', but it's just similar and it isn't the same one, so I pass on that comment. The riff is good, as you might conclude, and the lengthy instrumental mid-section can get a little boring, but only a little - and only if you're not in the mood for a good solo. And I don't know whether it's my jerky tastes or I'm really a genius for liking this song, but I get a hell of a lot of pleasure from the closing 'Poor Mohammed', sung by Trower. The lyrics might be dumb (condemnation of discrimination of Arabian population immigration?), but the melody rocks! It rocks! Not as hard as 'Whisky Train', but it rocks! Yeah, one might say that this kind of rockers makes the band lose their face and turn into an average, half-inspired hard rock band, but what the hell, we all know this is just a groovy facet of the band, and they do it good, and those who are not entirely satisfied with any record that's full to the brink with 'artsy' symphonic sound can also enjoy this particular album.

In fact, the 'traditional' songs are worse than usual this time around, at least a couple of them. The title track is all built on a synth loop, and Procol Harum were never a synth band like ELP or Yes - they didn't even know particularly well what to do with them. So it ends up kinda suckin'. A little. 'Luskus Delph' doesn't thrill me too much, either, though it's good. On the other hand, we have the lengthy, moody guitar/keyboards interplay on the psychedelic 'Song For A Dreamer' which, you might not believe me, but it's so - it really sounds just as if it's been taken directly from Dark Side Of The Moon. It's creepy, dreamy, far out and a little philosophical (and what about the line 'I'll meet you on the other side of the moon'? Now that's ripping off, I tell you, Roger!). 'Playmate Of The Mouth' is no slouch either, with its clever use of brass and tremedous rhythm. Yes, they did it, they don't really sound boring - not even on their fifth album. Jeez, they already made five albums that mostly sound the same and none of them are still boring. Isn't this a proof they're a great band?

The only major weirdness that lies within the album are the lyrics: if Home's main issue was death and mutilation, on Broken Barricades Reid turned to portraying confusion, disorder, inner and outer chaos and violence. Song after song you get pictures of ill-treated people ('Simple Sister'), lost illusions (title track), self deprecation ('Luskus Delph') and just absolute ruin and mess ('Playmate Of The Mouth'). No wonder that Trower seems somewhat alien with his hard rock rhythms - they just don't fit the lyrics nohow. You have to appreciate the arrangements and the lyrics separately from each other, that's the only way. Otherwise, a fine record, and for huge fans of Trower, the band's last one - like I said, he left soon after its release. Replaced by Dave Ball.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Not a perfect song selection, but that's the only complaint that might be.


Track listing: 1) Conquistador; 2) Whaling Stories; 3) A Salty Dog; 4) All This And More; 5) In Held Twas In I.

This project was actually carried out in a hurry, and the rehearsal sessions and everything were particularly rushed - legend has it that Brooker actually wrote most of the orchestral arrangements on board the plane to Canada. At the very beginning, right before the band & orchestra leap into 'Conquistador', Gary says 'Ready? Oh... after you', and the audience bursts into laughter - apparently since the poor band leader had forgotten whether it'd be the band or the ochestra to play the lead-in segment. (Of course, that's a purely subjective opinion: maybe they were laughing at something else. Maybe Gary dropped his pants).

Anyway, if there ever was a band that suited an orchestra, it'd be Procol Harum. This is an undeniable fact, but, paradoxally, it's responsible for both the good and the bad effect produced by this record. The good side, of course, is that the band and the orchestra mesh in perfectly, and neither lovers of classical music nor lovers of pure rock music should be put off by this, of course, if they're intelligent enough. The orchestration is always smart, unlike, say, the arrangements on the Moodies' Days Of Future Passed, and the songs almost invite, almost require orchestration, as if Brooker was the illegitimate lost and found son of J. S. Bach (never mind the age, though). But this is also the bad side: you don't really get the feeling that the songs are at all different from the original studio releases. I mean, they are different - the string intros, the choirs, etc., etc., but it's not the kind of crucial difference that makes some live albums acquire a unique mood that was not previously captured in the studio. And, since the band don't change the arrangements as well, and the song structures are all the same, this just isn't a necessary must-buy for anybody. Even if it is a milestone - after all, this was the first activity of the type 'the so-and-so symphonic orchestra plays the music of...'.

Also, I'm not totally satisfied with the song selection. 'Conquistador' is totally great, of course, and out of all the five selections on here, it's probably the most enhanced by the orchestration: the 'sturm-und-drang' goes off splendidly. No wonder this was their biggest hit single since 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale'. It also adds a brilliant guitar solo by Dave Ball that was so badly missing in the original, and the strings add an additional injunction of atmosphere and creepiness to the song. And 'Whaling Stories', which was the dullest song on Home, is ten times superior to the original version as the orchestra adds that necessary grandeur and swooping stormy majesty to the climactic mid-section that was also badly missing in the original. You only need to rev up your amps and you'll feel yourself lost in a small whale-hunting barque atop a raging sea...

But the rest of the material is kinda iffy. 'A Salty Dog' is an absolute Procol classic, of course, but including it in the program is a bit of a cheat - it featured an orchestra in the original studio version, so, while for some such an inclusion might seem an obvious choice, others (me included) would view it as a deliberate simplification of the whole affair. Was Gary too lazy to write more orchestral arrangements? Well, if he did write them on board the plane, he probably was... And I'm sure the quadrophonic effects tapes with seagulls crying sounded great for the audience, but it's kinda unimportant for the ensuing record. 'All This And More' is quite a good song, but not too suited for an orchestra as it's primarily guitar based, and Dave Ball's guitar tone only gets diffused in the humdrum. (By the way, this is Dave Ball's only record with the band, in case you're interested). Why not 'Wreck Of The Hesperus' instead? Or, what the hell, why not 'Whiskey Train'? Come on now - wouldn't an orchestrated version of 'Whiskey Train' sound cool? Now that would be groundbreaking.

Finally, the entire second side is donated to 'In Held Twas In I'. And again, not only they could have included more songs instead of just one lengthy suite, but it's also not the best example of Procol's style. You don't need an orchestra to play the opening 'Glimpses Of Nirvana', for instance, or to substitute the ferocious guitar riff in the middle, the one that opens the 'Look To Your Soul' part. I mean, you don't really pay attention to the orchestral work while listening to the song. And since some of its parts are boring, you get entirely distracted.

So you see, I have my complaints about this 'classic'. Still, these are just minor quibbles, because the record does capture the essence of Procol Harum brilliantly. None of the songs are bad, and about fifty percent of the stuff on here is great beyond all doubt. Recommended only for completists - except for 'Whaling Stories', you'd better be off with the studio originals, but if you see it cheap (which is doubtful since the greedy Americans still haven't issued most of the Procol stuff on CD), take a swift stroke and grab it tight. Don't forget Gary's funny liner notes, too - they have included a brief snippet of his feelings written down right before the concert, and they're all written in the style of a testament written before a duel or, at least, in the 'message in a bottle' style. Heh heh. And what a cool album cover! I mean, you just have to see the album cover!



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Some of the most luxuriant sounding symph rock tunes are captured on this one.


Track listing: 1) Grand Hotel; 2) Toujours L'Amour; 3) A Rum Tale; 4) TV Caesar; 5) A Souvenir Of London; 6) Bringing Home The Bacon; 7) For Liquorice John; 8) Fires (Which Burn Brightly); 9) Roberts Box.

You know, I'm slowly becoming convinced that Gary Brooker is one of the greatest songwriters in the whole art rock genre, even if I still don't really appreciate his voice. This is their sixth studio album in a row of constant tens, nines and eights. I remember when I first heard it I didn't like it all - pompous, keyboard-drenched symphonic garbage, I thought, but I've been a fool. The album rules mercilessly - I just listened to it four times in a row and couldn't get enough of it. Trower's departure made a significant impact on the sound, and yet they didn't exactly return to base. New guitarist Mick Grabham is competent but not too prominent on the album; more significant is Chris Copping's relegation to organ with the addition of a new bass player. This means that keyboards again fully dominate the band, and the sound is deep and full once again, based on piano/organ interplay. But this hardly sounds like Salty Dog or Shine On Brightly. In fact, if I might permit myself the audacity of inventing the term 'barocco rock' (of course, if it hasn't been invented already - I don't want to steal anybody's terminology), this is one of the few, if not the only, rock album in the world that would share the epithet. Everything about it, from the title to the album cover to the lush strings/choirs/piano arrangements, suggests that this is a fine example of barocco art. And I like barocco art.

The ultra-pompous title track says it all, in fact: a beautiful, romantic keyboard intro, grandiose lyrics ('tonight we sleep on silken sheets' and suchlike), orchestrated arrangements and quotations from waltzes and 'Otchi chyornije' (one of the few well-known Russian gypsy songs, if you're not familiar). The quotations might seem somewhat banal and out of place, but the melody itself, along the lines of 'A Salty Dog' but still somewhat different, is gorgeous - nobody could pull off such pomp and totally get away with it like good old Procol. Everybody knows how hard it is to write a bombastic, orchestrated ode and make it impressive as well. But these guys were really really talented, and Brooker has an amazing talent of dealing with classical music without any special education.

Another fascinating example of baroque classicism on the album is the flabbergastingly great 'Fires (Which Burn Brightly)', based on the by now traditionally gloomy Reid lyrics and a heavenly piano phrase. Of course it has nothing to do with rock music, but why should it? We all know rock music as such does not exist, don't we? Rock songs probably do, but rock albums don't. And this isn't a rock song, it's a beautiful, sad lament highlighted by some generic, but pleasant female background singing. B. J. Wilson also swings out on this one, demonstrating his ample drumming talents, but it's the keyboard line that really makes the song, as well as the swirling organ in the more "energetic" solo passage..

The rest of the album seems to almost be built around these two principal pillars: none of the other tracks are as grandiose, but most of them are still extremely well written, not always concentrating on the same grandiose style to allow some breathing space, but practically always containing some tasty hooks and nice moods. There's only one obviously bad tune on the album, in fact - the dorky anti-television pamphlet 'TV Caesar'; its ugliness doesn't have as much to do with the straightforward silly lyrics ('TV Caesar mighty mouse/Shares a bed in every house') as with the painfully simple and nursery-style melody. It might have been less painful if the horrible refrain weren't repeated for at least a million times throughout the six-minute long song. I hate the song utterly and deprive the album of the ten for exactly that reason. It's one of the few examples where Brooker's combination of 'high art' with 'memorable hooks' really does the man a disfavour.

But apart from that problem, the album's reputation is immaculate. There are amusing, lazy shuffles with puzzling pseudo-autobiographical stories ('A Rum Tale' - with hilarious lyrics like 'I'm buying an island, somewhere in the sun/I'll hide from the natives, live only on rum'), some of them based on prominent sad and majestic piano ('For Liquorice John', a song that might seem repetitive to some but is completely redeemed by the subtle melancholic atmosphere so niftily created by these minimalistic piano lines). And if you want to have some reminiscence of why Procol Harum were actually called a 'rock band' with all that endless classical piano pop, they include a couple of convincing, er, symph rockers ('Toujours L'Amour' and 'Bringing Home The Bacon', with the best guitar on the album), that chug along with enough force and power to convince even the most venomous sceptics.

And finally, just so as for you to have some lightweight relief for your soul, there are two obscene ditties on the album, one about veneral diseases ('A Souvenir Of London'), one about drug smuggling ('Roberts Box'); the first one was even banned on the radio, although it ain't that easy to discover what 'em lyrics are about. 'Got a souvenir in London, gotta hide it from my mom'. That dirty old Keith! The songs are nice.

Thus, please don't carry on the mistake that some critics and reviewers have made - namely, that Procol lost it entirely with the departure of Trower. It was certainly a big loss for the band (even if some of the fans only thought they'd gained from it, disliking Robin for his pushing the band back to the 'roots' on the previous albums), but Trower's guitar never really lied at the very heart of Procol's sound, rather serving as a powerful and very useful embellishment. And Trower didn't carry away even a single bit of the band's songwriting talents, nor did his departure influence the usual wittiness of Keith Reid's lyrics. Anyway, chronologically speaking, this might just as well be the last great Procol Harum album. Dang it, how many great albums might one band have? They'll soon beat out the Stones in the average rating if I keep giving them high marks such as these!



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

This is more pop sounding with a couple rockers thrown in, but this only adds to the diversity. Magic!

Best song: at least four or five candidates here, can't really decide...

Track listing: 1) Nothing But The Truth; 2) Beyond The Pale; 3) As Strong As Samson; 4) The Idol; 5) The Thin End Of The Wedge; 6) Monsieur R. Monde; 7) Fresh Fruit; 8) Butterfly Boys; 9) New Lamps For Old; 10) Drunk Again.

Gngngngn. Grand Hotel might just as well have been the last great Procol Harum album... but it isn't. Initially I thought giving it a 7 - as far as I remembered, it was a slight letdown after Hotel. But then I relistened to it and thought, 'eh, it's better than I thought. Maybe I'd give it an 8.' I relistened to it once more and thought, 'wow, it's exciting! A certain 8, maybe even 9-worthy! Let's have one more!' I had one more and then rushed over to my PC, because one more listen and I'd have maybe given it a 10. A jibber-jabberingly, flabbergastingly great album is this one.

The funny thing is that this doesn't sound like GH at all, if you exclude the usual Procol trademarks, of course (aka Brooker's voice and keyboards). That one was classical, pompous, pretentious and overbearing, but all deservedly so; this one is mostly quiet, simple and poppy - in fact, it probably has the maximum amount of 'pure pop' songs as compared to any previous album. Those who like their Harum majestic will be disappointed except for a couple of tunes. But those who like their Harum clowning around and putting hooks into songs will be triumphant. And I will look down on both sides with overall satisfaction, as I like both sides of Procol Harum. Now there's just a little selfcomplacency for you. Anyway, this is my site and I write what I want.

There are three types of songs on the album: 'traditional' classically-influenced odes, more mainstream pop songs and even some goofy rockers. All good. The classically-influenced odes include 'The Idol', a touching contemplation on fake sides of religion, with the magnificent refrain going just like 'oh the idol... oh the idol' (although I confess I always heard 'holy idol'); plus, Mick Grabham adds a terrific guitar solo that makes the song's drawn-out ending fully endurable and to a certain extent - cathartic. Keep in mind, also, that Birds is a far more guitar-heavy album than its predecessor, and thus might seem less boring to those who get pretty sick of keyboards early on. Even better is 'As Strong As Samson' that's probably the most cathartic track on the album - the lengthy coda is so beautiful it even reminds us of the 'early days'. Together with 'Fires (That Burn Brightly)', these are the two 'late' Procol Harum songs that clearly demonstrate the band could reach the same majestic heights as in the days of Fisher and Trower. And 'New Lamps For Old' is slightly weaker, but it ain't bad: it's just that the melody is not as clearly defined and the lyrics aren't as colourful.

The majority of the songs here, however, can be better classified as 'classicized keyboard pop'. I doubt that you'll be able to restrain your foot from tapping while listening to the rhythmic 'Beyond The Pale' (its melody, when sped up, has become the basis of many a stupid dance number, but here it sounds just fine). Another wonderful number is 'Fresh Fruit', an ode to that glorious product of nature (with terrific humorous lyrics by Reid), punctuated by whistling and cute piano playing. And even the lesser efforts are all pleasant and memorable ('Nothing But The Truth', with its famous 'Is it on, Tommy?' lead-in segment, has a well-constructed melody, and 'Butterfly Boys' is at least danceable). The only minor misfire is 'The Thin End Of The Wedge', a half-experimental piece with Brooker assuming a particularly nasty tone as he recites a set of disconnected lines over some primitive musical backing. The effort here might have been to create a self-made parody on 'Come Together', but it fails.

Of course, there are a couple of signs of decline here: the accented simplicity of some of the material shows that Brooker and company were a little hard up on ideas by the time. Such a smartass guy like Gary wouldn't want to let it out, of course, and most of the songs are masked carefully with brilliant arrangements and careful production. The reason why I still rate this album so highly is because it's extremely consistent. Most Procol Harum albums, even the best ones, usually have their two or three filler numbers - failed ideas or boring realization. Exotic Birds And Fruit, while not having even a single song of the caliber of 'Grand Hotel' or 'A Salty Dog', still grabs you in the beginning and holds you until the very end. And being hard up on new ideas didn't mean they had to let go of the old ones, after all - they unearthed one of the oldies ('Monsieur R. Monde', nowadays also released in its early version as a bonus track on A Whiter Shade Of Pale), turning it into a terrific rock'n'roll performance along with the other rocker on the album, the closing 'Drunk Again' (note: 'Drunk Again' wasn't originally present on the album, being a B-side or something like that, and was only added as a bonus onto the CD edition). 'Drunk Again', in particular, ends in a couple minutes of a ferocious boogie woogie jam where Brooker confirms his own claim of being more influenced by Jerry Lee Lewis than by Bach: his rollicking piano is every bit as good as the well known beat of the Killer! Why didn't Gary play rock'n'roll more often? Finally, these rockers display the talent of new guitarist Mick Grabham who shines particularly on 'Monsieur R. Monde'. Great, great, delicious guitar chops everywhere. Even if you're not a Procol fan, get this album if you find it. It's sure to give you a good time. And how can one resist the beautiful album cover?



Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Better late than never... Or maybe not?

Best song: CONQUISTADOR (duh)

Track listing: 1) Conquistador; 2) Bringing Home The Bacon; 3) Whaling Stories; 4) New Lamps For Old; 5) Beyond The Pale; 6) As Strong As Samson; 7) Simple Sister; 8) The Idol; 9) Grand Hotel; 10) Butterfly Boys; 11) Nothing But The Truth.

One interesting thing about Procol is that throughout the whole decade of their existence, they only released one single LP live record, and even that one was more of a 'creative experiment' than a true picture of their live show. This true picture was never gotten, and all Procol fans could hope for was a bunch of bootlegs. Whether this attitude should be considered laudable or not is up to anybody to decide - I, for one, wouldn't mind a sprawling live set from one of their peak years (preferably with Trower still in the band), but I can certainly understand the decision not to indulge themselves as well: when art- and prog rockers around the world were releasing double and triple live albums to further establish their undying glory, Procol simply might have been thinking that a live album wouldn't add anything to their reputation, and rightly so.

That's not to say Procol were a bad live band. In fact, as proved by this archive release, made public twenty-five years after the concert in question (and in a half-official way, too), they were quite able to kick some ass live. It's just that in concert, when not accompanied by an orchestra, the band preferred to stick to the tried and true arrangements of the studio - and that's it. That said, it is quite possible that BBC Live In Concert is not the best candidate to demonstrate their live abilities. The entire tape dates from a show recorded March 22, 1974 at The Hippodrome in London and later broadcast on the BBC (so it's not the "live in the BBC studio" type recording that most BBC archives are). Exotic Birds And Fruit hadn't yet come out at the moment, but the album was completed and all the songs perfected - and so, naturally, more than half of the tracks are from Exotic Birds And Fruit at its 'freshest': which means that the overplayedness factor does not work with these songs and Gary and the boys play them straight by-the-book.

This hypothesis actually seems plausible to me because the other tracks on here are mostly moderately surprising, at least, once you have overcome the initial problems with the mix, which is quite shitty. Thus, Gary's vocals are mixed extremely low; at certain points he's plain inaudible, and whenever he sings in unison with Grabham's fiery guitar, the aural impression is pretty mean. The opposition between Gary's piano and Copping's organ is also often blurred. But after a couple listens, it all sets in, your ear gets adjusted to catching up with Gary's vocalization, and then you start noticing these little oddities which are enough to justify a live album's existence.

Namely, 'Conquistador' is presented here in an extended version, close to the one you've already heard on the Edmonton album, but without any orchestra, of course - instead, Grabham plays an aggressive hard-rocking solo and Gary substitutes the formal orchestra introduction with a simple piano part. Which is good, I've always thought the only flaw about the original 'Conquistador' was its being too short. 'Whaling Stories' is still overlong, but the tremendous stormy crescendo part is pulled off pretty fine without the studio overdubs. 'Simple Sister' gets extra heavy twiddlings from Grabham, who flaunts some additional distortion on this one and plays up a thunderstorm; minor thunderstorms also form parts of a vicious rendition of 'Bringing Home The Bacon'. Finally, 'Grand Hotel' substitutes the 'Ochi Chyornyje' bit that was orchestrated on the original for Gary's flashing baroque piano parts. (Very funny, by the way, that according to the quote given in the liner notes, Gary always denied that bit being intentionally lifted off - 'I always owned up when something was purposely lifted... but one's ears are unconsciously open to everything!' I guess if Mr Brooker was really sincere about that thing, that gives us an important answer to the eternal formulaic question - 'who did that guy rip-off and why?' Many rip-offs are indeed done in a subconscious manner, and it's not always possible to separate a conscious stealing from an unintentional copying).

As for the new material, it all rules, of course: the six songs they perform are among the best on EBAF, including the eternal glory of 'The Idol', 'As Strong As Sampson', and 'Beyond The Pale'. It's just that they present no interesting twists - I, for one, would love to hear the songs performed, say, two or three years later than that. Nevertheless, there's not a weak cut on the entire album (bar, yes, bar 'Whaling Stories'! Why did Procol Harum go over the top with that one? Hey, apart from the crescendo, it has nothing of melodic interest about it!), so anything below an eight would be offensive. I'm not really sure if the album is widely available, as it was originally released on the homebrewed "Strange Fruit" label and is only a wee bit more official than a bootleg, but any decent Procolhead should look for it.

PS. One thing I don't understand is that the liner notes state Copping plays banjo on 'Beyond The Pale'. Where? I do see him playing a banjo on the back cover, but dammit, I don't hear any banjo on the song...

PPS. WAIT! I got it! I hear it! It's that monotonous 'plum-plum-plum-plum' in the right speaker. Boy, now that's some really inventive banjo playing. I now understand Chris' reference to his banjo playing ("luckily no one threw the tomatoes that my banjo playing deserved!").



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Even more pop, but with fewer memorable melodies and, well, kinda repetitive.

Best song: PANDORA'S BOX

Track listing: 1) Pandora's Box; 2) Fool's Gold; 3) Taking The Time; 4) The Unquiet Zone; 5) The Final Thrust; 6) I Keep Forgetting; 7) Without A Doubt; 8) The Piper's Tune; 9) Typewriter Torment; 10) Eight Days A Week.

Well, so this is where the well finally begins running dry. One problem was that even with all of Gary's and Reid's talents, it was getting harder and harder to remake the same record for the eighth time (the record is 'Ninth' because the countdown includes the 1972 live album). The other problem, more obvious at the time, was that whatever they were doing was hardly selling at all - even in the better days when prog rock was an obsession, Procol Harum was deemed too 'simple', and now that the world was getting tired of artsy and apparently overbearing symph wizards, it didn't need the old bandwagon either way. The decision they took was to move further away in a 'poppy' direction; for said aim they even recruited Leiber/Stoller (sic!) to produce the record. The songs are all short - the longest doesn't exceed four and a half minutes, and the classical influences have almost died away, cuz most of the tracks are R'n'B at heart. The weirdest moments are Leiber and Stoller's own 'I Keep Forgetting' and the cover of the Beatles' 'Eight Days A Week'. Not that these songs are bad or anything, but seeing such songs on a Procol Harum record is more like encountering an extract from a Beijing opera in the middle of Beethoven's Ninth symphony. As usual, I repeat that I have nothing against diversity, but not in such an unfitting way. One should, of course, remember that Procol Harum started out as the Paramounts (which were to classic Procol as Denny Laine's Moody Blues to Hayward/Lodge's Moody Blues, if you get the analogy), and a certain 'return to roots' is not all that unexpected here; the problem is, nobody really needed that return to roots, least of all Procol themselves.

Of course, I can understand them - sometimes, as we all know, a 'return to roots' acts as a new creative impulse for those who run out of ideas. It's like going back to the crossroads in order to take a different turn, like the Stones and the Beatles did in 1968, for instance. But it's hard to speak of creative impulses here, really, especially when one comes to realize that these two misguided covers also serve as protecting barriers against the few tunes that try to sound like the Procol of old but somehow fail in an almost miserable way. For one thing, there are way too many tunes that sound like rehashed songs off Grand Hotel: 'The Unquiet Zone' borrows its thump from 'Bringing Home The Bacon', while 'Typewriter Torment' can't help reminding me of 'Roberts Box'. Yet the first tune doesn't manage to recreate the real ferocity of the former, while the second one is too pedestrian and unfunny compared to the latter. The worst offender, though, is the pop anthem 'The Final Thrust' where the band sounds so happy-hippy that it almost makes me sick; it's so mainstreamish that I really wonder whether the want of commercial success was indeed the main driving instinct behind these songs. They almost seem to be going for a Queen-like groove on that one (of the 'let us cling together' type), banalizing their epic approach in a real nasty way. Even the lyrics seem to suffer: they are so boring most of the time, so devoid of Reid's usual imagery and so drastically un-hilarious that it spoils the general picture quite a lot.

That said, this still ain't a bad record. It even manages to contain one last moment of majesty, one genuine reminder of the band's old power - the sweeping, scary 'Pandora's Box', probably the last truly great song for the band. Ironically, it actually happens to be an old outtake dating back to their earliest sessions! The melody is actually slightly reminiscent of 'Conquistador' - same music-hally 'dancing' style with boppy, but minor chord changes. It cooks, anyway. While being considerably short (which allowed it to be a minor hit single), it achieves everything in just three minutes, combining the 'pirate' imagery of A Salty Dog with the energy of Broken Barricades. The only thing I don't really understand is the connection between the title (which is an allegory for all the illnesses and wrongdoings of mankind) and the actual lyrics, but who am I to guess? Anyway, besides that obvious three-minute wonder, there's also the emotional thrust of 'Fool's Gold' and the little touch of amusing lyrical self-deprecation on 'Without A Doubt' (although the melody is a concoction from several earlier good tunes).

'The Piper's Tune' and the lethargic, bluesy 'Taking The Time' are also pleasant, lazy shuffles that aren't that hard to listen to, just a bit boring at times. Both will, however, easily appeal to Procol fans, as Gary is extremely prominent - I'd bet you anything that a large number of people just can't get enough of Mr Brooker's lazy, complaintive croon backed with relaxative piano chords, particularly when the words come together in a real vocal melody and the piano chords can be traced to a real instrumental melody, which they can - it's just that they both penetrate my soul a few inches less deep than your average Procol classic.

So on careful listen one can certainly distinguish a fair share of good songs. The major problem with the album is that it ain't heartfelt, and I don't really know whether they cared about the record at all. Except for 'Pandora's Box', not even a single tune rocks with the sincerity of old, and there are absolutely no 'sweeps of majesty' like on 'The Idol' or 'As Strong As Samson'. It isn't even interesting to dance to the fast songs, and where are those great Jerry Lee Lewis impressions? Gone they are. Even Mick Grabham sounds dull and depressed most of the time. 'Regression' is the word: much too often this LP sounds like a Procol Harum tribute band.

Except, of course, for the places where it sounds like a Beatles tribute band. Dig that 'Eight Days A Week' cover!



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

A few misguided avantgarde ideas in a totally unsuitable period. Other than that - a fine and convincing swan song.


Track listing: 1) Something Magic; 2) Skating On Thin Ice; 3) Wizard Man; 4) The Mark Of The Claw; 5) Strangers In Space; 6) The Worm And The Tree (part 1); 7) The Worm And The Tree (part 2); 8) The Worm And The Tree (part 3).

Of course, this is the worst out of all the 'classic ten' PH records. So what? It's still terribly underrated, mostly because of two conventional things: (a) it had the bad luck of being released in 1977, when every critic that would dare to praise an art rock record was simultaneously signing his own death sentence, and (b) because it contains that wretched 'Worm And Tree' suite. We'll deal with the suite later. Here I'll just say that now, when more than twenty years separate us from the Dark Ages of Art Rock, it's time to re-instate historical justice and admit the value of the few, but the few good art rock records that came out around that time - Going For The One, ELP's Works, and, most notably, Something Magic.

I guess that saying a trite phrase like 'this record's pessimism is so overbearing that it isn't hard to understand the band was in its closing phase' doesn't particularly work for Procol Harum, a band whose music was always built on minor melodies and pessimistic concepts; at least, beginning from Home, we haven't seen a totally joyful PH album (Exotic Birds And Fruit was close, though). But anyway, there's something about the first side of this album that makes me feel more sincerely the stress, disillusionment and just exhaustedness - not the exhaustion of ideas, rather the exhaustion of trying to break through with such a kind of music, exhaustion of being forced to constantly battle with the world over the right to write something like that. In this way, some of the tracks are clearly throwaway because they simply did not care. I mean, they didn't care at all, and if only Brooker wasn't such a truly talented composer, this could have been a disastrous mess. Songs like the title track, a lame stealfest from classical tunes, or the bizarre, completely out-of-place 'Wizard Man' that's just a happy pop Abba-esque song, indicate exactly what I just said and nothing else. (As far as I know, 'Wizard Man' wasn't present on the original release, and its inclusion amidst the numbers, not even as a bonus track, is one of the strangest decisions on album composure I ever witnessed).

On top of it, they still manage to pull off three beautiful tracks on the first side which, although not ranking among their finest works, are still quite luvvvily. Okay, 'The Mark Of The Claw' isn't exactly beautiful: it's written in the finest Trower traditions, a hard-hitting rocker with a well-conceived riff and some rattle-the-wall solos. The coda, where the riff is being reprised and silenced for a number of times, is quite mesmerizing. And the two gentle sad songs, 'Skating On Thin Ice' and 'Strangers In Space', are so utterly, hopelessly sad and tragic that you might think Gary (and Keith) were in really big trouble at the time. 'Strangers In Space', in fact, almost makes me shiver in its imagery of utmost loneliness and disillusionment. Maybe it does go on for too long and is too dang repetitive - the chorus is repeated for God only knows how many times - but it still ain't no 'TV Caesar'. A fitting testament to the career of Procol Harum, indeed.

So what do we find on the second side of the album? 'The Worm And The Tree'. The apple of controversy, if one might permit a little metaphor here. Completely unaware of the time and the place, the band unexplainedly decided to dedicate the second side to a monolithic, eighteen-and-a-half-minute suite (at a time when even Yes didn't dare to record more than a... err... fifteen-minute one. Geez, guess this comparison doesn't exactly work). What's even worse, it is a full-fledged classical piece, with occasional elements of dance music (!; but what is the 'Enervation' part if not dance music?) thrown in. And Gary doesn't even sing the verses - he recites them, usually in between the parts, sometimes over the music, but there ain't even a single bit of singing. The lyr..., er, the piece of poetry is unbearably straightforward even for Reid: it's a fable. Yes, a fable about a worm who hid in a tree and fed on it and devoured it and the tree grew rotten and the forest stank. And then a man came and he chopped down the tree and he set fire to it and the worm was trapped in the tree and it burst. And so the worm was gone forever but the tree was regenerated from the ashes. The moral you can define for yourselves. Golly, do you think it has anything to do with Procol Harum's own fate? If PH is the tree, then the worm must probably be the Sex Pistols!!

Anyway, some of the music on the second side is good - some piano and orchestra parts, a couple of guitar solos, they're nice. But of course it's easy to see why everybody hated the track so much. I myself have mixed feelings towards it, and I don't really think PH were that good at creating long, multi-part epics. Dang, I don't even feel passion for 'In Held Twas In I'; why should I feel something towards 'The Worm And The Tree?' You tell me!

So, I guess you already got it that it's the last record of the 'classical' Procol Harum. After that, the band members went their own ways; the only thing I know is that Brooker had a moderately successful solo career which I might even check into someday. Hell, who knows? I might even review it someday! (Trower, of course, already had a much more fabulous solo career going on). This boring life dragged on for about fifteen years, the only significant event during that time being the tragic demise of drummer B. J. Wilson. After that, nostalgia pulled the former partners together, and in 1991 they gathered again for a reunion album called Prodigal Stranger which I'll be reviewing in a couple of moments.



Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

One of the most unnecessary and misguided 'comebacks' I ever listened to.


Track listing: 1) The Truth Won't Fade Away; 2) Holding On; 3) Man With A Mission; 4) (You Can't) Turn Back The Page; 5) One More Time; 6) A Dream In Every Home; 7) The Band That Rocks The Cradle; 8) The King Of Hearts; 9) All Our Dreams Are Sold; 10) Perpetual Motion; 11) Learn To Fly; 12) The Pursuit Of Happiness.

A decent return to form this is not. After spending fifteen years working on solo projects, most of the original members suddenly felt a surge of nostalgia, which was all the more appropriate seeing as the old groups were suddenly honoured all over again. So Brooker, Fisher, Trower and Reid, the four columns upon which the original Procol was based, got together again and decided to cash in on the past glories. I say past, because any sane person's only reason for buying this record could have been its attribution to Procol Harum: viewed independently, it has no other reason for existence. Or, at the very least, it has no other reason to be singled out from miriads of similar records.

Lame, lame, incredibly lame. For the first time I realized how crucial, in fact, was B. J. Wilson's drumming style on their original records. With Wilson deceased, there is no new drummer in the group, and the session players mostly stick to modern beat - you know, the one that gets your feet tapping and is booming and all that, but which doesn't contribute to the sound at all. In fact, most of these tunes have nothing to do with the 'classic' Harum style - they are just your ordinary synth-pop numbers with nothing to distinguish one from another as far as genre and differences in style go. The playing credits, in fact, baffle me totally and entirely: Brooker is credited for 'piano' and Fisher for 'Hammond organ', but there's just about a couple spoonfuls of organ on the record, and if you call these cheesy synths 'piano', well, you might as well credit Trower for playing 'mandoline'.

As for Trower himself, he's a huge disappointment: either he was kept from unfurling in the studio or he just recorded his parts in a sleepy daze, because none of his riffs or solos even approaches the level of energy and inspiration displayed on the first band records, nor on any of his solo records. Pathetic. On the more rocking tracks ('All Our Dreams Are Sold') Robin actually sounds like one of those generic pseudo-heavy metal guitarists that were deemed chief embellishments to Eighties' corny synth-pop. Reid, as is expected, usually sticks to nostalgic passages or rather banal universalist remarks, and his lyrics don't even try to come close to any of his previous solid efforts. In all, this isn't even a 'pale shadow' of Procol Harum: if not for Brooker's usual tenor voice (which I never liked in the first place and certainly don't like it more nowadays), I would never have guessed where these songs could come from.

Nevertheless, there are three or four tracks on here that could probably be considered 'highlights' (relatively, of course). There's the bouncy, memorable 'The Truth Won't Fade Away' which still sounds more like Elton John than Procol, but at least it does have some guilty charm of its own. 'Perpetual Motion', though severely modernized, does look a little like some Exotic Birds outtake, and the closing 'The Pursuit Of Happiness' is certainly Procol-like; if not for grossly banal lyrics, totally unworthy of such an intelligent poet as Keith, it could have made a passable contribution to the group's post-Trower days. Unfortunately, it's the last song on the album, and in order to appreciate it, I had to sit through eight or nine pieces of dreck, that, instead of creative melodies, classically influenced instrumental passages and Dylanish sagas, offer us melodyless rhythm tracks, lyrical cliches, generic female choruses, and electronic drum beats.

I still can't understand how this album could fail so much - of course, I always knew that it hardly got any positive reviews at all, but then again, neither did Something Magic, which, although not the band's finest effort, was still miles better and more entertaining than everybody assured me it was. I also thought that by the beginning of the Nineties, old bands were starting to get rid of modern trends and one by one started to return to their initial sound. Nothing of the kind. Nothing. This is your average keyboards pop with nothing to redeem it. Ugh. Maybe they got so disused to playing together after such a long period of time? What a bummer. If you see this album for ten cents or something, get it for 'The Truth Won't Fade Away'. Or, better still, don't. This might shatter your faith in the band as it almost managed to shatter mine - luckily, this was the last Procol Harum record I got, so I really don't care anyway.

P.S. Repeated listens, however, when you bring yourself to actually having a repeated listen that is, manage to bring out an interesting detail - Brooker hasn't yet lost his composing talent. He still struggles to create distinct vocal hooks and establish moody atmosphere through his vocals, and in another age, with better production, better playing and all, many of these songs, stuff like 'Holding On', 'Man With A Mission', etc., would have been taken for highlights. Absolutely no such luck in this particular case. Something tells me, in fact, that Brooker was probably the only person really interested in this reunion from a creative point of view - the others just reconvened to honour the memory of B. J. Wilson and try make a few quick bucks as an afterthought. So perhaps if you're a major Brooker fan and worship the man for everything he's ever done, Prodigal Stranger might seem like a 'prodigal son' to you. (It certainly does to me, but that's not what you would mean it to be).



Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Weak symphonic arrangements of great Procol tunes. Do you really need this? Although, granted, you might want this.


Track listing: 1) Conquistador; 2) Homburg; 3) Grand Hotel; 4) Simple Sister; 5) A Salty Dog; 6) Pandora's Box; 7) A Whiter Shade Of Pale; 8) Repent Walpurgis; 9) (You Can't) Turn Back The Page; 10) Strangers In Space; 11) Butterfly Boys; 12) The Long Goodbye.

This is the last of the original Procol-related releases, and since it's relatively new, I'm afraid it can often substitute 'the real thing' in CD stores. Of course, it might already be out of print as well, but buyer beware: this isn't really a Procol Harum record. It's the 'symphonic Procol Harum' - Procol Harum tunes played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I only list it here because Gary does sing on most of the tracks, and there are also a couple appearances from former band members, like Robin Trower and Matthew Fisher on 'Repent Walpurgis'; also, since symphonic arrangements of Procol Harum music are not at all a big surprise, many fans consider this to be the real twelfth album of the band.

Unfortunately, it doesn't hold a candle to the 1972 Live album. The difference is that in 1972, the orchestra only helped enhance the sound - its basis was still provided by the band, and the results were fair enough. Here, the band is missing - you only get to hear the orchestral and choir backing. That could be all right by me, but, unfortunately, this is where you get to realize that Procol Harum were indeed a band - not a cheap substitute for a symphonic orchestra. About half of the songs on here are inescapably worsened, and none sound superior or even equal to the originals. The opening 'Conquistador' is okay, since the mighty soaring string chorus almost substitutes all the necessary guitar/organ work. But 'Homburg' amounts to a pleasant moody tune without the catchy, majestic piano line; 'Grand Hotel' is ridiculized by some stupid tenor belting out the lines in prime opera style (okay, I know the song was originally written in opera style, but it was the Brooker singing that really made it original); 'Pandora's Box' is unexplainably instrumental; and the biggest letdown is 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' that is deprived of its stunning organ work and drumming and is transformed into a bland, loose, relaxed air. For Heaven's sake don't let this be your first Procol purchase - if I were to hear this version first, I'd probably lose any interest in the band forever.

Moreover, the final four selections are rather strange. As far as I understand, Gary wanted the entire history of Procol to be represented on the album, so towards the end he mostly sticks with obscure semi-classics and un-classics from later albums (note that Shine On Brightly and Home are still not represented by anything). Okay, 'Strangers In Space' (from Something Magic) is a good song, drenched in deepest pessimism and sorrow; but again, why did they think that substituting Gary's vocals with a barely audible female chorus could be a good idea? It couldn't. And why 'Butterfly Boys'? Wouldn't 'The Idol' or 'As Strong As Samson' off Exotic Birds be a better idea? And why '(You Can't) Turn Back The Page'? That's one of the most boring tracks on Prodigal Stranger! Actually, why include anything from PS at all? Do we really need to include that joke of an album in our retrospective? And, frankly speaking, the only Brooker solo tune captured on here (title track) doesn't make me hungry for any further venturing into Brooker's solo career - considering that in his solo career, he had way too many superior songs.

Nevertheless, as much as they try to ruin the perfect Procol classics, they are still classics, and you simply can't get away from the fact. If, by some unfair chance, you can't find anything else by the band but this, get it still, because taken on their own, none of the tracks are that horrible: it's the realization of the songs having lost their uniqueness that makes me assimilate the album with so much pain.

Without this realization, the album's perfectly all right. 'Conquistador' soars and roars in the mightiest way imaginable; 'A Salty Dog' brings you to spiritual catharsis; likewise, 'Repent Walpurgis' is as somber, majestic and overwhelming as anybody would imagine it to be. 'Pandora's Box' is not as catchy in the instrumental version, but it's moodier and somewhat more romantic, with visions of thunderstorms and dark stormy nights ready at hand. 'Strangers In Space' becomes pretty aethereal, with that old noodling sense of melancholia and pessimism taken out of the intimate sphere and transplanted into the eternal... 'Simple Sister' gets a cool war march arrangement, although guest star Tom Jones' singing leaves a lot to be desired, too.

So, stranger in space, butterfly boy, simple sister, if you ever get this album as your intro to Procol Harum, don't forget that you can turn back the page and see for yourself that the Grand Hotel of early Procol Harum stuff easily waves these orchestral remakes a long goodbye. On the other hand, if you find out you hate hate hate this album, you're probably not welcome to bother about Procol Harum at all, because, as we have always known, orchestral arrangements don't butcher the songs of Procol Harum - they can only loosen their impact and originality.



Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Rarities? There are rarities and rarities...


Track listing: 1) Conquistador; 2) Something Following Me; 3) Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of); 4) Kaleidoscope; 5) Repent Walpurgis; 6) Pandora's Box; 7) In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence; 8) Wish Me Well (Aka The Gospel According To Matthew); 9) Repent Walpurgis (long version); 10) A Whiter Shade Of Pale.

Rip, rip, rip, RIP-OFF, baby. When Westside reissued a selection of Procol Harum albums with bonus tracks in the late Nineties, they promised a set of rarities as a 'postscriptum', tentatively called Still There'll Be More or something like that. In the long run, Still There'll Be More turned into Pandora's Box, and the wonderful rarities turned into a set of alternate takes, mixes and stereo versions that did not yield even a single new song.

Needless to say, this collection is ONLY necessary for the most diehard Procol fans. Don't believe the lush packaging and the grand liner notes: it's little more than a simplistic marketing trick. That said, if you find it in the used bin for half a buck, it's well worth trying, particularly if you like the band's debut album. And since I insist on their debut being their best album, it's only natural that a collection of outtakes from the sessions for that album would really interest me. So, forgetting about the record's totally superfluous character, let's also admit that it's perfectly listenable and can almost function as a substitute for A Whiter Shade Of Pale in some respects. For a few listens, at least.

Two surprises on here. The first one, predictably, is an early version of 'Pandora's Box' - deemed so important by the releasers that they dubbed the entire album after the song and even stuck something like 'the worldwide premiere of Procol's early version of 'Pandora's Box'' on the back cover. Well, I've always loved the song, no doubt about that, and it is one of the band's catchiest pop tunes, but problem is, this is an instrumental version, and obviously not fully-developed at that - not all of the boppy organ riffs are yet in place, and there's more mood than catchiness on here. It's cute to hear Robin Trower take on the guitar parts in the song, though, as we all remember it wasn't issued in its full form until eight years later.

The second surprise is two versions of 'Repent Walpurgis', a 'short' one and a 'long' one (the 'long' one primarily differs from the short one in that it includes one more alternation of piano/guitar sequences). These are certainly marvelous, with Trower far more active and actually more creative than in the regular version - for apparent reasons, as 'Walpurgis' was such an important watermark for Procol that the song needed to be polished and glossed all over to achieve maximum effect. Here, maybe, the cathartic effect is slightly more subdued due to Robin making some mistakes and all, but there's a live feeling that makes the song more intimate. In any case, I certainly welcome the length - it's so beautiful it could go on forever without me caring at all.

The other seven tracks all represent alternate stereo mixes of well-known songs, and sometimes it's real hard to notice the differences. Hmm. Well, I've actually noticed that the version of 'Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of)' on here is far more grizzly than on the original, with Trower totally unleashed and swiping off his nasty Hendrix-inspired leads like mad, with an extended coda that plunges us into total delirium. Man, just think how that wild organ/guitar interplay must have sounded back in 1967 - art-rock at its flashiest, and art-rock that really rocks, too.

Elsewhere, you get a 'Conquistador' with a, ahem, different organ solo, a 'Something Following Me' that's almost fishily identic to the original version (are these reissuers cheating on us or what?), a meak rendition of 'Kaleidoscope' and 'Wish Me Well' and 'In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence' just to let you know that these songs were recorded earlier than one could think. Which doesn't actually mean all that much.

As an 'encore', comes an alternate version of 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' that was actually recorded after the definite version of the single, according to some sources, and features the band's first regular drummer Bobby Harrison who only lasted for a few weeks or so. His drumming is pretty meek, and all in all, the version never seems to pick up enough steam, with Brooker repeating the chorus twice or thrice at the end for no apparent reason. Pfouagh.

Don't even watch that overall rating of 10 - had these outtakes been from anything but the spectacular debut album, I'd make extra sure it got punished, but I just can't cross myself: after all, these are all great, timeless masterpieces, the cream of the cream of art-rock, and thus there probably is a reason for this 'historical document' or whatever it could be called. Plus, what a cool photo of the band in exotic outfits on the front cover (rumours have it that it cost Westside a lot to find this photo, so that makes the album even more expensive). Oddly enough, the two gentlemen in blue shirts in the middle, the ones that are the most conventionally dressed ones, are the two guys that fell out of the band rather quickly - drummer Bobby Harrison and a guitarist whose name I don't remember, the one that got replaced by Trower. But don't the rest look pretty cool in their outfits? Particularly Gary and Keith.



Year Of Release: 2003
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

All I can say is - this could be much, much worse. We should be thankful for what we get.


Track listing: 1) An Old English Dream; 2) Shadow Boxed; 3) A Robe Of Silk; 4) The Blink Of An Eye; 5) The VIP Room; 6) The Question; 7) This World Is Rich (For Stephen Maboe); 8) Fellow Travellers; 9) The Wall Street Blues; 10) The Emperor's New Clothes; 11) So Far Behind; 12) Every Dog Will Have His Day; 13) Weisselklenzenacht (The Signature).

I was already all set to lambast this record to pieces, you know. I was going to squabble and squibble about how a Brooker/Fisher collaboration can't really be counted as a new Procol Harum record (heck, even Echoes In The Night was a truer Procol Harum album in that respect, as it had B. J. Wilson on percussion); how every single song on here screams "nostalgia!" without providing a single moment of true ecstasy like classic Procol material did; how there's so little guitar and how the organ is so goddamn quiet; how Keith Reid's lyrics have all turned crappy; and last but not least, how Gary Brooker looks more like an Oxford professor than a musician on the photos. For some reason that last thing rubbed me the wrong way, too.

Then Angel came from heaven and bit me on the shoulder. I said, wait a minute, angels don't bite. "Yes", said the angel, "and Procol Harum albums don't suck, unless they're called Prodigal Stranger". That was a reasonable, if not exceedingly logical, remark, but you never can tell with angels. Well, anyway, this got me a-thinkin', and then finally I said to meself: 'Now look here, what am I actually expecting?' And then it sort of came together. If you know how Procol Harum work their sound out, you ask yourself the same question: what do you expect from a Procol Harum reunion, even if it's only partial, in the year 2003? Since these guys came together in 1967 with their unique sonic textures, they weren't exactly progressing - the only serious modification of their sound happened on Grand Hotel, and even that one was an exception.

So what do we want to hear? Good catchy songs with a well-developed keyboard sound. That's what Procol are all about. And... well, this album does deliver. Now my negative side will still insist that this is a watered down, shallow, rather primitive version of Procol Harum. But at least it is a version of Procol Harum and not a perversion of Procol Harum which their last reunion turned out to be. No overproduction here: the keyboards - and I mean real solid keyboards, Brooker's piano and Fisher's organ - are at the forefront, and Geoff Whitehorn offers real, if rather scarce, guitar parts, while Mark Brzezicki offers real, if rather unimaginative, percussion. Not to mention, of course, Brooker's singing, which is as fresh and emotive as it was thirty-six years ago. Guess it pays off to have so-so vocals after all: I never cared that much for Gary's singing, but he's gone and topped 'em all - who of 'em original art- and prog-rockers can sing with the exact same voice thirty-six years after releasing their debut record? Heh. Only them high-pitchers: Jon Anderson, Peter Gabriel, and best and freshest of all, the Gary guy.

What pisses me off about the album are the lyrics. So I guess Keith Reid finally gave in to old age: the lyrics are amazingly straightforward, and most of them have to deal with, guess what, the post-9/11 world. There's a song here written directly about 9/11 - 'The Blink Of An Eye', and at least half, if not more, of the other numbers are devoted to radical liberal propaganda. 'An Old English Dream' is about the breakdown of said dream; 'The Question' is obviously questioning European/American policy towards the third world; 'This World Is Rich' is an unbelievably lame "I pity the poor"-style manifesto; 'The Wall Street Blues', 'The Emperor's New Clothes', 'Every Dog Will Have His Day' - heck, the titles speak for themselves, and the lyrics are written accordingly. Maybe somebody can rejoice about this, saying that at least in the lyrical department Harum have some "development" here - but I find this stuff thoroughly detrimental. Leave this generic, predictable whining to Bruce Springsteen, please. Oh, I'm not at all against a piece of social commentary (there's plenty of social commentary in the band's classic work, actually, you just have to dig for it), but this is overdoing it. It's almost like, "We're Procol Harum, and we have something to say about what's going on in the world today!". Who gives a doggone fuck????

But the music ain't bad, nosiree. Like I said, it's sort of shallow, and that explains my initial disappointment. It is a nostalgia trip: the final instrumental, Fisher's 'Weisselklenzenacht (The Signature)', is a clear and unconcealed throwback to 'Repent Walpurgis', with an emotional organ-and-guitar interplay that echoes the same overall mood - and, of course, the copy can't help to beat the original. Yet Brooker shows he still hasn't lost his knack for summoning hooks out of thin air, and thus, even if the instrumental parts never get you in a frenzy, the vocal melodies will probably please and soothe you anyway, and occasionally you'll stumble upon an organ or piano riff that is, indeed, quite lovable.

'An Old English Dream', with a little more complexity, could probably fit on Exotic Birds And Fruit, as could quite a few other tunes. 'A Robe Of Silk', on the contrary, reminds me more of the music-hallish atmosphere of the debut, and even Whitehorn's guitar is distorted in a very Trowerish way, while Fisher tunes his organ to recapture the 'Whiter Shade Of Pale' vibe. 'The Emperor's New Clothes' could use a bit of orchestration, but even without the strings it still seems like a tribute to the sad baroque-rock overtones of Grand Hotel. And the slightly more rocking 'Every Dog Will Have His Day' almost manages to plunge you back into the spirit of Broken Barricades for a couple minutes. Sure they're all stylistic rip-offs, but they have hooks of their own, and what's wrong with a little nostalgia now and then?

There are, of course, "new styles" explored, although they aren't exactly new because, guess what, most of them have been carried over from Brooker's solo career. 'Shadow Boxed' is an almost dance-style number, yeah baby, with a great chorus that literally goes 'I've been chinese rocks, I've been shadow boxed' and totally rules. 'The Question' takes the 'Bang A Gong' riff and transforms it into an ominous electric piano chord sequence which is so unsettling you don't even bother about the preachy lyrics. And a few of the ballads, like 'This World Is Rich', veer way too much towards New Age territory - a dangerous undertaking for Gary Brooker, because it could easily lead to schmaltz instead of class. But somehow it doesn't. The sons are just sort of soothing, even if they're just sort of there.

Ah well. I don't agree with the happy crowds claiming this to be a triumphant return to form, although I do agree it is Procol's best album since Exotic Birds - which is not saying much because most of their post-74 output sucked anyway. There is absolutely no need for this album; it adds nothing to the Procol legacy; it's just a chance for a few old men to get together and "nostalgize" a bit about the good old days. (I felt exactly the same way about that latest Renaissance reunion album, Tuscany, if you really wanna know). But on the positive side, what's wrong with a few old men getting together, if they're talented old men and don't pretend to be doing anything else? Well, actually, they are - they're pretending to be making a major political/social statement, and that really irks me; but manage to disregard the lyrics and it'll be okay. Remember only that this is not really Procol Harum. This is "Brooker, Fisher, and Reid Remembering How Being In Procol Harum Used To Be Cool".



Most of Procol members, old and new, have had solo careers going on, and reviewing all of them is a task worthy of comparison with reviewing all the solo projects by ex-King Crimson and ex-Genesis members (not to mention ex-Beatles members, but at least that task is fully rewarding). However, out of all these careers, only Robin Trower enjoyed some more or less deserved success, breaking through the charts in America and achieving a true cult status that at one point threatened to overshadow Procol itself. On the other hand, Trower's solo career is so distinct and different from the classic Procol sound, and his audiences were always so very different from the Procol audiences, that I preferred to dump all of his solo stuff, some of which is quite worthy but much of which is so-so, on his solo page.

Since Gary Brooker was the undisputable leader of the band and main composer, I also got interested in taking a sneak peak at his output, which isn't that large - the man only had three or four records out in all.

A separate story is the brief recording career of the Paramounts, the band that started it all...


(released by: THE PARAMOUNTS)

Year Of Release: 1983
Overall rating = 9

Undistinguishable, but not bad altogether. Can hardly see the link to Procol Harum, though.


Track listing: 1) Poison Ivy; 2) I Feel Good All Over; 3) Little Bitty Pretty One; 4) A Certain Girl; 5) I'm The One Who Loves You; 6) It Won't Be Long; 7) Bad Blood; 8) Do I; 9) Blue Ribbons; 10) Cuttin' In; 11) You Never Had It So Good; 12) Doncha Like My Love; 13) Draw Me Closer; 14) Turn On Your Lovelight; 15) You've Got What I Want; 16) Freedom.

The Paramounts are to Procol Harum exactly in the same way as Denny Laine's Moody Blues are to Hayward/Lodge's Moody Blues: an early predecessor with decent quality songs but not a whole lot of interesting things about them; judging by the Paramounts' material, you'd hardly guess they would grow up to become one of Britain's most noteworthy art rock bands. The band's constant members throughout its existence were Gary Brooker and Robin Trower; however, most of its studio recordings were done with Barry J. Wilson on drums, and an early version of the band had Chris Copping as its bass player, so it's funny to see how Procol Harum was actually falling back on its predecessors all the time. (Remember that PH's first single, 'Whiter Shade Of Pale', was actually recorded by a fictitious band - Gary had to assemble a real lineup only after its huge commercial success, and this is where all the old pals, starting from Trower, began to arrive. Copping, as you remember, joined the band in 1970).

The most interesting thing about the Paramounts - perhaps - is that, unlike so many more or less renowned British R'n'B combos of the early Sixties, they were formed really early: they never ripped off the Beatles in earnest, playing their first shows as early as 1960 or so. Consequently, their style was somewhat different: less rooted in rock'n'roll and quirky-jerky dance pop, but leaning far more closely towards the Motown/Stax-Volt edge of things. Which is also, as far as I can guess, the main reason why the band was almost never looked upon seriously: Motown influences weren't exactly the trendiest, nor the most artistically valid ones in an epoch dominated by 'She Loves You' and 'The Last Time'.

Whiter Shades Of R'n'B is an excellent and all-encompassing compilation that collects together all of the Paramounts' six singles from 1963-65, plus throws in four more previously unreleased cuts. (There is actually an even more rarity-packed collection out there, called Abbey Road Decade, but I've never seen it). This is just enough to realise what kind of a band the Paramounts were. And they were? Why, they weren't anything particularly special. An overall rating of nine is about the maximum I can afford to a record that's mostly dedicated to inferior re-arrangements of inferior R'n'B covers - I mean, most of the song titles, even if they were mostly not written by the band members, never told me anything. I kinda hoped that 'It Won't Be Long' would turn out to be their take on the Beatles song, but it came out to be one of the few originals (actually, the first song written by the Brooker/Trower duo - hold out the champagne glasses), and a pretty weak one, too. Definitely nothing offensive or stupid, but I'll have to join the general chorus that screams out: 'Historic Interest! BOO!'

Professionally speaking, the band is skilled enough, but not any more than that. The sound is entirely dominated by Brooker's keyboards; in fact, you might easily sit through an entire half of this record without realizing that there actually is a real guitar somewhere on here. But even when it appears (and it turns out that Trower was almost never allowed to solo on the earliest singles), it's a far cry from Robin's future playing; apparently, it took him to assimilate and accumulate all that Hendrix influence in order to become the awesome talent he actually became. All right, I agree it's debatable as to whether somebody can actually become a talent, but let us make an assumption, all right? Let us just make an assumption!

Melodically, the only thing that naturally jumps out at the listener is the lead-in track, Leiber/Stoller's 'Poison Ivy', the song that briefly made the band minor stars in 1963 and even spawned them a serious boost from the Rolling Stones, who called the band the 'best R'n'B outfit in England' or something like that. Their only chart success (something like #35, as far as I remember), it's really cute and tight, even if I myself would still prefer the song in the Stones' own version. But after that, it's just one mediocre number after another, occasionally pumping up some steam but more often losing it. To make matters worse, some of the selected covers are utterly stupid and certainly far from welcome, like the idiotic 'A Certain Girl' (the incessant 'what's her name? - can't tell!' chorus really bugs me), or the lyrically childish 'Blue Ribbons' (heck, stuff like 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' sounds like Arthur Rimbaud in comparison).

The only tune, in fact, that's really outstanding is their version of P. F. Sloan's 'You Never Had It So Good', ironically, the band's last single. Never heard the original, but the cover is a marvel - that sarcastic, tasteful Dylanish chorus really makes up for any other inconveniencies one might suffer. And oh yeah, that last track, the unreleased version of Charlie Mingus' 'Freedom', is at least attractive because it sounds nothing like the rest of the stuff on here. Moody, slow, with ominous poetic declamations, almost psychedelic in a sense. Transitional between the Paramounts and Procol Harum? Who can tell.

To redeem myself, I'd like to reiterate that this package really does have a lot of historical value - and it's vital not only for Procol Harum fans (actually, it ain't vital for Procol Harum fans at all, because any Procol Harum fan is bound to be seriously disappointed), but also for just about anybody interested in a deeper and more diverse understanding of Britain's pop music in the first half of the Sixties. (In addition, you'll also get a better understanding of why Gary Brooker has so much fun performing all those old R'n'B numbers on Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings albums - he even resurrected 'Turn On Your Lovelight' for Double Bill). We all know the Stones, the Animals, the Kinks, and the Who; some of us may have also heard of the Hollies and all the innumerable bubble gum bands like Herman's Hermits; but the Paramounts were certainly different from them all, and even if that doesn't necessarily suggest high entertainment value, it certainly suggests a nice little broadening of the perspective. So grab it if you see it cheap, and it might just make your day.



(released by: GARY BROOKER)

Year Of Release: 1979
Overall rating = 10

A solid, moody pop album with Brooker not relinquishing his melodic talents; but this is NOT Procol Harum.


Track listing: 1) (No More) Fear Of Flying; 2) Say It Ain't So Joe; 3) Pilot; 4) Savannah; 5) Angelina; 6) Give Me Something To Remember You By; 7) Let Me In; 8) Old Manhattan Melodies; 9) Get Up And Dance; [BONUS TRACKS:] 10) Fat Cats; 11) S. S. (Self-Sufficient) Blues; 12) Switchboard Susan.

Gary Brooker's first solo album is very pleasant indeed. But you have to brace yourself - in the literal sense, too: just look at that cover. This sounds nothing like classic Procol Harum; occasionally, the band had already begun to veer towards more simple pop ditties on their last two albums, but it never really tried to abandon its trademark sound textures. But in 1979 Gary wasn't too keen on working with his colleagues - after all, the band had just dispersed, voluntarily and admitting that its time had passed, and further work with his latest bandmates, not to mention old stalwarts like Fisher or Trower, would have discredited that statement. So the team assembled for the recordings is mostly new and not too prominent, including Tim Renwick on guitars (later worked with Gilmour-led Pink Floyd) and ex-Fairport Convention member Dave Mattacks on drums. They're all good, but not outstanding, and therefore No More Fear Of Flying fails to impress you with the very beauty of the sound itself - Procol could sometimes get away with their instrumentation even if they lacked a real melody. Not here; you have to rely almost entirely on Gary's melody-writing and soulful singing, and only pray everything will turn out all right.

And mostly, it does: old Gary does not fail us one more time. None of these songs are great, and not a single one matches Procol's greatest; but not a single truly bad composition here either. The strange thing is that Gary does three covers, none of which are particularly interesting: 'Pilot', for instance, is just a piece of grandiose-standing sap. But 'Say It Ain't So Joe' is nice in its wailing desperation, and Moore-Kosta's 'Savannah' rocks along quite fine, with a convincing guitar solos and powerful backing vocals.

On one of the originals, Gary continues to team up with Reid - and it's actually the best of the originals on here, the rocking, sing-along title track, built on an addictive organ riff. It's practically impossible to resist it - especially when it's backed up with such loud, steady, self-assured drumming and a subtle, but powerful horn section. Actually, it does sound a little like a Procol outtake, something that could have been easily included on Procol's Ninth, for instance. It's also the only truly memorable tune off the album (not that the others are bad - they just don't linger on for too long).

For all the other songs, Brooker has chosen to collaborate with Pete Sinfield - I initially shuddered, remembering Sinfield's usual lyrics for King Crimson and ELP, and lamenting the departure of Keith Reid, but apparently, somewhere in the late Seventies Sinfield had gone slightly whacko (or put it the other way round - suddenly got cured of schizophrenia) and began to mostly pen simplistic love lyrics. Some of these you can witness on ELP's Love Beach; others have made their way onto Gary's solo album. Fortunately, Gary's melodies are better than contemporary ELP's, and this makes No More Fear more or less succeed where Love Beach had more or less crashed head first into the dirt.

Well, I'm not a big fan of 'Give Me Something To Remember You By', a rather generic, if melodic and steadfast tune; but 'Angelina', with its attractive acoustic work and Gary at his most seducing - he has these kinds of pleading, whiny intonations that melt your heart away - is a highlight. 'Let Me In' is so-so, but at least danceable. 'Old Manhattan Melodies' is a charming, convincing tribute to, well, what the title implies - not that the song itself is an 'old Manhattan melody', because its melody is rather vague and faceless, and, in fact, I can easily picture the song sung by, say, the likes of a grizzly Rod Stewart, but somehow Gary manages to make it where Rod would probably break it. I suppose it's all because of the instrumentation - the man never relies on programming or studio automatons, and plays refreshing, sparkling pianos along with real strings and acoustic guitars. And, of course, Gary had never 'violated' his voice - it bears no hideous connotations as Rod's, and always serves to make the song more noble and solemn. Hell, even 'Get Up And Dance', the closing track that's also about exactly the thing the title proposes, is enjoyable, despite the fact that I can easily picture the song sung by, say, the likes of... a grizzly Ringo Starr. Hrr-hrr.

The CD release adds three bonus tracks which are quite essential, especially one more Brooker-Reid collaboration - 'Fat Cats', a hilarious/dangerous rocker which is the fastest on record and one of the fastest songs, I'd bet, Gary ever recorded. 'S.S. Blues' is, of course, mostly interesting for its title - Gary does add '(Self - Sufficient)' in the title, but what the heck? Few people pay attention to parentheses, much less what's written inside them. When the man goes around singing 'I got the SS Blues - supermarket looks just fine', the impression I get is rather, er, ambivalent. And 'Switchboard Susan' really rocks - a great piece of boogie, probably sorely missed on the original release.

A 'trashy' album, some might call it - apart from (maybe) the title track, solemnity and majesty you'll find not. If your ideal in music is 'A Salty Dog', perhaps you'd better steer clear. But in retrospect, No More Fear is quite the logical conclusion to the 'mainstream-ization' of Procol's music that had begun in 1975. There's nothing groundbreaking or stylistically outstanding on this record, but there is nothing offensive, either: so it's probably a must for all diehard Brooker fans. In any case, it's always refreshing to see a 'classic' art-rocker tackle some 'ordinary pop' subjects and not lose his face in the process. If you're wondering, this is a very, very risky and demanding operation - just look what happened to Genesis!



(released by: GARY BROOKER)

Year Of Release: 1982
Overall rating = 11

Excellent quality R'n'B with a personal touch and a cast of thousands.

Best song: HOME LOVING

Track listing: 1) Mineral Man; 2) Another Way; 3) Hang On Rose; 4) Home Loving; 5) The Cycle; 6) Lead Me To The Water; 7) The Angler; 8) Low Flying Birds; 9) Sympathy For The Hard Of Hearing.

This is a meticulous, carefully-crafted, almost disgustedly professional and disgustedly unexciting... wait, not so fast. That's only the first listen impression. In fact, this is a vast improvement over No More Fear Of Flying, in almost all respects. At the very beginning of the Eighties, Gary spent some time with Eric Clapton, helping him compose and record his material for Another Ticket (easily Eric's best studio effort of the Eighties, before he started slipping into Collins territory); in fact, several of the songs that Brooker wrote for Clapton were rejected at the time, only to make it onto Brooker's own solo album.

Friendship is friendship, though, and Clapton returns the favour by playing on selected tracks on here, and he also brings the remains of his band to lend Gary a hand - including ace drummer Henry Spinetti and piano player Chris Stainton. Not to mention friends like George Harrison, who drops by to add some typically Harrisonesque beautiful slide guitar on 'Mineral Man' (how come I can almost spotlessly identify Harrison leadwork any time I hear it? That means the man has a unique style! Hear that, you worthless Harrison bashers?), or Phil Collins, who actually is not responsible for drum machines, as it might seem to some, but, on the contrary, plays some brilliant drum parts.

All in all, the conditions are set for a masterpiece; the only thing, maybe, that slightly betrays the album's Eighties' chronology is the added synth touch, but Gary wisely keeps the synth under the control, usually somewhere in the background as a 'supporting' or 'embellishing' element - the songs are almost all piano-based or guitar-based. So how's it working? Well, pretty good for a man who's penned so many songs in his life he simply has nowhere to go but down. Few of the nine songs on here can be called "chef-d'oeuvres", at least, if you're not judging from a devoted Brooker fan position, but I'm pretty sure devoted Brooker fans would praise the album to high heaven, and from their devoted Brooker fan position, they'd probably be right, too.

First of all, Gary writes everything himself - everything. That's a first: the first album in his career where all the music and lyrics are exclusively his. Of course, he can't stand competition with Keith Reid, but the good news is, he doesn't even try to ape Keith's style. His lyrics are normal, unpretentious little pictures of everyday life and typical psychological situations - an ode to family life, a rant against 'low flying birds', a lament about a dead person ('Hang On Rose' - I don't know whether it's autobiographic or not), and such-like. So I don't pay much attention to the lyrics, but that's not necessary, the melodies are quite all right as well. If anything, it's the main melodic structure of the album that follows the Procol Harum principle: the musical background and the instrumentation are responsible for the atmosphere, and the vocal melody of the song is responsible for memorability, with unbeatable vocal hooks and everything that goes with 'em.

Not that the songs lack diversity, either. No way. The title track, for instance, utilises a poppy reggae beat to good effect. 'Mineral Man' is almost discoish in its essence, but you hardly notice that due to Harrison's slide magic and the funny refrain - 'Well I'm a mineral man, stuck here in the can till I oxidise'. 'Another Way' is dance-poppy, and one of the few tunes that's far more synth-reliant than others, but not in an offending way, and the way it subtly changes tempo makes me value the effort. And the closing track, 'Sympathy For The Hard Of Hearing', is a moving and grandiose epic dedicated to the memory of those who fought and suffered in World War II; its primary distinction is a two-part division, with a slow melancholic part first and a fast rocking part after that, with Phil pounding out the rhythm in such a furious manner he hadn't utilised since at least 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight'. Unless that happens to be Spinetti on the drums, of course, in which case I've just wasted a few lines of Web space.

My favourites, though, would rather include 'The Angler', a very gentle and thought-provoking ballad that begins with a musical quotation from 'Beyond The Pale' and then goes on to synthesize classical instrumentation with a country-rock melody (cute, isn't it? And, indeed, very reminiscent of Procol's style on Exotic Birds And Fruit), and 'Low Flying Birds', a strangely aggressive, dry rocker - note that I, of course, employ 'aggressive' as a very relative term: this ain't no Slayer or even Aerosmith, but it boasts a certain sincere level of irony and energy that many a superficially more 'hard-rockin' artist would lack. Gotta love the powerful jam section in the middle.

That said, the very best track on here would have to be 'Home Loving', perhaps the most effective ode to Da Ting ever written. 'Home loving costs you nothing, home loving saves you suffering' - what a banal thought, yet it's deeply true, after all, and that's what all the young punks are gonna return to in the long run, after all. So don't squirm your nose as Gary chants 'I love my Mama, love my Papa, I love my sister and my big bad brother' to this optimistic, cheerful melody, and Eric wails away in the background. Gary's voice never sounded more beautiful. Funny that the song was originally planned for release on Clapton's album - I'd love to hear Eric sing the stuff.

All in all, Lead Me To The Water is one of those albums that walk the plank - all they'd need to be a masterpiece would be a few really really outstanding twists of melody, instead, they just prefer to stay on the utmost level of 'normal' and thus tend to evade the public eye, just sit there at the bottom of the pile waiting for a trustworthy guy to come along and shed a tear or two at the inarguably high quality. I suppose some people could call this stuff 'boring' and 'yawn-inducing', but not any more than just about any Procol Harum album. There ain't truly a bad song on here. Now let's have fun with some statistics - what is the percentage of albums released 'round the world that don't have even one bad song on it? Don't come back until you've got an answer.



(released by: GARY BROOKER)

Year Of Release: 1985
Overall rating = 8

Phil Collins, come out and show yourself. I KNOW you're behind this album, you coward.


Track listing: 1) Count Me Out; 2) Two Fools In Love; 3) Echoes In The Night; 4) Ghost Train; 5) Mr Blue Day; 6) Saw The Fire; 7) The Long Goodbye; 8) Hear What You're Saying; 9) Missing Person; 10) Trick Of The Night.

Now lookey here, who's back! Matthew Fisher is playing the organ, and B. J. Wilson is banging 'em drums! Not to mention Keith Reid returning as a full-fledged lyrical collaborator again. Next time Gary would get these guys back together (without the deceased Wilson, though), he'd have the good commercial sense to put "Procol Harum" on the album sleeve (I'm talking about Well's On Fire, of course), but apparently in 1985 something prevented him from doing that.

Good thing, too, as it's easily the worst solo album in his career, and for understandable reasons: The Curse of the Mid-Eighties. These guys (Brooker and Fisher) may have at one time reinvented the role of keyboards within the rock sound of their epoch, but this here is just a generic synth-pop album, pure and simple. Synthesizers everywhere and not a drop to drink. Add to this B. J. Wilson's more or less total uselessness, as the drum sound is essentially electronic from top to bottom, and now you know the fertile grounds upon which these guys grew the seeds of their lame Prodigal Stranger reunion half a decade later.

Brooker's pop sensibility still shows: he's obviously not entirely bowled over with techonology wonders and production advances, and bravely tries to attach a melody to every single one of these tracks. But these melodies aren't particularly hot: just a catchy chorus here and there, and when you match them against the horrors of the production, they don't stand much competition against the Dark Side of the decade. Study the credits and you'll find famous percussionist Ray Cooper guesting on some tracks and Gary's friend and colleague Eric Clapton on some others. Then close your eyes and try to remember the record Eric Clapton released that year... Got it? That's right, Behind The Sun. Now close your eyes and try to remember who produced Behind The Sun. There you go - Phil Collins. No, he's not listed on here, but do I need to add anything anyway?

Okay, let's get the worst thing off my chest: 'Two Fools In Love' is arguably the worst song in Mr Brooker's entire career. An overblown, nauseatingly sentimental adult contemporary ballad with "soft soothing" guitar and poisonous synths and soft jazz saxes a-plenty and lyrics that Brooker wrote himself which I cannot stop myself from quoting: 'They tell me I'm a gentleman of leisure/And you're just a woman of pleasure/Maybe it's only infatuation/We don't care, it's a lovely situation'. Rule number one: never, NEVER use the word "infatuation" in a song. For your information, Rod Stewart once named a song that and got the lowest rating so far on this site. So beware!

And the sad thing is that I cannot really put a solid gold piece on the other cup of the scale: even the best stuff on here is only mediocre by Gary's usual standards. There are two big epics on here, the title track and 'The Long Goodbye', which could probably compete in a better world - in fact, 'The Long Goodbye' had since become something of a true Brooker and Procol Harum standard, and it is a good anthemic song, but every other version of it that I've heard was always better than the studio original. There's also Clapton's guitar solo on 'Echoes In The Night' - to my ears, sounding rather pro forma, which is, dull and lifeless. The only other slightly non-standard tune is 'Ghost Train', with its complex melodic structure and a radical transformation of melody in the chorus, yet again spoiled by soulless synth runs instead of something more real.

I don't really want to discuss these songs; instead, I'll just offer you a little theoretical rant. Keith Reid's poetry (I stress the word poetry and not lyrics), in the past, had served as a mighty stimulus for Brooker, Fisher, and Co. to make their not-too-diverse, somewhat monotonous, but majestic and imaginative music. There was this one overwhelming musical theme, and that would be the backbone, and over it Brooker would just sing, or even just "recite" in a sing-songy voice whatever lines Keith would give him. It wasn't even true songwriting, because the vocal and instrumental parts rarely had anything in common with each other. However, both parts were enjoyable. Here, though, we're supposed to take Keith's witty words and enjoy them when they're tied with generic synth-pop, even if it's still classically influenced generic synth-pop. This is a thoroughly inadequate experience, and there's no use pretending this can have anything to do with the classic Procol sound.

Yep, even when Gary just plays the piano and B. J. just drums and they have the National Philharmonic Orchestra backing them up (on 'Mr Blue Day'), I still get a quirky and naggin' robotic feeling about it. It's no good trying to put the Procol ideology on electronic rails; let bands like Depeche Mode who actually pioneered these rails take care of them. Oh no, here's 'Saw The Fire' coming along and these synthesizers are starting to tear my eardrums out part by part. Aaarrgh. Don't buy this album, even the guys in Rolling Stone didn't like it when it came out, and I thought the guys at Rolling Stone lost their last bits of good taste about a decade earlier than that. "Count Me Out" indeed.




Year Of Release: 1996
Overall rating = 10

Time for a little revival, eh? Don't worry, this is a listenable thing.

Best song: A SALTY DOG

Track listing: 1) Intro; 2) Pastime With Good Company; 3) Mattachins; 4) Linden Lea; 5) Holding On; 6) A Salty Dog; 7) Hide And Seek; 8) Within Our House; 9) Steal Away; 10) Gospel Train; 11) Peace In The Valley; 12) Nothing But The Truth; 13) The Long Goodbye; 14) Jesus On The Mainline; 15) Psalm For St Mary; 16) A Whiter Shade Of Pale.

This one isn't so widely available, but it wasn't really meant to. It just so happened that on September 28th, 1996, Gary organized a show at his local St Mary and All Saints Church, just to support the parish as far as I'm aware. He gathered together a few friends, including Robbie McIntosh on guitar and now permanent "new look Procol Harum" drummer Mark Brzezicki, and got himself a string quartet and a chorus, weirdly nicknamed 'The Chameleon Arts String Quartet' and, uh, 'The Chameleon Arts Chorus', then proceeded to gather around a hundred and fifty guests, half of them from the parish and half Procol fans, and played this cute little event, setting up some recording equipment "just in case".

Presumably, they found inspiration, and an inspired Brooker decided to release the results as a live album. It certainly couldn't sell well and it didn't (in fact, I have a suspicion that needs to be verified that it was only available for a limited time as a limited edition, and if you want to get it now you have to contact Gary himself or something like that!), but it remains as a kind of a nice document. Personally, I have always shunned gospel, but I find this album really enjoyable and really warm and sincere. The idea of interspersing traditional hymns and religious ditties with Procol classics isn't as dumb as might seem: Brooker has always had a church-ey side to his music, and Keith Reid's lyrics are about the only thing that looks relatively weird in this context. That said, there aren't that many Procol songs on here anyway. Just a few - among a couple Gary solo numbers, a McIntosh instrumental or two, and lots of gospel stuff.

To tell the truth, I wasn't that afraid of putting it on. Gary's never been a pompous Jesus freak - more of a humble servant of the Lord, and this little venue is, well, thoroughly and utterly unpretentious. The gospel ditties are mostly just that, ditties, lasting for about a minute and a half and never overstaying their welcome; only a few develop into full-blown chants, and these usually benefit from the catchier aspects of gospel, like the wonderfully developing 'Jesus On The Mainline' and several others. And Brooker's Elvis impersonation on 'Peace In The Valley' is something to be heard all right... it's the first time I heard him lowering his voice like that, too bad he never tricked around with it on earlier records.

The Robbie McIntosh instrumental 'Hide And Seek' is top quality, relaxing, professional and even moderately catchy. If the name means nothing to you, let me just remind you he's been with the Pretenders, and after that McCartney employed him in his band for about half a decade. Never really liked the guy's somewhat sterile approach to Beatles material in concert, but he's just got different style - here, when he's alone with his acoustic, he shows plenty of taste and versatility and add whatever epithet you want. Just slow folkish relaxative picking, the kind of which you'd easily meet on any standard "mood-setting" collection, but nice.

Gary offers one new number, specially co-written with Keith for the event, the spiritual title track. It's, uh, nice too, I guess - there are actually some inventive vocal twists in the melody, it's generally made in the classic Procol mode, in fact, I think it might be the most Procol-ish track he'd written since the breakup of the original band, but maybe also because of that it betrays some kind of nostalgic schamltziness... depends on the mood, I guess. There's also one number from Prodigal Stranger ('Holding On') and 'The Long Goodbye', both equally suitable for being sung at a church, I guess, and just for everybody's consolation, he also throws in three 'classic' numbers. The album closes with the obligatory 'Whiter Shade Of Pale', done as close to the original version as possible; a big surprise is a rather stern and aggressive 'Nothing But The Truth', even despite the lack of an electric guitar; and the central highlight, of course, is 'A Salty Dog'. Ah, the wonders of the human voice - it's simply amazing how some people (Ian Gillan, Greg Lake, etc.) lose their vocal capacities with time and others, like Gary, not only preserve every single bit of their range and power, but even improve on their singing style. I don't know if the idea of 'enriching' the song with some Latin chanting is really as inventive as Gary thought it to be, but in general, the performance is absolutely climactic. Too bad I missed the band live this year...

Anyway, if you're a Procol diehard and happened to miss the record, don't despair - there's nothing essential about it. But if you do happen to fall upon it, it's well worth picking up if only to see how such a theoretically cheesy setup can actually result in a thoroughly enjoyable performance. Performing a bunch of old "stale" classics and an even bigger bunch of generic spiritual tunes and making it NOT sound phoney and hypocritical is certainly an achievement that not many are capable of. But apparently, Gary is simply one of the friendliest and most lovable chums on this planet, and his presence alone is enough to guarantee a splendid time. Ah well. It's not like I'm gettin' born again any time soon, but I did get a minor emotional uplift from this album, and that means something.



I'm surprised there aren't more reports on U.S. PH shows, given how many there seemed to be back in the salad days. So I'll try to offer some info on same. I won't go much into one of the early Fillmore shows or the House of Blues show from '95 that I saw, seeing as how they've already been covered pretty extensively on the great Beyond the Pale website. I will say that the early PH show at the Fillmore was unusually tight and loud for that time, when many bands didn't sound too much evolved from garage status. Also, just for the record regarding the disappointing stateside reception of "Homburg," I'd like to mention that the early New York City FM station WOR played "Homburg" almost as much as "Whiter Shade..." and I remember being distinctly perplexed in the fall of '67 when the former didn't become as big a hit as the latter. But to get on with the live shows... It was a bitterly cold night in February of '72 when my friend and I ventured out from Northeast Queens by way of Northern Boulevard to see Procol Harum at C.W. Post College on Long Island. This was only a few days after the import of Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick, released in the U.S. in the exact same version a month later, was starting to get played on FM radio. It was around the same time that the early Genesis and Renaissance albums were getting a little U.S. airplay on FM radio. And it was only a short time after ELP's revelatory Pictures at an Exhibition was released in the U.S. and Britain -- in short, it was a terribly exciting time for that unjustly maligned (these days, that is -- back then it RULED!) genre known as British progressive rock. The North Shore of Long Island is often compared to the outskirts of London by those who've been on both sides of the Atlantic and so it was particularly fitting to be driving through the dark, wintry streets bordering the Long Island Sound to get to the Post campus to see PH. I can't remember who the opening act was; it's possible that there wasn't any or we got there late. Procol's set was amazing, however, and Dave Ball was pretty slick on guitar, though we were a little disappointed to hear Trower had left. They played most of their best-loved concert songs -- "Quite Rightly So," "Shine On Brightly," "Conquistador," "A Salty Dog," "Whaling Stories," "Still There'll Be More," "A Whiter Shade..." and "In Held 'Twas In I," of course. But what I remember most vividly was that they debuted three fantastic new songs -- "Bringing Home the Bacon," "Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)," and "Roberts' Box," the chords to which I immediately went home and tried to figure out. (I'd just started playing mandolin to add to drums, having been, like B.J., an admirer of versatile drummers like the Band's Levon Helm and the second-era Byrds' Gene Parsons.) I waited anxiously for the next Procol studio studio album, which would surely contain these songs. But lo and behold...

...the next album was the Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra LP, and we were next to see the group in Central Park sometime in July, I think it was, of '72. Talk before the show swirled through midtown Manhattan to the effect that Matthew Fisher had rejoined the band! As I personally think PH was often at its strongest when it had the benefit of Brooker, Fisher, and Trower all singing and writing, I was particularly excited by this prospect. When no Fisher appeared on the stage, Brooker explained -- I'm quoting as accurately as I can here, as I don't want to ruffle any feathers -- that Fisher had rejoined and then quit after about ten gigs, apparently admitting that he only wanted to get some money together to further his career as a producer. Maybe Gary just wasn't in a good mood about it at the time, but that's what he said that night. He also introduced a new guitarist named Mick Grabham, saying of Dave Ball "He didn't work out, did he?" I'd heard vaguely of Grabham by way of his solo LP Mick the Lad, which I'd read of in a British record store catalogue that I used to order from, and was very impressed with his playing on this night. Despite these personnel rifts, the show was in no way a disappointment. The band still retained many of the old favorites and threw in some special treats I'd never seen them do, such as "In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence" and "Pilgrim's Progress," the latter now with Gary on vocals, of course. Gary also did something I've never seen him do before or since -- jump up another octave on that "I can see to unwind" phrase on the last verse of "Conquistador." B.J. was in particularly fine form on this night, doing that one-handed drum roll with foot pedal magic to great effect. I seem to remember that his solo on "Power Failure" was rather more manic than at the Post show, somewhat anticipating the playing on Grand Hotel where the drums seem to function almost as much melodically as rhythmically (as another Paler has noted on the Beyond... site). It was also, if memory serves, the last time we saw the band do the complete "In Held...," with all the spoken parts verbatim. For all this, we were still wondering about those three great songs from a few months ago. Until...

...October '73 (maybe November?) in the Colden Auditorium at Queens College in Flushing, Queens (one of the five boroughs of New York City, for those folks who ain't crossed the pond). With the Chrysalis label solidly behind them now, the show had Tir Na Nog doing a rather pleasant (for fans of the Martin Carthy/Donovan/Cat Stevens/Ian Anderson arc of acoustic English music) opening set of about half an hour. Then a surprisingly long (over an hour) set by the second act, the Below the Salt-era Steeleye Span, of whom I had never heard and who completely blew us all away! The live, a capella, five-part-harmonized "Gaudete" was thrilling, the instrumentals were delightful (Maddy kicking her skirt up and playing spoons), and the harder rocking folk songs like "The Blacksmith" and "Royal Forrester" were astoundingly great! If I remember correctly (I wasn't in the habit of writing down set lists back then unless I was reviewing the show for the Queens College paper, which on this night I was not), the last two songs were "John Barleycorn" (which those of us who'd seen Traffic do at this same venue three years earlier wouldn't have imagined anyone else would dare touch) and the achingly beautiful "Saucy Sailor." By the time Procol came on, the show was already worth the money ($3.50 with student discount!), but they were remarkable as usual. They played just about everything from Grand Hotel except "For Liquorice John" (too bad, I always loved that one, especially the bridge with the harmonica) and B.J. got off the drums to play mandolin on "Souvenir of London." I think Copping may've played acoustic guitar on that, too, as my visual memory of the song is Brooker at the piano -- or was it Brooker on guitar? -- and everyone else standing up at the front of the stage in a row. I believe Maddy also came out to sing Christianne Legrand's terrific parts on "Fires..." It was a very loud and energetic show and no one was more surprised than me when the strong sales of ...Hotel earned the band the coveted host slot on the musical ABC-TV show "The Midnight Special" quite a few months after the album had come out in the U.S.

I never saw the original band again after that. I did see PH do a rather short opening set for Jethro Tull at Los Angeles' Greek Theater in September of '93. Gary was in remarkable voice, Geoff Whitehorn seemed to me the closest thing to Trower on guitar since the genuine article, and the inspired drumming of Ian Wallace (whom I admire greatly from his brief stretch with King Crimson) made it a worthy show. They only did about six songs including "Whiter...," "Salty Dog," "The Truth Won't Fade Away," and that updated version of one of my favorite PH songs, "As Strong as Samson." (For those who haven't heard the latter in its new incarnation, picture Gary playing a piano thing reminiscent of the string intro from the Edmonton Symphony "Conquistador" underneath more up-tempo vocals and you sort of have it.) The most fun moment of the show was Gary talking about sitting backstage with Anderson and discussing where the musical inspiration for "Whiter..." came from. "Maybe it was this one," Gary said, then played and sang a measure or two of "When a Man Loves a Woman." '"No, maybe it was this one," and then he did the same with "No Woman No Cry." As great as it was to hear "Whiter...," one couldn't help but want to hear him sing all of those two other songs! There was also an amusing quote from Gary with respect to the prospect of future PH shows and records: "The only thing between you and everybody else!" One complaint: why doesn't Fisher sing some of his songs at these reunion shows? He only has one of the most remarkably cool-sounding voices ever! (What I wouldn't give to hear him sing "Play the Game" or even -- dare I suggest it for a PH show? -- "Going for a Song"!)

Finally, a note on that House of Blues show, which was quite good if unlike any PH show I've ever seen in that the emphasis really did seem to be on blues, from PH originals like "Wish Me Well" to covers of R&B classics. (Ray Charles' "Drown in My Own Tears" may've been one, I think.) I was a little late getting to the show and as I raced down Sunset Boulevard in my beat-up Nissan Sentra and made a hard right toward the HOB parking lot, I had to stop short for a middle-aged fellow lugging a case of some sort across the street! Sure enough, it was GB himself, and as he looked up to make sure I stopped for him, I called out the window that it was an honor to have almost run him down, which got a good laugh out of him as he headed into the club. P.S. Gary was also great at Ringo's Rock 'n' Roll Show at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles in spring of '99. In addition to interacting marvelously with Jack Bruce, Todd Rundgren, Ringo, et al (you haven't heard Gary play organ till you've heard him play it on "Bang the Drum All Day"), he sang "Whiskey Train," "A Salty Dog" (Todd on slide doing "the whale bits"), and "Whiter..." with Todd on acoustic twelve-string. He also looked immaculately cool during that handful of piano notes at the end of "I Feel Free" when everything stops for a moment, glancing across the stage at Jack for a beat as he did just before they roared into the finale. (Neither Ringo nor Simon Kirke were up to Ginger's playing on that one, however.) I can't remember which classic Beatle song Gary said the following after -- Ringo always squeezes in quite a few of the greatest hits -- but before doing "Whiskey Train" Gary said, "A lot of you probably think you have shitty jobs, but I have the shittiest job...because I have to sing after (song title here)." Maybe it wasn't a Beatle song at all but rather "Sunshine of Your Love," which brought down the house with Bruce's lead bass playing and Todd's astounding Clapton re-creations.

P.P.S. Just a word on Robbie Robertson's famously quoted knock on PH in Rolling Stone back in the late '60s, a big sore spot with PH fans: Personally, I've always felt he should've thought twice before criticizing them that way. Notwithstanding endless praise from rock critics and folks like Eric Clapton, the Band's work dropped off disastrously in quality after their first three albums, whereas one could argue that PH's fourth, Home, was their best up to that time and the start of a whole new golden era for them.

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