I remember the first time my eldest brother Stephen came home with an Elvis Presley record. I think I was just 9 or 10 years old. That sure created quite a stir. There was my Dad and my other brother Michael doing their best imitation, making us all laugh till we cried while trying to copy how they saw Elvis swivel his hips after appearing on some television show. I was probably too young to realize at the time that his good looks was what everyone was so ga-ga over. Drugs weren't part of the culture yet, (not as far as I knew) but Rock and Roll was beginning to emerge through a more sedate genre of popular music and there was no turning back.
Elvis and his badboy image had sparked the hearts and minds of many and all for different reasons From what I gather he also caught the eyes and ears of a lad in North London (Hackney) by the name of Gary Brooker. Elvis wasn't the only rocker Gary caught on to, but that's just one small point of this synopsis. Btw ... for the sake of this piece, I would like to mention that my parents never drank nor was there alcohol ever kept in the house.
With music opening its doors to experimentation, so went the direction of societies around the world. Trends were becoming more prominent as were the vocalization of those trends not to mention the provocative ways in which people expressed them. We were headed in a very exciting direction and music was the breeding ground for all sorts of alternative ways in which people could express themselves. Where would we be today without music, especially Rock and Roll?
With Elvis safely tucked away in the services during the early 60s the Beatles burst forth as if shot out of a cannon. A whole new frenzy ensued and once again four very good-looking men had sent millions of men and women into another dimension. Elvis and The Beatles caused women to faint and men to dream, not that that was necessarily a bad thing, but they caused some of society's finest and not-so-finest to break ranks with the norm and explore life in ways to which most weren't accustomed. Would we ever be the same?
I loved music. It's a wonder I didn't choose it as a career in even the slightest avenue available, but that's not the point of this piece. What I will tell you though is I had no problem with breaking ranks, being anti-establishment so to speak and all the while maintaining an established path. One did need a roof over one's head, but it wasn't so much this new area of Rock and Roll that guided me.
I had grown up in a household filled with music. I can even recall crying in my crib because I could hear the music coming from another room and wanted to be near it. Early on of course, it was the classics and the hits of the Fifties that filled the airwaves. I loved to dance and we had plenty of places to do that at. I suspect most my age around the world had the same introduction to music as I. And then one day I heard jazz. By then I had smoked my first joint and the life of a Beatnik looked very attractive, even mysterious. I was a teenager ready for an identity and it didn't include Elvis or The Beatles. Everyone else could have them I thought. I just didn't see what the fuss was all about. The path of a non-conformist was fine with me. I granted them their good voices all. I even liked a couple of their songs and yeah they were cute, but what was dictating the popular vote wasn't going to dictate me. I had better influences guiding me.
When I watch footage of those earlier Rock and Roll documentaries now, I am reminded that it was the behaviour of scads of women swooning and how men imaged themselves in their R&R male counterparts that I preferred to be separated from. At the time I thought that brand of music was for the faint and the dreamers. Jazz and Rhythm and Blues had a much hipper element going for it and I much preferred the people and the behaviour that surrounded it.
'Twasn't too long after my senior year of high school did I find Rock and Roll appealing. I had moved to New York by then and a truer path of music swept me up. Rock and Roll was here to stay and I had finally fallen under its spell, but not for the same reasons women had swooned and men had fashioned themselves after. Suddenly The Beatles sounded good to me. Many other groups of that period had caught my attention too. Jazz had served me well, but there was a new freedom in the air. The Summer of Love they called it,1967. A segment of society wanted to make a statement and music was the vehicle to do that with. Bands like The Beatles, Traffic, The Doors and Procol Harum not to mention various others now had my undivided attention. All they needed was a flag and I would have saluted! Psychedelia had taken charge and Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll became a motto. So did Tune In, Turn On And Drop Out. Don't look now, but this non-conformist was now in step with millions of others. ;-) Marijuana, LSD and a few other unmentionables were everywhere and concerts became one of the places to explore their effects. Whether the music industry was relying on that or not remains to be seen, but it sure had a way of factoring in when tickets went on sale. The first thing one would do is make sure supplies were plentiful for the given date on that ticket. Mind you it didn't stop one from going. Surely the music would take you where you wanted and the air was sure to be sated.
It is easy to see which audience was on what drug now when viewing those documentaries. Pot was the audience filled with vegetables barely able to move. Once LSD and cocaine were available the venues showed more motion and the crowds drew in their enormity and became more boisterous and social.
By 1970 Procol Harum had become a part of my life. For nearly 3 years, circumstances which most of you are now aware of had brought them closer to me than I had expected. I recall my first question. "Why weren't there any ads about you playing? If I hadn't heard it announced on the radio, I would have never known?" " We don't know" was the response. That always bothered me when a band with the quality that Procol Harum exhibited weren't being given the proper attention. Things eventually got a bit better in that department as the years progressed and then they eventually backfired for lack of a better term. (I'll explain that in a while) What also bothered me was what would occur if a member of a group decided to go in another direction. How would the audience respond? We would soon find out. The fact is change was all around and life went on.
By 1974-75 music was evolving and a counter-culture was breaking ground. A younger voice wanted a forum much like those before. 'Flower power' and the 'love generation' were fading. We had civil rights, the Viet Nam War and a sexual revolution going on. It was the most any generation had strung together in order to change the world. Now a new course was being founded and a more rebellious take on things was about to be born. All those mind-expanding drugs had different chemicals in them and people were choosing different avenues to spend their time and money with them. Punk and Disco were the two extremes and couldn't have tugged either further apart musically if they tried. One group was looking for a good time and acceptance. The other wanted to retaliate against the world. They too had a social and political stance with a brasher way of sending it. Rock and Roll still had an audience, but that audience was now more married and had more kids with less time to give to what was once their world in more ways than one. Those who moved with the rock bands didn't experience the same drug culture they started out with. Demeanors were changing along with the times. Rock and Roll was experiencing its first clash with its audience. Drugs were evidently a major influence now negating the powerful message of 'peace and love'. Who would get left behind? The economy was about to decide that cause that was taking a turn as well. Had we really influenced anyone but ourselves?
A lot certainly took place in 8-9 years. The hippie had seen better days. The working class hero had given way to inflation and one couldn't afford to attend all those concerts and the escalating price of drugs all at once. I watched as Chrysalis made some poor decisions by over-saturating an already sodden market. And sometimes I can't help but wonder what fuelled some of those decisions. Were incentives or inducements part of who spent how much time on what? Procol Harum were beginning to take a beating in the States, but had more opportunities awaiting them in areas that didn't initially embrace them, their Homeland. Nevertheless, the touring continued in the US to smaller and smaller audiences. The reason being if there were ten venues opened for booking in a concentrated area all would be booked, but with the audience now spending less on their favorite band they would wait till the final gig to attend. It was the equivalent of going to the last show at Fillmore on any given weekend which held fond memories for everyone. It was like going to one big party and that's what everyone held dear along with the music.
Procol Harum was a product of the summer of love, but amidst a decade that saw jubilant colourful patterns ever-changing with rock and rollers filled with hope, it was the punkers, grunge and disco that got the best of them. They were still a product of the summer of love, but it was no longer 1967. What they became was a victim of their own profound quality. They were never about the flash and glamour that rock and roll expediated. Gary didn't gyrate hoping women would swoon.
One thing was evident looking back on those audiences, it was the excessives that added to the atmosphere and as those changed so did the audience, but the one thing that I remember from all the press ever written about Procol Harum went something like this ... the audiences of Procol Harum are best considered connoisseurs of music. I wouldn't dare to argue that and I wish to thank whoever wrote it! But I would also like to add it is the extraordinary excellence in which Procol Harum have presented themselves both musically and personally that will live on forever and I for one am still under THEIR influence. ;-)
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