Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

Procol mentions in The Times

Michael Wale in The Times 10 May 1973

Thanks to John Lock for locating this article and Jill McMahon for typing it

Rock Culture
Once I was approached by an income tax consultant who wanted my advice on the next trend in the pop world so that he would become consultant to those involved. The Cole Porter era could be a good bet judging by the response to a party I attended at the Plaza Hotel to welcome Procol Harum to New York.

It was a lavish affair, worthy of the high days of Hollywood, and a Palm Court-like orchestra played nostalgic selections with the works of Mr Porter well to the fore. To watch such pop luminaries as Carly Simon, James Taylor and Alice Cooper dancing gracefully to such music in these surroundings proved once again that it is the pop world which is providing the social extravagance that used to be a trademark of the American film industry.

The amounts of money earned by some pop stars in America is now colossal. Alice Cooper’s current tour of 56 cities will earn him $41m, although $2m of those disappear in the cost of flying his own stage, sound equipment and entourage around in a private jet.

Cooper too is influenced by the past, in his case, not too surprisingly, by Busby Berkeley. His act now is totally theatrical and the music appears, and indeed often is, totally irrelevant. It is what happens visually that draws 20,000 young people a show to the stadia. He uses the Berkeley illuminated staircases all around his built-up stage, appears in long combinations with painted on stains, platform soled boots and scant vest, with mascara pouring down from his eyes as the atmosphere hots up. The climax of his act is a reproduction guillotining in which he is put under the guillotine by an “executioner”, and through an effective illusion appears to lose his head as the blade falls.

Cooper sees his act as reflecting his audience. “I love America but it is totally opulent and decadent: I mean, I know of 16-year-old kids driving around Rolls-Royces.” He is a product of a TV-educated age, which is where he watched the work of Busby Berkeley. In his Los Angeles show he plans to have one of his great small screen heroes, The Lone Ranger, ride in and open his show. He also recently presented George Burns with an Alice Cooper Living Legend award. After his initial surprise, Burns told him: “I’ve really got to admire a person who plays to 20,000 people at a time”. He might have added drily: “And puts his head on the line every night.”

 There is a definite inclination to return to the age of cabaret among the pop culture in America. At that same party at the Plaza several young men had their hair cut like Cole Porter. Bette Midler has become a cult figure with her cabaret act which started in, of all the unlikely places, one of New York’s steam baths. Hers is often a raucous send-up of the past. At Max’s Kansas City, the “in” rock club of the moment, I watched Martin Mull singlehanded take on the myths of today. As with Bette Midler his first album has not done his act justice. He is essentially a comedian who uses the rock world as his fodder, parodying its “hip” language, and its stars, in a leisurely way with an acoustic guitar.

Comedy is the big difference between the rock cultures of Britain and America. Here we have Grimms nobly fighting their way around the university circuit and more recently taking on an audience at the Victoria Palace. But you feel the audiences feel safer with straight rock music.

America has a long tradition of youthful comedians playing to youthful audiences. The Firesign Theatre continue to put out their zany albums and find a market for them. Earl Dowd the man who helped write and produced the Vaughan Meader albums with their waspish satire The First Family and The Second Coming is now working on radio. He is still full of ideas and conducts his nightly radio chat show with the same style and wit that was a trademark of his records. Dowd is currently trying to assemble a worldwide collection of rock stars in a comedy album.

It is this easy will to merge with comedy and theatre that appeals to me about the rock scene in America. Joe Papp, that energetic New York theatre producer who seems to start a new company with every dawn, and who sponsored Two Gentlemen of Verona, which has just opened in the West End, hopes to get David Bowie to appear in his new project The Dream Mansion. “His theatricality and his striking looks are just right for the theatre”, Papp told me.

More mentions of Procol Harum in The Times

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home