Procol Harum – Beyond These Things
Phil Jackson's Procol Harum retrospective was intended to introduce newcomers to the band's music following the elaborate cover of In Held 'Twas In I by TransAtlantic. Read his introduction and his Broken Barricades piece below, and follow the numerous links to other regions of BtP that you may not have visited in quite a while!
Last time we looked at the early years of Procol Harum in which time they produced 4 stunning albums. We also featured an interview with a very important fan, Roine Stolt, guitarist / multi- instrumentalist/ composer of the brilliant progressive rock band, The Flower Kings.
Roine fronts a group that, while wearing their influences very much on their sleeves, write and play with such passion, virtuosity and originality that they are rapidly carving out their own niche in the annals of progressive rock history. Roine’s own career actually goes back 25 years to the 70s prog rock band Kaipa so his opinion is based very much on experience!
Roine is not alone in acknowledging the massive influence that Procol had on the development of progressive rock music.
Paul Stump in his book The Music’s All That Matters: A History of Progressive Rock writes of the Baroque chordal developments of Matthew Fisher’s Hammond organ and ‘the extravagant but not unnecessarily decorative nature of Robin Trower’s insistent guitar’. I can identify readily with the anecdote quoted in Paul’s book:
"One legend attests the lyrics of A Salty Dog provided an American English Literature student with a subject for an entire MA thesis."
I myself vividly recall considering writing an essay on A Salty Dog at school but thought the better of it (probably a wise move!)
Scholar, musician and writer Ed Macan also acknowledges Procol Harum’s rightful place in rock history in his book Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture’:
"The Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd and the Nice while considered proponents of psychedelic music by their contemporaries actually represent a proto-progressive style, a ‘first wave’ as it were, of English progressive rock."
Of course, at that time, the Moodys and Procol drew more from the tradition of pop songs with vocals while the Floyd and the Nice placed greater emphasis on instrumental music.
Anyway, let’s return to the story.
The departure of organist / composer Matthew Fisher before Home suggested a change of direction away from classically tinged rock to a more straightforward - well, rock I suppose! (Although the band produced one of its most progressive and ‘orchestral’ pieces to date in Whaling Stories, continuing in the process the nautical theme delivered with such aplomb on the epic A Salty Dog)
This difference in approach certainly seemed to be in evidence on 1971’s Broken Barricades.
Notwithstanding the band’s higher standing in the States (relative to the UK at least), the ever predictable Rolling Stone were one of the first to go for the jugular.
‘Muddy, dense, lethargic, sluggish’ were adjectives used to describe much of Procol’s fifth album by Mike Saunders and Melissa Mills in June, 1971.
The British music weekly Sounds was much more complimentary. Their reviewer picked out Playmate of the Mouth with its nice brass sounds, Luskus Delph and the vehemently anti-war title track as being particularly outstanding and praised the contributions made by guitarist Robin Trower and drummer BJ (Barrie) Wilson on Memorial Drive and Simple Sister respectively.
Ritchie Yorke in NME (5 / 6 / 71) produced the most telling analysis of the album and to his credit managed to involve Gary Brooker, pianist / singer / composer and undisputed leader of the group, BJ and lyricist Keith Reid in the process.
Brooker confirmed that the theme of the album was ‘sex and violence’ (Last time on Home it was equally stark- death!) with Luskus Delph and Playmate of the Mouth frankly described by the band’s charismatic leader as ‘obscene’. Power Failure is literally about the harsh realities of life on the road - the electricity is suddenly cut off and BJ saves the day with an impromptu drum solo until it’s turned on again!
Song for a Dreamer showed how far Robin Trower had drifted from the group in his obsession with Jimi Hendrix. Twice Removed From Yesterday, Trower’s first album under his own name after splitting from the group was less than two years away. On this album he teamed up with James Dewar and Reg Isadore from Stone the Crows and Quiver respectively to get back to some roots in a guitar / bass / drums format.
Overall, Broken Barricades is an album that doesn’t hang together too well - some judicious editing of some of the existing eight tracks and the addition of perhaps a couple of more acoustic songs would have made the album more complete and cohesive.