Procol Harum – Beyond These Things
Phil Jackson concludes his Procol history
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 final piece below about the New Testament and the main solo albums, and follow the numerous links to other regions of BtP that you may not have visited in quite a while!
In 1991 came The Prodigal Stranger, Procol Harum’s first release of original material for 14 years. This was a solid album with few embellishments characteristic of the ‘classic’ Procol days. However, it was still recognisable as a Procol Harum album and featured a classic line up of Brooker, Fisher, Trower and Reid. Sadly BJ Wilson had passed away in 1990 and the album is dedicated to his memory. Dave Bronze plays the bass and Mark Brzezicki does most of the drumming. Patrick Humphries in a VOX review is as confused and confusing as ever about progressive rock music. (See my essay on Progressive Rock: False Dawn of a New Era? in Colossus #12 and 13 and Acid Dragon #25 for more on Mr Humphries. For further details please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)
In his opening paragraph he makes the following statement: "Procol were always one of the few progressive bands who could cut the mustard music wise." (Explanations on a post card please!)" To his credit he does go on to give the album a decent review singling out The Truth Won’t Fade Away and (You Can’t ) Turn Back the Page. (Man with a Mission and Holding On with Brooker in particularly fine form on the latter are also stand outs)
All in all this was a strong album featuring the reappearance of Robin Trower on the CD if not on the tour and one for Procol fans to savour.
Rating – 7/10 taking account of the musical desert in which it was produced.
There have been many Procol compilations and live recordings over the years. Worthy of note in the annals of Procol Harum’s history is The Long Goodbye: Symphonic Music of Procol Harum with guitarist Geoff Whitehorn joining Brooker, Bronze and Brzezicki in a collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and The Sinfonia of London. Trower and Fisher guest on the album and there is the unlikely sonic bonus of Tom Jones singing with the band on Simple Sister from the Broken Barricades album!
As for the Procol solo albums – Matthew Fisher was first with 1973’s Journey’s End where the organist’s bitterness overflowed in some rather self-indulgent tortured lyrics that test the patience of the listener:
‘This story has drawn to an end. You’ve got just what you want my friend It didn’t take too long.’
‘Can it ever buy a smile for you. Or put right what was wrong? I let you walk all over me’
Both are clear references to Matthew’s acrimonious split with the band and a seething sense of injustice for not getting proper credit for A Whiter Shade of Pale.
Much of the music on Journey’s End is so laboured it gives the impression this was an album Fisher felt he had to do rather than one he really wanted to. The music lacks inspiration and even includes another track from the obscure British film Separation as a filler [sic] (as did Procol’s first album released in 1967)
Matthew had other things on his mind in 1973 producing Robin Trower’s solo albums beginning with the aforementioned Twice Removed from Yesterday. Trower was to enjoy success in the UK and then the US (and also internationally) with albums like Bridge of Sighs (1974), For Earth Below (1975) and Long Misty Days (1976) but that is another story
Matthew’s 1974 album I’ll Be There wasn’t much better – the bitterness hasn’t totally receded – ‘Please don’t make me sing that song again’ seems to be another reference to A Whiter Shade but at least is did contain two memorable songs, She Knows Me and Not Her Fault.
Three other albums were released – Matthew Fisher (1980), Strange Days (1981) and A Salty Dog Returns in 1990.
As for Gary Brooker, he didn’t release his first solo album until 1979 and, sadly, proved once again that, in Procol’s case, the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. No More Fear of Flying, despite being produced by none other than George Martin was a desperate disappointment [some sort of glitch here, presumably] with the only the title track and [sic] Mr Blue Day featuring the National Philharmonic Orchestra enduring in the memory and very little invention or musical subtlety. Eric Clapton played on the title track and BJ Wilson featured on drums.
Gary then spent a couple of years in the Eric Clapton band before releasing Lead Me To The Water (1982) with contributions from George Harrison, Phil Collins and Clapton. (Gary also played on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Paul McCartney’s Back to the Egg albums.)
By 1985, past differences had been forgotten and Matthew Fisher returned to produce Gary’s Echoes in the Night album. Brooker also re-established his writing partnership with Fisher and Keith Reid. As with much of the music of this period the melodies and arrangements are weak with the exception of The Long Goodbye (to resurface in 1995 on The Symphonic Music of Procol Harum), the Beatles influenced Ghost Train and Mr Blue Day. Only the title track sounds anything like the Procol Harum of old. [!]
In 1997 an extraordinary CD Within Our House was released by The Gary Brooker Ensemble. It was recorded live at St Mary and All Saints Church to raise funds – the Reverend Geoffrey Willis does a spoken introduction! Brooker is joined by Robbie McIntosh on acoustic guitar, Michael Bywater on church organ, a familiar rhythm section of Dave Bronze and Mark Brzezicki and the Chameleon Arts Chorus and String Quartet. All in all it is a very intimate affair – there are 150 people present! – and another wonderful example of Gary’s love for music, classical, traditional, ‘gospel’ with a sprinkling of Procol favourites of course – Chris Welch gives a fairly comprehensive run down of the music on his CD liner notes.
Although I have never met him there seems an endearing humility about Gary Brooker. One gets the impression that a man who was still touring with Ringo Starr, Jack Bruce and Peter Frampton in his 50s would just as easily swap all that for a session on an old upright piano in one’s front room.
(At the time of revising this article I have just watched him perform on Jools Holland’s New Year show on piano and organ and I’m glad to see his enthusiasm undiminished. Without Gary Brooker and Procol Harum a lot of our lives would be poorer!)
To quote Ronald Smith from ‘The History of Procol Harum’: "The name says it all: Procol Harum. They are beyond comparison with other bands, beyond words that can fully explain why the music and lyrics touch us so profoundly."
Their legacy lives on.
(This article (slightly revised for the Procol Harum website) along with the first part of my history were originally published in Colossus, a progressive music magazine based in Finland. I have made every attempt to be as accurate as possible and would like to take this opportunity to apologise for not giving Matthew Fisher due credit as Procol’s Hammond player in the first part of this history. Thanks to Joan May for pointing out the error.)