Procol Harum – Beyond These Things
Edmonton and Grand Hotel
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 Edmonton and Grand Hotel piece below, and follow the numerous links to other regions of BtP that you may not have visited in quite a while!
After the relative disappointment of Broken Barricades, Procol’s next release, Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra was a big surprise as the band reprised their classical leanings and pulled off the seemingly impossible - a successful collaboration between a group and an orchestra! (Deep Purple in particular had tried spectacularly and failed to produce a blend between what one commentator Tony Stewart in NME (22 / 4 / 72) described as ‘straights’ (the orchestra) and ‘heads’ (the group) Even Rolling Stone was impressed with Procol’s sixth LP. Richard Cromelin:
"Rather than let the idea of a full symphony orchestra at his command go to his head, Brooker has kept things very elementary, capitalising on the opportunities for extreme dynamic variations and for delightfully melodramatic colorations, for example on the trilling reeds that herald daybreak on Whaling Stories"
Mark Plummer (NME [sic] 29 / 4 / 72) also praised Brooker’s use of the orchestra:
"Gary Brooker has approached his arrangements from the pop side of the orchestra and leans more towards 60s Phil Spector."
And so the praise continues:
"From the very beginning when the guitar and strings play together on Conquistador with perfect balance, this is a success; the brilliant use of the orchestra on Whaling Stories works up from just string backed vocals to a terrific crescendo and A Salty Dog is impressive in its grandeur."
Paul Stump says this album is "probably the best example of rock-classical orchestration and is a strangely neglected rock artefact of some value."
Gary Brooker’s nervous anticipation of the concert of 18 November, 1971 at the Holiday Inn, Edmonton as expressed in the LP sleeve notes sums up the magic of Procol’s accomplishment perfectly:
"In about thirty minutes Derek (Sutton, the concert co-ordinator) will collect us to drive down to the Jubilee Auditorium, where a capacity audience of 3,000 is waiting with 52 musicians, 24 singers and a regiment of sound, recording, lighting, stage and special effects people."
Procol continued to use an orchestral approach on Grand Hotel and there isn’t much to add to Enzo Caffarelli’s highly intelligent and perceptive review in the magazine 2000 #18 (6/5/73) expertly translated from the Italian by contributors to the Procol Harum web site ‘Beyond The Pale ’.
"The music celebrates - naturally without endorsing the decadent spirit of noblemen without ideals, proud and hollow, seeking nothing if not ‘golden dishes, velvet drapes, gambling stakes and French girls by candlelight."
"The words and music fuse into an almost cabaret-like ‘feel’, the vague yet easily detected sense of discomfort and sadness emanated by that type of society (like in the classic Great Garbo film of the same name or the Vicki Baum novel)"
Nigel Smithers writing in the Record Collector of November, 1982 describes Grand Hotel as a very beautiful record, continuing the successful techniques of scoring and arranging for orchestra begun on the live album-especially on the title track (‘a grandiOse waltz recalling Magdalene on the Shine on Brightly album’)
Ray Telford of the music weekly Sounds judged it to be the best record of 1973.
Predictably, Bud Scoppa of Rolling Stone (10 / 5 / 73) disagreed:
"A collection of overblown production jobs that at their worst approach self parody and simpler, less grandoise tracks that suggest Procol Harum may yet find a way out of the corner they have worked themselves into."
Their lavish use of orchestral and choral elements, praised by most reviewers, is seen almost as a crime against music by Scoppa - ‘hopelessly extravagant’ is how he described it.
Thankfully the American Public disagreed with him to such an extent that Grand Hotel went top 20 on the Billboard chart and stayed on the chart for over 5 months!
As for the music itself, Mick Grabham of Cochise stepped in with his tasteful guitar work to replace Trower and Alan Cartwright was the new bass player.
The title track is brilliant and was to be a staple of the Procol live set when they performed with an orchestra for many years to come. Fires (Which Burnt Brightly) featured Christianne Legrande of The Swingle Singers. Souvenir of London was a humorous song about venereal disease continuing the Procol tradition of ‘tongue in cheek’ songs that worked. (Keith Reid played the devil’s advocate in an interview with Michael Wale in Zigzag #30 - ‘It’s certainly about tourism’, he said!)
TV Ceasar uses the unlikely character of a mouse as its cartoon hero, a theme whose echo would be heard on All in a Mouse’s Night on Genesis’s Wind and Wuthering album. A Rum Tale is a wonderfully concise song with a lilting melody and a salutary lyric.
While the mood is generally lighter than on previous releases, there are intense, darker moments like For Liqourice John, a poignant song that describes the suicide of Paramounts fan Dave Mundy, the man who had suggested the name Liquorice John Death for the band many years before. (A Liquorice John Death and the All Stars aka Procol Harum aka Paramounts recording entitled Ain’t Nothing to Get Excited About was released in 1998.)
Regarding the Grand Hotel album as a whole, Will Birch writing in MOJO commented, "It should have been the big one."