Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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Procol Harum at Edmonton

News from A&M Records, 1972


This fascinating press-release reveals a lot about the circumstance of the Edmonton concert: in between the rhetorical hype there are glimpses of an uncommonly-nervous Procol and a fantastically-devoted audience ...


Procol Harum 'Live', and well in Canada

Having only just recently undergone their third major personnel change in three years guitarist Robin Trower leaving in the wake of a disastrous tour of Italy, guitarist Dave Ball and bassist Alan Cartwright joining, and Chris Copping taking up permanent residence behind the organ Procol Harum surmised that in November, 1971, the wise thing to do would be to retrace their musical steps of the preceding three years.

Being a band of vision and lofty aspiration, though, Procol sought to make the tour more than merely a series of performances of oldies-but-goldies , but also a preparation for the recording of the sort of live album that befits a band of vision and lofty aspiration.

To make such an album, one that would glorify as well as simply remind of earlier triumphs, they, being makers of music whose majesty, intelligence, and emotional grandeur occasionally derives from and always evokes the classics, would require the accompaniment of a symphony orchestra.

The Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) Symphony required no undue coaxing to accept the gig, someone of authority therein obviously knowing that Procol's alliance with another Canadian orchestra two years before (in Stratford's Shakespeare Festival) had resulted in great satisfaction for both parties and embarrassment for neither. To go one up on their "Stratfordian" neighbors, the Edmontonians even brought along a twenty-strong mixed chorus, the da Camera Singers,

On the evening of the concert, three days after Procol had flown up right after a quiet college gig, the da Camera singers came out wearing curious orange, lavender, and pink Tom Jones shirts. Edmonton Symphony Orchestra conductor Leonard Lawrence came out wearing an amiable smile and a friendly, jocular stage manner [read about Gary's row with him beforehand!], neither of which he would discard over the course of the concert, at least one embarrassing catastrophe notwithstanding.

And the sound came out rather awful, seventy-two hours proving insufficient time in which to have devised a way to render the group and orchestra acoustically, as well as musically, sympathetic: from orchestra level-center in the handsome Jubilee Auditorium, the natty de Cameras and the subtler instruments could be seen but not heard, and the sound of the orchestra and group playing with comparable force at the same time was approximately that of an Elton John record over a tiny car-radio speaker.

Which led your correspondents when, after an amazing standing ovation and an encore (Repent Walpurgis), Gary Brooker announced that the group was going to have another crack at a couple of the numbers that had gone bumpily at the beginning of the program to make his way backstage to hear how things were going on tape. Happily, however mushy, thin, and fuzzy the concert may have sounded in the auditorium, it sounded brilliant-clean, clear, and well-separated on the sixteen-track recording equipment that Wally Heider had flown up from California, over Chris Thomas and Wally himself presided attentively.

It might here be noted that even after being invited by Gary Brooker to go have a cigarette or even head homeward when the performers began to take their second (and, in the case of Whaling Stories, whose first alternate take came to an embarrassing halt halfway through when the group and orchestra lost track of one another, third) cracks at those selections they decided could be done better, scarcely a person moved. Surveying this scene, one got the distinct impression that, had Procol gone into the wee small hours in an attempt to perfect its performances, it would have been in front of the same full house.

What necessitated the group's taking second cracks was their having originally arrived onstage extremely nervous. Through the first few numbers Brooker's voice, for instance, was a timid and occasionally even off-key shadow of its usual searingly soulful self, and BJ Wilson, customarily dynamic and brutal, attacked his drums as if they were made of porcelain.

Then, gradually, the band got out of neutral; Brooker's voice beginning to cut as clearly and sharply as usual, regaining its ability to leap extremely difficult melodic intervals with assurance and power; BJ, the mysterious bald spot on the left side of his head glistening dramatically in the lights, walloping his drums with abandon, once again confident in strange and unique syncopated style; Cartwright and Copping, on bass and organ, holding the foundation secure; and Ball, wincing in his distinctive apologetic-looking fashion, wringing terrified screams and angry sputters of sound from his little cherry Gibson.

With the band in gear now and the orchestra holding its own with the cogent and intelligent arrangements Brooker had written for it (arrangements that at no time resembled the mushy, melodramatic string-laden excesses resorted to by most of the other rock people who have attempted such an enterprise), the listener's attention was free to move from the early intrusive tension of the band to the extraordinary beauty and grace of Brooker's melodies, to the emotional power of Keith Reid's words.

As always Procol made music to emotionally affect, to be marvelled at for its elegance and power. Some, like Whaling Stories, was chilling, eerie, foreboding. Some, like Luskus Delph, was politely gentle. Some like, Simple Sister, assaulted, and some like A11 This And More, cajoled, and some like A Salty Dog mourned. Some of it, like the carnival section of In Held 'Twas In I (during which Gary's arrangement called for the da Camera singers to whistle, shout, and generally have a grand old time), was even comic.

All of it was informed with the unique and potent vision that makes Procol Harum one or the three or four most splendid rock bands in all the world.

Even as you read this Chris Thomas has painstakingly combined and edited those sixteen cleanly-separated tracks he and Wally Heider got down on tape. Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra or (or whatever its title will turn out to be), the sort of live album that befits a group like Procol Harum, will be with you shortly.


Many more pages devoted to the Edmonton concert


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