Procol Harum

the Pale

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A la recherche du Grand Hotel

Chris Copping for BtP

Classic Procol Harum organist Chris Copping – hear his Proust music here – writes to BtP:

Just had Grand Hotel on in the car and was compelled to record my thoughts

It all seems better after having read Proust, 'Grand Hotel' being Cabourg (re-badged as Balbec in Proust’s novel). Must visit it some day – but we did play a rather snooty ball in Deauville just down the road so that gives the idea. Not sure if even Keith Reid had read Proust at that time but that is no matter. It is the sort of song that I could not imagine to have been conceived by a single person – it seems to lie in the terrain of a composer responding to his lyricist.

The first (title) track captures the whole atmosphere of an idealized luxury hotel. Proust also dined at the Ritz in Paris – probably had breakfast there in the evening as he was nocturnal.

The music is majestic with great dynamics, orchestration and choir.

Toujours l'Amour stays in European mode but is pared down to just the band. It is a bitter sweet rock-ballad with very fine guitar work from Mick Grabham. It always sounded a tad stodgy on the record but playback at AIR sounded magnificent – maybe something happened in the mastering.

A Rum Tale is a very simple track in waltz time with more poignant 'love gone wrong' lyrics. Slightly European sounding although the Caribbean persists in the lyric – Martinique or a smaller island around there (dammit, Martinique is part of France).

This is followed by TV Caesar which is more American – Dick Cavett, David Frost come to mind – TV rules America. This is grandiose again with strings and choir

A well-balanced first side.

Side 2 opens with something completely different - a busking street band doing a song (A Souvenir of London) about someone contracting an STD (clap we gather from the lyric) in London. BBC in their wisdom banned it (booooh!). It's very cute with a massive Salvation army type bass drum, a couple of strumming guitars and banjo and some very cute effects like guitar through a Leslie and other Chris Thomas bits of genius. And this is a track that Dave Ball was on, not only playing guitars but also spoons with Denny Brown on the outro.

Bringing Home the Bacon is a rock track about over-consumerism in America. The recorder ensemble makes a great riff and so does the echo on the piano. The guitar solos are outstanding.

For Liquorice John is a completely different tack. Sad tale of a friend of ours who was mentally challenged – the poignant but not too cryptic lyric is accompanied by some strange-sounding keyboards, one of which being a piano with heavy effects (Leslie and others). Possibly the most haunting and brilliantly produced track on the album.

Fires (Which Burnt Brightly) is definitely back in Europe and what with Christianne Legrand’s guest appearance, one would think France. The battle to preserve a relationship seeming as futile as that in World War 1. Christianne’s solo is as stunning as she ever was in the Swingles.

Finally Robert’s Box: “Just a pinch to ease the pain” – the verses start with an almost calypso feel suggesting that the contents of the box can make life tolerable. The chorus is catchy with Gary Brooker’s bass backup vocals placed magnificently (C Thomas was always a master of this) – these choruses are positively funky as opposed to the laid-back verses.

Then the bombshell. Too much of the contents of the box prove very addictive and the gothic chords of the outro underline the fact, as the narrator repeats “Just a pinch to ease the pain/ I’ll never trouble you again" – finishing with a great guitar-led ending.

So what was wrong with this album? We thought it would outsell the live album, but it didn’t.

Well the compositions were all splendid. And so were BJ’s mighty drums. Gary on piano and vocal better than ever, Mick making a great début on guitar, Alan rock solid on bass. My organ solos were a bit weak maybe? But really a great studio album with a new line-up.

A shame – Pink Floyd soared (especially commercially) – while we were preparing for descent (but not artistically by any means).

Thanks, Chris!

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