Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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Hollywood Bowl, 21 September 1973

The Concert Programme : Inside 'Grand Hotel'


"Every album is the most important album we've ever done," explains Gary Brooker. "With each album we try to make the best album we can. Well, not just the best album we can ... the best album that's ever been made. We're working up to it gradually. We certainly haven't done it yet, though, even though Grand Hotel is a healthy step in that direction. I think it will please our fans. The fact that Grand Hotel is Procol's first release via Chrysalis is sort of interesting."

As Keith Reid, the lyrical backbone of Procol's music points out, "Grand Hotel is the first batch of all new material released in two years. As far as content, Gary feels it is pretty much the same as all our other albums. That's not to say we're not progressing, it's just that there are no major departures. There are some different things, but nothing major. It has a few rock and roll songs and a few orchestrated ones as well."

Keith gathered the boys together in the Rolling Stones' rehearsal Studio last June to read them the new lyrics he had penned for Grand Hotel,... it quickly became obvious to them that this album differed radically from its ancestors. Keith's former lyrical flavor was strangely altered. The new words were awash with a black humor more comparable to Ray Davies' satirical lyrics than to anything Keith had presented them with before. Gone were the doomy tones of pessimistic tunes like Broken Barricades:

It was all once bright jewels and glittering sand.
The oceans have ravished And strangled the land
Waste fills the temple, dead daughters are born ...

(Brooker/Reid © 1971 Bluebeard Music Ltd.)

Gone, too, was the tortured confusion of In Held 'Twas in I:

In the darkness of the night
Only occasionally relieved by glimpses of Nirvana
As seen through other people's windows
Wallowing in a morass of self despair...

(Brooker/Reid, ASCAP)

And the richly impressionistic, cascading intensity of Power Failure was nowhere to be seen:

Tossed and crossed, and screwed in transit.
Broken, splintered, bruised and thrown.
Badly shattered, gale forced frighty.
Rushed across and shown alone.

(Brooker/Reid © 1971 Bluebeard Music, Ltd.)

In the place of the abstract, mythological, painted poems of the past. Keith read off lyrics about "mighty baby dumpling" being stuffed until he burst a slobbering, gooey portrait of greedy bloatedness lyrics full of "Mighty Mouse," and venereal disease. And the title track, Grand Hotel, echoed Keith's preoccupation with such down-to-earth matters as life on the road with Procol Harum. "It's about the grand life that we don't lead very much of the time. It's more wishful thinking than reality," Keith explained of the shorter, less introspective lyric. "It's quite humorous in parts, and maybe that's what I intended it to be in the first place. As it happened, it turned out to be like the title, a grand sort of song. It's got a kind of a middle section to it, an instrumental section where we roam quite madly. Barrie, our drummer it's his first presentation in the light of a mandolin player. He got off his stool and came out front with a mandolin. In fact, he put twenty-two of them on. He was quite happy about that."

Just an old-fashioned love song: Despite the lavish, extravagant production of Grand Hotel," the tune's words revealed the first clue to a new Reid style one lacking the melancholia, the mysticism of its forerunners:

Tonight we sleep on silken sheets
We drink fine wine, and eat rare meats
On Carousel and gambling stake
Our fortunes speed, and dissipate...

Grand Hotel (Brooker/Reid) © 1972 Bluebeard Music, Ltd

Other songs echo the same preoccupation with "down-to-earth" topics that previous Procol material lacked. In fact, the tongue-in-cheek good humor of A Rum Tale, shows Keith's light hand spoofing "love gone wrong."

She's fuddled my fancy.
She's muddled me good.
I 've taken to drinking,
And given up food.
I'm buying an island
Somewhere in the sun.
I'll hide from the natives
Live only on rum.

© 1972 Bluebeard Music, Ltd

"That's a real drinking song," he explained. "Well, not a drinking song as such, but a song from the bottom of a bottle! The music is actually quite romantic. It's sort of a South Sea island type of thing very Caribbean."

Love with a sting: When Keith does indulge in romantic tunes, they tend to be quips with a strong edge of satire such as the sharp-tongued Toujours L'Amour. "The title roughly means long live love," he confessed. "And it is an obvious quip about the song itself:"

She took all the pleasure
and none of the pain.
All of the credit
and none of the blame.
I came home
to an empty flat;
she'd left me a note,
and taken the cat.

© 1972 Bluebeard Music, Ltd

And Keith's witty Souvenir of London is another example of the satirist at his piercing best. "It's a song about V.D. It's about American tourists coming to London and going home with a souvenir they didn't expect:"

Bought a souvenir in London
got to hide it from my mum
Can't declare it at the customs
but I'll have to take it home.
Tried to keep it confidential
but the news is leaking out.
Got a souvenir in London.
There's a lot of it about.

© 1972 Bluebeard Music, Ltd

"Yes. I guess you could call it a witty album," Keith reflects. "It's kind of getting old and wryly reminiscing."

Melancholia sets in: When Reid does set wit aside for romanticism, the result is a serious, sad tune entitled "Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)." "It's a kind of me talking to someone who's, well, let me put it this way: our affair's all over and then my partner says, "But it's not. We're still together.' What I'm saying is that we're waging a war that's already lost."

... The cause for the fighting has long been a ghost.
Malice and habit have now won the day.
The honors we fought for are lost in the fray ...

© 1972 Bluebeard Music, Ltd

"The thing that we're fighting for was finished a long time ago. All we have left in us is the habit the habit of fighting with each other. The thing that we're fighting for was lost in the fighting about it. We did an interesting thing with that song. Have you heard of the Swingle Singers? They're a French choral group who are pretty famous in Europe, and we've long been admirers of theirs. We thought it would be nice on that track to have a lady singing in the background, a female voice singing not the song but the backing. We got in touch with the woman who is the featured voice of the Swingle Singers, Christianne LeGrande, in Paris, and she accepted."

Frost parody: Keith claims that his songs "usually try to recreate experiences." And he readily admits that several experiences here in the States have prompted well-known songs. For example, the title tune of their third album, A Salty Dog, was inspired by a carving Keith saw on a wall in a Cleveland concert hall during a tour several years ago. "Great God, skipper, we done run aground again," served as the model for:

All hands on deck,
we've run afloat
I heard the captain cry...

Brooker / Reid ASCAP

But this time around, the TV screen, not a wall plaque, inspired Reid's biting portrait of a "TV Ceasar" (sic) [sic]. He laughingly recalls a trip to California, where he turned down a visit to Disneyland with the rest of the band to recline luxuriously in bed watching television. "We avidly watch all those talk shows Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, David Frost. Watching David prompted me to think about these guys being ' TV Ceasars.' Instead of the theory that we're watching him, it's really that he's watching us. I'm saying that he's got spies in every crack and corner watching us while we eat our TV dinners. Remember how David Frost always used to say, when he ended an interview with one of his guests 'great to have you on the show?' That kind of prompted me, after seeing him do one too many 'great to have you on the shows,' to write the song:"

TV's Ceasar, "Mighty Mouse"
Gets the news in every house.
Who's been doing what, with who.
How they do it when they do ...

© 1972 Bluebeard Music, Ltd

New Procol phase: With Mick Grabham's entry into the band, a radically different but beautifully melodic LP, and a revived British following, both Keith and Gary agree that Procol is beginning a new phase. "We're growing much more self-assured, both on stage and on record. Gary and I both feel Procol Harum is not a band that is going to break up tomorrow. The older we get, the more proficient and ambitious we get." And the less "strange" the public clamor sounds to their ears.


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