The Daily Vault review: Christopher Thelen
Chances are, you know the British rock group Procol Harum from one of only two songs - A Whiter Shade of Pale or the live, orchestral version of Conquistador. Although the band, led by pianist/vocalist Gary Brooker, enjoyed some level of success on both sides of the pond in the late 60s/early 70s, their legacy has not necessarily stood the test of time since then.
So one might rightfully wonder whether we should get excited about the release of BBC Live In Concert, the first non-orchestral live release from the band. Interestingly enough, the answer to this disc is "yes"... even though it takes a little too long for things to really get rolling for the group.
Recorded in 1974, Procol Harum was at the twilight of their first stint together. Two integral members from the original lineup, guitarist Robin Trower and keyboardist Matthew Fisher, had left the stable for some time. Procol Harum was about two years removed from their final big hit, the version of Conquistador recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. And the audience, while respectful, often sounds like they're providing courtesy applause for some of the tracks.
Early on, one can't blame them. The version of Conquistador which opens the disc doesn't have the greatest sound (Brooker takes some time before the levels for his vocals are set right), and the song feels like the life has been sucked out of it. In a similar vein, Whaling Stories just drags on for far too long, almost boring the listener to tears.
Then, out of the blue, the magic kicks in, and the listener is introduced to several strong selections they might not be as familiar with ... though they'll undoubtedly wonder why this is so. Tracks like New Lamps For Old and As Strong As Samson show their power though their gentle, beautiful melodies that are driven home by Brooker's vocals. Likewise, tracks such as Beyond The Pale and The Idol all quickly win over the listener. The disc's closers, Butterfly Boys (once seen as a slap in the face against Chrysalis, the band's label at the time) and Nothing But The Truth, both do a great job in hammering Procol Harum's influence home.
Only one track, Grand Hotel, comes close to taking the wind out of the band's sails; though it has its moments, this track just doesn't seem to fit in with the atmosphere that Brooker and company were creating during this concert.
Chances are that BBC Live In Concert will really appeal mostly to the diehard Procol Harum fans out there ... but if you're someone who wants to learn more about the band than just the two songs played to death on classic rock radio, this might just be the best place to turn to learn about a band who have been neglected in music's history.
© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. Review reproduced by kind permission of Jason Warburg, editor
Procol Harum albums