Recorded at Queen drummer Roger Taylor’s Cosford Mill studio and produced by Rafe McKenna (Ash, Big Country), The Well’s On Fire opens Procol Harum’s account for the new millennium and underlines the fact that the story whose first pages were written back in the mid 1960s is an ongoing one.
During that time, some notable songs have slipped through the studio floorboards, and the original concept was to augment these with a few new compositions and thus ‘tidy the closet’. But a creative period from lyricist Keith Reid, who favoured an all-new album, led to a different picture.
The title, incidentally, is a line from a song Reid wrote words for but so far lacks music – another time, maybe? The cover meets with ever-present pianist-singer Gary Brooker’s approval because "it’s global, and Procol’s music is not of a particular ethnic origin. Things from America, Africa and Eastern Europe are usually somewhere in there – very English stuff as well. Oh, and we haven’t had a reddish-orange cover before!"
Eighty per cent of the album – their 12th – was cut live. "Because of that," Brooker remarks, "there’s virtually nothing we couldn’t get up and play tomorrow." He highlights the contribution of guitarist Geoff Whitehorn ("his slide solo on ‘The VIP Room’ fitted the bill entirely"), plus drummer Mark Brzezicki and bassist Matt Pegg who supply rhythm tracks "which have a different pace to what (late drummer) BJ Wilson would have had. You’d be foolish to try to fill his shoes. But I told them to forget the past, look at the songs and be who you want to be."
This progressive attitude, combined with a respect for past achievements, has led to an album that drives forward but knows exactly where it’s come from. "You can tell that," says Brooker, "in something like A Robe of Silk …it sounds modern but it’s the same sort of song as She Wandered Through The Garden Fence from our first album, particularly in the drum intro: it came out very Procolly."
As a Manhattan resident living seven blocks from the World Trade Centre, Reid naturally felt drawn to document 9/11 in The Blink of an Eye. "Like a lot of writers and painters, one felt the need to say something; you couldn’t let that pass." The VIP Room is also related to the city, but in a different way. "That’s a real New York Attitude song to me, very much an American thing: ‘I wanna be in the VIP Room’."
Social comment abounds in the likes of An Old English Dream and This World is Rich, the latter dedicated to a South African called Stephen Maboe, quoted in The Guardian after a recent world economic summit in his country. "This guy was being interviewed, and he said ‘The world is rich, but it is not mine’. It jumped out and hit me between the eyes."
Matthew Fisher came up with the music for The Question and Every Dog Will Have His Day ("although Gary developed it quite a bit from what I’d done"), the instrumental Weisselklenzenacht, sub titled ‘The Signature’ just in case some people don’t know how to pronounce it, (with its teasing Whiter Shade opening organ chord) and Fellow Travellers, the latter with help from George Frederick Handel. "It’s a beautiful aria from an opera, called Laschia Ch’io Pianga. I’m being quite up-front about borrowing it – but I don’t think Handel wants his royalties!"
For Fisher, The Well’s On Fire returns to the halcyon days of albums like A Salty Dog and Shine On Brightly. "The Procol line-up seems to have settled down over the last few years after fluctuating quite a bit, so it’s got its own identity." The result is an album Reid believes is "very accessible, as opposed to something you think will only appeal to people who liked us in the past."
A real record by real musicians? What the blazes…?
More about this album
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