Like all the new PH re-releases on Repertoire, this CD comes in a handsome 'digipak' with freshly-written liner notes by Chris Welch, in a liberally illustrated booklet including several hitherto-unknown shots of the band. Not all of them have bonus tracks, but fans will be interested in the quality of the digitally-remastered sound.
"Soundwise my first impression was very positive," wrote audiophile Hermann Braunschmidt to BtP. "Very clear, strong, powerful and loud ... I compared the CDs to the old Castle re-releases, and my impression proved to be right that the material was highly compressed (more than 6 dbs) which makes the CDs sound far from a typical mid-seventies production. So definitely not a bad job, and you can expect to hear maximum subjective improvement under listening conditions such as in the car, or on a portable system in the office etc."
Gary Brooker - Piano, Vocal
Keith Reid - Words
B.J.Wilson - Drums
Chris Copping - Organ
Alan Cartwright - Bass
Mick Grabham - Guitar
6 I Keep Forgetting (Leiber/Stoller)
10 Eight Days a Week (Lennon/McCartney)
When a top band has been on the road for some years, with a catalogue of successful recordings behind them, it is sometimes helpful to bring in fresh blood in the pursuit of new horizons. When Procol Harum came to record their 1975 album Procol's Ninth, they decided on a drastic change of policy. The result was an unexpected collaboration between Procol and one of America's top producer/songwriter teams.
Procol Harum had shot to fame with A Whiter Shade of Pale back in 1967. The Bach-inspired master work had seized the imagination of the hippie generation and proved an enduring classic. The group fronted by singer/pianist Gary Brooker went on to produce many more great hit singles and albums. Songs like Quite Rightly So, A Salty Dog and Conquistador exemplified their distinctive blend of rhapsodic tunes and the poetic lyrics of Keith Reid, Brooker's imaginative songwriting partner.
During the late 60s and early 70s, Procol produced such splendid albums as Shine On Brightly, A Salty Dog and Grand Hotel. They also recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra before reverting to their basic rock format for 1974's Exotic Birds And Fruit. Now they wanted to revitalize their output and image by changing the recording environment, rather than making any alteration to Procol's well-established line up. The new album would see Brooker, Reid and the band working with two of the most respected names in the music business, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Since the 1950s, the unassuming duo had written a huge number of hits for a wide range of artists including Elvis Presley, The Coasters, Ben E King and The Drifters. Fans who thrilled to R&B tunes like Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock were largely unaware that the hip lyrics were the work of two white ex-college kids, Jerry Leiber (born Baltimore, 25 April 1933) and Mike Stoller (born New York City, 13 March 1933). They had met in Los Angeles in 1950 and began writing for blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon. Their first hit was Hard Times for Charlie Brown in 1951. Hound Dog, written for Big Mama Thornton in 1952, became a huge hit for Elvis Presley, who also recorded King Creole and Loving You. They penned Save The Last Dance For Me for The Drifters as well as Young Blood, Poison Ivy, On Broadway, Yakety Yak and I (Who Have Nothing).
Gary Brooker had grown up listening to these hits and his first group The Paramounts, had recorded a version of Poison Ivy for their début single in 1964.
When Brooker discovered the legendary composers were working in Britain and producing Stealer's Wheel's début album with Gerry Rafferty, he approached the pair and suggested that they might also like to work with Procol Harum. He was thrilled when they agreed. However the collaboration did not quite work out as Brooker expected.
"The album we did together was named after 'Beethoven's Ninth Symphony', which was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it was in fact our ninth album. As it turned out there was a huge difference between this one and our previous albums."
For the last few years Procol Harum had worked at Air Studios, near London's Oxford Circus with producer Chris Thomas.
Gary: "By then we were all sick of the sight of each other and we were sick of the sight of Air Studios! So we parted company. It was done most amicably, but it was time for a change. We recorded this one at The Who's studio called Ramport in Battersea. We also had new producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. We wanted a different approach and working with them seemed like a good idea. As luck would have it, they were around at that time in Britain, producing British bands. One of the bands they produced was Stealer's Wheel. So we approached them. Another reason was that we had greatly admired them in their early days as songwriters and producers. Keith Reid and I thought they would be able to interpret our songs and look at our work, not just as producers, but as songwriters as well."
It promised to be a fruitful combination. Gary, Keith and the band eagerly looked forward to the sessions. The studio line up would include Gary Brooker (vocals, piano), Mick Grabham (guitar), Alan Cartwright (bass), BJ Wilson (drums) and Chris Copping (organ) augmented by a brass section
Recalls Gary: "We booked Leiber and Stoller and then booked the studio time. We ended up ... er ... having a few tussles with them. We would go in and play them one of their old songs from the early R&B days. They'd say 'Aw yeah great, but what about this one?' It turned out they had 12 songs which they had written for Peggy Lee! Well Peggy Lee hadn't made her album and they kept on trying to get us to do these songs. We had thought about the possibility of doing one of their classics, which was why we kept playing them in the studio. But Leiber and Stoller kept getting us to try one of these Peggy Lee chuck-outs, every day."
They ended up doing I Keep Forgetting which Chuck Jackson had recorded in the Sixties. As a young fan, Brooker had gone to the old 'Ready, Steady, Go!' TV studios to see Jackson perform the song on the show.
Gary: "So we did a new version of that. We had already gone back to our musical roots with the previous album Exotic Birds And Fruit after being rather highbrow with Grand Hotel. This new one was more like a soul album, at least on a few of the tracks. You can't generalize because there were a few exceptions."
While there was a 'tussle' about the choice of material, Leiber and Stoller made a solid difference to the band's studio sound, which had greater clarity in the 'mix'. This was immediately apparent on Pandora's Box, the somewhat mysterious and Latino-sounding opening cut.
Gary: "As we often did when we were left alone in the studio, we pulled a few things out of the spare instrument cupboard. Somebody had left a marimba there, so we were in there like a rat up a rhododendron."
The use of the marimba, flute and a lilting rhythm on this track brought to mind the Spanish Harlem style hits of Ben E King and the Drifters. It was pure New York cool, but it was still Procol Harum. At the end of the recording sessions Leiber and Stoller listened to the playbacks and told Gary 'That's the single.' Brooker agreed. He could also hear the difference the veteran producers had made to the British band's sound.
"They effected an absolutely marvelous mix. You had to be there to know what was left out and what was brought forward, but it resulted in a chart hit and Pandora's Box got to Number 16 in the UK charts. That was the best we'd done since Conquistador in 1972."
The album was released in August, 1975 and Pandora's Box entered the charts the same month. Its success ensured that the band enjoyed three appearances on BBC TV's influential Top Of The Pops chart show. There were several more excellent items on the album including Fool's Gold, with fine guitar work from Mick Grabham and pounding chords from Copping and Brooker.
Taking The Time is a very laid-back piece full of lazy rhythms and seductive melodies. It is about a man seeking peace and solitude in the country and Gary sings Keith Reid's opening line: 'I was standing on a mountain top and staring at the sun' with deceptive calm. The band begins to rock and the piano and guitar are augmented by vintage brass riffs that makes the band sound like Duke Ellington's Orchestra.
The Unquiet Zone makes a move into Latin funk territory, with polyrhythmic drumming and nifty cowbell beating from BJ Wilson. The Final Thrust is a rather curious ditty, blending military snare drum with strident piano licks. More effective is I Keep Forgetting. This dramatic Leiber & Stoller number was also covered by fellow British band The Artwoods, on their 1966 Decca album Art Gallery.
Gary's voice was in good form on such diverse songs as Without A Doubt, The Piper's Tune and Typewriter Torment. But Procol's Ninth was not a classic Procol album. It yielded just one hit and included at least two 'covers'. Says Gary: "Of all the albums we did in the mid-Seventies, I think Grand Hotel was our best. But I do like this one. I remember songs like Typewriter Torment which was about Keith Reid suffering from writer's block. Eight Days A Week was the Beatles' number we had been doing on tour. I think we had also been doing I saw Her Standing There around that time. We put them in for a bit of fun, so people could say 'I never thought we'd hear Procol Harum do a Beatles' song.' I think we made the great mistake of bashing out Eight Days A Week in the studio when Leiber & Stoller were there and they said 'Let's put that down!' So it ended up on the album. We've always tended to pretend it wasn't there. It was understandable to put a cover of a Leiber & Stoller song on the album, but the Lennon & McCartney one was bizarre. I also think I had a different vocal style on this album - a bit more punchy. Keith Reid told me that, until recently, he hadn't heard Procol's Ninth since we made it and he remarked favourably about the vocals."
Procol's Ninth got to Number 41 in the UK chart and Number 52 in the US. Pandora's Box proved to be the band's last UK chart single. The album also made a little piece of history when it became one of the first by a serious rock group to be released in Poland. Procol Harum was also the first group to visit the country, since a hectic Rolling Stones concert in the Sixties, which resulted in a ban on all 'decadent' western rock music.
When the band flew into Warsaw from Yugoslavia in the winter of 1976, the temperature was 20 below zero and the musicians felt like they were freezing to death. But they were greeted by one of the biggest press conferences ever seen in an Eastern block country and all their shows were sold-out and attended by enthusiastic audiences, who surprisingly seemed to know all of Procol's lyrics and guitar breaks.
The following year Alan Cartwright left the group and Chris Copping moved to bass, while Pete Solley joined on keyboards. The group's next album Something Magic failed to chart in the UK and proved to be their last before the band split up in 1977. After a farewell tour, Procol Harum went their separate ways. Gary Brooker released his solo album No More Fear Of Flying produced by George Martin in 1979. This was followed by Lead Me To The Water (1982) with guest appearances by Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and George Harrison.
After a quiet time during the 1980s, Gary recorded 'Procol's eleventh' - a new album called The Prodigal Stranger (1991) co-written with old partner Keith Reid. This was accompanied by well-received concert dates, when the band performed many of their greatest hits. As well as reviving Procol Harum, Gary has pursued his solo career and continues to record and tour with a variety of artists and bands including Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr's All Starr Band and Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. He remains one of the most respected writers, singers and performers in rock.
CHRIS WELCH, London, England 2000
Thanks, Jill, for the typing