Piano, Vocal, Orchestrations
In Held 'Twas In I: Glimpses
Of Nirvana, 'Twas Teatime At The Circus,
When Procol Harum joined forces with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra for a unique 'rock meets the classics' concert in 1971, few could have predicted it would yield one of the band's best-selling albums. However, the 'live' recording of their groundbreaking performance was a huge and unexpected hit in America. When it was released to critical acclaim the following year, the album got to Number Five in the US Billboard chart and the British group became the proud recipients of a Gold Disc. The album even yielded a hit single when a 'live' version of Conquistador, a song that had first appeared on their 1967 déebut album, also hit the charts. This double 'whammy' boosted the reputation of the band and vindicated their determination to experiment. It certainly proved that Procol Harum weren't just 'one hit wonders'.
There can be few more satisfying achievements for any group than to create something that is artistically valid and a great popular success. Such happy circumstances don't always go together in the unpredictable world of pop. Procol Harum had leapt to fame back in 1967 with A Whiter Shade of Pale, the Bach-inspired piece that introduced a new sound and style to rock music. Singer and pianist Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid had composed this marvelous song during one of their first writing sessions. It was an international hit that came to epitomise the mood [of] the famed hippie Summer Of Love. The pair created Procol Harum as a touring band to present their music to the world. After a few changes, the line up settled down to feature Gary Booker, together with Robin Trower (guitar), Matthew Fisher (Hammond organ), Dave Knights (bass) and Barry [sic] J Wilson (drums).
After their early success, the group found it quite hard to maintain their appeal at home in England and generally found their blend of musical styles and influences better appreciated in America. Even so, they enjoyed considerable success with such albums as Shine On Brightly (1968), A Salty Dog (1969) and Home (1970). However, some internal tension over musical policy developed within the band and Robin Trower decided to quit shortly after the release of the band's fifth album, Broken Barricades, in summer 1971.
Although Trower went on to create his own highly popular group, which toured extensively throughout the States, he missed out on Procol's biggest hit. Even so, it was an album that he wouldn't have wanted to make. As Gary Brooker explains, Robin had already experienced playing alongside an orchestra and it wasn't something he wanted to repeat.
As far as Brooker was concerned, In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra represented the culmination of long-held musical ambitions. And yet the making of this crucial album hung on a knife-edge of uncertainties. Would the pairing of a raucous rock band and a highly sophisticated orchestra work? In the event, it was heart-warming, as Brooker recalls.
"It had been an ambition of mine to work with an orchestra, but it was not one that Robin Trower was happy about. In the summer of 1969, when we released A Salty Dog and Dave Knight [sic] and Matthew Fisher were still in the band, we got invited to play at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada with an orchestra. The organisers had been inspired by our recording of A Salty Dog and the only thing that I could think of doing for the concert was a song off the Shine On Brightly (1968) album. I call it a 'song' but it was in fact one side of the LP, called In Held 'Twas In I which was about twenty minutes long."
Gary wrote an orchestration and choir parts for the piece and they had to play very quietly because of the accompanying acoustic instruments. Their powerful guitarist had to play through a tiny amplifier called A Little Giant and Robin wasn't allowed to get any louder. It was frustrating for him, but a delight for the composer. Says Gary: "It went off magnificently and the orchestra was splendid. The cast of the Shakespeare Festival formed the choir and there was a terrific atmosphere. This was before Deep Purple did their 'Concerto' with an orchestra. After that, word got round and we were invited to do another concert, this time with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. But Trower did not want to play with an orchestra again. Perhaps it was too restrictive and he couldn't get his sound, which is fair enough. But as soon as Trower left Procol Harum and the Orchestra said 'Come up and play', we said 'Yeah, fine.' The concert came at the end of a tour. Robin left and Dave Ball joined on lead guitar. We also had Alan Cartwright on bass, so we were a five-piece band."
The concert was due to be held at the Jubilee Auditorium in Alberta, Canada on August 6, 1971 [sic] with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Da Camera Singers. Gary orchestrated a few of the band's best pieces in readiness, but left out their most famous hit, if only to prove their was more to Procol Harum than A Whiter Shade Of Pale.
"It was mostly stuff that we'd already played and there was no new material. In Held 'Twas In I took up quite a bit of the evening and we also played A Salty Dog and Simple Sister, which didn't go on the album. I wonder what happened to that! Must be a lost tape there. We also did Whaling Stories from our fourth album Home. I thought that was a suitable Procol piece with plenty of colour and change."
A week before the concert Gary began to think that this unique 'one off' event should be recorded for posterity. Procol's US record company A&M gave their blessing and top recording engineer Wally Heider was dispatched with his mobile recording truck from Los Angeles to Alberta to tape the show. Meanwhile, on the plane flying from London to Edmonton, Gary suddenly realized they didn't have one fast tune in the planned programme. "We had five albums worth of material to chose [sic] from and I thought we could do Conquistador. It was a song about the Spanish horse warriors...well it's not really...but they're mentioned. So I thought up this new arrangement and wrote it on the 'plane. I finished it off in the hotel room. It was quite simple an intro and a bit in the middle. The rest just followed what the band had played. I wrote it all out as quickly as I could and it was given to a copier to provide the parts for the orchestra. We never had a chance to rehearse it, because they wouldn't let our gear through the Canadian customs. We ended up doing the rehearsal with half a drum kit and a rehearsal amplifier. Our own gear was lost.
They were a lot friendlier up in Stratford. We eventually had three hours rehearsal but that was it. We never did rehearse Conquistador. Remember, this was a full symphony orchestra that had never played with a rock band before. One of the violin players was wearing a crash helmet in order to cut down the volume. We had one rough rehearsal, just took a look at the parts and then we had a quick rehearsal in the hall on the day. By the end they were getting the idea." Then came the concert, and when the classical musicians saw the reception they were getting from the fans...they were delighted.
Gary: "The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra had never had such a response to anything they'd ever played before. They suddenly realised they were having a good time! The crowd in the hall that night was from all over North America. It was a stressful time for me because I wanted to make sure everything was right. I had a terrible fight with the conductor the first night I met him. It could have all gone pear-shaped. But people loved it. I remember Rita Coolidge was in the audience and she was crying her eyes out at the end of In Held 'Twas In I. In fact the entire audience was gripped by the atmosphere and the piece reached such a climax...well you just had to be there. You couldn't have imagined the scene."
It was quite an experience, both for the young rock musicians and their more reserved classical counterparts. Says Gary phlegmatically: "You learn...you learn that when rock bands go for a song, they really GO FOR IT! We don't keep all this stuff in reserve. Orchestras don't play hard until the performance. It takes a while to know that. When I play with an orchestra now and we've got some new boys in, like Matt Pegg on bass, he says 'Oh, they don't sound very good, do they?' I say 'Don't worry about it Matt, just wait until the night.' Classical musicians make sure they play the right notes, but don't overplay themselves at rehearsals. On the night...they give it stick. We want it to sound great, even at the rehearsal. But we learnt a lot at Edmonton. It was marvellous. Did we film it? No, we didn't have film in those days!"
It was a great delight when Conquistador was a hit single as well and got to Number 16 in the US Billboard chart in June 1972 and to Number 22 in the UK in August. It was also Number 8 in Holland and 29 in Belgium. Says Gary: "The fidelity of that recording is quite strange. Your ears have to adjust to it for a moment. It was quite hard to record the whole album and it wasn't absolutely perfect. These days you could make an amazing recording if you played 'live' with an orchestra and choir. We didn't have the technology then. We were only a few years on from the introduction of 4-track. We were trying to put all this onto tape and it was hard. It was never totally manageable, even on multi-track. It has quite a strange sound and we were lucky that Conquistador did so well as a single, because it was odd. You wouldn't have expected a 'live' orchestral rock single to be in the Top Twenty, even in 1972."
Brooker was thrilled that Procol Harum could be back in the charts, some five years after their initial breakthrough. The crowds cried out for more..."The amazing thing was that, at the time, we weren't even playing A Whiter Shade Of Pale. It wasn't in our set, but audiences weren't worried. We certainly didn't play it during the Broken Barricades period. In fact, we hadn't played it since Matthew Fisher left the band in late 1969. The tune never meant as much in North America anyway. Thank God they knew that Procol Harum was more than just one hit single. That's one of the reasons why the tune is not on this album."
Procol Harum broke up in 1977 at the height of the punk rock era, but reunited in 1992 for a new album called Prodigal Stranger with Gary, Robin Trower, Matthew Fisher, and Keith Reid all back on the team, although their stalwart drummer BJ Wilson had died in 1989.
As part of the reunion celebrations, they played another concert in Edmonton in 1992 with the Symphony Orchestra. Says Gary: "The orchestra had been in and out of the charts worldwide with Conquistador since 1972. So we had to play it about four times in '92. The crowds just would not go home. We played it twice at the 1971 concert and they also went absolutely berserk. We started the concert with Conquistador and we had to play it again at the end."
Looking back on the success of Procol Harum at this period, Gary experiences twinges of regret that the band never quite took advantage of the situation. "It was inconceivable that we should go on tour with a full orchestra. This concert was just a one-off and we recorded it to see how it would turn out. Somewhere in the midst of all that, things went wrong. We were Number Five in the US charts with that album and we should have toured with it. We were playing to ten thousand people a night and yet we were just a five-piece band. There were no synthesisers then. We couldn't recreate that orchestral sound that you could now. We just played Conquistador like we'd always done and we didn't [sic!] do In Held 'Twas In I because it was very difficult.
Our management should have thought it through. We should have taken an orchestra with us around America. We would have had an 'Edmonton' every night. And that's why today we are Procol Harum and not Pink Floyd!"
CHRIS WELCH, London, England, June 2002
Liner notes: 7.30pm. 18th November 1971 Holiday Inn, Edmonton, Alberta
In about thirty minutes Derek will collect us to drive down to the Jubilee Auditorium, where a capacity audience of 3,000 is waiting with 52 musicians, 24 singers and a regiment of sound, recording, lightning, stage and special effects people.
To say our one and a half days of recording [did GB mean 'rehearsing'?] had gone smoothly would not be true, and so an excited nervousness is present instead of confidence. The previous experience of the group (at Stratford, Ontario 1969) has shown us that symphony musicians tend to save their best until the performance. This is what we base our hopes on at this late hour.
We found time to try our quadraphonic effects tapes this afternoon; that explosion should shake the foundations. Keith tells me the seagulls sound like they're circling above your head when you're out there.
The amplified choir should be coming from both the stage and the back of the theatre to surround the audience with their sound. They do know what they're doing and their enthusiasm has become contagious. We've left Chris and Wally to take care of the recording, nobody is more capable. ("For what they are about to record, may the Lord be truly helpful.")
Tonight, the opportunity is there for us to play together with the instruments and voices we feel at home with and I know that we and everybody else will be at our best. G.B.
Recorded but not issued: Shine on Brightly, Simple Sister, Repent Walpurgis