Ron Cooper in Zabadak No 10, July 1993
In March 1968 Procol Harum released their third UK single (the follow up to Homburg) Quite Rightly So / In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence which only managed No50. Things went quiet until December 1968 when they released their second album Brightly, alas [sic] a Rock Opera.
Side One begins with the single release Quite Rightly So which has that familiar late 60s Hammond organ sound. It contains driving organ, gently backed by acoustic guitar, and just Brooker's voice. There is a nice instrumental section reminiscent of a faster Shade Of Pale, then typical Trower guitar of repetitive fuzzed notes. A little disjointed for a single but a good album opening.
Shine On Brightly is similar but with some marvellous organ and a gutsy sound. There are some majestic lyrics by Keith Reid: 'And though it seems they smile with glee, I know in truth they envy me, and though the Ferris wheel spins around my time it seems has spun to ground [sic]. If this had been released as the single instead then Procol may have had a bigger hit. As with all the tracks, Denny Cordell and Tony Visconti did the production.
Skip Softly (My Moonbeams) has For The Benefit Of Mr Kite circus sounds, a little boring, but then moves into some exciting classical piano and repetitive soaring screeching guitar. Wish Me Well sounds like so many of that progressive ilk (but they were one of the first) with Fisher [sic] and Brooker singing together. Mainly a showcase for Trower's bluesy guitar (reminds of Amey's playing on Still Life) with the organ just holding chords, though you would be forgiven if you thought that they knocked this up in 5 minutes.
Rambling On with great incomprehensible lyrics and just Brooker then 'Here I go' and ensemble Procol soar through a steadily rising chord sequence. Good track.
Side Two commences with Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone) a nice track with harpsichord, organ and piano. There are some trumpet / vocal touches reminiscent of the New Vaudeville Band.
The final number In Held 'Twas In I is 17 minutes 39 seconds of pure magic written by Brooker, Fisher, and Reid. It is actually five songs merged together: Glimpses Of Nirvana, 'Twas Teatime At The Circus, In The Autumn Of My Madness, Look To Your Soul and Grand Finale. In the Record Collector article on Procol back in Nov 1982 Nigel Smithers described this as monumental 'very much a production of the psychedelic era, with all the tricks of the trade such as reversed tapes, droning sitars, wailing feedback, Strawberry Fields type fade-outs and fade-in.
It opens with Brooker 'Even though the words I use are pretentious and make you cringe with embarrassment' (perhaps pretentious but never embarrassing) followed by sounds of bells, circus organ, harpsichord, and an explosion. There follows poetry quietly spoken by Keith Reid over classical piano.
For Autumn of My Madness Matthew Fisher takes a turn at singing, and as always the album's continually magical lyrics. 'In the Autumn of my madness when my hair is turning grey, When the milk has finally curdled when I have nothing left to say' [sic]. This is over wonderful electric guitar, organ and acoustic guitar. The music is ethereal broken by the sounds of ship foghorns and police sirens amongst the steadily rising organ and people crying to a crescendo of madness and feedback guitar. Hard to under stand how this album failed to make The UK Top 40?!
Dave Knights's bass, Barry Wilson's drums, and Brooker's piano creating the mood like on board a Roman boat (shades of Ben Hur) throbbing into a harpsichord with Trower's lead guitar taking us up. The Gods returned for this session.
Then the album's climax with Grand Finale and the steadily rising instrumentation joined by a dozen voices. It was 4-part harmony with three voices filling each harmony. Fisher's sister and a friend of his from school doing the backing vocalists on to the 8-track tape. In Held 'Twas In I was given a much larger production on the album where Procol performed with the 52-piece Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the 29 ensemble Da Camera Singers. Both versions have their attractions and it is difficult to chose the better. One thing is for sure and that is Dave Ball plays some stunning lead guitar filling in aptly for Trower.
The song A Whiter Shade Of Pale tended to place them into the same bag as the Moody Blues, but really they were worlds apart. The album Shine On Brightly is a beautiful combination of 60s Pop, Rock, and Classical Music. After this Procol went on to do many grand albums A Salty Dog, Home, Broken Barricades, Live With The Edmonton Orchestra, Grand Hotel, Exotic Birds And Fruit, Procol's Ninth, Something Magic, and then after a 14-year gap Prodigal Stranger.
Throughout this they went through many personnel changes. With Exotic Birds And Fruit stalwarts Barrie Wilson, Gary Brooker, Keith Reid were still with the group, but now Alan Cartwright played bass, with Mick Grabham on electric guitars, and Chris Copping on organ. Mick Grabham had replaced Dave Ball after Live With The Edmonton Orchestra, Copping replaced Fisher after A Salty Dog, and Cartwright replaced Dave Knights [sic] after Broken Barricades. For Something Magic Pete Solley came in on synthesisers, actually replacing bass player Alan Cartwright. Chris Copping left his organ and took over on bass.
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