'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'
Beyond the Pale
The title Beyond the Pale was first used musically, to our knowledge, by Keith Reid on Exotic Birds and Fruit, then adopted by this fan website, and then by Claes Johansen's publishers for his Procol Biography. In each case there's a pun involved: from the Procol perspective it is 'beyond A Whiter Shade of Pale' as well as being 'beyond established borders'; but bearing in mind the Eastern European flavour of this particular piece of music it could equally be beyond Catherine the Great's 'Pale' (from Latin palum, a stake or fence-post), that ghetto which helped ferment a great national music of lamentation. In that connection it's also the name of a recording by a fine klezmer band (see here), and of a band playing traditional Irish music.
In fact 'Beyond the Pale' probably makes the UK person-in-the-street think not of the Russian but of the Irish Pale, that district of Ireland where English rule was effective following the 1172 invasion. But the phrase remains particularly ambiguous: it might well mean 'outside our oppressed community' in an Irish mouth, and 'outside our control' in an English one. We may well wonder what it meant to Brooker and Reid.
|I admit to searching for the
"meaning" of Beyond the Pale as it is one of those songs that
just gives me chills. But, regardless of whatever the literal meaning of
the words are, or are not, for me it is the feeling the lyrics evoke. I
don't have a clue as to what the lyrics mean and it seems clear that,
perhaps, the song doesn't really mean any one thing. That is the power
of a truly transcendent song-it touches many people on different levels
and in different ways. We each bring our own experiences to what we hear
or feel in the music. And I won't even begin to describe the images
conjured up in my mind when listening to the song.
And, perhaps, I don't, in the end, want to know what it "really" means.
I did enjoy reading other listeners' interpretations and while none hit
the mark completely to me, it is interesting to know that this song
touches such deep emotions in people.
Thanks for letting me have my say.
Teresa Glover, August 2010
Keith said, in the liner notes for the Exotic Birds CD, "It's a toasting song to all those in search of something that they will never find. They who continue to look for looking's sake" which sounds as though it sympathises with the 'they' who hope for rescue by the Idol later on the album. Gary acknowledged the lyric's ambiguity when he said (in a 1974 UK interview on Exotic Birds & Fruit) "The words are tremendous to this. A lot of Reid-type questions with no answers. Rhetorical, I suppose you call that. It starts off with 'Who will search for Holy Grail'
immediately you know youre not down the Portobello Road or anywhere. The chorus I particularly like: 'Who will share this bitter cup
' Reid has got into somebody here." Reid also like the words enough to select them for his book, My Own Choice.
It is interesting to wonder whether Brooker's treatment of these words offers any definite geographical or demographic pointers, either in the musical arrangement or in the vocal performance. Tape-collectors will recall how he croons 'Mammy Blue' over the song's introduction on the Five and Dime bootleg, and the 'Oy ve, Shalom brothers, Shalom!' with which he concludes it on the 1974 KZEW broadcast from Dallas. Is the song intended to sound Jewish, or merely 'ethnic' in some vague sense (at Dallas one of his bandmates shouts 'Olé'!).
Elsewhere it has been suggested that the mood of this piece reflects the band's quasi-Jewish lifetime of oppression following, and notwithstanding, the early revelation that as Procolers they were self-evidently a chosen people, apparently endorsed from On High, yet doomed to spend an epoch in exile. Certainly good numbers of their songs deal with themes of exile and alienation, but this started long before they 'fell from grace and hit the ground'. 1967's Homburg, for instance, is said to predate their first single, and overtly deals with self-consciousness about Jewish garb, and was introduced by Gary Brooker in 1992 (see here) as 'a protest against anti-Semitism'.
In October 1999 Gary mentioned to BtP that he'd been aiming for some sort of 'Eastern European feel' in this song, though in concert introductions he has playfully mentioned influences as widespread as Iceland and Japan. 'Bit of an Eastern Bloc one, behind the Iron Curtain, but not Behind the Iron Curtain, Beyond the Pale,' he claimed in Boston (23 March 1974); alternatively 'It comes from up Iceland somewhere, from an Old Nordic folksong,' (Olympia, 1 January 1976), and, interviewed in Discoveries, January 1992, 'It's kind of Eastern European
I guess one of Liszt's pieces is always banging around in my head"
None of these regions' native music really calls for the clashing hammers BJ plays on this track, nor the rasping banjo that Chris Copping played when this number was aired live ('Luckily no-one threw the tomatoes that my banjo-playing deserved!' Chris told BtP); maybe the time needed to tune that difficult instrument explains Brooker's various protracted introductions. In the aforementioned Dallas performance Gary finds time to explain (in bewilderingly erudite detail!) the origin of the phrase 'Pop goes the weasel' while Chris tunes up, and finally announces that he hopes to play this 'Neo-Slavic' number 'before men land on Venus!'
). The song did live on in the band's repertoire when Chris moved over to play bass: but at Liverpool in February 1977, for instance (when it was briefly introduced as being 'about the search for the Holy Grail', and played with exceptionally whimsical rhythmic freedom). Pete Solley's right-hand synths counterfeited not the banjo down-beats, but the interpolating high off-beat jangle that we hear on the record. At Guildford in September 2000, when the performance was dedicated to this website (mp3 here), Matthew Fisher replaced this jangle with a fascinatingly nagging little barrel-organ figure (mp3 here), reclaiming a sense of mystery in a number that has perhaps grown rather familiar. Gary recalled that the studio twangling sound was originally BJ Wilson on mandolin; (he also vouchsafed 'I played guitar on Beyond The Pale' to Contemporary Keyboard, July 1978) Mick Grabham has mentioned bouzoukis in that context; but whatever its origin, that exotic, 'ethnic' effect is further emphasised by the unusual harmonisation of the first four phrases of the vocal melody.
The opening chords, I, V and IV, might seem rock'n'roll standard, but despite the quickly-established minor tonality the V chord is also minor, not major as the dominant usually is. This gives the song its 'Eastern European feel', though Alan Cartwright's oompah bass moves the ambience westward a bit into the territory of a Bavarian drinking-song (the oompah bass distinguished 1974 hit single Mr Soft by Cockney Rebel
but it's a rare feature in 'serious' hits). There's something faintly exotic, to the English ear, in the melody's alternation of wide leaps and semitone steps, but we hear this in lots of Brooker songs (For Liquorice John for example) that don't sound remotely Jewish. Furthermore the guitar playing is standard-issue Grabham, with some very nice fills
indeed the sequence at 1:28 would have stood up as another solo in its own right; the rhythmical quotation (apparently unwitting) from Simple Sister at 2.54 clearly links the piece to the rest of the Procol corpus.
The lurching pause that precedes the 'Who will share
' section seems to recall the characteristic hiatus that marks the theatre songs of Kurt Weill, Jewish of course. In concert Brooker occasionally used these lurching pauses to indulge his fondness for comic accents: On the Five and Dime bootleg he can twice be heard singing a Dietrich-like 'Who vill share', and once 'ziss bitter cup' which also enhances the Germanic feel. The Mannheim concert, 18 January 1976 (dodgily, on German territory, another 'who vill ...' venue) is one of several occasions when Beyond the Pale is introduced as 'one you can join in', despite the rhythmical minefields of the lurching-stops: the stompers are understandably foxed by BJ's 7/8 drum-break, and a sole clapper doggedly persists on the off-beat for most of the first verse. Such community clapping perhaps has European folk-music connotations. Strangely the audience in Vienna six days later (another 'vill'!) negotiates the rhythmic hiatus perfectly. There Gary has asked them '
if we've got any gypsy violinists in the audience
we invite them up to join in this one
from the Serbo-Croats'
Following those unusual minor dominants (their impact heightened by the sudden transition to a major V chord at 'share'), the Brooker Muse goes on to auto-pilot for a spell, treading a well-worn path round the cycle of fourths (Gary told BtP that bassist Matt Pegg, in rehearsal, had learnt fifty-four Procol songs and had pointed out that Brooker only uses about five harmonic tricks: but Gary thought that this was OK ('that's style, isn't it!') and asserted that he 'always used a different melody over the top'!).
From here on, however, Procol's Beyond the Pale throws the Euro-pop / R'n'B rule-book away to most exciting effect. A path of surprises has already been laid by Barrie Wilson's odd little 7/8 drum-break: now the middle-eight (itself a surprise in a Procol song) announces itself by a bafflingly unpredictable modulation from C minor into A minor, via B and E passing-chords on consecutive beats. This middle-eight seems to have rediscovered the sweet, perhaps naive, Brooker style that we hear at work in Shine on Brightly, A Christmas Camel, the middle of The Thin End of the Wedge and so on, songs where the melody leads the chords, rather than being fitted in over a logically-constructed chordal scaffold. This song has to wrench itself back on-course to join up with the home key again, and this is very ably done when the A minor subdominant, D minor leads naturally into a B flat bar and the 'music-hall' G+ chord before the drum break brings us back into C minor. Yet there's an astonishingly bold key-change up a semitone into C# minor for the final chorus
maybe this was done just to make things as difficult as possible for the hapless banjo player!
Beyond The Pale / Fresh Fruit (Chrysalis 6155034) was released as a picture-sleeve single in the Netherlands, where it was also promoted on Dutch TV by Procol Harum. The band visited the Netherlands in November 1974 for a 'Top Pop' appearance, and pictures taken in the studio during that visit can be found on the BBC Live In Concert CD and the re-issued Procols Ninth on Repertoire. So much appeal had been packed into three minutes, it must have been a great disappointment that the record didn't set the world alight.
The song was first heard live during the eight-date UK university tour that started on 28 February 1974 at Exeter University. It remained in the setlist through the promotional tours and made occasional appearances until the end of the Old Testament band; as noted above, it re-emerged bereft of banjoing for Procol Harum's first gig of the new Millennium at Guildford, September 2000.
- 'Who will search for Holy Grail': though 'Holy Grail' is used conversationally to mean any fervently desired objective, the Grail was properly the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper, which became (in an osmotic amalgam of Bible lore and pagan questing literature) the symbol of alluring unattainability for the Knights of the Round Table (read more here). Sir Percival (Wagner's 'Parzifal') was one knight whose destiny was to behold the Grail but not possess it, and it seems that Barnyard Story suggests that Reid identifies with his moment of powerful epiphany, whose fulfilment is denied. In this his work is reminiscent of Franz Kafka [note that Claes Johansen also links Reid and Kafka in his Procol biography]: and his opening 'Who will search' shares Kafka's theme of the doomed quest, and is expressed with a peculiarly despondent yearning (Exotic Birds in many songs revisits the alienated worlds of the Shine on Brightly and Home albums, after some communing 'insider' experiences, characterised by the repeated 'we' in Grand Hotel for instance). Kafka, a Czech Jew writing in German, created these 'outsider' narratives from an inescapable awareness of the ghetto; the novels centre on attempts not to escape confinement, beyond the pale, so much as to enter ... in the hope of participating (in the process of law (Josef K in The Trial), in the castle ('K' in The Castle) or in the new world (Karl in Amerika)). Some insist that the Holy Grail or 'San Graal' is not a chalice at all, but a corruption of the words 'Sang Réal', or Royal Blood: in this view the search for the Grail was a search was for the bloodline of Christ, who had survived the crucifixion and gone off to found a dynasty.
- 'Past the edge': this suggests that Keith Reid's song treats 'pale' quite literally, as meaning 'boundary' (it's not his first song to deal with fence-penetration!). But obviously what's 'beyond' this ghetto-boundary will depend which side we're standing on to start with, whether we are insiders or outsiders. Other Procol Harum songs including the idea of 'the edge' include (the unpublished) This Old Dog, The Thin End of the Wedge and Fool's Gold.
- 'beyond the veil': the title, 'beyond the pale' doesn't quite occur in the song itself (it does in the sheet music, but not on record): this quirk is shared with Wish Me Well and Taking the Time. 'Beyond the veil', however, is a reference to the unknown state of the afterlife (it's also the title of an oratorio supposedly dictated to the musical spiritual medium, Rosemary Brown, by the late GF Handel). The phrase 'beyond the veil' owes its spiritual implication to the layout of the Temple in Jerusalem, where a veil separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, into which only the High Priest could pass, and that only on the Day of Atonement. This is the veil that was torn asunder at the time of Christ's crucifixion, (or 'crucifiction' as Reid, a Doubting Thomas perhaps, spells it): see Matthew 27:51 (at the same time graves opened, saints and prophets walked again, some entering the Heavenly city ... all imagery very familiar to devotees of Procol's Home album). Clearly Reid's 'Holy Grail' resonates with this crucifixion imagery. Let us not forget that 'Beyond' in Latin is 'procul')
- 'Who will come beyond the light / Far from reach beyond all sight': the imagery invites us to imagine a region bereft of light, and 'beyond all sight' seems to suggest beyond the knowledge of God, a notion terrifying to believers. Some reprints of the words including Keith Reid's book (which has not been very reliably copy-edited) spell 'veil' as 'vale'; if this is correct it might mean 'beyond the Valley of Death'
- 'Who will share this bitter cup': the Arthurian facets of this narrator's proposed physical search for the Grail are outshone by the reflection of Christ's passion in 'Who will share this bitter cup', which closely recalls His torment at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39 et seq). The common phrase is 'to drink a cup of sorrow', meaning to receive one's share of suffering in the scheme of things. W James, in Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), says of Bunyan and Tolstoy that they "drank deeply of the cup of bitterness".
- 'let the wild dogs tear them up': this is not a typical Procol 'dog' reference (the others are primarily sexual or jocular). Dog symbolism is ambiguous: in some cultures they guard the realm of the dead or act as mediators between the worlds of the living and the dead this may be the case here, as to go beyond the pale of life is to enter the shadows en route to death. There are some savage dogs in the Bible (Exodus 22:31 'throw torn flesh to the dogs'; 2 Peter 2:22 'the dog returns to his own vomit'; Psalms 22:20: "save me from the power of the dog') and Kafka, in Jackals and Arabs, presents an explorer 'arrested' by wild dogs who present him with sewing-scissors with which to murder the world's Arabs. Procol canine references include 'Fruit is good for doggies too' (Fresh Fruit); 'Taking out the dog for walks' (Taking The Time); 'I'm a dog in a manger' (Man with a mission); 'This old dog has to learn some new ways' (This Old Dog); 'She's seen at the races and walking the dog' (A Real Attitude);
- 'let the cold winds blow them down': the plural 'winds' (found also in 'God's aloft, the winds are raging ... winds are cold' (Piggy Pig Pig) and 'when the four winds blow' (Wizard Man)) seems to imply an elemental force, not a mere accident of meteorology. The quest in the song is primarily a spiritual one. Yet the imagery of 'cold winds', 'dankest gloom' and 'buried deep beneath the ground' flies in the face of any prospect of spiritual salvation for the speaker, who seems doomed to remain an outsider; his many rhetorical questions, who will this and who will that, remain ominously unanswered. One is reminded of 'Everyman' in the European morality plays who, having been told by the messenger of God that he will die, pleads in vain with his friends and relations for someone to accompany him on his last journey, beyond the veil: predictably no-one will. (His beauty and five wits desert him too: finally he realizes his good deeds will be his only companion.)
- 'drive them deep beneath the ground': winds that can drive you beneath the ground are powerful indeed; it may be 'beneath the ground' is intended to mean 'into death' as in the idiom, 'six feet under'. On the other hand we have reference to sheltering 'like frightened moles' in The Unquiet Zone. In any event this line presumably ushers in the darkness of the next one.
- 'Who will live in darkest night': it seems that the questors being recruited in this song are not only to visit remote regions, but to live there. The emphatically Stygian 'darkest night' occurs in two consecutive songs on the album, Nothing but the Truth and in Beyond the Pale. Many Reid songs refer to the dark: 'In the dark I grope' (Kaleidoscope); 'It's dark in here' (Salad Days (Are Here Again)); 'darkness is no reason' (In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence); 'In the darkness of the night'(Glimpses of Nirvana); 'the nights are now much darker' (In the Autumn of My Madness); 'There's a dark cloud just above us'(The Devil Came From Kansas); 'In darkness through my being here' (All This And More); 'everywhere light, yet darkness engulfed me' (Dead Man's Dream); 'It was dark in the death-room' (Dead Man's Dream); 'down dark alleys sailors crept' (Whaling Stories); 'Darkness struck with molten fury' (Whaling Stories); 'We lie in darkest night' (Nothing But the Truth); 'It's the dark hours of the soul' (Something Magic); 'clouds which seemed so dark' (Something Magic); 'When you're out in the dark' (The hand that rocks the cradle); 'Slipping down on the darkest side' (The hand that rocks the cradle); 'you won't find favour on the dark side of the street' (Last Train to Niagara); many others allude to 'night ': A Christmas Camel, In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence, Wish me Well, Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone), Glimpses of Nirvana, In the Autumn of My Madness, Memorial Drive, Grand Hotel, Nothing But the Truth, Beyond The Pale, Something Magic, (You can 't) turn back the page, Perpetual motion, and the unpublished This Old Dog and I'm a Reader and a Writer.
- 'darkest night / dankest gloom and quietest quiet': rhetorically this is an interesting triplet, since each superlative merely reinforces the expected meaning of its companion noun, and in the final case is almost identical to it. 'Farmost reaches / furthest sights', below, extends up the same formula, and is part of a pattern of alliteration (cf 'scour / scale') that decorates this song. 'Farmost' looks like a Reid neologism, but it was first recorded in 1618; the Oxford English Dictionary records only four instances of the word. 'Gloom' is a favourite word with which Reid likes to link the external and internal worlds: 'the gloom begins to fall' (Conquistador); 'the gloom around our bed' (Salad Days (Are Here Again)); 'I sat there in the gloom' (Alpha); 'A never-ending bitter gloom' (Nothing But the Truth).
- 'Far from any human sound': the implication seems to be that there will be no familiar sounds for comfort; but there may well be inhuman sounds. This and the following line have often been reversed in live performance.
- 'Buried deep beneath the ground': 'buried deep' suggests death in some cataclysm rather than in an act of interment. Oddly both 'ground' and 'sight' are used twice as rhyme-sounds in this song.
- 'Who will search for treasure trove': the word 'trove' derives from the French 'trouver' (to find). 'Treasure trove' in law is silver and gold coins, discovered in places where they had not been concealed for safe keeping by an owner (the ensuing property rights problem is resolved in the UK by the convention that treasure trove belongs to the Crown, unless an owner claims it. The British Museum is offered the find and the finder supposedly gets the market value). In this line of the song, questions of redemption are cast aside as the Holy Grail is re-evaluated as a mere archaeological find (the same re-evaluation is condensed with delightful brilliance in New Lamps for Old: 'The eye of the needle, the loss of the thread' ... Matthew 19:24 and Mark 10:25 (and some Rabbinical texts) inform us that a rich man is as unlikely to get into heaven as a camel is to pass through the eye of a needle, yet Reid implies the loss of spiritual direction in the temporal banality of the subsequent sewing metaphor). In this verse Reid seems to be wildly seeking for companions so unperturbed by the 'wild dogs' and other hazards that they are able to contemplate a sweeping, piratical foray through the physical world, to 'scour the seas and scale the globe'.
- 'Scour the seas and scale the globe': 'scour' and 'scale' are chosen for their sound, surely: neither may be applied literally to its object here. However an overall sense of ruthless, swarming exploration is clear, and the word 'scale', next to 'globe', evokes images of cartography that are much to the point.
- 'Past the peaks beyond the heights': once again we are in the mountain-top realm of Barnyard Story and Taking the Time: equally, 'heights' is presumably not to be taken literally, but as an indication of utter remoteness in which sense it avoids outright contradiction with the foregoing imagery of depths.
- 'Who will share
': When the chorus comes round again, its passion heightened by a key change, it is harder to tell whether we are listening to an exhortation or to a warning: 'who will share this bitter cup?' ... 'who would be crazy enough?' There is something here of the plight of the 'K' narrators in Kafka's great novels, all striving to enter another world though they know there is no guarantee whatever that their sufferings will be alleviated there. This is not to say that 'K' is 'Keith' of course: this song, though characteristically allusive and thought-provoking, ultimately leaves us entirely to make up our own minds: its internal contradictions are strengths, fortifying it against our attempts at reductive scrutiny.
Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song