'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'
Into the Flood
These notes examine the songs released by Procol Harum on legitimate records, not live rarities nor trawlings from the vaults. Into the Flood might seem to have a foot in both camps since it was released only on a single, and has been rarely (though very prominently) played live. It came out on the 5-inch CD The Truth Won’t Fade Away (BMG / Zoo PD49160) in Germany (October 1991). As a left-over from the Prodigal Stranger session, the rather spare-sounding band-only track weighs in at three-and-a half minutes, possibly retaining a guide bass played on synths; a sturdy rocker in E minor, it nonetheless partly inhabits B minor too and makes its way back to the home key with some rather attractive almost modal progressions. The line-up credits, covering all the tracks on the single, show only Trower on lead guitar, but according to Geoff Whitehorn the guitarist on Into the Food is Bob Mayo: Trower would surely have noticed how the words overlap with his own Gone Too Far!
Gary, assuming nobody ever heard this record, presents the first live Into the Flood (at 1992's Edmonton Reunion concert) as 'a new song', written on the 'plane on the way up, 'a new one that we're still working out'. The orchestration is confident and full, and the desultory identikit backing-vocal heard on the fade-out of the record (sung by one of the Imponderable Strangers) has mutated into a full-blown call and response routine for choir, who also have a completely new, exposed section to sing, all-but wordless and replete with liturgical suspensions. This is followed by the RSI-inducing orchestral string-workout, reminiscent of a Copelandesque hoe-down, before the band comes in again: although the structure is episodic and (unlike other Harum orchestral outings) presents band and orchestra in Deep-Purple-Concerto-like opposition, the overall effect is muscular, balanced and pleasing.
The song had its European première on Wetten Das… (German TV, RTL+, 11 December 1992), when the camera focused more on one uncommonly attractive woman in the choir than it did on Gary! The 1993 'Rock Meets Classic' tour of Germany (featuring Procolers Brooker, Cottle Spinetti, and Whitehorn) had a scheduled 29 gigs (a couple of which were cancelled) and Into The Flood was played at all of them, always after Grand Hotel. This was much the same musical arrangement as Edmonton II, but it was again introduced as a new song, specially written for the tour (mp3 from Hanover here).
When it appears again (still 'unperformed before … within EC1'), in a brilliant performance (bar some mental blocks in the lead vocal department) at the Barbican in 1996, the choir's solo part has become equipped with words, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, sanctus deus etc … cod-liturgy (appropriate to the somewhat religious imagery of the rest of the song), now supported with new orchestration including an irrelevant, though well-integrated, quotation from the very opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. One suspects the skilful hand of arranger Nicholas Dodd – accustomed to such adaptations in his film work – in these interpolations.
Into the Flood was still 'one we never put on record' by the time of the Millennium Concert at Guildford, but it retained its Latin words (cf the new text for A Salty Dog) and Barbican orchestration. Here it was the final number of the show: on other outings it's been the up-beat sequel to Grand Hotel twice and to A Whiter Shade of Pale twice … and that's it. There can't be any other song in the Procol repertoire to have been played so little and to have changed so much. Thus the musical evolution of 'this storming thing' as Gary called it at the Barbican, its tempestuous music well-suited to its verbal content.
- The words of this song overlap substantially with those of Robin Trower's Gone Too Far from the 1981 Truce album: see here. It would be interesting to establish the history of the text: its initial appearance on the Trower album dates from a time when Reid, by his own admission, was virtually retired from composition: 'I gave up ... I was fairly burned out and didn't do any songwriting for a couple of years. Gary was the only person I'd ever written songs with ... but people started calling me ... and I got back into it. I started again in 1983 ...' (full text here). Gone Too Far may, of course, have been an unused text destined for Procol's use, written before this 'burn-out'.
- 'The flood': can be taken to allude to Noah's Flood from Genesis, a world-wide deluge intended to purge the globe of all wickedness, Noah and his shipmates being the select few who would found a God-fearing dynasty thereafter. The musical development of the song (above) from outline rocker to chorally-elaborated quotation from the Latin mass might seem to support a religious reading.
- The Flood, whether literally or metaphorically, has been well-explored in popular music, with a variety of prepositions: Before the Flood (Dylan live, 1974) is a faint but more likely influence than After the Flood (Talk Talk, September 1991: whose recording methods and instrumentation are more akin to 'classic' PH than anything on The Prodigal Stranger) although GB-sideman Mark Feltham seems to have played harmonica on Laughing Stock, the album it comes off. There's also simply Flood from They Might be Giants, Flood I from the Sisters of Mercy ... but the ultimate flood song comes from Reid's early influence, Dylan: A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall.
- Reid's other 'flood' of course comes in Typewriter Torment, where 'typewriter fever gives birth to a flood / sweeps through your body, curdles your blood.' If the 'flood' in this song corresponds to his writing, in any sense, it might be worth looking again at 'story' in the first line, since this is a word he often uses of his own songs (even the titles, Barnyard Story and Whaling Stories, suggest as much; 'I sat me down to write a simple story' (Pilgrim's Progress); 'If God likes my story' (A Rum Tale); 'Just a story's all I need' (Without a Doubt); 'the truth of this story does still seem to hold' (The Worm and The Tree) and 'the story of a Spanish brave' (in the unpublished Last Train to Niagara). He also portrays the oceans as having 'ravaged' the land in Broken Barricades, which is considered elsewhere.
- In view of the above, 'throw me a line' could be a typically self-referential pun, inviting the interpretation 'throw me a line (of verse) to put in the song'. More literally 'line' corresponds to rope, to assist in escaping from the flooded terrain. Throw Down a Line was a 1969 hit for Cliff Richard, who implores his listeners to 'help a poor boy who's a-drowning in a stormy sea'
- 'Turn the water into wine': miracle of Jesus (John 2:1-11) at the wedding at Cana; interesting to see this classed as a crime. Reid's uses of the word are relatively sparse: 'others who remain untrue and don't commit that crime' (Look to Your Soul); 'They'll tell them 'bout your awful crime' (The Piper's Tune); 'Partners in crime' (Strangers In Space). The wedding image continues below.
- 'the icing on the wedding cake': in speech 'icing on the cake' signifies a bonus attached to something already pleasurable; the inclusion of 'wedding' obliges us to think of a real cake, perhaps conferring some marital significance on the word 'gold'.
- 'Goose that laid the golden egg' is found in Aesop's fables; the allusion is to the greedy goose-owner who destructively opens the goose up to retrieve the eggs, rather than relying on the natural process of laying.
- 'On bended knees': traditional marital position of proposal, as well as of submission. 'Bended' has an archaic tone (modern usage would ordinarily require 'bent': the context of homage is an exception).
- 'that's the way the picture reads': 'picture' presumably means 'overview' or something similar here. Reid uses the word in various ways, as shown in this selection: 'Our local picture house' (Rambling On); 'Picture ... rush (and so forth)' (The Thin End Of The Wedge); 'The close of the picture' and 'Which kills the picture' (New Lamps For Old); 'Painting the picture' (Skating On Thin Ice); 'I've still got your picture' (One More Time); 'Wonder where the picture went?'; (The Pursuit Of Happiness); 'a picture through the glass'; (the unpublished Last Train to Niagara) and 'her picture's in Vogue' (the unpublished A Real Attitude)
- The Barbican variant, 'came in from the freezing cold / turned the glitter into gold' could be a play on phrases in common use: out-of-favour sportsmen who get recalled are said to have 'come in from the cold'. Cf also the John le Carré novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. The 'gold' part is presumably an inversion of "all that glisters is not gold" a proverb (also used in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice) meaning that appearances are not to be trusted. Both these phrases contradict the negative tone of address in the rest of text, specially vividly where 'gold' is concerned. To turn base matter into gold was one of the prime goals of Alchemy, and it's a marked contrast with the destruction of the golden goose elsewhere in the song. It tallies nicely, of course, with the water-into-wine image.
- 'tell me a reason' is not conventional English: one might expect it to be 'give me a reason', which Gary Brooker appears to sing in later performances.
- 'looking for blood': hungry for revenge
- 'Body blow': term in boxing, where the strategy is to weaken the opponent with punches to the torso until he ducks his head and becomes an easier target: commonly used in the opposite sense, meaning 'the killer blow'.
- 'horror-show': not only the generic term for Grand Guignol theatre entertainment, but also reminiscent of the approving catch-phrase 'horror-show' ('cool!') from A Clockwork Orange ... to say nothing of The Rocky Horror Show to which Grabham and Wilson contributed session work.
- 'This time babe you're gonna have to beg' is strikingly one of the most un-Procol phrases ever on a Procol record; it is however in keeping with many of the 'tough' offerings by Reid on Trower records.
Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song