Procol Harum

the Pale

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Virgin Encyclopedia of Sixties Music

Virgin Books 1997, ed. Colin Larkin

Sam Cameron sends BtP this excerpt from the Virgin Encyclopedia of Sixties Music

PROCOL HARUM [pp.360-361]

This UK group was formed in Essex, England following the demise of the R&B pop unit, the Paramounts. Procol Harum comprised: Gary Brooker (b. 29 May 1945, Southend [sic!], Essex, England; piano/vocals): Matthew Fisher (b.7 March 1946, London, England; organ): Bobby Harrison (b.28 June 1943, East Ham, London, England; drums): Ray Royer (b.8 October 1945; guitar) and Dave Knights (b. 8 June 1945, bass).

Their début with the ethereal A Whiter Shade of Pale made them one of the biggest successes of 1967. The record has now achieved classic status with continuing sales which now run to many millions. The long haunting Bach-influenced introduction takes the listener through a sequence of completely surreal lyrics, which epitomised the 'Summer of Love'. 'We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels across the floor, I was feeling kind of seasick as the crowd called out for more'. It was followed by the impressive Top 10 hit Homburg.

By the time of the hastily-thrown-together album (only recorded in mono) the band were falling apart. Harrison and Royer departed to be replaced with Brooker's former colleagues Barrie 'B.J.' Wilson (b. 18 March 1947, Southend [sic], Essex, England) and Robin Trower (b.9 March 1945, Southend, Essex, England) respectively. The other unofficial member of the band was lyricist Keith Reid (b. 10 October 1946), whose penchant for imaginary tales of seafaring appeared on numerous albums. The particularly strong A Salty Dog, with its classic John Player cigarette pack cover, was released to critical acclaim. The title track and The Devil Came From Kansas were two of their finest songs.

Fisher and Knights departed and the circle was completed when Chris Copping (b. 29 August 1945, Southend [sic], Essex, England; organ/bass) became the last remaining ex-Paramount to join. On Broken Barricades, in particular, Trower's Jimi Hendrix-influenced guitar patterns began to give the band a heavier image which was not compatible with Reid's introspective fantasy sagas. This was resolved by Trower's departure, to join Frankie Miller in Jude, and following the recruitment of Dave Ball (b. 30 March,1950) and the addition of Alan Cartwright (bass) pursued a more symphonic direction. The success of Live in Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra was unexpected. It marked a surge in popularity, not seen since the early days. The album contained strong versions of Conquistador and A Salty Dog, and was a Top 5 million selling album in the USA.

Further line-up changes ensued with Ball departing and Mick Grabham [ex-Plastic Penny, Cochise] joining in 1972. This line-up became their most stable and they enjoyed a successful and busy four years during which time they released three albums. Grand Hotel was the most rewarding, although both the following had strong moments. Nothing But The Truth and The Idol were high points of Exotic Birds and Fruit; the latter showed traces of Keith Reid's epic work. Pandora's Box was the jewel in Procol's Ninth, giving them another surprise hit single.

By the time their final album was released in 1977 the musical climate had dramatically changed and Procol Harum were one of the first casualties of the punk and new wave movement. Having had a successful innings, Gary Brooker initiated a farewell tour and Procol quietly disappeared. In the words of Keith Reid 'they fired the gun and burnt the mast'.

During 1991 the band re-formed, and unlike many re-formed 'dinosaurs' the result was a well-received album The Prodigal Stranger, which received minimal sales. The band have continued to tour sporadically ever since with the most recent line-up of Brooker, Fisher, Matt Pegg(bass), Geoff Whitehorn (guitar) and Graham Broad (drums).

Procol Harum (Regal Zonophone 1967) ***
Shine on Brightly (Regal Zonophone 1968) ***
A Salty Dog (Regal Zonophone 1969) ****
Home (Regal Zonophone 1970) ***
Broken Barricades (Chrysalis 1971) ***
In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (Chrysalis 1972) ****
Grand Hotel (Chrysalis 1973) ***
Exotic Birds and Fruit (Chrysalis 1974) ***
Procol's Ninth (Chrysalis 1975) ***
Something Magic (Chrysalis 1977)**
The Prodigal Stranger (1991) **
Procol Harum with various artists The Long Goodbye: Symphonic Music of...(BMG/RCA 1995)**.

The Best Of Procol Harum(1973) ****
Platinum Collection(1981) ****
Collection: Procol Harum (Castle, 1986) ****
The Early years (1993) ***
Homburg And Other Hats: Procol Harum's Best (Essential 1995) ****

* Poor. An album to avoid unless you are a completist
** Disappointing. Flawed or lacking in some way
*** Good. By the artist's usual standards and therefore recommended
**** Excellent. A high standard album from this artist and therefore highly recommended
***** Outstanding in every way and therefore highly recommended. No comprehensive record collection should be without this album.

The book also contains full entries on Plastic Penny and the Paramounts. This is a favourable entry but how does it compare star-rating wise with other bands?

I looked at the entries for the Byrds, Who and Rolling Stones and before they hit the slide into desolate two-stardom they all racked up plentiful four star ratings and even the odd five star. Traffic have a collection of stars that is fairly comparable to Procol's.

I can't leave this issue without letting you know that the entry on a certain Jacques Loussier racks up a healthy score of three and four star ratings.

Thanks, Sam

More PH chart-data Procol History

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