Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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Procol Harum's NME coverage ...

31 March, 7 + 14 + 28 April, 5 + 12 + 19 + 26 May, 2 June 1973


These excerpts from New Musical Express, kindly selected for 'Beyond the Pale' by Yan Friis, feature a downbeat Brooker interview, the Robert's Box single reviewed (congas?), and paramilitary waltzing at the Felt Forum, while Grand Hotel puts the band in the US album charts for the very last time.


NME, March 31, 1973:

Front page headlines:
LINDISFARNE BREAKING UP? (big pic and story)
FREE FACES
World exclusive single next week only with NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
(pic)
News pages:

HARUM SINGLE
A new single by Procol Harum is being rushed out by Chrysalis next week, comprising two titles from the groupís new Grand Hotel album Ė Robertís Box / A Rum Tale. Harum fly to America next week for a lengthy tour, lasting until June 17.

NME Top 5:
1 (3) The Twelfth Of Never, Donny Osmond
2 (1) Cum On Feel The Noize, Slade
3 (8) Power To All Our Friends, Cliff Richard
4 (2) 20th Century Boy, T.Rex
5 (11) Get Down, Gilbert OíSullivan

British Albums
1 (3) Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper
2 (1) Donít Shoot Me Iím Only The Piano Player, Elton John
3 (4) Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd
4 (7) Tanx, T.Rex
5 (10) Rock Me Baby, David Cassidy

Main single reviews by Charles Shaar Murray
Hello! Hello! Iím Back Again, Gary Glitter
Black Coffee, Humble Pie
Rubber Bullets, 10CC
Brother Louie, Hot Chocolate
Saw A New Morning, Bee Gees
Anybody Going To San Antone?, Doug Sahm
Trouble Man, Marvin Gaye

Main album reviews:
Eat It, Humble Pie
Dixie Chicken, Little Feat
Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin
The Byrds, The Byrds
GP, Gram Parsons


NME, April 7, 1973:

Front page headlines (Scandinavian edition without Faces-single):
BEATLES BACK AGAIN? (big pic of Lennon and McCartney and story)
NILSSON
YARDBIRDS
DON McLEAN
FACES

NME Top 5:
1 (1) The Twelfth Of Never, Donny Osmond
2 (5) Get Down, Gilbert OíSullivan
3 (3) Power To All Our Friends, Cliff Richard
4 (8) Tie A Yellow Ribbon, Dawn
5 (14) Iím A Clown / Some Kind Of Summer, David Cassidy

British Albums
1 (3) Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd
2 (4) Tanx, T.Rex
3 (2) Donít Shoot Me Iím Only The Piano Player, Elton John
4 (1) Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper
5 (-) Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin

Main album reviews:
Ooh La La, The Faces
October, Claire Hamill
The Best Of Mountain, Mountain
Life In A Tin Can, Bee Gees
The Best Of, Buffy Sainte-Marie

Main single reviews by Charles Shaar Murray:
Drive-In Saturday, David Bowie
My Love, Paul McCartney & Wings
Jungle Jenny, Sensational Alex Harvey Band
Mama Was A Rock & Roll Singer, Sonny & Cher
Big Eight, Judge Dread
I Got Ants In My Pants, James Brown

 

And over on page 39:
So who loves Procol Harum?
by Tony Stewart

Who loves Procol Harum? Not England, it seems. Apart from a tough faction of loyal devotees, this isle has said cheerio boys. Even further insults: a lot of people incredulously refuse to believe that the band still exist!

Gary Brooker, considering Procolís stature in Britain as he sips coffee and brandy at the Midland Hotel, Birmingham, states quite unemotionally: "Here, peopleís main interests are the Daily Mirror and a pint of beer."

But he expands further on that brutal all-embracing statement: "The trouble with audiences here is that they just donít get up and go. Kids in a lot of other countries are just kids Ė wild kids. Music is like really the main thing; going to concerts, buying records, running around jumping."

He groans.

Brooker is accepting facts and offering a thread of reasoning, but certainly not complaining. There are two arguments to the case. Itís been a long time since Broken Barricades, their last studio set Ė which was not received too enthusiastically. And of course there was another lapse between Live At Edmonton and the single Conquistador breaking.

When asked if the latest set, Grand Hotel, should rectify the situation, Brooker is understandably non-committal.

"I have no faith in the record buying public here at all," he says, "What youíre asking about Grand Hotel is what weíve been asking since Salty Dog. We thought that was going to mean something here, and it went on from there Ė Home, Broken Barricades, Edmonton even. We couldnít get off the ground here. So I donít know what to prophesy for the new one."

Brooker points out that despite the fact that theyíre an old-established band they donít automatically get much radio exposure Ė certainly not the quantity the Stones would.

Then, coincidentally, up comes Grand Hotel on BBC radio, and we hear the opinions of Anne Nightingale and Alan Black, who both deserve a kick for non-constructive comments on this occasion.

"Itís the best thing theyíve done," claims Black. "Theyíll never top itÖ thatís their Sgt Pepper."

Pretty Anne has her crystal ball: "I think itís going to do incredibly well. Itís got that highly successful feel about it. Whatever else." And I wondered whether she was sampling Marks and Sparks latest woollies.

"That," responds Brooker on Blackís comments, "has never entered my mind at all. I donít see how anybody can hear an LP for the first time and say itís the best thing somebodyís going to do."

"Thereís a lot of work in Grand Hotel, but it wasnít a completely exhausting thing to make. A lot was put into it, but it isnít the only thing we have to say."

Brooker tells me that the album IS a progression in their recording Ė "technically".

But more significant is that itís structured totally on the writing of the pianist and Keith Reid. These two have always been the core of the band, but previously thereís frequently been the contrast of the other membersí material.

"Actually," explains Gary, "this is our first album where the material has all been mine and Keithís, and in that way it has continuity.

"It doesnít go off at tangents. In the past Robin (Trower), for example, may have written a song which was very different from what I wrote.

"So from a continuity point of view the new album is good, yeah. So far, from peopleís remarks, it seems to be the first one weíve done which hasnít one or two songs which donít quite come together for some reason or another, or some recording faults and so on.

"And thatís what any groupís working for Ö trying to make the best album thatís ever been. It might not make it Ė thereís not much chance of it Ė but thatís what youíre striving to do."

At the same time, though, the new direction has brought the composing duo of Brooker and Reid out into a more conspicuous position, and, some would have it, a dictatorial position Ė making Procol more dependant on them.

Brooker agrees: "Well, it always has been that way. It wasnít dependent" Ė and he stresses the word with distaste Ė "on Robin or Matthew (Fisher) writing a song in the past, in that if they didnít the group would stop playing. And, say on Shine On Brightly, if Robin or Matthew hadnít written the song then I would have had songs to put in.

"But there was never a comparison. I never said 'all right we want 10 songs for the album, Iíve got 10, and if Robin said heíd got three and Matthew said heíd two, weíll play through them and see which ones come out wellí. We never did that.

"Itís more a case of albums coming together after a few months of playing on the road. Keith might have some sets of words Ö and he might give one to Rob, one to Matthew, which work in a way. After a few months I might have finished four songs, and Robís done his couple Ö so we start playing those.

"When it comes to making the album, there you are Ė weíve got seven or eight numbers. If we need one or two more then I write one or two more."

Is it as mechanical as that?

Ah, a rare sight, Brooker smiles: "No, itís not like that. Itís not a case of saying 'oh, Iím just popping home to write a song.í Often by not being ready with material, weíve had to delay things for so many months, until we did have something."

But the apparent inference of Brookerís remarks is he has a concept for the group. If you take Edmonton and Hotel, as a guide line, then Barricades must have moved away from that. And there are some other points to consider, such as the way Mick Grabham was not only selected for his guitar ability but for his style Ė which is not too far removed from the sound and style Trower established in the band.

Brooker just says: "The fullest enjoyment for us in Procol Harumís music is when weíre using all five instruments Ė plus the singing. And I think itís the same for the people who listen.

"On Broken Barricades we didnít use the organ. We didnít just not put it in Ė weíd got used to playing without it, and that was the result. So we certainly didnít have a concept there."

And it is consequential that Hotel, as Brooker admits, is closer to their own ideas of what Procol should represent.

"It is yes." Then Brooker qualifies the statement. "But thatís not having any picture of the group in mind. Itís just a case of playing the songs well together, and getting a good recording."

Already there are glad tidings. A number of informed people believe the album will sell in Britain Ė especially following the good returns for the Edmonton collection.

Skip back a little and youíll read Miss Nightingaleís comments, which are representative of the critical reaction to the album. Honey, itís the one.

Brooker is cool: "I think the determination of the group is transposed on to the record, and into the songs and playing. And it seems other people feel that."

Yan's comments:
What a pity that Tony Stewart became NMEís Procol Harum-journalist. The newspaper changed dramatically through 1972 and into 1973, bringing in young, excellent writers, people like Nick Kent, Ian MacDonald and Charles Shaar Murray. But none of them showed any interest in Procol, unfortunately. So it was up to the rather lightweight Stewart to give them exposure.

His patronising tone towards the reader was unbearable, and the way he tried in every possible way to agree with Brooker on any topic turned his interviews into very unexciting reading. And if this was not enough, the guy also tried to convince the reader that he could speak on Gary Brookerís behalf, throwing in his own pathetic observations and thoughts as if they were shared by Brooker (Check out his strange criticism of the BBC reporters that in fact had done no other crime than saying exactly what Stewart himself had been saying in his own newspaper, nice things about the Procol album).

It sometimes seems that he is more interested in getting Brooker to agree with his own views on Procol Harum than digging for facts and new information.

His interviews with Brooker are very disappointing. Why couldnít he ask more clever questions, and why didnít he follow up those few good questions he did have? He backs off immediately, scared shitless by the thought of offending Brooker (or maybe by the thought of Brooker calling his bluff?),

(I know Brooker was not an easy man to interview. I had quite a rough ride with him myself in 1975 when I dared to follow-up some questions that he didnít like. The topic being among other things their new album Procolís Ninth that I found both weak and confusing Ė a reaction that angered him. )

I guess Gary Brooker didnít mind. He got the exposure the group needed, sipped his brandy and watched as the reporter made a fool of himself. An eyeball to eyeball session with Nick Kent could have turned into a rather unpleasant experience. But the interview would have been a classic.


NME, April 14, 1973:

Teasers

ÖGuests at Procol Harum shindig included Alice Cooper and James Taylor with Carly SimonÖ


NME, April 28, 1973

Front page headlines:

JETHRO SHOCK (story)
BIG SLADE TOUR (big pic and story)
STONES, Am I good enough? (small pic of Charlie Watts)
BAEZ WRITES (small pic)
ROXY/FLACK/SOFTS/DOMINO

NME Top 5:
1 (1) Tie A Yellow Ribbon, Dawn
2 (3) Hello! Hello! Iím Back Again, Gary Glitter
3 (2) Get Down, Gilbert OíSullivan
4 (4) Iím A Clown / Some Kind Of Summer, David Cassidy
5 (10) Drive-In Saturday, David Bowie

British Albums:
1 (5) Ooh La La, The Faces
2 (1) Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin
3 (3) Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper
4 (2) For Your Pleasure, Roxy Music
5 (6) Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd

U.S. Albums (Cash Box):
1 (6) Elvis Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, Elvis Presley
2 (1) Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd
3 (12) Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin
4 (2) Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper
5 (16) The Best Of Bread, Bread
23 (-) Grand Hotel, Procol Harum

Main album reviews:
Down The Road, Stephen Stillsí Manassas
Bananamour, Kevin Ayers
Red Rose Speedway, Paul McCartney & Wings
First Water, Sharks
Motherís Pride, Fanny

Main single reviews by Charles Shaar Murray:
Sunny Days, Lighthouse
Hell Raiser, Sweet
Boom Bang, Family
Things Will Be Better, The Byrds
Love And Happiness, Al Green
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?, Derek & The Dominos

and:
PROCOL HARUM: Robertís Box (Chrysalis)
It starts out sounding vaguely Traffic-ish, with a multiplicity of congas and a curiously empty sound, then relapses into a more predictable Harum sound. I donít see many people being killed in the rush to buy it, but it could sell a few more copies of the Grand Hotel album.


NME, May 5, 1973:

Front page headlines:

PAUL SIMON DATES (big pic and story)

Nationwide Traffic tour

NME Top 5:
1 (1) Tie A Yellow Ribbon, Dawn
2 (2) Hello! Hello! Iím Back Again, Gary Glitter
3 (3) Get Down, Gilbert OíSullivan
4 (5) Drive-In Saturday, David Bowie
5 (4) Iím A Clown / Some Kind Of A Summer, David Cassidy

British Albums:
1 (6) Aladdin Sane, David Bowie
2 (1) Ooh La La, The Faces
3 (3) Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper
4 (2) Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin
5 (5) Dark Side Of The Moon, Pink Floyd

U.S. Albums (Cash Box):
1 (3) Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin
2 (5) The Best Of Bread, Bread
3 (1) Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, Elvis Presley
4 (12) 1962-1966, The Beatles
5 (4) Billion Dollar Babies, Alice Cooper
17 (23) Grand Hotel, Procol Harum

This is AMERICA
Procols pack íem in/Slade knockíem out Ö
Linda Solomon, New York

(excerpt)
Procol Harum transported much of their decadently delightful Grand Hotel to the Felt Forum, and offered a packed house the best performance by the group in the last couple of years.

Mick Grabham was still brand new with the group when they played the Academy on their last tour, and was then not too familiar with their material.

Now, heís into wailing Trower-like bluesy riffs with guts, and theyíre letting him solo more often. Heís really quite amazing when he cuts loose.

They opened with Conquistador from their first album, their first big orchestrated hit. Bringing Home The Bacon followed, sounding much better live than with the extraneous orchestrated extras on Grand Hotel.

For Liquorice John, a heavy number with depressing overtones, put the audience into a sombre mood, but The Devil From Kansas City [sic], from Salty Dog, was a quasi-religious song which brought the house back up.

Robin Trowerís song, Too Much Between Us, also from Salty Dog, was turned into a paramilitary waltz [sic!], with Gary Brooker taking the vocal lead. (Trowerís long awaited solo album, Twice Removed From Yesterday, has just been released here on Chrysalis, and itís a real R'n'B killer).

The title cut from Grand Hotel had all the sybarites in the audience cheering the sensual opening line, "Tonight we sleep on silken sheets Ö" Behind us, some smartass noted "All we need now is Joan Crawford and Betty Davis, and weíve got it made Ė our own home movies."

Then, as Procol went briefly into a tango, he yelled "Go, Rudolph!" (as in Valentino).

Drummer Barrie Wilson, who rarely solos, did work up one hearty solo on Power Failure, and it was worth the listening, as his licks are loaded with colour and textures Ö.

(Rest of the article concerns itself with opening-act John David Souther. The audience giving him a hard time, finding him too soft, yelling "Rockíníroll!" and "Boogie!" while he tries to push his songs through on acoustic guitar. In the end he gets away with a brilliant one-liner: Youíve got the advantage over me Ė Iíve been doing this for a couple of years, but you have probably been assholes all your lives.)

Main single reviews by Charles Shaar Murray:
Can The Can, Suzi Quatro
Stuck In The Middle, Stealers Wheel
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life, Stevie Wonder
Rabdolphís Tango, Thin Lizzy
Death Of Samantha, Yoko Ono
Sad Day, The Rolling Stones

Main album reviews:
1962-1966, The Beatles
1967-1970, The Beatles
Catch A Fire, The Wailers
The New Age, Canned Heat
Live, Uriah Heep
Twice Removed From Yesterday, Robin Trower (first line of the review: "Robin Trower does the best Jimi Hendrix imitation Iíve ever heard", and the last: "Please donít let Robin Trower pass you by unheard." Signed Charles Shaar Murray.)


NME, May 12, 1973:
U.S. Albums
(Cash Box):
1 (1) Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin
2 (2) The Best Of Bread, Bread
3 (4) 1962-1966, The Beatles
4 (3) Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite, Elvis Presley
5 (6) They Only Come Out At Night, Edgar Winter Group
13 (17) Grand Hotel, Procol Harum


NME, May 19, 1973:
U.S. Albums
(Cash Box):
1 (3) 1962-1966, The Beatles
2 (1) Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin
3 (5) They Only Come Out At Night, Edgar Winter Group
4 (6) 1967-1970, The Beatles
5 (2) The Best Of Bread, Bread
12 (13) Grand Hotel, Procol Harum


NME, May 26, 1973:
U.S. Albums
(Cash Box):
1 (1) 1962-1966, The Beatles
2 (3) They Only Come Out At Night, Edgar Winter Group
3 (2) Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin
4 (4) 1967-1970, The Beatles
5 (5) The Best Of Bread, Bread
12 (12) Grand Hotel, Procol Harum


NME, June 2, 1973:
U.S. Albums
(Cash Box):
1 (2) They Only Come Out At Night, Edgar Winter Group
2 (4) 1967-1970, The Beatles
3 (3) Houses Of The Holy, Led Zeppelin
4 (1) 1962-1966, The Beatles
5 (16) Red Rose Speedway, Paul McCartney & Wings
19. (12) Grand Hotel, Procol Harum

Yan's comments:
And this then, was the last week ever that Procol Harum figured in any of the American or British Top 30 album charts. As Red Rose Speedway moved to the No.1 spot on June 9, 1973, Procol Harum slip-slided out of the Top 30 Ė never to be heard of again.

They would return for a brief moment in the British Top 20 in 1975, but apart from that the summer of 1973 was the beginning of the end.

It is a great mystery to me that Grand Hotel didnít make it in Britain. The album got splendid reviews, the group timed their tour perfectly with the release, they got even more splendid reviews during the tour, and the record company used a lot of cash and space advertising the band, the album and the tour.

The end result was nothing short of commercial catastrophe.

They would soon hit the harder times in the U.S. as well.

So, as you all can see, punk rock is no explanation for the fall of Procol Harum. It all started during the glam rock period (and that peculiar Beatles come-back). Their audience was ready to leave. No matter how magnificent the next album would be, 1973 was the year that the curtains fell. 


The Mammoth Task: Yan's extracts from the first 52 weeks of Procol press in the NME

Swimming Against the Tide: Yan's extracts from the remaining ten years of Procol press in the NME


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