Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

Procol Harum : what I'd have liked to print

Franc Gavin on his piece in Performance, May 1977

Before you read Franc's fascinating account below – which deals with the state of the music trade papers in the late 1970s, and how Procol were really feeling during the final gigs of the Old Testament – read what the publishers of Performance actually printed from him in May 1977. There's a significant discrepancy!

The truth is (writes Franc Gavin to BtP, March 2006) I was racking my brain [here] to say something nice [about Procol's show] because with a trade like Performance that was all you were allowed to say – I did tell Reid that the lyrics to Still There'll Be More were a vade mecum for us when we were in high school. He laughed and said that we "... must have been very naughty boys."

It might have been nice to use some of those words but, like I said, trade publications weren't given to that – and now consumer books, what few there are these days, aren't even given to that. Which may be why there are fewer trades. Who needs them when it's all about advertising in any case? In truth Procol's two sets that night were quite lackluster. Nice picture though. We took that inside the courtyard of Warner Bros. records. And there was nothing ironic about them breaking up right after that – Reid and Brooker both told me that they were going their separate ways. But the magazine decided against that going into the article.

Front cover ... a rare shot of the Dee Murray line-up of the bandBrooker was in a pretty pissy mood and Reid was drunker than shit and the rest of the band were stoned out of their minds. They were in fact all quite bored. Bored with that tour, bored with the venues, bored with the late-70s overblown production of the material on Something Magic, and bored with life. The overall impression was they just wanted to get through and get out. A sentiment, albeit perceived, which I heartily shared by the end of the evening.

The music business in late 70s had reached an almost absolute and unwitting zero, and as usual in all of their dead certainty that they had at last found the perfect and endlessly lucrative formula, they were not prepared for the financial dropout that coincided with the sudden decline in sales of almost all of their major acts. Market saturation of arena rock acts, the signing of acts that sounded just like existing arena rock acts, and the almost absolute control that major labels exerted over the distribution of music, both in stores and on radio, had resulted in three things – complete fiscal irresponsibility and utter boredom (see above). And disco. By 1979 the bulk of most new releases, mainstream and otherwise, dιbuted in the promo bins of record stores. Someone said that the state of bands like PH at the Something Magic point was the reason punk had to happen. I think that the state of bands like PH and others at this time was an index of why just plain mud-bad albums like Something Magic saw the light of day. Bands like Procol, Family et al were being compressed to two dimensions under the crushing weight of a business that wanted to continually tweak the elements of the 60s into a seamless, virtually featureless and in their minds commercially irresistible product. Punk, looming just beyond the periphery, was the blow out. Where all the compression finally exceeded the capacity of the container.

Regarding trade publications and music journalism in general from that period. There were three major music trade publications from that period ­ Billboard, Cashbox and Record World. All three looked remarkably similar: large format saddle-stitched weeklies with enough room on their huge pages for double-truck vanity ads guaranteed to satisfy the most monstrous of egos. Most of the content was in fact edited or only slightly rewritten press releases. The rest consisted of industry profiles, the odd but always positive review, lists of current releases and best sellers. In other words much like Billboard (the only remaining of the three) still is today. Bracketing those stood Variety, at the high end, and the Hollywood Reporter, at the low end. But neither of those exclusively reported on the music industry – music in fact took a back seat in both publications to the movie business. There were of course a few major consumer rags like Rolling Stone, Creem, and Crawdaddy! – plus numerous smaller operations, free weekly giveaways and other minor trades like Performance – whose niche was in the booking and management market. Its pages were devoted primarily to tour listings, booking agencies and venues.

Up until that time the Los Angeles basin was rife with music journalists. It had been (with some diligence) possible to make a modest living as a freelance writer. Unless of course somebody in publicity, marketing or A&R took notice of you – which of course was most people's dream, i.e. to sell out. Of course to sell out there has to be somebody who is interested in buying and at that time nobody in the record industry was building an empire. They were desperately trying to hang on to what they had. Basically anybody with a maverick reputation had it tough from that point on – this is when any semblance of critical thinking in this business, nascent as it, was really started its long slow death. Those inside the industry either got in line or got the axe – the writers either went to work for dailies, got into trades – for a while, doomed as well, since as I said earlier who needed more than one – or moved on.

Don't get me wrong:­ the industry was, as the industry will always be, full of hacks. And surrounded by them as well. To enjoy longevity in that business is to produce, consciously or unknowingly, the hackneyed. But there was a contingency of perhaps less than ten per cent who were interested in the shock of the new, who kept trying to promote critical thinking. Not that they could always afford to exercise those muscles and maintain that modest income through their writing. But there were, at that time, always a few opportunities. Publicists hated them with a passion: even when their pieces were of a positive nature, they were still difficult to quote. Sometime between 1977–82 this went away. Not unexpected in a business where everyone is in a dead-heat race to be second. And after the 70s the record industry to this day has never got over its need to turn everything it encounters back into that entropic surface – smooth, polished and utterly dead. In its ever-vigilant attempts to avoid anything that it perceives as its possible demise, it always, always heads straight for it.

And at last, nearly thirty years after that last Procol gig in Anaheim, it appears to be achieving that long desire.

1977 tour dates

The published article that this piece refers to

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home