Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum Live at the BBC

Shawn Perry in The Classic Eye

I've always felt that Procol Harum were one of the more misunderstood bands of their era. And yet, even John Lennon has been quoted as saying that A Whiter Shade Of Pale was one of his favorite songs. Unfortunately, the band went through more than enough personnel shakedowns to unravel their momentum. Their music became somewhat ominous, while the orchestral-ladened [sic] Conquistador became a very odd hit at the time. On this latest collection of BBC recordings from 1974 -- efficiently entitled BBC Live In Concert -- Conquistador is stripped of its luster, and the result is pure-driven Procol Harum like you've never heard before. 

Yes, the production is rough in parts, but the performances shine on brightly. Bolstered by a latter day line-up, Procol Harum issued a stirring album of originals called Exotic Birds & Fruit. Along side obligatory readings of Bringing Home The Bacon and Simple Sister, featuring the guitar dabblings of Mick Grabham, are vintage Procol-like epics such as New Lamps For Old and As Strong As Samson -- both from the new record. Gary Brooker has never sounded more assured in his singing or piano playing. The late and great octopus, Barrie Wilson pounds out a beat steadily and cordially. Matching the solid Hammond organ work of original organist Matthew Fisher, Chris Copping seamlessly weaves his parts within the structure of each tune. Meanwhile, bassist Alan Cartwright holds down the bottom end and sets thing in motion.

It's hard to deny the power of a great hook, and Procol Harum's music is full of them. Somehow, John Peel and his BBC crew enabled the band get to the core of the songs and reveal the spiral arrangements in their most pristine state. The Idol, a stoic rambling from the pen of Keith Reid, builds on blocks that Procol like to underscore their symphonic elegance on. Brooker then falls into Grand Hotel, the title track from Procol's 1973 album, without the strings and choir. Brooker plucks at his piano while the band merrily follows him through each segment of the song. It's a rather stirring piece that reverberates with light resonance. Butterfly Boys is a rave-up aimed at the record industry, showing a kind of rowdiness reserved for such gems as Whisky Train. The same kind of buoyancy follows with Nothing But The Truth, a single from Exotic Birds & Fruit that apparently drew praises from Elton John.

Still, it would have been nice if Procol Harum could have dipped a little deeper into their songbook and pulled out something like The Devil Came From Kansas. Maybe they'll do it in September during their reunion.

Rating 4.5 Gold CDs out of 5

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Procol Harum: BBC Live in Concert

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