Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Keith Reid talks to Tony Norman about Home

Music Now, 13 June 1970

Keith Reid is a member of Procol Harum, in fact he was the founder member with Gary Brooker. He is in every publicity photograph. His name has appeared on every record. He travels everywhere with the band. He goes to every gig. He is an active member of the band. But, he has only played on a handful of gigs. You don't often see him on stage with the other guys.

Keith plays the part of a Roving Lyricist. He writes the words, Gary writes the music. But, he is more than just a fringe member. He is totally committed to what the band are doing, how they are progressing. He is a vital part of the team.

Procol Harum have just left for an eight-week tour of the States, leaving behind them their fourth album, Home. Keith and I talked about such things as we sat sipping wine in a relaxing atmosphere of a glorious Wine Lodge in Baker Street on [sic] sunny afternoon last week. The wind, oak beams and yellow sunlight were conducive to pleasant conversation. It seemed that the grueling slog of an American tour didn't entirely appeal to Keith.

'When you are working over there you often have to drive long distances. People think you make a fortune, but that's just not true. we manage to break even - we might make a thousand dollars each or something. If you fly everywhere it can cost a fortune, especially with all the equipment, so you have to travel by road. It's the only way you can hope to make money unless you are fantastically successful. There are only a few bands like Led Zeppelin who have really done well financially over there.

'At times you feel like a suitcase. You spend your time playing, and getting into the car and being taken somewhere else to do another show. There's nothing natural about the life. You are just like a piece of baggage being moved from place to place. Our road manager was telling us about a group who had an amusing idea. It was to get some coffins which they would lie in during all the travelling. When they got to the gig they would be lifted out to play and as soon as they had finished the set they would climb back into the coffins and be carried to the next venue. They must have felt the same - like they were a piece of freight or something. Maybe you could go to the Post Office and get them to stamp you and put you in a sack and send you off to all the gigs!

'The problem is that the kind of life you lead on the road does nothing to stimulate the band. It is preferable to travel by day - if you move around at night you can't even look out of the windows. The drag of touring puts pressure on the band in as much as you have got to play well, when you don't really feel like it. We get up early in the morning, drive for eight hours and then have to get on stage. You really have to make an effort to get into the music.

'We have done eight tours over there. Although so much of the time spent travelling, you still get the chance to get a pretty accurate idea of what's going on. You can take from a tour what you want - it's really what you make it for yourself. I mean you could just sit in your hotel room and never go out and meet the people. But, you would have to be very insensitive not to get something out of a tour.

In America everything is taken to the nth degree, that applies to the band [sic] and the good things. I feel most at ease in San Francisco. It's one of the nicest places I've been in. When we work in New York, which I really dislike as a city, we stay out in Woodstock which is also nice. The thing is that when you meet a good person in the States you know that they are the best possible sort you could ever meet. They have faced all the general pressure and still come out as the kind you are proud to call friends.

'Talking of Woodstock, we were asked to do the Festival last year. It was at the end of the tour and we couldn't make it because Rob Trower's an wife was expecting a baby and he wanted to get back. I've heard since it was a bit of a nightmare to work at, there were a few problems backstage. The point was that it was a festival of people, it was a communal experience.

'Woodstock was a success, but there've been bad festivals as well. Shady promoters have seen that money can be made. We did one at Palm Beach [possibly Palm Springs ?] which was held at a drive-in movie place on pebbles. It was really bad there were fights and bloodshed. The problem was that the shopkeepers wouldn't let the kids into their shops, or if they did they put the prices up. One went into a gas station to get some petrol and the owner shot him. Things like sanitation and food supplies have to be well-organised. In many cases thousands have been exploited by irresponsible promoters.

'As long as festivals are well planned, they are one of the best forms of holding a concert. If things are running smoothly people are in the best possible frame of mind to enjoy music. The only way to control the promoters, to make sure that only guys who are prepared to put a lot of work into organising a festival are allowed to hold them, is for the group managers to make sure their bands don't play unless things are right. The bad promoters shouldn't get support. Without good bands the promoters won't get a big crowd.'

We turned to the new album.

Keith: 'Chris Copping, our new member who plays bass guitar and organ, has given the sound more drive. I think people who know the other albums will see how we have gradually been changing, how the sound has evolved. I was disappointed that the last album, Salty Dog, didn't do better. I think the title track could have done much better, when we released it as a single, if it had been given better support by Radio One. People who come to our gigs regard it as one of the best songs we've ever recorded. I think it was definitely as good as Whiter Shade of Pale.'

I asked if he got sick of people comparing everything they do with that first beautiful monster Whiter Shade of Pale.

Keith: 'No not really because we've got it in perspective. We know we have done a lot of good things since that record. It does get frustrating at times, but to the people who go out and buy our albums, Whiter Shade of Pale is just one of the songs we have done. We have released four albums now since that was a hit. The most difficult thing for us to do is to reach a wider audience. Those who like the band don't expect us to sound the same now, but I know a lot of people do still associate us with that one record. That is something we hope to put right. We may be releasing a new single from the album. We will take a consensus of opinion. Personally I find it very difficult to find which track the radio producers would consider suitable material.'

If the band hadn't found an enthusiastic audience in the States, and had been faced with that 'Whiter Shade' hang-up in England, did he think the band could have lasted?

Keith: 'Well, America did help a lot because we got off as a band there, rather than a group with a particular record. Now we want to make people everywhere aware of the music. We don't want to just concentrate on America. Even if we hadn't made it there I know we would have stuck together. It would be very difficult to find the kind of working relationship we share in this band anywhere else. We have stayed together because we feel strongly about staying together.'

The new album Home is the latest stage in the development of Keith and Gary Brooker as a songwriting team, and Procol Harum as a band. Keith feels it has more drive than anything they have done before. Chris Copping's bass-playing has added a new dimension to the music.

Here's a brief track-by-track review .

Side One
Whisky Train:
Very funky with fuzzy guitar riff running through. Lyrics are somewhat obscured by the music with a lot of heavy work going into the drums. Lot of Blues / Rock feel to this with nice lift. Repetitive but lively. A fair opener.

The Dead Man's Dream:
Lyrics tell of the dream, or rather nightmare, a guy has just before he dies. He sees empty streets, and then a graveyard with open graves. The corpses lie rotting. All thought-provoking. The mood is obviously very heavy with Brooker's piano coming through strongly in the instrumental. A strong number.

Still There'll Be More:
Once again the lyrics are dark. Basically the guy is telling of all the nasty things he's going to do, but still there'll be more! The general feel however is bright, the whole thing chugging along merrily. Some nice guitar work filters through. Very interesting this one.

Nothing I Didn't Know [sic]:
This is about a chick who died very young and the guy didn't help prevent it, although there was nothing he didn't know about her problems. The tempo drops after the fire of the previous track. Acoustic guitar gives it a folk feel before the song builds. Very plaintive number with a organ used to excellent effect.

About to Die:
Back to the funkier feel in this one. This, like the first track, was composed by guitarist Robin Trower. Keith added the words. Gary takes a jazzy piano break while the rest of the band thrash through the heavy chord sequence. Very predictable and fails to make too much impact on first hearing except for the piano.

Side Two
Barnyard Story:
Gary Brooker doing his moody thing. Vocal is typical of his more subdued style and his piano dominates the instrumental. Organ can be heard whispering away in the background. Another slightly morose lyric, but it is definitely a good song. Probably one of the best on the album in the melody.

Piggy Pig Pig:
Tempo lifts with instrumental chugging along behind the vocal. The lyrics are yet again far from comical with lines like, 'the streets awash with blood and pus'. There is a long, whining guitar break which I enjoyed and there is a lot of rhythm in the band as they move through this lengthy track. You even get a few genuine pig grunts for your money.

Whaling Stories:
Another of the slower things with Brooker's voice and piano dominating. Happily some subtle guitar work gives this track something different. Gradually the instrumental builds in power. This one is quite an epic in fact containing four, long and intricate verses. Hard to get into on first hearing it goes through so many phases. From the simple piano at the beginning the whole thing gets more and more dramatic and musically complete. Very fine production on this complex track.

Your own Choice:
After the complexity and Hollywood music score-type drama of the last track this one is much lighter. The lyrics are amusing like, 'My dog's a good old dog, my old man's a silly old sod.' It all cruises along quite smoothly. It's quite jaunty stuff in fact, after what has gone before, especially if you listened to the lyrics. A light close to a demanding album.

{BtP has rectified some paste-up errors that introduced discontinuities and non-sequiturs into the original published article]

(Thanks, Phil Skerratt, for lending your Procol scrapbook to BtP)

More Procol History in print at BtP 




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