Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum Back Home

Gary Legon in Rock, 11 January 1971

Marvin Chassman sends BtP this extract from the 11 January 1971 issue of Rock. It's worth noting that, depite the credit to Gary Legon, there are several paragraphs in the article that are exactly the same as the Circus 7 / 70 (Band of Changes).

Four summers ago, one of those smash singles made its way to the top of both a soul and a top 40 station in New York, meaning it was solid in the hearts of all the people (all people, with no classification). Not many groups, or artists, have managed such a doubleheader ... the Righteous Brothers, the Rascals and even the Stones. To hit big in both the soul/Motown and psychedelic/hip markets with a single release was no mean feat. Ergo, A Whiter Shade of Pale ... but who was Procol Harum?

At first there was speculation that there was no Procol Harum, that some very strange poet had come to a publisher with the song, wanted it recorded and hired some studio musicians. At the time, it was true, there was no group [sic]; the song came long before the band. The truth was that it took Keith Reid a year and a half before he got it in on tape. And when he did, it was an instant worldwide hit although virtually no one had any idea of what the lyrics meant.

Things actually got started when Keith was introduced to Gary Brooker by a mutual friend who said, "This is Keith, he writes words," and then "this is Gary, he doesn't write words." Then they picked up the now departed Fisher who at the time was a classical organ student at the Royal Guildhall School. There the nucleus was formed, and they rounded up Ray Royer to play guitar and Bobby Harrison to play drums (both of whom were gone by the time the first album was to be recorded), and went into the studio with producer Denny Cordell to record A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Their name, which translated very loosely from the Latin could be taken to mean "do your own thing," was taken from a cat a Burmese blue cat which belonged to a friend of Keith's. Brooker still claims the cat has "magical properties, is uncanny, and no one has ever been able to take its picture." [picture here]

Procol Harum, the group's first album, was hailed universally as being highly inventive and original although some of the songs sounded too similar to A Whiter Shade of Pale.

The second record, Shine On Brightly, was released more than a year after the first. In the time between, they had a chance to tour and listen to what other groups were doing, and responded with a heavier, more convincing statement of their own identity.

The first song was Quite Rightly So, and it immediately suggested something a bit different in the wind. It began with an organ theme in a slightly varying rhythm which faded into a statement of the song's theme [sic], still by organ alone, and then the sudden appearance of the rest of the group at the end of the passage.

Here was a subtle difference already, for the songs on the first album were more simple. They began at a definite harmonic point and worked to a slight climax at the end. The approach on the second album was more theatrical.

A Salty Dog demonstrated a new-found adroitness at songwriting. The title tune was backed by a full orchestra, for which Matthew Fisher [sic] wrote and arranged the music. It was different from what they'd done before, but completely honest, completely Procol Harum.

Now Procol Harum are at a turning point. Their last album, Home, was a transition work, including songs cut from the Salty Dog mold (Whaling Stories) with a harder type (Whisky Train). Matthew Fisher left the group and bassist David Knights has been replaced by Chris Copping. If you had a chance to see them on their last tour, you already know that the orchestrated effect created by the piano/organ interplay (Chris doubles on organ) has been replaced by more rock, reminiscent of the early days of the group [sic].

A few days before their return to England to finish their next album, I brought up the point about their change. Gary Brooker explained that the main difference had nothing to do with Matthew but with David Knights and Chris. "David was not so capable of just plunking through something which maybe he'd never played before. Somebody would say, 'Let's play Good Golly Miss Molly, and Dave couldn't do it. Matthew could have and Chris can. The main point about it is that the majority of our songs ... you wouldn't jump up in the air. There's a few foot tappers, so now we play a few rock numbers at the end and give everybody a chance to scream and yell, including ourselves." Chris told me he was an old Rocker anyway.

Robin explained to me that with the group cutting down, everyone had developed stronger playing styles, in keeping with the group's preference for a big sound. At this point I realized how ... [lacuna in text at this point] ... still another and then finished up by whomever was left. I now credit all comments to the group, leaving out individual distinctions. The only one not present was the enigmatic Keith Reid. In his absence the group finally laid to rest the rumor that Keith might ever perform with them the answer is no. He still travels with them everywhere "He can't live without us. In a way we're his whole world."

On other people's music, the group was in unison knocked out by the new Dylan album and still favours the group whose style they've been most linked to (especially on tunes like The Devil Came From Kansas and Wish Me Well) The Band {see here too}. Actually these tunes were released long before the Band's first album [sic]. It was very much the same with the idea of a Rock opera. In Held T'was [sic] In I on the Shine On Brightly album was actually the first extended concept piece, later followed [sic] by A Salty Dog and the Who's Tommy.

The group went on to tell me about a concert they had played with an orchestra at the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Ontario. They performed In Held 'Twas In I and A Salty Dog, but for some reason it was a little-known event. Not long after, groups like Deep Purple and the Nice became known for doing clever pieces of classical music with some maniac organist or someone crashing in playing a bunch of noise. Robin put it all in the proper perspective when he said, "I mean it really doesn't matter when we did our thing or if everyone heard it if the people who heard it dug it, then it's still alive in their memories."

I believe they mean it.

Thanks, Marvin, for finding, transcribing and commenting

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