Procol Harum

the Pale

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20th Century Rock and Roll: Progressive Rock

Procol Harum entry by Jerry Lucky

Chapter 39 of this interesting volume (published in 2000): click the image to buy it.

The roots of Procol Harum begin in the early 60s with a group called the Paramounts consisting of Gary Brooker (keyboards), Chris Copping (bass), BJ Wilson (drums) and Robin Trower (guitar). The Paramounts were a basic R&B group, but Brooker aspired to something greater and was writing more adventurous material on the side. Choosing to leave the Paramounts, Brooker joined up with Keith Reid to add lyrics to his music. At the same time he took out an ad in the music papers and finally created Procol Harum apparently [sic] named after Reidís cat, consisting of himself, Reid, Bobby Harrison (drums), Ray Rowyer [sic] (guitar), Mathew [sic] Fisher (keyboards)and David Knights (bass). This was the lineup responsible for Procol Harumís first single, a number one hit, A Whiter Shade of Pale and a self-titled album.


Internal friction over credits [sic] left the band without a guitarist or drummer. Undaunted, Brooker called upon Trower and Wilson from the Paramounts to join. Thus constituted they returned to the studio. Having had little luck [sic] with a follow-up single, they concentrated on recording a more experimental album and thus was born Shine on Brightly in 1968. It contained the bandís first prog epic, the 18 minute In Held íTwas In I, a multi-sectional symphonic [?] prog composition featuring a plethora of influences and an overriding plaintive tone due in part to Brookerís unique vocal style.


In 1969 they followed up with A Salty Dog. No epics this time, just ten compositions featuring a blend of the classics, lush orchestration, sound effects, a hint of their original R&B roots and the amazing story telling from the pen of Keith Reid. The title track became a signature tune for the band overnight. The album did better in America than Britain, where the band was still regarded as a one-hit wonder. Following this release both Fisher and Knights left to be replaced by another ex Paramount-er Chris Copping. The Foursome, with Reid on the side for lyrics but fully credited on the albums, then recorded Home in 1970 and Broken Barricades in 1971. Here the material featured a more aggressive guitar sound, with compositions at times stretching to over seven minutes, but mostly in the five-plus range, which was still considered quite long for the time. But it still wasnít enough for Trower who left to form his own group. The band then recruited Dave Ball (guitar) and Alan Cartwright (bass). In late 1971 Procol Harum travelled to Canada to perform with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The resulting live album was hugely successful and sold millions producing a top 20 hit with Conquistador. Even the critics hailed it a masterpiece. It all took the band by surprise. They postponed plans to record a new studio album and quickly arranged a massive North American tour to take advantage of their sudden popularity.


It was 1973 by the time they completed their next studio offering, Grand Hotel, on which Dave Ball was replaces by Mick Grabham (guitar). They also produced Exotic Birds and Fruit in 1974 with the same line-up. In an attempt to inject some external success for the 1975 release Procolís Ninth, the band worked with noted pop producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, even going so far as to record one of their songs. Typically, no single made any impact on the charts [sic].


After a two year [sic] break Procol Harum returned to the recording scene. By this time Alan Cartwright had left, so Chris Copping moved back onto bass and newcomer Pete Solley took up the keyboards. Their final album of the 70s proved to be an attempt at former glories and was perhaps their best to date, successfully blending all the elements which made Procol Harum unique. Something Magic contained wonderful shorter songs like the title track, the classically oriented Skating on Thin Ice, the starkly aggressive and mysterious Mark of the Claw, and even another 18 minute epic, The Worm and the Tree. Unfortunately it was not a sign of things to come.


It had been ten years since Procol Harum had come on to the music scene and they decided to call it a day. Gary Broker went off on a solo career while other members took of to other ventures. After three albums of interesting solo material Gary Brooker and Mathew [sic] Fisher got together and explored the possibility of creating another Procol Harum album. They [sic] enlisted Robin Trower once again and a number of session players and produced the 1991 Prodigal Stranger with Keith Reid, as always, handling the words. While a fine releasewhen compared with Brookerís solo efforts, it failed to live up to expectations and the glories of the past.


The music of Procol Harum, even the rockier pieces, tended to have an air of the classics to it. The music was always dramatic, dynamic and very much larger than life. Even in many of the shorter tracks there is suspense created, in large part, by the wonderful lyrics crafted by Reid. His choice of subject matter, whether it be the swashbuckling salty seas of A Salty Dog, the comic tale of a sexually transmitted disease in Souvenir of London or the philosophical epics of the Worm, managed to successfully capture the many moods of progressive rock.

Thanks, Peter, for the typing