Procol Harum

the Pale 

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So who loves Procol Harum ?

Tony Stewart ... 1973

Who loves Procol Harum? Not England, it seems. Apart from a tough faction of loyal devotees, this isle has said cheerio boys.

Even further insults: a lot of people incredulously refuse to believe that the band still exist!

Gary Brooker, considering Procol's stature in Britain as he sips coffee and brandy at the Midland Hotel, Birmingham, states quite unemotionally: "Here, people's main interests are the Daily Mirror and a pint of beer."

We do ...

But he expands further on that brutal all-embracing statement: "The trouble with audiences here is that they just don't get up and go. Kids in a lot of other countries are just kids wild kids. Music is like really the main thing; going to concerts, buying records, running around jumping."

He groans.

Brooker is accepting facts and offering a thread of reasoning, but certainly not complaining. There are two arguments to the case. It's been a long time since Broken Barricades, their last studio set - which was not received too enthusiastically. And of course there was another lapse between Live At Edmonton and the single, Conquistador, breaking.

When asked if the latest set, Grand Hotel, should rectify the situation, Brooker is understandably non-committal.

I have no faith in the record-buying public here at all," he says. "What you're asking about Grand Hotel is what we've been asking since Salty Dog. We thought that was going to mean something here, and it went on from there Home, Broken Barricades, Edmonton even. We couldn't get off the ground here. So I don't know what to prophesy for the new one."

Brooker points out that despite the fact that they're an old-established band they don't automatically get much radio exposure - certainly not the quantity the Stones would.

Then, coincidentally, up come Grand Hotel on BBC radio, and we hear the opinions of Anne Nightingale and Alan Black, who both deserve a kick for non-constructive comments on this occasion.

"It's the best thing they've done," claims Black. "They'll never top it ... that's their Sgt. Pepper."

Pretty Anne has her crystal ball: "I think it's going to do incredibly well. It's got that highly successful feel about it. Whatever else." And I wondered whether she was sampling Marks and Sparks latest woollies.

"That," responds Brooker on Black's comments, "has never entered my mind at all. I don't see how anybody can hear an LP for the first time and say it's the best thing somebody's going to do."

"There was a lot of work in Grand Hotel, but it wasn't a completely exhausting thing to make. A lot was put into it, but it isn't the only thing we have to say."

Brooker tells me that the album is a progression in their recordings - "technically".

But more significant is that it's structured totally on the writing of the pianist and Keith Reid. These two have always been the core of the band, but previously there's frequen1y been the contrast of the other members' material.

"Actually,'" explains Gary, "this is our first album where the material has all been mine and Keith's, and in that way it has continuity.

"It doesn't go off at tangents. In the past Robin (Trower), for example, may have written a song which was very different from what I wrote.

"So from a continuity point of view the new album is good, yeah. So far, from people's remarks, it seems to be the first one we've done which hasn't one or two songs which don't quite come together for some reason or another, or some recording faults and so on.

"And that's I what any group's working for ... trying to make the best album that's ever been. It might not make it - there's not much chance of it - but that's what you're striving to do."

At the same time, though, the new direction has brought the composing duo of Brooker and Reid out into a more conspicuous position, and, some would have it, a dictorial [sic] position - making Procol more dependant [sic] on them.

Brooker agrees: "Well, it always has been that way. It wasn't dependant [sic] - and he stresses the word with distaste - "on Robin or Matthew (Fisher) writing a song in the past, in that if they didn't the group would stop playing. And, say on Shine On Brightly, if Robin or Matthew hadn't written the song then I would have had songs to put in.

"But there was never a comparison. I never said 'All right we want ten songs for the album, I've got 10, and if Robin said he'd got three and Matthew said he'd two, we'll play through them and see which ones come out well". We never did that.

"It's more a case of albums coming together after a few months of playing on the road. Keith might have some sets of words ... and he might give one to Rob, one to Matthew, which work in a way. After a few months I might have finished four songs, and Rob's done his couple . . . so we start playing those.

"When it comes to making the album, there you are we've got seven or eight numbers. If we need one or two more then I write one or two more ..."

Is it as mechanical as that?

Ah, a rare sight, Brooker smiles: "No, it's not like that. It's not a case of saying 'Oh, I'm just popping home to write a song.' Often by not being ready with material, we've had to delay things for so many months, until we did have something."

But the apparent inference of Brooker's remarks is he has a concept for the group. If you take Edmonton and Hotel as a guide line, then Barricades must have moved away from that. And there are some other pointers to consider, such as the way Mick Grabham was not only selected for his ability but for his style which is not too far removed from the sound and style Trower established in the band.

Brooker just says: "The fullest enjoyment for us in Procol Harum's music is when we're using all five instruments plus the singing. And I think it's the same for the people who listen.

"On Broken Barricades we didn't use the organ.' We didn't just not put it in we'd got used to playing without it, and that was the result. So we certainly didn't have a concept there."

And it is consequential that Hotel, as Brooker admits, is closer to their own ideas of what Procol should represent.

"It is, yes". Then Brooker qualifies the statement. "But that's not having any picture of the group in mind. It's just a case of playing the songs well together, and getting a good recording."

Already there are glad tidings. A number of informed people believe the album will sell in Britain especially following the good returns for the Edmonton collection.

Skip back a little, and you'll read Miss Nightingale's comments, which are representative of the critical reaction to the album. Honey, it's the one ...

Brooker is cool: "I think the determination of the group is transposed onto the record, and into the songs and playing. And it seems other people feel that."

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

More Procol History in print at BtP 




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