Procol Harum

the Pale

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30th Anniversary Anthology review reviewed

Joan May in Goldmine Magazine 461, 2 Jan 1998

 The following letter was published in Goldmine #461, 27 March 1998, under an editorial title:

 A whiter shade of clarifications

Thanks to Brad Bradberry for his very positive review of Procol Harum's 30th Anniversary Anthology (Goldmine #455 and #459). [The 3-CD set consists of the band's first 4 albums (mostly on Discs #1& 2) plus a 3rd Disc of A- and B- sides and alternate takes, including two alternates of A Whiter Shade of Pale and two "Homburg Variations."] I especially appreciate your re-running that review in its entirety in your 2 / 27 issue, after a shorter version was printed in January.

A few clarifications: In discussing the words to A Whiter Shade of Pale, Bradberry stated: 'Reid said once that the lyrics were mostly non-sequiturs to fit Brooker's music.' I agree about the non-sequiturs, but not the sequence of events. My studies of Procol lore tell me that Keith Reid wrote the lyrics first, then Gary Brooker wrote the vocal melody, after which Matthew Fisher (not Bach) created the Crowning Glory, the organ melody. The absence of a Matthew Fisher co-composer credit for A Whiter Shade of Pale is one of the most tragic oversights in Rock, and one I hope will soon be corrected.

Bradberry mentioned that the song Shine On Brightly contained '... more of Reid's bizarre wording {'My Prussian blue electric clocks \ no longer rings it will not stop'}.' Well, the words weren't as bizarre as they seemed because Brad heard them wrong! In fact I misheard those lyrics the same way he did for almost 30 years until I learned the truth online at the premier Procol Harum website:

The correct lyrics are: 'My Prussian blue electric clock's \ Alarm bell rings it will not stop'. The mistaken version is self-contradictory, like 'we've run afloat' in A Salty Dog, but this time Keith Reid didn't intend a contradiction; Gary Brooker just needed to enunciate a bit more!

It was unclear whether Bradberry was aware that Keith Reid did one of the spoken word sections of In Held 'Twas In I.

I appreciated Bradberry's high praise for the music composed and sung by Matthew Fisher, ie In the Autumn of My Madness, Pilgrim's Progress, Wreck of the Hesperus, and for his classic instrumental Repent Walpurgis.

As Keith Reid mentioned in the liner notes to a recent reissue of Shine On Brightly, Fisher is the sole composer of the beautiful Grand Finale of In Held 'Twas In I. Fisher did three vocals (not two) on the A Salty Dog album the second and third songs I named above plus Boredom.

In live performance in the 90s, Procol reworked Boredom into a reggae beat, rendering it a more interesting and memorable song than it was on the album, though sadly Fisher didn't do the singing. Incidentally, Fisher is also the brilliant pianist on Grand Finale and Wreck of the Hesperus.

I loved Bradberry's perfectly articulated characterization of the late great BJ Wilson as 'arguably the best finesse drummer in rock.' Unfortunately this is a well-kept secret at present, because none of Procol's studio albums come close to doing him justice. If only Procol would release some of its copious Vintage (non-orchestral) LIVE material with remastered state-of-the-art sound, as Jimmy Page recently did for his band, Wilson's monumental stature as a drummer would finally be recognized.

Thanks again for a great review!

Joan May, Sonoma, California

Read the BtP article in which Joan proposed and amplified the opinions
that were later to be published in the above letter

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