Procol Harum

the Pale

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Keith Reid on Radio 1

Interviewed by Robbie Vincent, late 1973

RV What have you been doing?

KR We did a three and a half week tour ... I think it was a couple of weeks off ... and then we did another three and a half week tour ... then we came back to England and then we went to Australia and so on and so forth.

Do you pick up an orchestra in places. Do you play with an orchestra generally?

Oh no we ... mm ... very seldom play with an orchestra unless we're invited to ... in fact we've only played with one once this year. In Los Angeles this year at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic ... that was the only concert that we did like that ... aah ... the thing about playing with orchestras is ... it's a project. It's just something that we do ... usually people ask us to do it ... and say, 'Would you like to come along and play?' ... and a lot of work goes into it ... then you spend about three months planning it.

I thought that one of the best things you ever did was Live at Edmonton. It really worked for me with an orchestra whereas many people in rock have tried to combine themselves with an orchestra and it just didn't work. It just sounded like two different units.

Yes. Well, that's possibly why the things that we've done have worked. We haven't tried to combine with orchestras. We've used them to ... ah ... add on to what we're doing ... just as ... ah ... another facet of what we're doing ... y'know ... just as extra weight and extra strength ... rather than modifying what we do.

What about Procol now. Where does the future lie?

The next thing is to record another album which we'll start doing next month and ... mm ... I expect that to be ... y'know not substantially different from what we've done but certainly something new.

Have the words been written already ?

Yes. Yes. I've written pretty much all of it now and it's interesting to look at it when you've done it ... look at it ... and you see how things do relate to each other.

Do you have an appearance yourself this time? You're not the greatest man for being forced on stage but you did appear on the last tour ... briefly.

Well ... a fleeting glimpse really, there'll be a fleeting glimpse of me ... if you're quick enough to notice.

Have you written it with Gary?

Yes. They'll all be collaborations between Gary and myself.

Have you ever felt that the success of A Whiter Shade of Pale was an albatross around your neck ? Do you think you've rid yourself of it now?

I don't think it's ever been ... it's never been an albatross around our neck. We've always had it in perspective y'know. It was a big success and that was really good and ah ... we've benefited from the success of it ... and ah ... it didn't stop us from developing and going on from there and I think that people who really liked us ... y'know ... people who heard A Whiter Shade of Pale and then bought our first album ... and really liked that are people who've stayed with us and have gone on with us. I don't think there have been any negative aspects of it ... not really. I think ... I don't think you can say ... I don't think anyone could honestly say having a successful record could ever be anything else ... except ummm ... something good. The thing is we wrote the song. It was our material. The people in the group played on the record. I mean it was us on the record. It wasn't an artificial thing it was ... from us.

I've always thought of your lyrics as very near poetry if not poetry. Do you look at them like that?

Well ... I look at in this way ... when I write a piece it's something that works on a piece of paper and you read it ... and it works for you and that ... that isn't a definition of poetry ... but ... ah ... my things are written pieces ... and uh ... written to be read ... you can read them ... and uh ... that's about as far as I'ld go with it.

Are the words written before Gary adds the music?

Well they're written at a separate time ... and the way we usually work is whenever I have an idea I work on it and finish it and I give it to Gary and uh ... in the meantime he may ... y'know ... if he's had the opportunity he may be working with melodies ... or y'know ... chord progressions ... so on and so forth ... and ... uh ... if he's got something he'll sit down and look at what I've given to him and see if it fits with anything he's been doing. Sometimes they do ... if not he'll write something for the piece that I've written.

The songs you've written for the new album. Are they inter-related? What are they about?

There's a song about fresh fruit ... ah ... (pause)

I mean what are you portraying on the album ? On Grand Hotel ... you were in it ... in the Grand Hotel ... (laughs).

(Laughs) Yeah ... ah ... (pause) ... let me think ... there's a song called New Lamps for Old ... (pause) ... which is, y'know, about somebody going over the edge ... y'know the close of the picture, the end of the show.

I've done a song about ... about ... about me ... y'know ... writing ... saying I've got out of bed ... this was how I did it y'know ... I thought ... I couldn't sleep ... so I'll go downstairs and write something.

So I say in the song I've got a great idea y'know ... I'm gonna go downstairs and I'm gonna be a poet ... I've got a great idea ... I'll write a sonnet ... a verse or two of peerless prose ... ah ... a quip or two to guild the rose and ... ah ... then I ... mm ... ah ... my work will set the world alight and so on and then ... then I carry on and I think, oh no, I'm gonna be a playwright ... in no time at all I'll be king of the stage ... y'know ... (pause) ... the critics ... y'know ... won't like my work but they'll say that it's good.

All the songs tend to be in a different way y'know ... they're all sort of ... they're all kind of facets of me in which I'm trying to express myself about different things.

You would never want to be a playwright?

Hmm well ... I don't think that I would ... I mean ... I would like very much to be ... but I think that ... mm ... the kind of ... I've found a good avenue for expressing myself in the form that I use and ... uh ... and I don't see coming up against a block that would stop me writing things that I want to write. I don't visualise writing things that perhaps couldn't possibly be set to music.

Do you have interests outside rock music?

I really enjoy music. Any piece of music I hear that I really like I go out and buy it and I listen to it. Or if it's a concert that's on I go and hear it. So that's music; that's one facet of life.

But ... uh ... y'know ... I'ld be ... I'm just as interested to ... uh ... enjoy the work of a great y'know film director as I am of a great rock and roll musician or y'know a great painter ... y'know, something like that ... I'ld go just as far and be just as excited about seeing something like that as Bob Dylan's new record.

Do you think that in general people in the rock music industry are a bit too narrow?

I find that the people that I meet who are the genuinely creative people in rock and roll ... ah ... do usually have a broad range of outside interests. They are interested ... I think that's usually why ... that's why they are the genuinely creative people.

Who would you class under that category? People you've met who are genuinely creative people?

Ah ... Randy Newman ...

Randy Newman you would have met ... when you were in LA ... ?  

Yes. (Pause).

Did he know Procol's work?

Yes. Yes he did. He was aware of us ... he said that he liked us ...

What do you talk about when you meet somebody like that? I mean ... you're a lyricist ... he's a lyricist. What do you talk about?

You don't talk about music ... or anything like that. I don't have a lot to say about that (pause)

What would he ask about?

You can meet people lots of the time and not be able to have a kind of a normal conversation ... (pause)

Like the Beatles? Still people are in awe of them?

Yes I think that that is true. You find people listening to the earlier Beatles records ... not very early ... ... but say albums like ... things like Rubber Soul and you think 'Christ they were so good'. You can look at a lot of the stuff and realize how really good it was ... you didn't see it was as good at the time. It's sort of like listening to the Everly Brothers records now and seeing how good they are. In general the standard of most of the music that's being recorded today is very low ... I mean it really is ... has regressed terribly ... and I think that's probably one of the reasons why there is so much emphasis on the visual aspects of it all ... this is what people talk about more now ... y'know who's more outrageous ... who did this ... who's done this more outrageous thing. It requires very little genuine creativity from the people involved and you usually find that they are either aping or just repeating people who used the same technique and did the same things a hundred times better.

Keith Reid's opinions on the rock scene today and I admire his work anyway very much.

Very many thanks to Sam Cameron for transcribing this interview for 'Beyond the Pale'. His tape, he reports, 'had been in a biscuit tin for 25 years and was very low in volume and prone to speed variation but I think I caught all the answers'.

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