Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum (1967)

A retrospective review

Ron Cooper in Zabadak No 10, July 1993 

During the period of their smash hit A Whiter Shade Of Pale Procol Harum changed labels in the UK from Deram to Regal Zonophone. Hence the reason why on the group's début album Pale was not included. The line-up for the album was Gary Brooker (music, piano and lead vocal), Matthew Fisher (Hammond organ), Graham Knights [sic] (bass), Robin Trower (lead guitar), BJ Wilson (drums), Keith Reid (words).

The album commences with Conquistador. This is a punchy number with a good solid tight bass, drum, organ, and piano combination. Fisher going hell-for-leather on his organ solo. There is fuzzed lead guitar playing the same notes as the bass. Was released as a single in Australia as the follow-up to Homburg and went to No 24 in Jan 1968 there. As with all tracks except the last, composers are Reid and Brooker. In 1972 the number was given a classical reworking when Procol and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra did the Live album. On that version there is everything including brass, strings and a savage guitar solo which makes this a little tame but both have their merits. (8˝)

She Wandered Through The Garden Fence is again punchy with that solid bass drum combination and a catchy organ solo. Tambourine utilised throughout and strumming guitar. Great track as it swings along. After these two excellent numbers this side tends to relax a little. (8˝)

Something Following Me is a slow blues with piano and a fuzzed lead guitar solo (sounds a little feeble compared to what Trower was going to produce) (7). Mabel is a fun music-hall type number. Good because it shows that Procol don't take themselves too seriously (7). Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of) is again back to a slow blues allowing Trower's guitar to shine (much stronger here) and Brooker's soulful vocal (8).

Side two opens with the delightfully titled Christmas Camel with some majestic piano chords over the organ. Nice and punchy in mono. Trower's excellent fuzzed guitar emerges (including a couple of mistakes). Great track with a small excerpt of some tricky organ. All five musicians work well together. Powerful (9).

Kaleidoscope is a faster number with guitar, organ, and piano playing the same two chords. Procol don't use harmonies: it is always just Brooker's vocal (8). Salad Days (Are Here Again) slower and more nondescript with the piano anticipating Bruce Hornsby's arrival by 20 years. Was from the film Separation. More blues than classical, reviewers at the time stated that it was Dylanesque and reminded of Blonde On Blonde (6˝).

Good Captain Clack is again more of a fun number. Slightly different to the version on the flip of Homburg with a gong banged just before the organ break. The single version was a demo which got mixed up in the release process (8).

Repent Walpurgis is the album highlight. This is composed by Matthew Fisher with a little help from Bach. Remarkable lead guitar over the crashing drums, church organ, and piano. This slow instrumental with an extract from Bach's Prelude In B 'Ave Maria' [sic!]is probably the most brilliant thing that Procol ever did and to this day still closes their live shows (10).

For most foreign releases A Whiter Shade Of Pale was included and replaced Good Captain Clack. The whole album was knocked up in a couple of days on 4-track tape. Shortly afterwards it was suggested that Procol should re-record and improve by utilising 16-Track tape but that would have been a mistake as this with warts and all was near enough perfection.

Produced by Denny Cordell 'To be listened to in the spirit in which it was made' this album succeeded in gulfing [sic] the classics and the blues: surprisingly it did not make the UK album charts. 'She grasped me firmly by the wrist and threw me down upon my back, and strapped me to a torture rack, and without further argument I found my mind was also bent upon a course so devious, It only made my torment worse'.

The members at the time of A Whiter Shade Of Pale were Bobby Harrison who was born in East Ham on 28th June 1943 [should be 1939]. Though he was the drummer he did not play on the hit, and instead a session muso Bill Eyden was used. Matthew Fisher was born in Croydon on 7 March 1946 and studied music at the Guildhall. Gary Brooker was born in Hackney on 29 May 1945 and could speak good French. Dave Knights was born in Islington on 28 June 1945. Ray Royer who at the time was the guitarist (a Rickenbacker) was born in Pinewood on 8 August 1945. Shortly after the hit Barrie Wilson replaced Harrison, and Robin Trower replaced Royer. Both Trower and Wilson were with Gary Brooker in a group called the Paramounts, but that is another story. Procol Harum is Latin for 'beyond these things'.

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