Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Shine on Brightly

1968 – Repertoire re-issue 1997

REP 4667-WY

UK sleeve / US sleeve

Matthew Fisher – organ
Dave Knights – bass
Gary Brooker – piano, vocal
Keith Reid – words
B.J.Wilson – drums
Robin Trower – guitar
Producer: Denny Cordell
Assistant producer: Tony Visconti

Quite Rightly So
Shine On Brightly
Skip Softly (My Moonbeams)
Wish Me Well
Rambling On
Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone)
In Held 'Twas In I: Glimpses Of Nirvana, 'Twas Teatime At The Circus, In The Autumn Of My Madness, Look To Your Soul, Grand Finale
In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence*
Il Tuo Diamante*
Homburg – stereo version*
* = Bonus tracks on this re-issue: not on original album

Liner notes:
The soundscapes created by Procol Harum are among the most distinctive and original sounds in rock. So powerful and evocative are the pieces heard on Shine On Brightly that the term 'songs' barely does justice to their musical intentions. These are complete tonal poems. Like landscapes in art, they are broad pictures painted with carefully placed brushstrokes. As well as the artistic comparisons, we can see a religious connection to a great deal of Procol's work. The solemn hymnal splendour of a performance like Quite Rightly So has all the communicative power of a prayer. Indeed, gospel music was an integral part of that rare blend of influences brought to bear when Procol Harum was formed in the summer of 1967. The soulful voice of lead singer Gary Brooker, the classical organ tones of Matthew Fisher, and the metaphysical lyrics of Keith Reid all played an important part of establishing the magical appeal of this unique British band.

This CD reproduces the second album released by the group in the wake of their smash hit A Whiter Shade Of Pale. 1968 saw the band building on the success of that memorable single, with heavy tours of America. Their first album (also now released on Repertoire CD) had reached the Top Fifty in the States, and Shine On Brightly got to Number 24 in the States, although it failed to chart in the UK. It was America and Germany, rather than Britain, which first began to appreciate that Procol Harum was much more than a 'one hit' band. During this period the group began playing at major events, such as the Miami Pop Festival, when they performed in front of 100,000 people and shared a star packed bill with Chuck Berry, Fleetwood Mac and Canned Heat. It was all a long way from Southend, the humble seaside resort, where most members of the group had started their careers.

Procol Harum's line-up here features Gary Brooker (vocals, piano), Matthew Fisher (Hammond organ), Robin Trower (guitar), Dave Knights (bass) and BJ Wilson (drums). Brooker (born Southend, Essex May 29, 1945) learned to play classical piano as a child. He strummed a banjo and guitar in his first skiffle group, then switched back to the piano when he discovered rock'n'roll. His inspirations were Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis and he later got into music of James Brown and the whole Stax and Tamla Motown genre.

The schoolboy groups he played with gradually evolved into The Paramounts, which formed in 1959 and became one of the pioneer British R&B bands. They had a chart hit with their version of The Coasters' Poison Ivy in 1964 and appeared on TV pop shows with The Rolling Stones. After backing Sandie Shaw on various tours, the group split up in 1966.

Brooker decided to concentrate on songwriting and was introduced to lyricist Keith Reid (born London, 1946) by old friend, DJ Guy Stevens. The pair began writing together and having failed to find others willing to perform their material, they decided that Gary should sing the songs in a newly formed group. Guy Stevens (who worked for Island Records) came up with the name Procol Harum (after a friend's cat), and the group began rehearsing and recording. They were keen to feature both piano and organ and found Matthew Fisher, an enthusiastic Hammond organ player, through an advertisement in Melody Maker. The band's sound was influenced by the American soul and gospel records that Guy Stevens played them, but was given a unique slant by the use of Keith Reid's eloquent, poetic, often surreal lyrics. It was Keith who wrote the immortal line: 'We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels across the floor. I was feeling  kind of seasick, the crowd called out for more', a highlight of A Whiter Shade Of pale. Reid's lyrics, Brooker's passionate vocal delivery and Matthew Fisher's solemn Bach-inspired organ work ensured the record would become a massive hit and an all-time classic.

The band's first line up included Ray Royer (guitar) and Bobby Harrison (drums), but these were later replaced by old friends from the Paramounts, Trower and Wilson. Once they had sorted out their personnel problems (which included a session drummer on the hit single), the band settled down to recording more challenging material.

Shine On Brightly was produced by Denny Cordell who had worked on their first album, but problems began to develop with the relationship, as Gary Brooker recalls. 'We split up with our producer Denny half way through the album and we finished it off ourselves, although his name is on it. Tony Visconti helped us out. Denny had tried to get BJ Wilson to leave us and join Joe Cocker! So we got rather pissed off with him.'

The original US release had a very garish green and gold album cover depicting a deformed nude figure playing an upright piano in a desert. Keith Reid who went to most of the band's gigs and attended all their recording sessions, recalls that the cover design was rather strange.
'The English and American covers were different. A&M came up the green cover for the States and we didn't have anything to do with it. We commissioned a different cover for the UK done by George Underwood. The American one was a bit weird, but we were the only rock band on the A&M roster at that time, so it was like Herb Alpert and us! We were very much seen as 'one hit wonders' at home, so going to America kept the band going. We could tour a lot there and people didn't care so much about record success. It was how good you were as a 'live' band. Having such great players with us, we really built our reputation as a touring band in America. We toured there for years, if it hadn't been for that, we wouldn't have lasted very long at all. We played very few British or European rock festivals because our album wasn't very successful at home and people only knew us for A Whiter Shade Of Pale and not much else. For the first few years of the band's existence we were in America all the time, doing the psychedelic ballroom circuit. Those were the days of the Fillmore West where they used to have these fantastic bills with major bands like The Doors, The Who and us doing two sets a night.'

Procol Harum were seen as a rather more static act compared to The Who. Keith agrees, 'That's right. We didn't have a show as such, and The Who certainly did. We concentrated on playing the music and we weren't interested in developing a light show like Pink Floyd did to complement their music. We didn't really do that. Basically the band stood there and played the songs. People appreciated it but, in retrospect, it was a shame we didn't have a big light show. Nobody in the band was really into all that, so it didn't happen.'

The first track Quite Rightly So was the band's third single release after Homburg. It has an oddly hymnal sort of tone and contains the telling line 'I'm lost amidst a sea of wheat where people speak but seldom meet', which Keith says was written after a broken love affair in America. 'It's about lost love.'

The brilliant Shine On Brightly is a song about madness. 'There were probably some psychedelic drugs involved  in that one. It was very hard to avoid that in America at the time. I was there – like everybody else.' Brooker sings the line 'My friend has been and gone and he said I must soldier on,' followed by a cry of 'Ha!' that recalls the latter day works of Genesis and Phil Collins.

Skip Softly My Moonbeams has a most unusual construction and sounds a bit like a Peter Gabriel song with its lugubrious fairy tale flavour. If you listen carefully you'll hear the phrase 'The stairs up to heaven lead straight down to hell.' Curiously close to Stairway To Heaven, but Keith does not believe there is any connection with the 1971 Led Zeppelin classic. 'I've never even been aware of that. I shouldn't think Jimmy Page ever noticed it. It's just one of  those great coincidences.' After a bizarre guitar solo, the piece turns into a kind of maniac mazurka, but it's all grist to the Brooker-Reid mill.

The next track is a real classic, a down-to-earth blues taken at a slow tempo with handclaps and tambourine adding a gospel feel. As Keith says: 'Wish Me Well was intended to be a gospel song. I remember us doing that at Olympic Studios, Barnes, with some of the guys from Traffic coming in to do handclaps and stuff while Robin and Gary sang it as a duet.' There are clearly some similarities between Traffic and Procol and Keith agrees: 'Well Gary and Steve Winwood both looked to Ray Charles as their main vocal influences. There was also the organ playing which both bands featured. But I think Matthew Fisher played a Hammond B3 while Steve played a smaller L100. So there was a difference in the sound, but there was a similarity because of the shared interest in blues and R&B. Most English musicians of that period had the same influences.'

Rambling On describes a young man's efforts to emulate Batman by jumping off a roof, and is dismissed by Keith as a 'flight of fancy, just me rambling on', but it provides a gripping, cinematic tale of dicing with death.

The next track, 'Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone), was written after 'a stoned evening sitting around the piano' when the composers felt like doing something in a Salvation Army band style.

However, that album's piece de resistance is In Held 'Twas In I which lasts for over 17 minutes and takes up most of side two of the original vinyl album. Says Keith: 'What happened there was Matthew wanted to get involved in songwriting and was feeling somewhat frustrated. So we came up with this idea of doing an extended piece.'

It starts off with Gary Brooker reading aloud a tale of a visit by a pilgrim to the Dalai Lama, in search of the meaning of life. Keith explains the accidental origins of this curious introduction: 'It's very funny. I met somebody in the Baghdad House, a café in Fulham Road, London, who was an American writer involved with The Beatles. I went there with him and he told me this story about how the Dalai Lama will only tell a young disciple about the meaning of life after he's spent five years in meditation.

'Eventually the pilgrim returns to the Dalai Lama and says: "Well father, what is the meaning of life?" and the Dalai Lama replies: "Well my son, life is a beanstalk – isn't it?" Gary reads out his answer at the beginning of the record. We started with the story and then Matthew and Gary wrote a bit of music. I was quite pally with Jimi Hendrix at the time, so I had this line which went ''Twas tea-time at the circus, King Jimi was there', which was all about Hendrix. We put that to music and we just kept on going with absolutely no idea where we were headed until we finally got to the end! Matthew wrote the Grand Finale. We recorded it in bits, and Glyn Johns, who engineered that album, did a marvellous job of sticking it all together and making it sound as if we'd done it all in one take. We were amazed at the results. Denny Cordell took a back seat on  that album because he was working on other stuff and Tony Visconti did a lot of the production work. But Glyn Johns pulled it all together.'

Reid says he never intended to have a 17-minute piece on the album and indeed the record company didn't know what to make of it. 'But we were signed to a production company so we never had a direct relationship with a label at all. I think that's one of the reasons Denny Cordell became less involved. He wondered what the fuck we were doing and left us get on with this strange psychedelic record!'

'What does the title mean? Well it doesn't really mean anything. We just took the first word of each line in the lyrics. I remember that Held came from 'Held close by that which some despise'. And 'Twas came from 'Twas Tea-Time At The Circus. Really it all started in the Baghdad House in the Fulham Road.'

Thanks to Procol Harum, we now know the meaning of life! And what happened to that collaboration between Jimi Hendrix and Keith Reid? Ah, well that's another story my son ...

Chris Welch, London, 1997

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More Procol / Brooker re-releases from Repertoire Records

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