Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Procol Harum • The first four Salvo re-issues 

Reviewed by Fred Schröter

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As a long time Procol fan I thought that I had something to say about those four re-issues. I never intended to buy any of them, so how come I did end up with all four of them, that is the Regal Zonophone re-issues?

Well, I was still interested in buying another version of Shine on Brightly solely for the reason that I hoped that a better sounding version of the Grand Finale of In Held 'Twas in I was unearthed. Then there was A Salty Dog with rare live performances that got my interest. To be honest, I wouldn't buy that album again for I own the Westside release as well as the Japanese MFSB audiophile version which does not sound better than the Westside one. The next thing that happened was that I came across a very reasonbly priced Procol Harum (first album) re-issue. To round it up I found an underpriced Home, which for lacking anything new I certainly would not want to buy. Then I remembered I wrote a review once of all four Regal Zonophone re-released on the Westside label, so I thought "Let's do it again".

Highlight of the Procol Harum eponymous album is of course Understandably Blue, a non-Procol song on a Procol album. I enjoyed this song for the reason that Gary tried to sing it in the way Dusty would have sung this song. Those amongst us who know her music know what I mean. It could also be that remembering the voice of Dusty I immediately projected her way of singing to this song and got confused. So please listen again and perhaps you recognise the same thing.

Then there are ofcourse a few items that have appeared earlier on in one version or another and they are nice to hear but, as with the Westside editions, the best things Procol produced were already put to disc. And I really don't care about if one track is longer than we were used to or not. I always thought it was about music, not about dissecting a disc. So enjoy the music, who cares about running times….

And that's what happens with me mostly all the time: Somewhere in the canyons of my mind I remember what I enjoyed in the sixties and that is what I hear.

Surprisingly enough Grand Finale did sound better especially the second time the choir moved in. I remember very well that it was very difficult to record a choir because to capture all those voices you had to work hard and most of the time the sound was a bit distorted. That was always the problem with an analogue tape recording of a choir with a great dynamic range in those days. It always put VU meters in the red domain.

So the first album although quite enjoyable, especially for the inclusion of Understandably Blue and Pandora's Box (even without words, a great song). Then of course Shine on Brightly! I am glad that the choir sounds a bit better and this is the re-issue I enjoy most, again with three backing tracks that sound most promising when put to disc at that time in full version.

Then, A Salty Dog, which is kind of special with the inclusion of four live tracks with a really smashing version of Juicy John Pink. And of course a splendid version of Skip Softly. A real treat for those of us Europeans who were not able in the sixties to see Procol perform live for the obvious reason that they toured mostly on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean. Finally Home! Still a great record. And the treat on this disc is Whaling Stories (raw track). Without Gary's voice interfering with the music you can hear how elegantly it was written and performed.

As a Procol fan from childhood I am not particularly excited about these re-issues solely for the reason that I own the original records on $tateside and Regal Zonophone. So why buy them again? It can only be for those bonus tracks that are really a bonus, and not just an extra.

Westside did this trick in 1998 and then I wondered when the first 24 bit remaster would arrive. Although there are numerous 24 bit and 32 bit remasters of old rock music, Procol is not amongst them. I kind of liked the re-issue of Robin's Bridge of Sighs on Capitol. The original record as a 24 bit remaster (not particularly interesting I must say, or sounding better) and then a collection of live performances of the album recorded during the promo tour for that album.

Maybe an idea for the next collection of re-issues when another record company is licensed to re-issue all those oldies?

Or maybe an idea for Salvo to collect existing live recordings and put them to disc? Not as a bonus, but as a document that shows the development in (a) Procol live performances and (b) in making live recordings. Perhaps issue the highly acclaimed performance of Procol as a quartet at the Isle of Wight festival?

I liked the way Salvo repackaged these re-issues, but I strongly advise them to put the disc in a paper sleeve, because I found that taking the disc out and putting it back in made scratches on the surface.

So why do I own all these re-issues, if I never intended to buy them?

Must be the Procol or the Harum in my blood.

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