Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

Around & about Procol Harum

Bud Scoppa & Jean-Charles Costa, Rock, 21 June 1971

Thanks, Marvin, for the scan!


* In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence.

* You know why it's so 'them'?

* Why?

* Is this tape gonna pick up, by the way? It's 'them' because it expresses a kind of English lower-middle-class - or middle-class - bleak middle-class-gothic-empty-lot-South-End-London kind of dirty-windowpane ethos that Procol Harum can project as well as all the other stuff, you know. There's an aura about that group, kind of hard-working, grimy...Of course, they also happen to be a very classy group, but you still get a feeling of tough-end London.

* Black Sabbath could give it off, but they give it off in a very brutish way, whereas Procol Harum gives it off in an almost metaphysical way.

* In other words, when they do it, it's like something out of Somerset Maugham.

* Procol Harum does that to people. They make people say things that sound real pretentious.

* But I really got a flash on that song. What do you want to listen to now?

* Homburg.


* All right, I was talking about the piano section in the opening number on Broken Barricades, whose name eludes me at the moment.

* Simple Sister.

* Simple Sister, where it gets so quick. I was wondering if that was electronically augmented, or actually him being able to play that fast, because the repetition of it - how fast he hits it - becomes phenomenal at the end.

* Well, the orchestrations lend a feeling of thickness.

* Right. I mean there's an incredible feeling there about that, the rhythmic thing going on on the piano, which sounds supernatural. I couldn't believe that Brooker could do it, man.

* Remember, I told you that I peeked into the back room at Chrysalis, and there was somebody hunched over the Moog synthesizer, and it was Brooker. Anyway, it might be that. Cause there's a lotta shit on the end of that song, boy, it really explodes. It's the best thing on the album, as far as I'm concerned.

* As you very rightly pointed out, it's interesting that they start out with the big whammy as the first track, as opposed to saving - the good, traditional Procol Harum method of saving the cosmic track for the last track.

* I read a review in the trades just today on Procol Harum. And one of our initial negative things about Procol as they stand now was what I think we both felt: There's now an imbalance in Procol in favor of Robin and Barrie. I mean, the balance has changed obviously between the keyboard influence and the guitar influence.

* And there's your working-class punk part of the band.

* Trower and Wilson, right. And in that sense ... See, I don't mind, though, because Robin Trower's a great guitarist - I mean, it's as simple as that.

* But one of the reasons he stood out before was that he was used so sparingly in alternation with Fisher on organ, and, wow, you know -

* Even tracing it back to its source: he's always said that Steve Cropper was his main influence and that's interesting, because the way he plays, he works out his lines very carefully. Not that  he thinks them out beforehand so that he knows exactly what he's gonna do, but he thinks out various patterns - various concepts - in terms of guitar lines. His guitar solos are beautifully structured. They're very dramatic guitar solos. Like the one in Outside the Gates of Cerdes and the one in Repent Walpurgis. In other words, where there is that crescendo effect, which is pretty characteristic of Procol anyway. Like take Whaling Stories in terms of the whole band. They love to take a song, start on a very low keynote, and then, slowly but surely, by adding various movements and threads to it, reach this incredible crescendo. And Robin has a very conscious dramatic sense when he plays, just like Barrie does when he drums.

* In the sense that you're talking about, it's a very arrangement-conscious band. And Fisher, I think, really added to that, and really formalized it to the point where you could say, 'That's an arrangement.' 'That's a highly structured piece, but the guitar player and the drummer are fighting against the structure.' That's what I meant by the balance - that's the working-class half of the band, and Fisher was sort of a cool, uh, upper-class [sic!]cat playing his -

* I think that Trower still managed to integrate himself within the fabric, even when he was playing with Fisher, and so did Wilson, in the sense that they both were conscious of what Fisher was trying to do. And they both fitted the particular sound of their instruments much better into the context, whereas now they really predominate.

* I meant they were straining against that structure in the romantic sense of straining against any kind of form - in the same way that Keats -

* I wouldn't be surprised if they had arguments about the level of Robbie's guitar in the beginning. The thing was, we heard about Robin having threatened to leave the group and that maybe being a coaxial point for him to lever the group into - I don't know. I tend to doubt that, only in the sense that I don't think Brooker would let himself get intimidated.

* I don't think he ever gets intimidated.

* It only made me aware of one thing: That Robin Trower has now become an absolutely integral part of the band, to the point where it would be very doubtful that they could survive as a band without him. I can't see any other guitarist taking his place.

* See, Procol Harum is not a visually dramatic band. In terms of stage craft. In contrast with, let's say, The Who, or Iggy. Procol's dramatics is built into their music, and that's where they generate a kinetic sense, a response in terms of a catharsis. I mean, people can come out from listening to Repent Walpurgis and feel purged, almost.

* Visually, there is a kinetic sense to their performance, but it's only incidental, it's not something they use to manipulate the audience, like The Who does.

* It's not important to them as much as -

* Like The Who do.

* It's not as important to them as the musical dramatics. And I think they're one of the only groups that really does that; that has the ability to use the music in an effectively dramatic way.

* It's interesting that Trower, besides being very economical in his playing, is economical in his body movements. As opposed to Townshend, who is very, very flash and very big in his guitar music in terms of what he's generating, and his body movements match his music. Trower keeps himself in a very tight stance, moving just a little, as opposed to jumping up and down.

* There's an incredible amount of force and tension in him.

* He rolls into those big lines, but you know that behind that rolling is a lot of power. I mean, it's sheer emotional force that puts those notes down.

* Thinking back to the first press conference they did after A Whiter Shade of Pale, the first thing I saw Trower do when they were sitting at the table answering questions: He had one of those exercisers in his hand, and he was exercising his left hand, his fingering hand, during the whole thing.

* I remember them talking about how much they like soccer. And he's like an athlete as a guitarist. Remember, he didn't smoke any dope before he went on - he just drank beer. And he was just sitting back as if it were a locker room thing and he was getting his mind in shape.

* Yeah, he was very spartan. He was the first one to leave to get dressed, whereas Barrie waited until the last possible moment to stagger onstage. It's very funny - I've always gotten the impression from Robin - even from the way he dresses, which is kind of sedate-hip - he just comes over as a very spartan type cat. I can see his house being very nicely done, but very spartan. I don't see him living with a lot of crap laying around. And after the gig, he had his guitar case open and he was wiping down his guitars very carefully -

* Like a tennis pro.

* Right. He's a real professional doing that whole number. And in all the times we've seen Procol, we've seen Gary on an off-night, we've seen Matthew on off-nights, we've seen Barrie on off-nights, but Robin's the rock in that group, as far as live performing.

* And he always seems to be enjoying it. Although what looks like a smile from the stage seems to be permanently etched in his face when you see him up close. His eyes are a really strange shape - they look like they're smiling, but they stay that way, like they're drawn on.

* Puckish face, yeah. But he does grin - he gives a big, toothy grin after songs. He sincerely digs the fact that people appreciate his playing.

* Remember what happened at the concert in Jersey City? The guy from the high school band said, 'We're gonna do Salty Dog for our encore, ha-ha-ha,' and Gary went, 'Oh, yes, why don't you do that,' and the guy said, 'Yeah, we'll show you that we can do TS Eliot just as good as you guys.' And Gary went, 'TS Eliot! What was he talking about?'

* That's another thing I've always come up against with Procol Harum. They're always disclaiming their so-called literary influences ...  They really like to tell preposterous stories about their ignorance of literature, like Brooker just happens to stumble upon Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and he shows Keith, who, of course, has never even heard of Coleridge, much less read the poem. The article I did on them last year was just a collection of preposterous stories that they made up in their own mythic image. But since that myth has become what they are to all of us, they were all in a weird way true, you know what I mean? Their music makes it all true.

They can perpetuate their own mythology only because people are too willing to accept that, to create it themselves. You can either consider it a casualty factor, or you can consider it a source of continual amusement for the group. When you're a group like Procol Harum, people will treat you in that reverential way. It probably makes them laugh.

* They're sly bastards.

* A lot of their songs have very definite shapes. They get into a definite, catchy kind of thing, like Simple SisterLuskus Delph, even though it's a strange song, has that counterpoint between what the violins are doing and the way Brooker sings. That very beautiful counterpoint that sticks in your mind.

* Maybe the precursor for that is Lady Jane.

* I sort of see that.

* Well, Luskus Delph is a lot more overtly vulgar.

* It is a vulgar song, but - in line with the beautiful irony that Procol Harum always has - it sounds absolutely pristine.

* It makes you feel pretty when you listen to it.

* Yeah, you think they're singing about beautiful green German forests. When Gary introduced it, he said, 'Keith tells me that 'Luskus' is a cross between 'lust' and 'suck.'' The way he said 'suck' with such resounding vulgarity before launching into this beautiful piano phrase, it really shocked me.

* I thought he said 'luscious,' not 'lust.'

* Whatever it was, the emphasis was on 'suck,' with that resounding, hard, lascivious 'k' at the end. It really floored me. I wasn't ready for that.

* They're nonsense syllables that sound like whatever they remind you of, whether it's romantic or base.

* In Held 'Twas in I, which is essentially what you think about it?

* Bruce said they were the first five words of the five movements of the song.

* That's a thought.

* But even though that may well be true, it still seems like the perfect title for it. I always liked the sound of Magdalene, My Regal Zonophone, too. That's really where they are ...

* Each album has its strength. As far as total composition and execution - this is purely personal, of course - and carrying through a specific feeling through an album, A Salty Dog is the most successful. For individual songs of outstanding brilliance, the first album is a very powerful album.

* And that one has the feeling of a very formal but somehow spontaneous performance, too - it's not just the songs. They sound like they just came upon them and the songs were perfect the first time.

* Exactly. And I still think that some of Robin's guitar playing on that album is the best that he's done.

* Oh, it's incredible.

* But Shine on Brightly, I think, is an incredible album because there are long, extended moments - it's a very funny album, because there are moments of pure genius on that album - they've made inroads on that album that go much higher than on any other album, but they also fell flat on their faces occasionally, too. And so it tends to lessen the absolute incredible
effect of the album. In Held 'Twas In I is certainly a high point, and I think Shine on Brightly as a total execution, too. You notice how well that song stands up when they perform it live now?

* Yeah, I like it when Trower winds up his line with that EEEEOOOOUUUUWWWW-PHLLL ...

* When he slides out of that one note with that, right.  And just the idea of hitting that one note and repeating it to the point where it creates almost a steady, singular drone often makes me think of Neil Young's thing on Everydays, that Buffalo Springfield song, where he hits that one note and carries it all the way through. It's a genius concept only because it's so simple.

* Yeah, you say to yourself, 'I could do that!'  But you never would have thought of doing anything that beautifully simple. That's what makes it an act of genius.

Tape Stops - End Of Side One


* I think it's no mere coincidence that we both like Trower and Young as dramatic personages.

* The very fact that you pointed out about Young, the primitivism of his solo on Down by the River, is what makes him much more of a genius than Stephen Stills. Stills is more fluid and technically proficient, but he wouldn't have the idea to do something that simple, he would have to make it more elaborate. Like on Black Queen, which is very well executed if somewhat overdone on the guitar. He always tends to overplay.

* Young just stands there and does his stuff, very simply and directly without spotlighting himself. You know, both the Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young have the same kind of balance between polar opposites - Stills & Young. Just as Fisher and Trower performed that function in Procol. Somehow I think that Young is much more dominant though..
* That's hard to say, some people think that Stills is the leader, but then again one finds Young conspicuous through his absence, like in the Big Sur flick.

* I was thinking of the old Dizzy Gillespie quote: 'It took me ten years to learn what notes to leave out'...and that's what applies to Trower and Young. And Neil Young is also economical in his movements. They both work from a very vertical position and rock back and forth with their heads. They both look like they'd fall over at certain times. They're rigidly holding themselves up. I really like Neil Young but that's another article ... I never thought of the parallel between the two groups before though.

* Getting back to Procol. You remember when we were with them and Keith mentioned a television program to Gary, asking him whether he'd seen it - almost as if they hadn't seen each other for three months. I got this feeling that when Procol's back in England they have very little to do with each other. It was kind of depressing.

* There was another thing between Brooker and Reid. Brooker's always saying, in relation to Reid, something like 'Oh, I didn't realize that till he said it just now!' Brooker said this ('Jennie Drew') is a Scottish lament and it made a lot of sense. Then I asked Reid if he got the lyrics from a Scottish folk song, and he said no, he got it from a TV show about a Scottish girl. And Brooker said: 'That's funny, when I wrote it I heard the call of the bagpipes,' and I thought, 'It's another one of those preposterous stories.'

* I always wondered: Just how mythic is Procol Harum? Or are they just another bunch of guys who get together to play music. I think that Procol Harum loves to put people on, but they really think they're just another rock and roll band. They love to drink beer and boogie, just like any other  band; they just happen to write extraordinary words and lyrics. Streetcorner prodigies.

* They tend to encourage myths. If you really look at them objectively, the stories they tell about each other, they are absurd. But then, absurdity makes for good mythology, so you never really know if they mean to become mythic figures in the eyes of their beholders, or whether they're just putting down that whole thing. I'm not sure of that even now. I'm not sure whether they aren't delighted when people deal with them on mythical grounds.

* It's that same sense of the absurd that's in their lyrics. You don't draw a line after a certain point between what Keith is in his songs and what Keith is in real life. If Keith writes a song like Luskus Delph, then why shouldn't he be a slightly surreal character? Why do we expect him to be anything less than his lyrics? When I meet him I find myself discussing the respective quality of the laundry service in various hotels. It's almost dadaist.

* I don't see any overt dadaist tendencies in Procol Harum. I think everything they do is intentional. Reid is very calculating.

* If you accept the premise that they are calculating, does it add or detract from the myth of Procol Harum?

* For me it kind of adds to it, that they're very aware. Often 'calculating' implies an artificial element. No matter whether I've disagreed with what they were doing musically or lyrically, I could never accuse them of 'doing a number.' There's never been a false note. They have an incredible sense of what's 'right.'

* Reid writes lyrics that are very consciously calculating. People who pun don't do it just naturally. They might have a facility at punning, but it's a calculating level of humor, and there are a lot of puns running through the songs. The whole idea of Procol Harum might be a pun in the sense that we're talking about it right now. A gleeful attachment to absurdity which relates to a kind of cynical existentialism. Or do they really believe in the Wagnerian majesty, the ultra-Romanticism, as well as the Baroque Formalism they go through? It seems to me they couldn't play that way if they didn't dig it.

* The absurdity comes out most obviously on Shine On Brightly. The beanstalk on In Held 'Twas In I, and the sound effects...

* If anything, besides the imbalance towards guitar, the only thing that has given me a slight cause for disappointment, or a lessening in the overall impact of Procol Harum, is the fact that they've mellowed. Broken Barricades is a much mellower album than Shine On Brightly. They went from this stark, black-white angularity -

* Almost unlistenable -

* Almost painful ...

* I can't play Dead Man's Dream; I have to skip over it.

* I think that ended with Home.

* It couldn't go any deeper. That's what Brooker said anyway. That was right after Home came out. He'd received some lyrics from Reid, who was in Washington while the group was in Baltimore, and they were so horrible that he couldn't bear to read them. He said that was as deep as Keith was gonna get, he couldn't go any further. This (Broken Barricades) is not light in the sense that it's trivial, it's light in the sense of laughing at problems rather than succumbing to them. It's light in the Ray Davies sense.

* A lot of people have grown disaffected with Procol Harum. As Procol Harum become 'stars', many of their most devoted, fanatic fans slowly move away from them. It's kind of sad. As they gain in 'mass' acceptance, they lose that 'specialized' acceptance which made them cult figures. It's happened to a lot of groups. It happened to the Pink Floyd. If the Soft Machine ever catches on it'll happen to them ... and the Stooges, too.

* People get disenchanted with a group simply because many other people have a knowledge of them. I don't think it's happened to Procol Harum to the extent it's happened with other groups, but it may.

* It's just that they keep topping themselves. When they came out with Shine On Brightly, I thought, 'How are they gonna top that' ... and then they came out with Salty Dog, which was just phenomenal.

* I certainly think that Grand Funk Railroad has exhibited an amazing consistency in every one of their albums. (mutual laughter)

* They annoy me, and not for the obvious reasons that they suck. They annoy me because when performers achieve mass popularity they immediately interpolate that into meaning an esthetic acceptance as well.

* Terry Knight seems to think so.

* In other words, they're justified esthetically, and I just can't buy that at all. They're saying, 'we are selling that many albums cause we are good and you can't see it, you fuckers are too unhip.' And we say -

* Fifty million kids can't be wrong.

* We say, 'Fifty million kids can be wrong. They suck and you suck, they don't have any taste, so you're still un-justified.' Which all sounds incredibly elitist.

* It really isn't taste at all, as we were talking about a phenomenon being more important than artistic quality. But artistic quality magically arises in some cases. I think it's there with Three Dog Night; I'm glad they're there to counter-balance Grand Funk.

* It becomes a question of pretentions. When a schlock group knows they're playing schlock music, they generally play it well, and when a schlock group thinks they're creating an art form, they play badly.

* Rock and Roll Thesis No. 1  (Extended interlude dealing with respective pretentions)

* Procol Harum has a way of drawing people into their  music ... like the drum solo on Power Failure, which is done with a very clever, satirical sense.

* Which is real Procol Harum 'live' applause, but it's grafted onto the studio track.

* It foxed me the first time I heard it, cause I thought it was a live recording.

* It was too clean to be 'live' to me.

* Yeah ... but you asked them, you weren't really sure. And for that one second I bet you went: 'Hmmm, I wonder if ...' and that's all that Keith Reid wanted.

* And a drum solo in the first place.

* Exactly, as you put it so well: After five albums, Barrie's entitled to a drum solo.

* But then he does the kind of drum solo that you'd never expect from him. It's not really his style of drumming...

* I think that's enough for that band, they'll just have to starve ... we've given them more than enough time. What do you think? (laughter)

* I don't know.

* I don't know ... this may be successful only in that it was pungent but frequently elliptical.

* Well, it's gonna be hard to transcribe. Maybe you can do half and I can do half ...

   Thanks to Marvin Chassman for sending this to BtP

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home