Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Something Missing'

Procol Harum's 10.5th album

Roland from BtP

When Something Magic was reissued on CD for the first time it was something of a disappointment that it contained no bonus-tracks: fans had good reason to believe that Procol Harum had had plenty of extra material at that time. The NME (19 February 1977) had told us as much! [Subsequently the album did come out with bonus material, on Repertoire ... and of course with more again on Salvo Records : order it here]

Quite a lot of new songs had been heard on the road, as Gary Brooker seemed to confirm in Record Collector, January 1995 (full article here):

"We went to Criteria Studios in Florida, which was producing all the good sounds at the time, like the Eagles and the Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever. So we played our 16 songs to the producers, these two brothers Ron and Howie Albert. We went back into the control room and they said, 'Well, what do you want us to do?' So we said, 'We want you to engineer.' Silence. Then they said, 'Well, y'know, you can take a dog shit and cover it in chocolate, but when you bite into it, what have you got? Dog shit!' We still made the album, but it didn't really go very far after that." (Hear another wording of this anecdote, verbatim from 20 August 2006, by clicking here: GB refers to sort of fifteen songs).

Dog shit or not, fans have pondered at length what those sixteen tracks actually were. Collating set-lists from gigs on the last 70s tour, adding titles dropped in conversation (here, for example), one still falls short of the mythical sixteen.

'Beyond the Pale' has recently been offered this list, from a credible source, of tracks demoed at Miami by the band (and in some cases rejected by their producers):

I'm a Reader and [sic] a Writer

So Far Behind

Fish Dinner for Two 

The Mark of the Claw

Strangers in Space


Wizard Man

Something Magic

One Eye on the Future

Skating on Thin Ice

This Old Dog

You'd Better Wait

Musical Fish A la Carte    

Here, then, are fourteen songs. Perhaps the addition of The Worm and the Tree ... and perhaps Harlequin? ... brings the tally up to sixteen? Or maybe Gary was using 'sixteen' only approximately ... after all, as Sam Cameron has shown it's a number he likes to sing!

Is there anyone out there who has heard, or heard of, Fish Dinner for Two? Perhaps this puzzlingly uncharacteristic title belongs to the song Gary referred to as Musical Fish, or equally to A la Carte: perhaps these are all working titles for the same song? [In Bristol, July 2000, Gary confirmed that Fish Dinner for Two and Musical Fish are different songs, and informally sang some of A la Carte, including a line about 'warty melon'; Procol Harum toyed with the song again at Drammen, Norway, during the 10 October 2009 soundcheck]

One Eye on the Future was adopted by The Palers' Band at Manchester in 2001 (Procol Harum heard it played there) and following lobbying from hardcore fans it started to appear on Procol setlists. It became the title-track, as it were, of the download-only album One Eye to the Future, available from this website from Hallowe'en 2008.

And what about You'd Better Wait? This imperative title has a Paramounts air about it ... and it bears a conversational kinship to I Realise (aka Understandably Blue), which the early Brooker and Reid apparently wanted Dusty Springfield to sing. [It transpires that You'd Better Wait was played live at Aylesbury, UK, on 27 March 1976, though it was not announced by title; Chris Copping tells BtP that it was only an embryonic version of the song: 26 October 2009, the song was finally released on the Salvo Records reissue of Something Magic]. It was the opening song played by the Palers' Band at Wuppertal in 2013 .

As a title it lacks the mystery of So Far Behind ('So Far Behind what, that's the question,' said Gary onstage at the same Aylesbury gig, the only time before the 2001 tour that I heard this song played live); there seems to be some reason to believe that this (like Pandora's Box) is another early item. It appeared, of course, in a Copping-inspired arrangement on 2003's The Well's on Fire

I Realise was one of the 'Lost songs of Brooker and Reid' that Gary Brooker played at BtP's 'Procol Rarum' show in July 2007. It appears (under the title 'Understandably Blue') on Salvo Records' reissue of the first Procol Harum album: words here, including a soundclip

What about the status of Wizard Man? We can surmise that the single was a late inclusion in the original running-order, since the words don't appear on the inner spread of the vinyl album's gatefold sleeve, nor is it listed on the back; only the label on side one of the record informs us that the track is included that plus the horrid little yellow sticker (the sort that normally tells the would-be buyer that there's a hit single on board) which disfigures Bruce Meek's disturbing album-cover. Strangely, the Castle CD reissue shows the sticker too: this was obviously not shot from the original artwork (below)!

[I later learned that there must be two, variant sleeves for the vinyl album: Richard Beck writes: regarding the track Wizard Man: it did appear on my original LP Jacket from 1977. The title in question does appear among the tracks listed on the back of the jacket, but only the title is included (sans words) on the inner sleeve of song lyrics. The printer apparently did not have opportunity or words in hand to include when printing the album inner sleeve. Or perhaps my sleeve and jacket were the product of a second printing for the USA market]

Mick Grabham told Rob Kelly (full interview here) ...

'Well, originally Wizard Man wasn't going to be included because it doesn't fit in with the rest of the album, but then record companies being what they are, said, 'You've got to put that out as a single', which suited me because I thought that it would have been a hit. As it was, I was totally wrong (laughs), but Warners in the States wanted it on the album, putting forward their point that if the single is on the album and the single is a hit, then that helps to sell the album. That's the reason why Wizard Man went on.'

The B side of the Wizard Man single was Backgammon: it seems puzzling that this didn't make it on to the Castle CD release, since Drunk Again, a parallel case, made it on to the CD of Exotic Birds and Fruit. It's understandable that the band might feel unhappy about the Westside-style unearthing of abandoned tracks, but Backgammon was a legitimate release, whose inclusion on the CD might even have tempted more people to upgrade their vinyl albums.

The mysteries don't end there. With an apparent superfluity of Brooker / Reid songs to choose from, why did the album turn out with Mark of the Claw, the only Grabham / Reid song? This is a satisfactory number, and worked well enough live, but it's hard to imagine why it would have been preferred to So Far Behind. I asked Mick Grabham how that song had come about.

It came about simply because I said I'd like to write a song for the band, or have a go at writing a song for the band. Keith gave me the words to Mark of the Claw, and that was it.

What about the other missing songs we've heard about: A la Carte, Musical Fish?

Musical Fish, yes. I was never overly fond of Musical Fish, actually.

There are quite a few songs ... like One Eye on the Future, and So Far Behind ...

I don't know either of 'em. I don't know either of them by title.

Well they might not be the right titles! Maybe A la Carte and Musical Fish are the titles of songs that we think have other titles. But One Eye on the Future is very characteristic: (sings)

It sounds vaguely familiar, but ...

Long time ago, I guess.

Yes, But as to whether ... but the only one I can think of that was never recorded, that we played live a couple of times ... I don't know how long we did it for ... now, how did that one go? (sings the riff that starts So Far Behind)

Why are these tracks so forgotten? True, they don't all sound like truly great songs: though So Far Behind seems to have been enjoyed by a lot of fans [and was later championed by Chris Copping: his home version of it, recorded in Australia with a Gary Brooker vocal, was played at the Guildford Palers' Convention in September 2000: this may have helped bring the song back into Procol's concert repertoire for the 2001 tour, and hence on to the 2003 album, The Well's on Fire, resulting in a Copping credit on the liner note]. Maybe they were already stale songs by the time they were aired in Miami, retreads from the session that the band allegedly recorded with Bob Ezrin, after Procol's Ninth, when they were still contracted to do an album with Lieber and Stoller, a contract they had to extricate themselves from in court (or so a publsihed 'biography' of Procol Harum claimed ... allegations that wewre scornfully rebutted by Brooker and Copping during 2018). So Far Behind, in fact, with its sharply accented, Motown-like guitar riff, sounds very like the opening of Shine on Brightly ... would it be too much to surmise that it dates from right back in those early times?)

Gary Brooker confirmed, in conversation with Roland from BtP (November 2008) that So Far Behind is an extremely early song, the words dating back among the earliest lyrics that Keith Reid gave him to set to music.

The lost tracks from Shine on Brightly, that were displaced by In Held 'Twas in I, are now quite well known, but they are definitely second-rate; is this because the recordings we now have of them are unelaborated demos, played once, considered, then discarded? Mick Grabham's account of the songs Procol Harum first showed the Alberts in Miami suggests that they were not demoed at all, just played through on piano and maybe an acoustic guitar, with no tape running. As so often in Procol history, confusion reigns.

Whether the titles above correspond to extant demo-tracks, we cannot say. If Procol Harum really played their songs to Ron and Howie Albert, then 'went back into the control room', it seems probable that they were recorded. But what is the chance of such a demo's having survived, given the climate of gloom that evidently pervaded Criteria, strangely not to be dispelled until all concerned started to work on The Worm and the Tree?

Pete Solley gave a forthright account of the Albert brothers' attitude at the Miami sessions, when Ron Smith interviewed him, for this website, in 1997 (full article here):

"' ... the more I got to know the Alberts better the more I realised the guys couldn't mix a cake ... we simply made a very bad choice in getting them, and that was really the worst thing to happen to the band ... they were completely inept, completely uncooperative. They added nothing, simply detracted with their complete lack of enthusiasm. You couldn't have picked two worse people to do the record, who had less idea about the music of Procol Harum.'"

Later in the interview quoted above, Pete Solley tells Ron that 'we had other songs, too,' but his recall of specifics sadly doesn't match his vivid general recollections of the album's producers:

Other songs to pick from? Something Magic was just re-issued. I assume the lack of bonus tracks means there actually are no out-takes or unreleased tracks.

I guess so.

Everything that you recorded is on the original record.

I guess. I can't remember. We played a bunch of songs, I can't remember what they were. I really can't.

You auditioned them but they weren't recorded?

No. We played a bunch of stuff -

And then the Alberts chose which ones to actually record?

Yeah, from what I remember ... "

So will the true composition of this 'bunch of stuff' ever be known to the fan-world? Does the tape exist, perhaps in Gary's fabled vault, ready to come out, 'one day', on his Gazza label, if his other releases continue to sell well? Or if it does exist, do prohibitive copyright or publishing difficulties bar them from the light of day?

'Beyond the Pale' doesn't know: sorry! But we'd love to hear from anyone who does!

A preview edition of this page was shown to Gary Brooker in Amsterdam by Frans Steensma, who reports: 'it was pretty difficult for GB (who looked fitter than ever, definitely lost a couple of pounds the last few weeks!) to read the contents, as he left his glasses in the dressing room!

He definitely had no recollection of all the songs that they had for Something Magic, but gave his comments to songs which he - vaguely - remembered:

1. So Far Behind. He really couldn't remember the song not even after I helped him with a short explanation of the contents and the great Grabham lick it contained. [Yet he quoted the words confidently to Roland from BtP on the telephone in October 1999!]

2. Fish Dinner For Two. "Wrong title. Should be Musical Fish."

3. Backgammon. When I asked about this song, GB immediately mentioned in one breath all other instrumental songs Procol had done ...(there are five of them) No connection to a film or a TV-theme, as some fans have wondered. "It was just us, doing a Booker T."

4. This Old Dog. "We did this one live quite often" {26 October 2009, the song was finally released on the Salvo Records reissue of Something Magic]

5. You'd Better Wait. Really thought for about ten seconds, but couldn't find any trace in his memory.

6. A la Carte. This is definitely the same song as 'Acacante', reported from a hand-written set-list. A la Carte is definitely a different song from Musical Fish. "A la Carte was a jazzy song, Musical Fish wasn't."

Frans was also able to establish that Harlequin was not a leftover track from Something Magic. (More writings at BtP from Frans)

Something Magic: the tracks that were eventually recorded

Mick Grabham on the Procol years

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