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

'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

Luskus Delph

Album: Broken Barricades (1971)

Authors: Brooker / Reid 

 Read the words

Performed: little 

Cover-versions: none

Luskus Delph is surely the most puzzling song title in the Procol catalogue, perhaps in any catalogue. Procol Harum were often accused of wilful obscurity, and perhaps this title justifies such a claim. On the other hand, the song seemingly concerns hopes of penetrating unknown mysteries, and it's perhaps fitting that the fans should still be still be 'outsiders' to this one, thirty years on. It is one of the first batch of three songs that were recorded in December 1970 at the brand-new AIR Studios in London; the master reel was compiled on 29 December 1970, and on it John Punter wrote 'Luscious Delph'. It would be interesting to know if this was a mishearing on his part, or whether the word was amended by the band afterwards. Gary has been heard to gloss 'Luskus' as 'A cross between lust and suck' (in concert) and 'Keith's made-up word for something that people like to do in the evening' (Radio Luxembourg, 1971). However these look like post-facto etymologies, and they don't address the question, 'why coin a new word at all?' The presence of the equally recondite 'Delph' has encouraged some to suppose that the title contains a forename and a surname. It would be nice to suggest that time will tell; but it probably won't!

'A little sultry, a little underhanded smut,' said Gary from stage in 1971, about the song's content. He also told the NME that it was 'An obscene song' and went on to say that 'When I think of erotica, I don’t think in modern-day sense, with women in cake make-up, and incredible perversions. Luskus Delph is very gentle and dated. Fragile really.' He certainly avoided all the clichés by which rock-bands seek to convey the excitements of the flesh – the brooding harmonic build, throbbing bass spasms and guitar ejaculations of Skip Softly are entirely absent here – opting instead for a serenely symmetrical composition smoothly realised with a delightful, languid delicacy. Though the tune is very pleasant, verse and chorus are both strictly chord-led in conception, being complementary explorations of the cycle of fourths. The verse starts on B major and successive chords step down a fourth; after the fourth chord this cycle moves up a minor third to repeat itself; the 'chorus', which is an instrumental passage, starts on an F, and successive chords step up a fourth; after the fourth chord this cycle moves down a minor third to repeat itself. The modulations inside each section, as well as those between sections, contribute a charming plangency to the scheme; they make a bright effect, however, which compensates for the fact that the vocal melody is highly formulaic, consisting solely of various transpositions of a single phrase, built on the resolution of an opening accented discord.

'It may remind you a little of Sleepers Awake,' said Gary to NME (5 June 1971), while BJ was reported as saying it was 'Like a Viennese Waltz, kind of,' which is odd, as it resolutely stays in four-four time, and certainly has no overtones of Bach. Perhaps both comments were in fact made about the song's lilting, lullaby quality, or the beauty of Gary's orchestration. Gary used 'sweet' to describe Nicholas Dodd's New Testament Procol arrangements, and his own score here may be responding to the words 'sweetness' and 'sweet' in his writing-partner's text. This score was enhanced for the performance with the Edmonton Symphony orchestra in November 1971 (it became the B side to the Conquistador live single, released in the UK July 1972 (CHS 2003); as well as making very effective use of the organ (by now Alan Cartwright had released Chris Copping from bass-playing duties) it assigned French horn and trumpet to the melody formerly heard on a flute – or so we mostly thought in 1971. In fact the 'flute' is a Moog played by Gary, and this discovery surprised no-one more than the synth-hating camp who deplored the instrument's 'introduction' for the recording of Something Magic. A solo flute would have been hard-put to carry its line against the weight of a full orchestra, not least with BJ's percussion recorded so boldly, quite a welcome alternative to the very quiet fussiness of the album version. A notable feature is the chorus-worth of gentle 'ooh' vocal from Gary that starts at 1:02; the effect of this, which has no parallel in the rest of the canon, is exceptionally soothing.

This song, like the Long Goodbye later, is presented in a different key live: it's a semitone lower than the album version, presumably in order to leave fewer accidentals for the Edmonton players. Gary makes good use of the strings' varied articulation, pizzicato basses, highly syncopated offbeats in the violins, then the full lushness of the arco melody. The music veers towards slush, but the occasional 'push' in the piano saves it; the 'live' ending involves a rather hasty wind-up on a minor seventh, rather than the slow fade on the album (which reaches inaudibility just after a delicious goody on the piano).

Keith Reid was evidently pleased with the song and the words, which he selected for his book, My Own Choice, where it appeared with the small variant 'I'll try to gauge', and more conventional use of possessive apostrophes. In both album and book, luskus delph is printed with lower case letters, as if it is not a personal name. However he does not seem to have scheduled it much on band setlists after the promotional round on 1971: it was first played during the short US tour February, and seems ripe for revival.

Burn me up ...



Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song

Back to the song-by-song index

E-mail contributions for this feature

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