Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

Bringing Home the Bacon

Album: Grand Hotel (1973), Live at the BBC (1999), One More Time (2000), Procol Harum Live (DVD)

Authors: Brooker / Reid 

 Read the words

Performed: frequently 

Cover-versions: none

Once they had abandoned the 'Medieval Spaceman' outfits fashioned for them by Seemon and Marijke in 1967, Procol Harum as a band didn't really dress up on stage again. Gary used to affect concert tails for fun, but the others seem just to have chosen clothes that would have attracted little attention in any other setting. The Live at Edmonton cover illustrates this easy-going sartorial code, yet the artwork for Grand Hotel – a huge European seller – portrays the band unremittingly in top-hatted finery. It lacks any jeans-and-tee-shirt cutaway to lend perspective or irony to this stuffy image: small wonder, then, that journalists even three years later (NME) were surprised 'that these maestros of dicky-bow rock should play rock'n'roll'.

Bringing Home the Bacon is the meatiest rock'n'roll song on the album, with its heavily-echoing drum work and pounding piano riff. Yet this too is 'dressed up' (as a leg of meat still is, by British butchers) with orchestral frilleries, whose redundancy is evident from the fact that the piece has never been played with orchestra since, even at the Hollywood Bowl concert which was arguably the album's high-profile orchestral shop-window.

This second piece of porcine Procoling – after Piggy Pig Pig – marks a departure. It is percussively led, with the rest of the band also filling a largely percussive role. It's a progression on the 'dropped in' Power Failure-style drum solo, and paves the way for the more integrated drum-showcase of The Unquiet Zone which shares Bacon-like percussivity. The first few times one heard BJ's tricksy rhythmic opening on record, it was not easy to locate the bar-lines, and the piano triplets appeared to start on the beat – only when the melodic riff made its syncopated entry could we be certain that the second quaver of the piano riff was the start of the bar (a similar ruse wrong-foots the listener to Backgammon and to Brooker's solo (No More) Fear of Flying). This is the only feature-drumming song to have survived into the post-Wilson era – but the particular subtleties of this introduction have in general not survived with it.

In earliest performances, both before and after the record came out, we hear the introductory order reversed, piano leading in, followed by the drums. Sometimes the clapping crowds, having picked up a false downbeat from the piano, collapse in bewilderment as the ensemble comes in (mp3 here). Later on Barrie Wilson would lead the song in, taking the opportunity for an extended bout of cowbell-punishing (mp3 here). Sometimes Brooker would sing the organ riff off-mic, to counterfeit the scarcely-audible haze of sound conferred by the recorder-players on the original track. This riff is certainly the poppiest, hookiest line ever heard from the instrument some regard as the band's trademark sound: … a far cry from the world of A Whiter Shade of Pale. Both on record and on stage the organ remains a backing instrument, and both solos are allotted to the guitar: the ambiguously-related chords (B flat, F, G) offer plenty of scope and seem to bring out very lively work from Mick Grabham. But the ear constantly returns to the drumming; a good indication of the flair BJ brought to this track can be gleaned from comparing the way his successor (on the live Utrecht album, at 2:46) plays BJ's five-beat tom-tom fill (at 2:32 on Grand Hotel) [mp3 of both here]. Although the fills are very similar, Mark Brzezicki starts both of his on the second quaver of the bar; BJ imposes tension by choosing to start his on the fourth in bar three and the second in bar four.

The composition of the song is exceptionally modular. The three-chord riff, played twice, constitutes the verses, and a completely different music is bolted on between them: this starts in F minor and cadences, two bars later, in an entirely unpredictable E minor. When the verse comes in again, it jump-cuts back to B flat with no passing chords or notes. Brooker knows he can rely on his band's powerful playing to drive our attention over these fault-lines: in fact there are grounds for supposing that he is deliberately re-using a chord-change that has done good work before: in Still There'll be More the mood-swing between 'cry out for mercy' and 'still there'll be more' is accomplished by exactly the same, tritone-based E minor / B flat juxtaposition.

Lyrically this is the most food-saturated song since Mabel: a salacious equation between food and sex, seen in Luskus Delph and later revisited in Fresh Fruit, is hinted at. Here, however, the meat which is disavowed in Fresh Fruit is enthusiastically described. The text is extremely brief, consisting of three quatrains rhyming abcb, def(e), gfg(f) [a bracketed letter signifies a half-rhyme; the 'g' rhymes in the final stanza consist of the repeated word, 'dumpling']. Very little of the playing-time is occupied by these words (it's about 16%, whereas For Liquorice John, very similar in length, is almost 40% sung): and although it's a frequently-heard song it is one that few Procoholics could quote in accurate detail. This may be because it lacks syntax, and is composed of snapshot images presented almost as a list. This reflects its reported derivation: Gary Brooker told Rock (December 1972) 'Bringing Home The Bacon is about American menus … breast fed baby duckling, three-day-old honey-fed milk-fed fresh thin-sliced delicious gourmet veal, wrapped in a heavenly blessing of crushed bread crumbs and egg yolks grilled to your personal delight on a bed of lettuce garnished with dill pickles. Keith got all that off actual American menus.' Reid concurred, when he told Streetlife (15 May 1976) 'Bringing Home The Bacon was inspired by American hamburger joint menus.' However Reid did much more than merely transcribe menus: he transmuted them, as may be seen below.

The song was written in the last months of 1971 and first recorded with Dave Ball on lead. 'We might re-record those tracks with Mick if we can do a vastly superior job on them; otherwise we'll use them the way they are.' Brooker told Rock in late 1972. The powerful guitar solos we now know are certainly Mick Grabham's work; Frans Steensma tells that Dave played the recorder as part of the 'Pahene Ensemble', and can still be heard in that capacity. ['The Great Pahene' was a nickname of Gary's father Harry Brooker ... perhaps his were the recorders?]. Bringing Home The Bacon / Toujours L’Amour (CHS 2011) was released as a single in May 1973 in the USA. The promotional copies contained only Bringing Home the Bacon, comprising an edited version (3:20) and an album version; Chrysalis USA did likewise with Grand Hotel. The song was definitely played as early as January 1972 when Procol undertook a short British tour with Amazing Blondel supporting. Alongside the title-track, Bacon is the most-played live item from the Grand Hotel album, and has often served as a show-starter (it was also a century-starter at Guildford): as the instruments come in piecemeal, it allows the sound-team a last-minute tweak on each individual channel [it served as the Guildford sound-check for exactly this reason].

Since the band returned in 1991 Bringing Home the Bacon has been an almost guaranteed feature of every set, sometimes introduced by Brooker solely with the shout of 'Schinken', the German word for bacon. A feature of 90s performances has been the novelty fillings founds for the gaps between the riffs, which formerly showcased BJ's dandy kick drumming; the various bassists, drummers and guitarists took the opportunity to show their tastiest chops, and Matthew Fisher sometimes did too: Gary Brooker, the band's musical ironist, would insert a deft extract from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet (as popularised by B Bumble and the Stingers' Nutrocker). Bits of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and of the theme from children's TV's The Magic Roundabout have been heard in this context as well, the last-mentioned being perhaps the aptest in view of the song's superficially child-oriented subject matter (mp3 here)

Thanks to Frans Steensma for additional information about this song


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