Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes'

Without a Doubt (April Fool edition)

Album: Procol's Ninth (1975)

Authors: Brooker / Reid +

 Read the words

Performed: Frequently

Cover-versions: Odradek Brothers (instrumental)

This stirring, upbeat song was known, before it appeared on the album, as The Poet, and it seems likely also to have been circulating in the late sixties as a demo, Gonna Really Cook, that was offered to Dusty Springfield among others, and never covered (although it seems to have been played, according to a 1969 interview in the Sandie Pandie fanzine, by Sandie Shaw whom Brooker accompanied when the Paramounts were her backing band.) Shaw has now (2001) no memory of Gonna Really Cook but it could be identical to a song about 'going down to the kitchen to write a prayer' that her management company objected to, and which was consequently withdrawn from her set, and from the planned album One Foot on the Seashore, which is now a highly-prized collector's item.

The history of the song, as it appeared on Procol's Ninth, is closely bound up in attempts by rival record labels to poach Procol Harum from Chrysalis; one such bid involved an attempt to hype the band's reputation by having Keith Reid elected to the Royal College of Poets. Part of the poignant chorus, so often taken to be Reid's heartfelt plea to his muse, was in fact penned by executives from Valkyrie Records and translated from something written in the ninth century (cf the title of the album it was taken from), known in three contemporary or near-contemporary manuscripts, one of which is entitled Frydeswye his Prayer.

Desunt modo pauci versus
ratio seminis serendae causa
Solus versus qui coeperim
ceteri subvenient sine dubio

St Frydeswyde is the patron saint of poets, and the second line of her prayer (adapted) has served as a motto on the shield of the Royal College of Poets since they were granted their arms by the College of Heralds in 1612. It translates literally as 'just a thought to sow a seed', and the rest of the verse bears an unmistakable resemblance to the chorus of the present song. Needless to say, this plagiarism cut no ice with the College of Poets at all, though the third and fourth stanzas were printed, under a different title, in their 1977 anthology, These You Have Loved.

An early version of this song, with the lyric sung in Latin, was played at a 'local bands' showcase organised by Croydon's Radio KBSR, of which a good quality tape survives (mp3 here): the singer is possibly not Brooker, though it is probably not Ray Royer or Bobby Harrison either; it appears to contain an extra verse that tallies nicely with Sandie Shaw's memories, in which the poet says he is going downstairs to write a prayer, but the gods will not listen to him because they are not there and [very hard to hear this] he is not able to concentrate when the ceiling is about to collapse ('coelum collapserit').

Thanks to Franz Kafka for additional information about this song

The sensible (non-April Fool) commentary on this song is here


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