Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum's NME coverage ...

2 + 16 + 30 March, 6 + 20 April, 4 May 1974

These excerpts from New Musical Express, kindly selected for 'Beyond the Pale' by Yan Friis, include a plain-speaking assessment of the career of a band 'endowed with every shade of virtue and good intentions - and a sense of strategic intelligence that is barely more than cretinous'. A new single (well-received) and a small tour (not so) precede the release of the new album.

After an eight week printers' strike, the New Musical Express returns to the news stands on 19 January 1974.

NME, March 2, 1974

Front page headlines:
Roy Wood: How much can a poor boy take? (big pic)
Angie hits out.. (small pic of Angie Bowie)
Slade, Mott tours
Alvin Lee and heavy friends - Rainbow special

News pages:
Procol Harum: eight concerts
Procol Harum are to play a string of eight British concerts, mostly at universities, between tonight (Thursday) and the end of March - and these will be their only dates in the country this year. The band have just finished recording their new album, which is expected to be released in April - but as a preview, a single titled Nothing But The Truth is extracted from it for March 15 release. Harum's date schedule, which includes no London venue, is:

Exeter University (tonight, Thursday), Bradford University (this Saturday), Colchester Essex University (March 9), Southampton University (14), Reading University (15), Norwich East Anglia University (16), Birmingham Town Hall (24), Newcastle Mayfair (29).

NME Top 5:
1. ( 1) Devil Gate Drive, Suzi Quatro
2. ( 4) Jealous Mind, Alvin Stardust
3. (12) Rebel Rebel, David Bowie
4. ( 5) Wombling Song, The Wombles
5. (10) The Air That I Breathe, The Hollies

NME albums:
1. ( 1) The Singles 1969-1973, Carpenters
2. ( 2) Old New Borrowed And Blue, Slade
3. ( 3) Silverbird, Leo Sayer
4. ( 5) Band On The Run, Paul McCartney & Wings
5. ( 6) Solitaire, Andy Williams

Main album reviews:
Mick Ronson, Slaughter On 10th Avenue
Lou Reed, Rock'n'Roll Animal
Stackridge, The Man In The Bowler Hat
Steeleye Span, Now We Are Six
Marc Bolan & T.Rex, Zinc Alloy & The Hidden Riders Of Tomorrow

Main single reviews by Ian MacDonald:
Johnny Mathis, Life Is A Song Worth Singing
Carly Simon & James Taylor, Mockingbird
Elton John, Candle In The Wind

Open an eight venue British tour at Exeter (Thursday), also this week visiting Bradford (Saturday). These will be their only British dates this year, so catch them while you can.

See news pages for further details.

NME, March 16, 1974

Front page headlines:

CSN&Y re-formed - tour, album (small pic and story)
Farewell Androgyny...
Is this the Kiss of Death?
(big pic of Gene Simmons)
Beefheart due/Stardust tour
WLP: extra Wembley gigs/Purple tour

NME Top 5:
1. ( 1) Jealous Mind, Alvin Stardust
2. ( 3) The Air That I Breathe, The Hollies
3. ( 9) Billy Don't Be A Hero, Paper Lace
4. ( 3) You're Sixteen, Ringo Starr
5. ( 8) The Most Beautiful Girl, Charlie Rich

NME albums:
1. ( 1) The Singles 1969-1973, Carpenters
2. ( 2) Old New Borrowed And Blue, Slade
3. ( 3) Band On The Run, Paul McCartney & Wings
4. ( 7) Burn, Deep Purple
5. ( 8) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John

Main album reviews:
Blue Oyster Cult, Tyranny And Mutation
Badfinger, Ass
Climax Blues band, Live
The Hollies, The Hollies
Aretha Franklin, Let me In Your Life
Amon Duul II, Vive La Trance
Tangerine Dream, Phaedra
Doobie Brothers, What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
King Crimson, Starless And Bible Black
Queen, Queen II
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Anthology
Michael Nesmith, Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash

Main single reviews by Charles Shaar Murray:
Brinsley Schwartz, I've Cried My Last Tear
Mott The Hoople, The Golden Age Of Rock'n'Roll
O'Jays, For The Love Of Money
Glitter Band, Angel Face
Loudon Wainwright III, Down Drinkin' In The Bar
Little Jimmy Osmond, I'm Gonna Knock On Your Door
Neil Young, Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Cat Stevens, Oh Very Young
Badfinger, Apple Of My Eye
Mungo Jerry, Long Legged Woman Dressed In Black
Cockney Rebel, Judy Teen

do not exactly outwear their welcome in this country - in fact, the eight gigs they are playing this month will be their only ones in Britain this year. They are, of course, much more active on the American scene - as indeed are many other British acts. Although this may seem rather hard on their supporters, there is unquestionably far greater scope (and lolly) in the States. Their current home gigs tie in with the release this weekend of their single Nothing But The Truth, and they have an as-yet-untitled album to follow in April. You can catch them at Southampton (Thursday), Reading (Friday) and Norwich (Saturday). Pictured is Gary Brooker.

Just a tiny comment here:
A new album is just around the corner. 1973 has just been their best year since 1967 with lots of good press and extremely successful concerts. And then Procol Harum decide to do just eight gigs in Britain in 1974 - all well before their new album is released.

Are they crazy? Or are they seeking revenge because Grand Hotel sold less than expected?

I think 1974 could have been their moment in Britain. They had the press behind them. They had the concert audiences all over Britain ready for them. And they had a killer album in the can.

Instead they go for the US yet again. And fail. Exotic Birds only reaches No. 86 on Billboard. In fact they will never go Top 40 in the States again.

A missed opportunity indeed.

NME, March 30, 1974

Front page headlines:

Mr. Morrison regrets ... (letter from Van Morrison's doctor)
Elton charity gig (big pic of Elton)
ELP provincial dates
Focus tour
Jackson 5 for Wembley
Roxy 'secret' gigs
Quo tour

NME Top 5:
1. ( 1) Billy Don't Be A Hero, Paper Lace
2. ( 4) The Most Beautiful Girl, Charlie Rich
3. ( 2) The Air That I Breathe, The Hollies
4. ( 7) I Get A Little Sentimental Over You, New Seekers
5. (18) Emma, Hot Chocolate

NME albums:
1. ( 1) The Singles 1969-1973, Carpenters
2. ( 5) Band On The Run, Paul McCartney & Wings
3. ( 2) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
4. ( 4) Old New Borrowed And Blue, Slade
5. ( 3) Burn, Deep Purple

Main single reviews by Andrew Tyler:
Sir John Betjeman, A Shropshire Lad
Sister Janet Mead, The Lord's Prayer
Bee Gees, Mr Natural
Slade, Everyday
Jim Stafford, Spiders And Snakes
Lindisfarne, Taking Care Of Business
King Crimson, The Night Watch
John Fogerty, Comin' Down The Road
Wombles, Remember You're A Womble

PROCOL HARUM: Nothing But The Truth (Chrysalis)
Now you're talking. One of the great misunderstood bands of our time press on expertly while non-believers gnash their teeth and those Logan and MacDonald chappies carry me bodily from the reviewing room to discuss refinements to the decor while Gary Brooker wails how "the dream has become the insanity"... so what's going on. Well, I like this record very much because it has, errm, thingmy. Wallop. Yes, a wallop that begins with BJ Cole's [sic] drums and widens through matching piano and organ and Mick Grabham's blustering guitar lines. Will it be loved by the nation? Yes please.

Main album reviews:
The Eagles, On The Border
Demis Roussos, Forever And Ever
Renaissance, Ashes Are Burning
Grand Funk, Shinin' On
Mott The Hoople, The Hoople
Medicine Head, Thru' A Five
Big Star, Radio City
Kiss, Kiss

Procol Harum / Reading
After all their years in existence Procol Harum are still one of the few bands who still manage to make each infrequent British gig something of an occasion. And their appearance at Reading University no exception.

But it's not as though their whole act was totally satisfactory, it's just that they played a considerable amount of new material, and if you're only likely to see them once a year, that appears to be a fair return on the ticket price.

However if they were to appear more regularly in Britain, probably there would be one or two pertinent criticisms leveled at them.

Their act appears to be introverted, and although I'm not suggesting Gary Brooker should do a hand-stand on his grand piano, I do think his tendency to bark orders at the sound technician and mumble through introductions creates a void between the group and the audience.

There was also an inconsistency in their programming which tended to cramp Procol's impetus. Conquistador opened the show well, but they seemed to stumble up until Homburg. The Idol came over well later on, only to be followed by a mediocre blues-rock piece called Butterfly Boys.

But really there's no decrying their musical abilities, because Procol still can rate as one of the most competent, if not outstanding, bands in contemporary music. Over the rhythmic thrust of Alan Cartwright on bass, and B.J. Wilson, drums, is the organ (and / or guitar and banjo) of Chris Copping, the melodic if strained vocals of Brooker, and some adept lead guitar from Mick Grabham.

Although it's quite possible Whaling Stories, A Salty Dog and Grand Hotel came out best during the evening, a newie called Beyond The Pale suggests they'll be as comparatively good material on their new elpee Exotic Birds And Fruit, as their last.

But the cacophonous rock piece which closed their set called Nothing But The Truth, (now issued as a single), brought an anti-climatic conclusion to the show. If they hadn't dusted down A Whiter Shade Of Pale for the encore, they would have finished up very badly.

Tony Stewart (another review of this gig is here)

NME, April 6, 1974

Front page headlines:

JONI APRIL CONCERTS (big pic of Joni Mitchell)

Nazareth tour dates
Dylan sought
Beefheart set for Olympia
Rock Proms
Iggy Tour

NME Top 5:
1. ( 1) Billy Don't Be A Hero, Paper Lace
2. ( 7) Seasons In The Sun, Terry Jacks
3. ( 5) Emma, Hot Chocolate
4. (19) Remember Me This Way, Gary Glitter
5. ( 2) The Most Beautiful Girl, Charlie Rich

NME albums:
1. ( 1) The Singles 1969-1973, Carpenters
2. ( 9) Millican & Nesbitt, Millican & Nesbitt
3. ( 2) Band On The Run, Paul McCartney & Wings
4. ( 3) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
5. ( 4) Old New Borrowed And Blue, Slade

News pages:

Release of Procol Harum's eighth album Exotic Birds And Fruit has been delayed by technical difficulties, and it will now be issued on April 19 by Chrysalis. It features nine new Gary Brooker-Keith Reid compositions, including the band's newly-released single Nothing But The Truth.

Main album reviews:
Frank Zappa, Apostrophe
Geordie, Don't Be Fooled By The Name
Grateful Dead, Skeletons In The Closet - Best Of
Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band, Unconditionally Guaranteed
Strawbs, Hero And Heroine
Colin Bluntstone, Journey
Robin Trower, Bridge Of Sighs ("Support and attention" - Charles Shaar Murray)

Main single reviews by Steve Clarke:
Stevie Wonder, He's Misstra Know It All
Sparks, This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us
Mud, The Cat Crept In
Gordon Lightfoot, If You Could Read My Mind

NME, April 20, 1974:

Extremely boring Easter issue.

But last page is a full page ad for Exotic Birds And Fruit


NME, May 4, 1974:

Front page headlines:

Rod / Faces is this the end? (big pic of Rod Stewart)
BRYAN FERRY (Hot exclusive on new album)
Alice plans autumn tour
Grace Slick (Kung fu with Lester Bangs)

NME Top 5:
1. ( 4) Waterloo, ABBA
2. ( 2) Seasons In The Sun, Terry Jacks
3. ( 1) The Cat Crept In, Mud
4. ( 3) Remember You're A Womble, The Wombles
5. ( 9) Homely Girl, Chi-Lites

NME albums:
1. ( 1) The Singles 1969-1973, Carpenters
2. ( 2) Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
3. ( 3) Band On The Run, Paul McCartney & Wings
4. ( 4) Buddha And The Chocolate Box, Cat Stevens
5. ( 6) Diana And Marvin, Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye


Feelin' kinda seasick - but the crowd calls out for more
by Andrew Tyler

Procol Harum have to be the least baggable combination since Alan Osmond laid his tabernacles on the line and stepped out with Lena Skoog.

Do you remember how Salt Lake City was thrown from the trail of myopic contentment - and not so much by the brilliant-ludicrous nature of the Skoog / Osmond enterprise but because neither of them was saying anything at all about anything; nothing about what they had in mind or whether they actually accomplished whatever it was they had in mind.

The episode became just another fashionable inanity on the record big reception circuit and was finally discharged into the latrines of Dingwalls and The Marquee.

Now I won't pretend the Procol Harum story is quite so convenient or trivial or that the whole thing will eventually wash away down some In-Place toilet. But consider the similarities.

Brooker and co-evals have managed to create, over the last seven years, the muzziest image outline of any front-line British band ... Soft Machine, Floyd, Milligan and Nesbitt included, and they've invariably acted with an absurd brand of logic that quite usually approaches the realms of the surreal.

The temptation, at first, is to parcel them up and excuse them as some kind of brooding variant on the Moody Blues' rock'n'roll-with-strings theme, since both bands deal in drawn-out thematic pieces and share a fascination with the symphonic wall of sound. But it doesn't hold. The Moodies, by comparison, are visionary imbeciles and have never managed to sustain anything like the aroma of detached mystique that permeates much of Procol's work.

'Frosty, cagey wolverine', top leftMost of the dark comes by way of Gary Brooker, the band's brilliant composer / arranger, pianist and vocalist who, off stage and on, is a frosty and cagey wolverine. An interview with Brooker is kind of like an exercise in dynamic tension where you flex a series of questions against a series of static grunts and wind up in an inflated state of agitation. Know what I mean? There's very little Brooker has said or probably intends to say about his music and that's fine, you suppose.

It's clear, though, that his over-riding concern is for Procol to be regarded as a band of players and definitely not as the Gary Brooker Ensemble that sometimes branches out to include, say, the Royal Philharmonic or the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. But The Democracy-In-Action attitude begins to look like so many doggie stains when you consider the changing nature of the Procol line-up and how much Brooker's role has been to keep it together and fuelled with new material.

Harum was formed out of a Southend band called The Paramounts whose notoriety lay in a hit recording of Poison Ivy. The Paramounts, aside from Brooker, were Procol men Chris Copping (organ), B.J. Wilson (drums) and former Procol guitarist Robin Trower. Yet when Brooker put together a band in 1967 to record Whiter Shade Of Pale, it was with a conspicuously different line-up; ie, with David Knights on bass (now with Ruby) and Bobby Harrison (now with Snafu) on drums, and guitarist Ray Royer.

Procol were nothing like prepared for the escapades on Pale - a record that has sold 11 million world-wide - and when you reflect on the saga of Pale and indulge in other mild forms of scrutiny, Procol are revealed as a band endowed with every shade of virtue and good intentions - and a sense of strategic intelligence that is barely more than cretinous.

But then, the public at large, especially those at home, have been so grudging in their acceptance of Harum masterpieces like the Shine On Brightly album or the Salty Dog single, you can scarcely blame the band for their strange antics.

They were to strike at the charts soon after Pale with a track called Homburg. But it was patently travelling in its predecessor's slipstream and can be discounted. Five years later Harum finally and convincingly swung another hit single: Conquistador which was not only on their first album, it was the second track after Whiter Shade Of Pale.

The original recording, like most of that first batch of songs, was a thoughtful, high-stepping performance. The missing ingredient was apparently the orchestrations as later provided by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The irony here is, Brooker later told me, that, with the exception of their young conductor, the orchestra gave off no more than a perfunctory, disinterested performance.

But let's come back to Pale because that one song has always haunted the band.

Brooker said recently: "It isn't a particularly bad thing when people remember you for your old songs. It's a hang-up, perhaps, but a nice sort of hang-up because it's better to be popular somewhere for something than not be popular anywhere for anything."

That kind of logic is so glazed it leaves you with nothing to challenge and none the wiser. Yet Harum, for all that, have never decided whether to pretend Pale was the product of some distantly-related, more commercially-agile outfit than their own august selves or to confront it head-on and have another go at beating the crap out of the singles charts.

Since Pepper and other more loose-limbed excursions of the mid and late sixties, the album has been the musician's market place for all kinds of torrid displays of flatulence and related extremities while all along, the success rate has been surprisingly low. From the early days the 45 has provided the most lasting and elegant examples of rock and despite the 60s cultural explosion, initiated by bands like Procol, the situation is now as it always was.

Why then, it's reasonable to ask, does a band that produced one of the most mesmeric 45s in rock'n'roll history now edge away from the noble task of turning out hit 45s and content itself with permutations on the suicide with aesthetics mannerisms first broached on Shine On Brightly.

It's as if Procol won't risk more than necessary because, after all, they're all such dab hands at readministering the same old remedy in unvarying waves of polished excellence.

Procol guitarist Mick Grabham said just the other week: "If it happens, it happens. I mean Keith and Gary don't write specifically to come up with a single if the record company want to release one." (shrug).

The first album was, as they say, an entirely different bag of chips; ragged and unsettled against the unblemished contents of Grand Hotel and, at times, Salty Dog, yet stacked with all kinds of surprises. David Knights was still on bass and Robin Trower was still trying to work his fuzz box but, by way of compensation, Brooker and Reid pulled together a collection of incredibly diverse material capable of matching most of their subsequent out-put.

Tracks like Something Following Me and Salad Days were pared-down productions of the sort of songs that were soon to show up on The Band's Music From Big Pink, while Mabel and Good Captain Clack were strumalong hooting fables and fore-runners of Souvenir Of London from Grand Hotel (otherwise known as Grand Larceny). Matthew Fisher's organ blessings were the album's most dominant ingredient and he got the chance to run in on his own Repent Walpurgis - on which Trower patented his manic one-note howl.

In 1968 Harum produced an album of such daring and splendour it projected them clean out of the fruity British pop scene and into the arms of a generation of American college kids in the throes of their own densely-mystical period of ego-suffrage.

Shine On Brightly surpassed Big Pink, the first Cocker album and virtually everything else in sight and still nobody in Britain wanted to know. Here, it was a question of belief whether you could stomach Keith Reid's arduous lyrics and keep pace with the twists and turns of the In Held 'Twas I [sic] suite with its cacophony of circus noises, storms, cannons and sirens.

Side one demanded less furtive participations, it was just a collection of erudite rock songs and rock ballads, each of them formidable. And none more so than the title track: Shine On, on reflection, didn't have the same diamond qualities of Pepper (although I was convinced at the time that this was the case); but it has so far proved to be an impossible act to follow. Yet, buoyed up by the aesthetic triumphs of Shine On, Procol didn't fall too far behind with the next long player... Salty Dog.

Dog was the last of Matthew Fisher's involvement with the band and the wreckage caused by his departure is no more eloquently described than in the subsequent Home album.

Fisher produced Dog with engineer Ken Scott, arranged The Wreck Of The Hesperus, co-wrote three tracks and played organ, guitars, piano, marimba and recorder. Dog was a strange concoction.

At times brilliant (the title track, Too Much Between Us, The Milk Of Human Kindness, Hesperus); tired (Boredom, All This And More) - or spotty (The Devil Came From Kansas, Crucifiction Lane) and it even had a resprayed Whiter Shade Of Pale called Pilgrims Progress as a finale. There was enough, though, to keep you keyed up for what turned out to be a morbid and patchy follow up.

Fisher was out, Copping from the old Paramounts was in on keyboards bass and organ and Procol were reduced to the squalid business of ripping off the likes of Hendrix, The Band and even themselves. The Dead Man's Dream and Barnyard Stories had the same morbid intentions as the In Held Twas I [sic] suite but it was so drained of spirit the effect was soporific instead of chilling. Whaling Stories and Your Own Choice were the exceptions but Procol were in trouble and they knew it.

They were heard to complain about the treatment from the Regal Zonophone label and made a switch to Chrysalis where the first mutterings came by way of Broken Barricades.

My own memories of Barricades have always been impaired by images of Robin Trower steaming along in ever-diminishing circles, all the while imagining he's on some kind of Freedom Ride. It was an album where Procol's invisible men, Trower, Wilson and Copping, wrestled loose. And while Wilson had the good sense to stretch so far, Trower took a lot of air time and blew it on monotonous Hendrix cops (Songs For A Dreamer) or on riff drudgery like Memorial Drive. Barricades was another what-the-hell's-happening-anyway album and is mostly forgettable. Two tracks did stand out, though: the delicately-orchestrated Luskus Delph and Broken Barricades itself.

Changes were obviously needed. Copping wasn't coping with bass and organ; Trower was getting ready to split and fans were in need of some signs of vigour.

So Dave Ball moved in on guitar, Alan Cartwright - formerly with Brian Davidson's Every Which Way - took over the bass and the band toured Canada and the States and recorded the album that brought them out front once again.

It was all a mistake, of course. Sales of the Edmonton album were expected to have been moderate and, at the time, Procol were working on Grand Hotel, which because of the success of Edmonton had to be delayed several months.

The lead-in to the concert (initiated by NME writer Ritchie Yorke (see here) was complicated by missed rehearsals and a mauling of their equipment by Canadian customs men. But Wally Heider and his mobile were there and it turned out to be a miracle in recorded sound.

Brooker's vocals are immaculate, Wilson's drumming is top-heavy but brilliantly consistent and Copping, Ball and Cartwright don't do too badly either. The whole episode was a ridiculous accident that once more transformed Harum into a going concern, gave them their first single success in nearly five years and revved up a slumbering Procol audience for the top-hatted lustre of Grand Hotel.

There was no mistaking Harum's intentions. After the grossly mismanaged Home and Barricades they were set on producing an album that was unchallengeable on all counts.

What eventually emerged were a series of largely faultless productions and performances. Yet there was something eminently wrong, something that goes back to the risk element that made Shine On and the first album so magnetic. Grand Hotel falters just once, on the overlong TV Ceasar. But the test was the singles market. Attempts with Robert's Box and Souvenir Of London badly flopped.

Brooker had seen the end result of allowing his band to scramble through the Home and Barricades albums and probably wanted no more of the same. If Grand Hotel was to be a precision job it would mean fixing his musicians with scarcely more than an on-off role. The point was neatly made and Hotel gave them time to poise themselves for a less rigorously contrived follow-up.

Exotic Birds And Fruit is in no way a revelation in the tradition of Shine On and Salty Dog - but stretch marks are just visible on tracks like The Idol, Thin Edge Of The Wedge and Beyond The Pale and that has to be healthy in a band of Procol's vintage.

Monsieur R. Monde is easily skipped even though Grabham again steps out ... this time more conventionally. The adjoining Fresh Fruit is an impressive curio if only because they sound nothing like themselves; Ben E. King with the Stax pool, maybe.

There's still nothing here that's likely to crack apart the singles charts, Nothing But The Truth included. But it's a hopeful album because it demonstrates that, after all these years, Procol still don't know what they're supposed to be doing. And I always did like that in a band. And I do not snort cork.

(My comment: This piece is also the NME's review of Exotic Birds And Fruit. I don't think they planned it that way. They probably dropped the original review because they already had this big feature on the group in the same issue.)

Main album reviews:
Dr John, Desitively Bonnaroo
Alan Price, Between Today And Yesterday
Status Quo, Quo
Man, Rhinos Winos And Lunatics
Peter Frampton, Something's Happening
Elvis Presley, Good Times
Blue Oyster Cult, Secret Treaties
Chicago, Chicago VII
Barbara Streisand, The Way We Were

Main single reviews by Bob Woffinden:
Paper Lace, The Night Chicago Died
Mick Ronson, Slaughter On 10th Avenue
Kevin Coyne, I Believe In Love
Dr John, Everybody Wanna Get Rich (Rite Away)
Chicago, (I've Been) Searchin' So Long
David Essex, America 

The Mammoth Task: Yan's extracts from the first 52 weeks of Procol press in the NME

Swimming Against the Tide: Yan's extracts from the remaining ten years of Procol press in the NME

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