The following reviews are based on Salvo Records‘ 40th anniversary series which is approved by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid who personally selected bonus tracks for each disc and did not want all the previous extra material, out on the “…Plus” re-issues, to be used again as they find it not up to standard.
A peculiar navigation through the stormy waters of the band with a mission.
The ones wishing to devour a bite-size history of PROCOL HARUM should go no further than the group’s debut single: “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” backed with “Lime Street Blues” tell it all concisely by combining the grand and the blunt. Yet stopping within two first tracks of this lavish four-disc box would mean missing the point of the ensemble’s existence. They might emerge fully-formed and never really change the tack but there’s more than meets the eye in the PROCOL treasure chest, open for all to see. Still, if you look for the obvious, the best place to dwell on is Salvo’s 2CD collection, “Secrets Of The Hive”, while those subscribing for the whole journey are faced with a danger of overlooking obscure gems hidden between the albums’ lofty peaks. Hence “All This And More…”, which embraces it all on both aural and visual levels that, what with Keith Reid‘s image-rich lyrics and Gary Brooker’s music, have never been separate as reflected in Demis Roussos’ amazement on a video part of the package. A big mistake, then, is dividing it into two studio CDs, one live compilation and a mix from previously released DVDs, because everything’s accounted here.
So if the selection on the first disc – studio tracks are lined chronologically here – feels a bit strange with cuts like “Long Gone Geek” and the entire epic of “In Held ‘Twas In I” but no “Whisky Train” or “Conquistador”, the inevitable question is addressed in the opening title of the second platter: it’s “Your Own Choice”. Anyway, the latter of those two shines on in 2003’s version on the DVD and the former found its way onto a concert CD. There are real rarities on it, including 1973’s orchestral take on “TV Ceasar” from Hollywood Bowl, “Juicy John Pink” from 1970’s Isle of Wight Festival, and 1993’s “Last Train To Niagara” which has only been played on-stage and is a short history of the band in itself. That quite makes up for the absence – save for the inspired reading of Johann Strauss’ “Blue Danube” from 1974 – of unheard material such as demos and out-takes that embellish the remastered albums. Inclusion of two variants of “As Strong As Samson” and “Broken Barricades”, the originals and live ones, an audio and a video track, are justified nevertheless revealing high nicely the band’s sound projects before the public, no matter how complicated a recording is. More so, what this compilation clearly underlines is what a tremendous drummer B.J. Wilson was.
With a 72-page booklet to put this bonanza for ears and eyes in a context – historical and musical – the box is as great a launch-pad into the world of PROCOL HARUM as a perspective-shifting device for the well-versed in it. Not a simple greatest hits compilation, “All This And More…” adventurously goes beyond the expected, and that’s what makes this peculiar navigation so arresting.
PROCOL HARUM –
Chrysalis 1977 /
The last step before the fall, the parting glimmers of wonder lightening the twilight on the brink of the new era.
It’s so easy to blame the decline of everything gargantuan in the ’70s on punk, but the young brood had nothing to do with the fantasy deficit of many an art rocker. “Procol’s Ninth” proved HARUM unable to reinvent themselves the rootsy way like, say, another blues-based proggers JETHRO TULL did, so “Something Magic” is the band’s final try to tune in with the times. Cue the invitation of Pete Solley in order to give the priority to synthesizers rather than PROCOL’s trademark organ. It didn’t help, neither did Chris Copping’s switch back to the bass bring the “Home”-like assault to the fray. The most criminal act on offer is the epic “The Worm & The Tree”, which took the whole second side of the original LP in the desperate hope of re-capturing the “In Held ‘Twas In I” glory but, in relying on spoken word, is the only time when Gary Brooker’s music didn’t do justice to Keith Reid‘s rich lyrics, and in the second of its three parts enters the Rick Wakeman territory – as does the single B-side “Backgammon”, a bonus here.
There are fantastic moments on the record, still, the panoramic march and haunting, walk on water lines of the title track worth the price of admission alone, and it’s a pure joy to listen to how each of the instruments join the kaleidoscopic twirl over the (sometimes cheesy) orchestral backdrop. But so teasing a promise doesn’t find proper resolution later on, what with the less then three-minute “Wizard Man” giving the ’60s Manfred Mann a run for his rhythm-and-blues infectious money, even though the “Skating On Thin Ice”, pure and not surreal at all, is one of the best ballads in the ensemble’s canon. Led by gentle piano, it unfurls into the baroque court dance and is echoed in the anxious, urgent but melodically underdeveloped “The Mark Of The Claw” which, adorned with plastic solo, is more ALAN PARSONS PROJECT than PROCOL HARUM, its composer Mick Grabham’s bluesy guitar wail notwithstanding. Likewise, the futuristic soul of “Strangers In Space” is great on its own romantic terms yet it’s where the old fans might want to jump the ship.
New songs, the country hoedown “This Old Dog” and the unremarkable “You’d Better Wait”, played only live, never on par with what went before couldn’t save the group from identity dissolving, so the break-up was the only way to remain the viable force, and the band quit the stage for good – to return in 1991 and soldier on ever since.
PROCOL HARUM –
Chrysalis 1975 /
The quest for the lost three-chord turning out not as paly grey – and not as great – as it may seem.
To many it’s an eternal enigma: why PROCOL HARUM, the quintessentially English progressive rock band hired the classic rock ‘n’ roll himakers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as producers for what they considered – judging by the Beethoven allusion of the title’s pun – their magnum opus. The answer lies in plain sight, just like the group’s portrait on the cover, the clue being the closer, a dry cover of THE BEATLES’ “Eight Days A Week”. Two previous albums showed a “Sgt. Pepper’s” to “White Album” backward shift that made Brooker & Co. feel as if they’d lost their inner rocker, so this record would be their “Let It Be” – with a twist, of course.
And the twist is in the deceptively stripped-down sound, although not on other old cut, the producers’ own “I Keep Forgetting” done the PROCOL-way, but on compositions from the band’s own past. It’s the breezy yet sultry “Pandora’s Box” with its sea-theme and marimba-marked predatoty pace, conceived back in 1967 and now mightily updating the erstwhile instrumental version, and “The Unquiet Zone” which casts Mick Grabham as devout Hendrix fan as Robin Trower before him, the raw run-through in the bonus section pushing the guitar heroics to the fore above the synth-tinkling and the Stax-styled drumming. That’s the way to gain momentum as the increasingly swinging “Fool’s Gold” demonstrates, where the power accumulates around the gospel-tinged vocals and the brightly shining subject matter, while the churchy blues of “Taking The Time”, waltzing lazily on the patina-smeared reeds, brings no contrast to the table whatsoever. It’s all threads in the heart-warming fabric: so much for the retro rockin’!
Still, the old-school feel is wrapped around the rhythm and piano shapes of “The Final Thrust” that flows pleasantly and lighly, its ABBA-like pop chorus ready to snatch the Eurovision prize. But if “Typewriter Torment” seems like another vain attempt to engage the listener in the hand-clapping sway, multiple time-changes of another artist-suffering number, “Without A Doubt”, including the majestic hymn, superficial dub and the brass-oiled Philly soul, feel plainly awkward and alone might be responsible for the album’s universal panning by many. After that, the anthemic organ ride in “The Piper’s Tune” zips the skin but not the psyche. And it’s not the Leiber-Stoller fault, it’s just that the ensemble, in their own words, “laid a careful trap and… fallen in their lap”. With obvious lack of ideas, magnum opus this isn’t.
PROCOL HARUM –
Exotic Birds And Fruit
Chrysalis 1974 /
A feast of emotions and a sign of decline: the band burst in wild colors.
From the white to the black-hued cover and from the austerity to the excess, the way from “Grand Hotel” to its follow-up couldn’t be more radical and logical at the same time. Committed to tape in the swirl of economic turmoil and constant touring, “Exotic Birds And Fruit” is one of the most molten and moulden HARUM’s records, rocking hard and bright from the elegant wallop and gallop of “Nothing But The Truth”, where Gary Brooker piano flirts with Chris Copping’s organ and the soulful vocals swim in the orchestral sweep, and on to the “New Lamps For Old” that consciously harks back to “A White Shade”, arrangement-wise, yet smells of Aladdin’s cave incense and prompts the listener to have another look at the artwork.
It’s the album where Keith Reid‘s surreal vision shows its mythological roots: here, Icarus emerging off the previous LP’s “For Liquorice John” and Conquistador of the band’s debut find their new quest in the irresistible, dobro-sprinkled sirtaki pop which is “Beyond The Pale”, whereas the Old Testament majesty filling “As Strong As Samson”, with its threatening splashes from B.J. Wilson’s drums and the soothing slide courtesy of guesting B.J.Cole, is a sharp comment on the ways of the world. This mundane rush reflects in the minimalistic approach – a lot of space and echo – and clipped phrases of “The Thin End Of The Wedge”, too modern and cold to fit the album’s context: together with “Monsieur R. Monde”, a new, powerful and funky take on the song originally laid down in 1967, a symptom of the ensemble’s tiredness, perhaps.
But then there’s choral pull in “The Idol” that’s as relevant for all times as the bottow-end groove propelled by Alan Cartwright’s bass and contrasted with Mick Grabham’s soaring guitar solo. It’s all slightly unbalanced in the sequencing department, with two humorous songs, the Caribbean blues “Fresh Fruit” and the panto shuffle “Butterfy Boys”, coming in pair, yet the latter kicks the politicians (and the record label) in the balls, again, for all to have the same ball that rolls across the opening track. Thus, the concept becomes clearer somehow, the legends of yesterday turning into the inebriating reality of today, and the rare B-side “Drunk Again”, tagged here as a swaggering bonus, shows that for HARUM the cup was half-full and full-on at the time.
PROCOL HARUM –
Chrysalis 1973 /
From the lofty to the low, the decadence looms large – in small detail.
For all the grandiosity of PROCOL HARUM’s works, the band never overtly declared the opulence they could offer, only hinting on that in the ghostly “Shine On Brightly”, and it possibly took the orchestral album to free the group from whatever concept shackles there were. Now, understatement is no more and the rococo splendor settles in from the opening lines of the title composition – Gary Brooker’s piano and voice echoing off the empty hall’s walls, Keith Reid‘s lyrics depicting viands and other pleasures – but it’s still full of specters having a ball, “The Shining”-way. The strings, the wind and the choir bouncing off Alan Cartwright’s bass lift it heavenly high, especially so in the intrumental dance in the middle, but as the bonus, group-only, close-to-a-live-take version shows, the anthemic transcendence is rooted in the piece’s sparseness rather than its lush frosting. That’s the key to this album.
But what comes up must come down, and the tired elevation reprised in the otherworldly solemn “Fires (Which Burn Brightly)”, featuring Christiane Legrand’s soaring soprano, comes counterbalanced with a goose-grease groover that is “Bringing Home The Bacon”, a psychedelic downside to the title number’s well-mannered feast with Chris Copping’s organ and Mick Grabham’s (in early run, Dave Ball’s) guitar rolling on the floor. And then, there’s acoustic “A Souvenir Of London”, a deliberately raw shanty that, on-stage, required all the band to step forward and B.J. Wilson swap his kit for a mandolin a full ensemble of which the drummer employs here to make the aftermath of a night on the town (no, it’s not a shameful disease as the word has it) feel alluringly dirty. That’s where the action is, even though another pantom is dying, anchored to the ground by harmonica, in the dramatically growing tension of “For Liquorice John”.
More posh ways of escape are offered in the stately ballad “A Rum Tale” that sets Hammond against the orchestral backdrop and in the carousel swirl of “Toujours l’Amour”, where the regular subject for the blues takes an organ-oiled and guitar-spiked noble turn. And while the brisk and a little risque “T.V. Ceasar” brings the modern culture closer to home with its low-ceiling symphony graffito’ed with electric axe, the exit lies in the Latin flavor, handclaps and multi-tracked vocals of “Robert’s Box”, an ode to drugs, which ends the album on an unexpectedly prosaic note. A note that hides a hint: the opulence of “Grand Hotel” might be only a projection of one blissful delirium.
PROCOL HARUM – Live
In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Chrysalis 1972 /
…Where “on-stage” means much more than that. “Panoramic” comes closest to embrace the sonic bravery.
Orchestral depth has been inherent in PROCOL HARUM’s music from the beginning and it didn’t matter whether they employed a symphonic ensemble or not which, perhaps, is what makes this band special even now. But studio is one thing and stage another and it takes a lot of specialness and courage to try and expand one’s sound by bringing in a certain classicism to it. PROCOL started it all as early as 1969, before DEEP PURPLE, and, unlike them, didn’t need to compose anything special to tie the two strains together. Relying solely on their own material, HARUM realized their vision in full in 1971 in Canada with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra who elevated Gary Brooker’s arrangements way beyond all expectations. So much for the group’s first-ever live album, its boldness shining in the absence of what everyone might expect, namely “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, but there’s no need for the hit when “Conquistador” thrusts its Spanish brass and electrifies the air around the singer’s earthly voice and Dave Ball’s funky guitar. All fused nicely, it’s B.J. Wilson’s battery that gains an extra dimension in this powerful blend creepingly eased into the wild storm of “Whaling Stories” where Alan Cartwright’s bass send ripples over the aural surface and down the spine. And here lies the trap: scattering nuances all around, the orchestra renders everything too obvious and leaves much less to imagination than studio versions… though there’s no denying the might of the choir.
Here, “A Salty Dog” feels not as dramatic but cinematic it still is, or rather theatrical, which can’t be said of “All This And More” that rises from a regular album track to something grander altogether with Chris Copping’s organ and Ball’s six-string patterns offsetting the surround-sound of additional musicians. There’s even more magic in the bonus tracks, the rehearsal recordings of “Shine On Brightly” and “Simple Sister” that didn’t make it onto the stage, and the luxurious, if slightly lugubrious, “Luskus Delph”, out as a single B-side, but the entire scale of PROCOL’s good ship enterprise comes forward on “In Held ‘Twas In I”: solemn for “Glimpses Of Nirvana” orchestra and choir turn fairground-playful when “‘Twas Teatime At The Circus” demands, and swing from the celestial to mundane henceforth – to the bravura of the classical piano-washed “Grand Finale” – whereas it’s the band who steer the wind and strings at all times. If only there was a companion document of the group’s regular show to strip the grandiosity away!
PROCOL HARUM –
Island 1971 /
Thunder and lightning. Light and shade. The beauty of apocalypse with a promise and a song.
With a rootsy affair in the heart of “Home” fully explored and its inhabitants established well, a time came for PROCOL HARUM to embark on a new journey, hued darkly still. Opening with a memory-lashing Robin Trower riff of “Simple Sister” and ending with “Poor Mohammed”, the guitarist’s last contribution to the band’s classic canon, their fifth album flies on like a cannon swung to destroy the meek. The former a threatening assault with Gary Brooker’s albatross piano and booming voice fleeting over gloomy rock bottom of Chris Copping’s bass and B.J. Wilson’s almost jazzy drums, quite scary in the middle instumental section that scores the orchestral heights, and the latter a fuzz-and-slide jive hinting on something very indecent, “Broken Barricades” is not for the faint of heart.
Its three-minute title track might roll placidly on a synthesized tidal wave yet Keith Reid‘s lyrics paint the most frightening picture of all, so the contrast here is purely aural, while Armageddon of a different kind seeps out of “Power Failure”; it sketches the oft-sung life on the road in the revved-up wailing phrases and features the well-tempered drum solo, a usual time-filler for the stage electricity problems. There’s a hint of the French Quarter in the “Playmate Of The Mouth” bluesy brass, but it’s in “Luskus Delph” that the ensemble come soft in openly erotic way made all the clearer by the surging strings-and-woodwind veil. “Memorial Drive”, at the same time, picks the sea theme up for a Neptune feast of unstated obscenities lurking in the honky-tonk panache of the song’s pearl-encrusted depth. Then, “Song For A Dreamer” dives in the deepest to let Trower cry away, both vocally and in the multi-tiered guitar solo, his grief over passing of Jimi Hendrix, most notably on the bonus backing track which swells nicely even in voiceless form. After that the guitarist packed the blues to strike on his own and left PROCOL to dream on lightly.
PROCOL HARUM –
Regal Zonophone 1970 /
The place where everybody come to roost – and to roots.
It’s a rare occasion when a slight change in a line-up makes the outcome so drastically different, but the swap of Matthew Fisher for Chris Copping, who also took up the bass duties, not only slimmed PROCOL HARUM to a quartet but also threw theem back to the time when this newcomer together with Gary Brooker and Robin Trower were known as THE PARAMOUNTS. That combo played rhythm-and-blues – and this became the agenda for “Home”, which made it the most unlikely album for their new band.
It’s almost impossible to recognize the ensemble of Keith Reid in the progressive blues wail of the opening “Whisky Train” that pre-dates the guitarist’s solo endeavors and allows B.J. Wilson to rattle all his wares gracefully – as if to compensate for the lack in the drumming department on most of the tracks further on – and lets Keith Reid to bend his lines to fit the genre. Then, the darkness sets in firmly with the madrigal dirge of “The Dead Man’s Dream” and the “Nothing That I Didn’t Know” acoustic drama awashed in strings and sprinkled with Brooker’s accordion. Where previously was tunefulness now the vain anthemity reigns, so even the acidic “Still There’ll Be More” and the oinking coda of “Piggy Pig Pig” don’t pour lightness into this creepy gloom.
The death theme gets explored deeper in the brooding “Barnyard Story” and the paradoxically soulful “About To Die” with its piano solo – a nice trick, given it was composed by Robin Trower; and isn’t there a hint in the soundalike “rob the tower” passage of the album’s sole epic, “Whaling Stories”? The piece is gaining its momentum as it progresses, it swells impressively and has its magic moments, yet still doesn’t flick the switch to make “Home” really inhabited with spirit.
PROCOL HARUM –
A Salty Dog
Regal Zonophone 1969 /
The water’s tested, the soild ground found, the band come ashore and go asunder.
The third album’s always a challenge: while the second record can be shaped up after a debut, the next one must have a different formula in its core. Which, in PROCOL HARUM’s case, seemed a difficult task with what was perceived as their trademark sound and the songwriting team behind the band’s very existence. Still, the ensemble welcomed ideas from everyone, and a riot was out of question in the collective built as a vehicle for Gary Brooker and Keith Reid to realize their creative vision. Yet here, once others’ sights became clearer, erstwhile grandiosity appears confined to two bookending epic songs that don’t take on really epic scale in terms of length but are fathomless with orchestra sweeping the opener, “A Salty Dog”, and orchestral feel wrapping the finale, “Pilgrim’s Progress”. Both depict a journey of different kind – but while the former sails, echo-clad, on the Brooker gloomy piano and the familiar “seasick” thread, the latter, sung and mostly played by its author, Matthew Fisher, brings hope to the mix.
The ensemble found a great solution to all the contradictions by harnessing two traditions: the rootsy one, in the Chicago-styled Robin Trower-incited Apocalypse of guitar and harmonica of “Juicy John Pink” that Muddy Waters wouldn’t have been ashamed of (there’s also a live version alongside an incendiary bonus of the Howlin’ Wolf staple “Goin’ Down Slow”) and their own, in “All This And More”. It sounds as if it was recorded for the previous LP but reads as a sharp comment on the situation in the ranks where too many forces emerged to keep it all together. The real maturity of the playing and the material’s strength comes forth on the Dylan-esque rhythm-and-blues of the “Long Gone Geek” single and “The Milk Of Human Kindness” which combines the vaudeville easiness with the heaviness of blues and puts forward B.J. Wilson’s ever-shifting drumming. A contrast to this is the marimba-spiced delicate “Boredom” and a gentle ballad “Too Much Between Us” resting on the acoustic guitar strum and the organ ripples. Elsewhere, another Fisher’s creation, the panoramic “Wreck Of The Hesperus”, though perfectly scored, underscores the album’s prevailing mood of aloofness that the Trower-delivered “Crucifiction Lane” only adds to, even in the concert take. And that feels good – there’s a sense of adventure, a sense only a few could challenge PROCOL HARUM for.
PROCOL HARUM –
Shine On Brightly
Regal Zonophone 1968 /
Sometimes, befuddled brains are more enlightened than the wise to produce flaming dreams.
By 1968 PROCOL HARUM must have had little qualms as to where to head to: all they had to do was to solidify the edifice that their self-titled debut LP still is, and that’s when the future curse of art rock kicked in in the form of conceptual thinking. Bizarrely, the song cycle “In Held ‘Twas In I” which occupies side two of the original record feels less epic than the joyful outburst of “Quite Rightly So” with its Shakespeare allusion in “ode by any other name” and a “too sick to see” skewed reference to “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” – a medieval royal entry! – and the trumpet-like electric glow of the title track positioned right after the opener which is also shot through with Matthew Fisher‘s beast of organ. Cut the previous year (there’s a guitar-less take to savor), it’s the real tone-setter for the album that’s as serious as playful, never more so than in “Skip Softly (My Moonbeams)” where Robin Trower’s guitar hoots like a train whistle and B.J. Wilson adds tasteful battery to this aural rail-wreck adorned with harmony vocals until Gary Brooker’s piano brings relief and release – only for Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” to deliver a coup de grace. After this, the “Rambling On” dreamy flow is anxiously soothing, its crescendos notwithstanding.
The guitar-cum-harpsichord-touched murky march of “Magdalena (My Regal Zonophone”) bids farewell to the image-heavy assault of the preceding songs and, at the same time, prepares one’s ear to the bitter-sweet Eastern nightmare of “In Held ‘Twas In I”. The piquant sitar ushers in “Glimpses Of Nirvana” – spoken-word-laden, dark as night and chilly as limbo which scatters into confetti in “‘Twas Tea-Time At The Circus” and gets spun into the philosophic cobwebs that is “The Autumn Of My Madness”. With “Grand Finale” the piano signals a renaissance of faith, but the whole tapestry illustrated the fact that PROCOL HARUM’s big ideas come best realized on lesser canvas, and their concepts worked better in the “Grand Hotel” setting.
When it came to deceptively simple songs such as “In The Wee Small Hours Of Sixpence”, out on ’45 and added as a bonus here, the band shone brightly, indeed, and let the Hammond swirl around the piano to a great effect. Yet while “Seem To Have The Blues (Most All The Time)” was what it stated, the plain and unimaginative blue, “Monsieur Armand” emerged too raw and had to wait until 1974 to be re-modelled for “Exotic Birds And Fruit”, whereas a breezy backing track for “A Robe Of Silk” got fleshed out only in 2005. Quite a forward, or timeless, thinking!
PROCOL HARUM –
Regal Zonophone 1967 /
A cornerstone of art rock, still fresh and shining brightly.
One may wonder whether PROCOL HARUM really understood the grandiosity of their debut single – one of the most impressive debut ever – when they followed “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” with the similarly hued “Homburg”, both on this reissue, and whether they felt a challenge to rise to, but the boldness with which the quintet unleashed their self-titled album is amazing even now as the record didn’t date a little bit – even in mono. Still, there’s no hubris at all, and this might be the reason why there’s sympathy in the opening “Conquistador” and why the paean to the quixotic vanity of glory packs a punch with only a hint of celestial solemnity that’s spared for Matthew Fisher‘s instrumental magnum opus, “Repent Walpurgis”, that closes the record and quotes Bach directly. The winning formula, then, lies not in the combination of Gary Brooker’s piano and Fisher’s organ sprinkled with Robin Trower’s economic riffing but in the contrast of the earthiness of Brooker’s voice and the irreality of music coupled with Keith Reid‘s strange, if alluring, lyrics.
Without such enigma, the foxtrot of “She Wandered Through The Garden Fence” wouldn’t be as catchy as it is, all the more so for employing of the Hammond’s churchy roar for such an easy going subject as a little sexual exploit. But there’s enough overt vaudeville in the brisky, glass-clanking “Mabel” and “Good Captain Clack”, while the guitar on the slouchy “Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of)” and the mournful “A Christmas Camel” which hangs on infections piano motif are where the psychedelia blooms gloomily. Organ-awashed “Salad Days (Are Here Again)” only serves to strengthen the impression of a multicolored celebration of decadence wrapped in black velvet, what with Bobby Harrison’s almost samba drumming over the boogie-woogie of B-side, “Lime Street Blues”. From there, there was not much space to progress, yet “Il Tuo Diamante”, the early, Italian version of the majestic “Shine On Brightly”, PROCOL’s next album‘s title track, and the instrumental run of the sly “Pandora’s Box” that the band would return to eight years later show the ensemble sensed no boundaries. With vibrant, Tony Visconti-orchestrated ballad “Understandably Blue” demoed for Dusty Springfield and thus un-HARUM-like, appearing on this re-issue for the first time, a document of the group’s soft side, “Procol Harum” still sounds vivacious and vital.
PROCOL HARUM –
Secrets Of The Hive
The perfect entry point with no way out: the further investigation and investment are inescapable.
Two and a half hours might be too much for any “best of” type of compilation, especially when there’s only twelve albums to choose from, but there’s basically all there is to know about this band, music-wise and with extensive liner notes. Known mostly for the opening single, one of the 20th century greatest moments, 1967’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, PROCOL HARUM have been consistent throughout their four-decades career that this collection starts a celebration of. With each of the two discs built chronologically, what’s most striking is how fully-formed the ensemble emerged on the scene in the laste ’60s to capture the Zeitgeist yet not become a period-piece makers. Such life-affirming, classical music-infused anthem as 1968’s “Quite Rightly So” could have been produced at any time, and the only era-bound tracks here are “A Dream In Ev’ry Home” and the rest from 1991, so it was a saving grace for the group to have skipped the ’80s when “plastic” production values wouldn’t cohere with PROCOL’s patented pattern of piano and organ.
Not that Gary Brooker’s voice and ivory-tinkling and Keith Reid‘s image-rich and reverie-provoking lyrics smoothed their road from the very start to the present day – as early as 1970, guitarist Robin Trower made his progressive blues inclinations clear on “Whisky Train”, embellished with B.J. Wilson’s percussive wonders – but it’s the pair’s songwriting that’s been the band’s forte all these years. And their performing skills, too, for PROCOL were the first to try what is a current trend of playing on-stage with classical musicians – in 1972, they had Edmonton Symphony Orchestra to greatly expand the scope of epic stories like “Conquistador” and “A Salty Dog”, both here. Also notable is another live recording from Edmonton, the previously unreleased, large-scaled “Into The Flood” by the short-lived 1992 line-up, but they didn’t need extra players on 1973’s “Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)” to conjure up the grand rococo atmosphere – and go burlesque the following year with the infectious “Beyond The Pale”.
The picture that “Secrets Of The Hive” opens up is beautiful yet, with organist Matthew Fisher‘s “Repent Walpurgis” and “Weisselklenzenacht (The Signature)” – the grand finales of both each disc and the band’s first and the last albums to the date – the latter linking the end to the very beginning, to that fantastic single, the painting is unfinished, for though their creative well’s on fire, indeed, and the hive’s buzzing still, the curtain’s not dropped on PROCOL HARUM.