quality : lossless (wavpack, cue, log, scans)
time: 39'16" size: 216 mb
issue: MFSL MFCD 793
the Tapestry of Delight:
Brooker, Trower and Copping had first come together whilst still at secondary school in their native Southend as members of The Paramounts, an R&B group whose other members were Bob Scott (vcls) and Mick Brownlee (drms). The band went on to cut six singles for Parlophone between 1963-66, including a version of The Coasters' Poison Ivy, which was minor hit, climbing to No 35 in the UK. Indeed The Rolling Stones named the band their favourite UK R&B group after working with them on the 'Thank Your Lucky Stars' TV pop show. When The Paramounts finally split in September 1966, Trower and B.J. Wilson (who had replaced Mick Brownlee on drums back in 1963) continued to play in other R&B acts but Gary Brooker formed a songwriting partnership with lyricist Keith Reid. Having written a batch of songs they advertised in 'Melody Maker' for a band to play them and line-up of Procol Harum was formed.
The band exploded onto the music scene in 1967 with their debut 45, A Whiter Shade Of Pale, a surreal poem of Reid's, which Brooker put to music adapting one of the movements of Bach's Suite No 3 in D Major. It was undoubtedly one of the classic progressive records of the era, topping the UK Charts for 6 weeks, rising to No 5 in the US and selling over 10 million copies worldwide. Later that year their line-up was amended to bring in ex-Paramounts Trower and B.J. Wilson with Royer and Harrison having been asked to leave. They went on to form their own band, Freedom. Harrison went on to join Snafu in the seventies.
A follow-up single, Homburg, which was similar in style to their debut, climbed to No 6 in the UK (and 34 in the US) and their debut album appeared around the same time. Comprised almost entirely of Brooker-Reid compositions, this was more successful in America, where it reached No 47 in the Album Charts (perhaps because the American pressing, unlike the UK one, contained A Whiter Shade Of Pale). Often surreal in their lyrics, the band were by now becoming an important influence on subsequent art rock acts like The Nice and King Crimson. Despite their early hits the band were essentially an album and live concert band. After the release of their second album, Shine On Brightly, which again achieved Chart success in the US (No 24) but not in the UK, they played at the Miami Pop Festival on 28 December 1968 in front of 100,000 people on a bill which included Canned Heat, Chuck Berry, Fleetwood Mac and The Turtles.
In March 1969 Knights left the band to go into management and Fisher also departed for production, which opened the way for another ex-Paramount, Steve Copping, his university studies now complete, to rejoin his former Paramount co-founders on both bass and organ. This new line-up played at The Palm Springs Pop Festival, California, on 6 April 1969, on a bill including Ike and Tina Turner and John Mayall.
They enjoyed further success with their next album, A Salty Dog, which reached No 32 in the US and went on to climb to No 27 in the UK, where the title track also reached No 44 in the Singles Chart. A Salty Dog was another fine 45, much in the style of their earlier successes.
On 22 June 1969 they appeared at the Toronto Park Festival in Canada, alongside Steppenwolf, The Band, Blood Sweat and Tears and Chuck Berry. Then on 1 August they cemented their festival reputation further at the Atlanta City Pop Festival, New Jersey before well over 100,000 people on a bill that included Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Byrds.
Chris Thomas handled the production on their 1970 album, Home, which again achieved Chart success on both sides of the Atlantic. They played at the 3 day Atlanta Pop Festival in Byron, Georgia, before 200,000 people in July 1970, alongside Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers Band, Jethro Tull and Captain Beefheart. Then on 28 August, they appeared on the 2nd day of the Isle of Wight festival.
In July 1971, they signed a new contract with Chrysalis Records in the UK and achieved more minor Chart success with their next album, Broken Barricades. Their guitarist, Robin Trower, who after the album departed for a lengthy solo career, was largely dominant on this album, which included, Song For A Dreamer, which he had dedicated to Jimi Hendrix. With his departure Dave Ball came in on guitar along with Alan Cartwright on bass. In this line-up Chris Copping concentrated on keyboards. On 6 August they played a live concert in Edmonton, Canada, with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which largely consisted of new arrangements of earlier album tracks. The concert was put out on a live album, Procol Harum In Concert With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, which made No 48 in the UK in May 1982. The same month a double reissue package combining their third and first (with A Whiter Shade Of Pale added) albums reached No 28 in the UK. Then in June, A Whiter Shade Of Pale, Homburg and A Salty Dog, were combined on a maxi single, which climbed to No 13. Meanwhile, as was often the case with their albums, their live album achieved greater success, going gold, climbing to No 5 and becoming their best-selling US album. It also spawned a new orchestrated version of Conquistador, which had first appeared on their debut album. Now, released on a 45, it became their most successful since A Whiter Shade Of Pale. When Ball departed in September 1972 to work with Long John Baldry his replacement was former Plastic Penny and Cochise member Mick Grabham.
This new line-up recorded Grand Hotel, Exotic Birds and Fruit and Procol's Ninth, all of which lacked the creativity of their earlier efforts. Procol's Ninth, produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stroller, was the best of the brace. It included a revival of The Beatles' Eight Days A Week and a rather inventive cut, Pandora's Box, which was released as a 45 giving them their final UK Top 20 hit. They also headlined the 'Over The Rainbow' closing down concert at London's Rainbow Theatre along with Kevin Coyne and John Martyn on 16 March 1975. However, they couldn't stem the tide of their decline and split up in 1977 after one final album, Something Magic. With the emergence of punk-rock in the late seventies the brand of progressive rock they extolled had largely become a spent force.
The recent The Early Years compilation is a good starting point for those not familiar with their music. It includes all their hits, most of their 'B' sides and some of their best album tracks. As you'd expect, though, there are numerous other compilations which are detailed in the discography at the start of this entry.
Procol Harum are best remembered for A Whiter Shade Of Pale, but we should not overlook their significance within the progressive rock genre and their reputation as a live festival act.
Whisky Train - 4:31
The Dead Man's Dream - 4:46
Still There'll Be More - 4:53
Nothing That I Didn't Know - 3:38
About to Die - 3:35
Barnyard Story - 2:46
Piggy Pig Pig - 4:47
Whaling Stories - 7:06
Your Own Choice - 3:13
Robin Trower - Guitar
Gary Brooker - Harmonica, Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Chris Copping - Organ, Bass, Keyboards
Keith Reid - Guitar, Voices
B.J. Wilson - Drums