Procol Harum

Those who know me reasonably well wouldn’t expect me to like this lot – there is almost nothing one might classify as psychedelic or prog that I do like. But they were the first band I ever saw live (well, discounting support act Vivian Stanshall), about thirty years ago, and I still retain some fondness for them.

Maybe it’s partly that, despite the shirts on show on the cover of this cheapo Greatest Hits I just bought, they don’t sound at all psychedelic – you couldn’t mistake them for any of the West Coast rock acts of the late ’60s. Also, despite the back of the CD describing them as being among the most popular prog acts, all their success was pre-prog (this comp covers ’67-’70), and although they did get into flashy over-orchestrated toss at times, that was a sidetrack – they could usefully have restrained guitarist Robin Trower more at times, though. I like Gary Brooker’s singing a great deal – kind of a cross between white blues/soul and Randy Newman, and maybe the ironic edge the latter tone brings with it makes Keith Reid’s absurd poetics tolerable, even amusing. At times they put me in mind of the wondrous Marc Bolan (a kind of positive retro-influence). And I’ve always liked churchy-sounding organ – by and large the more the organ is at the forefront of their songs, the better I like it.

(Then there are the odd things that make you like something better: Pat Kelly’s reggae cover of ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ is one such. I like his voice, but the main appeal is that he can’t make out the words accurately, so the lyrics become even more nonsensical. This feeds back into enjoying the original even more – another kind of retro-influence.)

(An extra note on the dismal sleeve notes, by Mark Crampton (“ambitious sophomore long-player,” indeed). He says of their third single, ‘Quite Rightly So’, which made #50, “the public was now conceiving Procol Harum as a respectable albums based act.” When did the public EVER think in that way, let alone in 1968? Isn’t this rockist revisionist history?)