Monday, 7 November 2011

Procul Harum Live With The Edmonton Symphony

Procul Harum were one of what was considered at the time as the second British invasion, alongside bands like Traffic, Ten Years After, Pink Floyd, Family etc that were pioneers of a more progressive style of music. Most of these bands had their roots in blues music but added elements of folk and rock to obtain a unique sound married with lyrics that were more surreal and obscure. Procul Harum rose to fame with their debut single A Whiter shade of Pale which was a U.K #1 and reached #5 in the U.S in 1967. The band initially found it difficult to break away from their big hit, there were also internal musical differences within the band. The band featured piano/keyboard and vocalist Gary Brooker who wrote the majority of the groups work along with lyricist Keith Reid. Also prominent within the band was Matthew Fisher who also played keyboards and produced their third album A Salty Dog, and guitarist Robin Trower known for his Hendrix style use of the wha wha pedal.

Gary Brooker was keen to explore the use of symphonic soundscapes in the groups music, they had performed with an orchestra at a festival in Stratford Ontario in 1969, however this direction caused differences with Robin Trower who was keen for the band to adopt a more bluesy approach. He left after the release of their fifth album Broken Barricades which was regarded as an inconsistent effort. Following this Brooker pushed for the band to record a live album with a symphony orchestra, so in November 1971 the band performed with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra at the Jubilee Auditorium in North Alberta and with the help of a mobile studio the concert was recorded.

The album opens with a blistering take on Conquistador originally released on their debut album, it's a powerful version the orchestra creates a wall of sound that adds to the drama of the song. B.J Wilson on drums sounds like he is setting off canon fire on his kit. Whaling Stories from their fourth album Home also matches the theme of drama and adventure and is suitably framed musically with Wilsons' thunderous toms equally met by sonic ruptures from the orchestra. The band slow things down a little with an impressive version of A Salty Dog, the title track of their acclaimed 1969 release, they finish off with In Held Twas In I which was the entire second side of their Shine On Brightly album. What is really impressive about this album is the song selection, each song lends itself to the dramatic interpretation played out by the orchestra. The musicianship of the band also shines, Dave Ball's solo on Conquistador is one of the highlights of the song, the rhythm section helps to build the drama and anticipation in each song.

On it's release the album was a huge success for Procul Harum, it reached #5 in the U.S where it went gold, it only reached #48 in the U.K but was still critically well received. Conquistador was released as a single and climbed to #16 in the U.S and #22 in the U.K. The band were unable to mount a full tour with the orchestra but still went out on the road to promote the album, it was certainly a commercial and critical highpoint of the bands career.

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