[Review] Procol Harum Live In Concert with The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (1972)

What do you get when you combine a rock band with a full orchestra and chorus? No, seriously, I’m asking.

Kronomyth 6.0: In hell ‘twas I.

The whole “rock band with an orchestra” phase was a foolish conceit. The music of Deep Purple, The Who, Rick Wakeman and, here, Procol Harum has each suffered at the hands of an orchestra and chorus. There’s some nobility in the notion of bridging the two genres, but it’s a bridge too far.

To their credit, Procol Harum fare better than most in the pairing, and this with a retooled lineup (shades of Deep Purple’s Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall) that now included a 21-year-old Dave Ball on guitar and Alan Cartwright (an old bandmate of B.J. Wilson) on bass guitar. My initial reaction to this album was harsh; I called it a “bloated white whale of a record.” Since then, however, I’ve developed a deep fondness for A Salty Dog and Shine On Brightly, albums which account for more than half of this performance.

The record opens with Conquistador, one of several overlooked songs from their first album. In this arrangement, it sounds like a film adaptation of the original. B.J. Wilson overplays, Gary Brooker undersings, and the Conquistador exits with head hung in defeat. Whaling Stories from Home is better; in fact, I prefer this version to the original. A Salty Dog already had strings to begin with, so it sounds as good as I remember (and I remember it being very good). All This And More, from the same album (A Salty Dog), showcases the chorus this time but fizzles out.

The second side is devoted to a full performance of In Held ‘Twas In I from Shine On Brightly. It’s the album’s most ambitious undertaking, given its complexities as a multi-part suite, but the band, orchestra and chorus manage to pull it off. The “Grand Finale” in particular is brilliant, and that moment of completion and jubilation might alone be worth of the price of the disc. Later reissues added a live version of the lovely “Luskus Delph” that had appeared as the B side to the UK single of “Conquistador.”

There are, apparently, quite a few listeners who hold this record in esteem. I am not one of them. In fact, I would tell you that Robin Trower jumped ship just in time, since this would have made an ugly swan song. Given the group’s poetic sensibilities, an orchestral album was likely inevitable, and the effort isn’t a total failure by any means, but a crowning beauty in the harem it’s not.

Original elpee version

A1. Conquistador (4:16)
A2. Whaling Stories (7:41)
A3. A Salty Dog (5:37)
A4. All This And More (4:23)
B1. In Held ‘Twas In I (Gary Brooker/Keith Reid/Matthew Fisher) (19:11)
Glimpses of Nirvana
‘Twas Teatime at the Circus
In the Autumn of My Madness
Look to Your Soul
Grand Finale

All songs written by Gary Brooker and Keith Reid unless noted. Orchestral arrangements by Gary Brooker with help from Jim Parker.

Original 8-track version
A1. Conquistador
A2. A Salty Dog
B1. All This And More
B2. Whaling Stories (part 1)
C1. Whaling Stories (part 2)
C2. In Held Twas In I (comprising: Glimpses of Nirvana, ‘Twas Teatime at the Circus, In the Autumn of My Madness part 1)
D1. In Held ‘Twas In I (comprising, In the Autumn of My Madness part 2, Look to Your Soul, Grand Finale)

CD reissue bonus track
6. Luskus Delph (3:36)

Expanded CD reissue additional bonus tracks
7. Simple Sister (rehearsal) (3:20)
8. Shine On Brightly (rehearsal) (4:04)

The Players

Dave Ball (guitar), Gary Brooker (voice and piano), Alan Cartwright (bass), Chris Copping (organ and harpsichord), Keith Reid (words), B.J. Wilson (drums) with Da Camera Singers and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Produced by Chris Thomas; engineered by Wally Heider and Ray Thompson; re-mix engineered by John Punter.

The Pictures

Cover by Bruce Meek.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track in April 1972 in the UK (Chrysalis, CHR/Y8HR 1004), the US (A&M, SP/8T-4335), Germany (Chrysalis, 202675) and the Netherlands (Chrysalis, 5C 062-93384); reached #48 on the UK charts and #5 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in Greece (Chrysalis, 6307 503).
  2. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1989 in Japan (Mobile Fidelity, MFCD 788).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc on February 22, 1994 in the UK (Chrysalis, CDP32 1004-2).
  4. Re-released on expanded compact disc on October 30, 2002 in Germany (Repertoire, REP 4981) with one bonus track.
  5. Re-released on expanded compact disc in 2009 in the UK (Salvo, SALVOCD023) with 3 bonus tracks.

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