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Procol Harum: Reissues

Prog-blues classicism with bells on.

Given that A Whiter Shade Of Pale was the monster-seller that ate 1967, it’s baffling that Procol Harum’s first album, issued just months later, didn’t chart at all.

This is quite possibly to do with the fact that the band had since moved on to Regal Zonophone (their debut 45 was on Deram), though it doesn’t account for the omission of another sizeable hit: Homburg. Thankfully, both have now been restored to the expanded edition of their self-titled debut, along with their respective B-sides.

Procol Harum (710) is rooted in the same Bach’n’blues style of those two singles, driven by the twin keyboards of Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher, along with the pulsing guitar figures of Robin Trower.

Some of it hasn’t aged particularly well, namely the self-conscious jugband frolic that is Mabel. That said, it’s still an engaging entrée into a world where psychedelia is thrown into all manner of baroque shapes. They also missed a trick by not picking out the very fine Conquistador as a single (it was only released later, in 1972, and as a live version at that).

Follow-up Shine On Brightly (810), which landed in October ‘68, is the better of the two albums. This time around the music is more daring and exploratory, with Trower providing plenty of Free-ish blues while his compadres play around with time signatures, rolling fugues and cryptic tales about the search for enlightenment. Granted, 17-minute fantasia In Held ’Twas I does border on the pretentious, but it also stands as one of the first great prog suites./o:p