“As boldly baroque as anything The Moody Blues or The Nice had at that point constructed… but perhaps it hasn’t aged gracefully”: Procul Harum’s vinyl reissue of Shine On Brightly is still fascinating

Robin Trower’s dazzling contributions feel like they’re coming from another room on their second album, as they try to work out who they are

Procol Harum - Shine On Brightly
(Image: © Cherry Red)

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It’s curious that Robin Trower is reluctant to reminisce about his time in Procol Harum. His guitar solos and flurries on their second album Shine On Brightly, released in 1968, are frequently the elements that raise these sometimes overly earnest pieces of keyboard-led chamber rock to more exciting levels.

A key track and significant offering in the development of prog was side two’s 18-minute suite In Held ’Twas In I, which was as boldly baroque as anything The Moody Blues or The Nice had at that point constructed.

Despite its presence, however, Shine On Brightly perhaps hasn’t aged as gracefully as, say, Procol’s more varied, vibrant debut or its follow-up, 1969’s A Salty Dog.

It’s fascinating, still, because it documents a band deducing who they are as they wrap their heads around the way their blues core has been usurped by the popular success of monumental, stately yet trippy hits such as A Whiter Shade Of Pale and Homburg.

It feels here as if they’re keen to avoid being typecast as a generation’s alternative balladeers and want to prove they’re a ‘serious’ rock band, but don’t have the tools or physique to be a conventional one.

Which is why Trower’s dazzling licks and tricks seem to burst in from another room, almost bolted on to a sound which – with Gary Brooker and Keith Reid working as a more stoned Elton and Bernie – is at heart meditative and song-based.

Generally, Brooker croons Reid’s poetry-on-acid lyrics convincingly, but now and again he sounds as uncomfortable as any right-thinking person would be with ‘My eunuch friend has been and gone/He said that I must soldier on’ or, ‘At a time like this, which exists maybe only for me, but is nonetheless real...’ 

Soon after that 18-minute suite settles in, the Dalai Lama tells the narrator, ‘“Well, my son, life is like a beanstalk, isn’t it?”’ Such floridness is enough to bring on cravings for the light fandango, or argue that Jon Anderson’s away-with- the-faeries lyrics on Close To The Edge made common sense by comparison.

Bar some ill-advised spurts of fairground music, most of the first side’s songs are solid if unspectacular, so the record’s reputation stands or falls on the courage or madness of its second half’s bold yet elegant curveball, In Held ’Twas I.

For all that Keith Reid’s lyrics are distracting – has anyone ever deployed ‘’twas’ so much? – the musicianship and maverick energy keep it afloat

The album was officially produced by Denny Cordell, but the band have said it was actually Glyn Johns and young Tony Visconti who helped them assemble this work, chopping and editing as they went along.

For all that Reid’s lyrics are distracting – has anyone ever deployed ‘’twas’ so much? – the musicianship and maverick energy keep it afloat. Shine On Brightly still flickers valiantly.

The new vinyl edition of Shine On Brightly is on sale now via Cherry Red.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.