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Procol Harum and Facts of Life

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The fire had gone out and Procol were preparing to go home for food. Chris wanted to go and see a local folk club. The others were more interested in the TV and perhaps a drink in nearby South-end, daytrippers' delight on the mouth of the Thames. On a summer's weekend its pleasure pier (one and a half miles long – the biggest in the world) is swarming with East Enders bent on orgies of beer and fish and chips.

"There's another reason," says Chris, as he tidies up, "why we're out of place in England. When you think about it, we're one of the only British bands. None of us is featured, particularly goodlooking or even recognizable. We haven't an Eric or an Alvin. Most British groups fall down over that sort of one-man thing. They don't play songs, like we do. And in the end it's the song that matters, isn't it?"

"There's too many jazzers around," says B. J. "Trying to improvise the whole time. The trouble is they don't improvise within the framework of a song and so it all sounds the same. That's true, isn't it?"

Procol Harum agree that it's true. Gary reckons that their lyrics have more importance attached to them in the States. They are used to freshmen on their first rock essay assignment asking them to explain the significance of Keith Reed's words. "I mean, it's great an all that," B. J. "But Keith just writes them, quickly – I don't think he spends much time on them. His stuff is a few levels of consciousness below the spoken word form and it's pointless trying to make literal sense out of them."

Normally Keith is around with the group for most of the time. His thin Randy Newman figure can be seen busily running around the back of a hall at a Procol concert, balancing sound, adjusting speakers. It's agreed that Keith is just like another member of the group.

As a parting shot, before he goes out to his slightly disreputable looking Jaguar, Gary says, "What we felt about Britain is this. We can't go round playing the little clubs. We can't go around playing support for bigger acts because that sort of exposure we don't need. We've been around too long and it would look like sympathy. And we can't top the bill ourselves because . . . because, let's face it, three thousand people just aren't going to turn up on a Thursday.

"The solution is a piece of black plastic about seven inches across. We started off as a singles group, at the time when singles were the big thing and we've ended up as an album group. 'Whiter Shade of Pale' was one of the last big singles of the era."

"It's a fact of life, innit?" says Robin.

This story is from the June 10th, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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