Lost in the Looking-Glass
ReviewAlick Leslie [Scotland]
Palers, Whalers and finger-poppin' daddies; while 2003 brings a ridiculously long wait for new Procol to an end, the forces of good have not been idle in the intervening years. A slew of Palers' Convention performances have accompanied Procol shows and have been recorded for undoubtedly rose-tinted posterity. And now a logical follow-on, a full 2½ hours of music (mostly) from the dingy confines of the studio. It is good to see what those who performed so well in Guildford and elsewhere can do in a studio, or at least with a Walkman by their side.
In the 40 songs there are very few 'tribute' versions on offer. Luiz De Boni perhaps comes closest to the originals but his songs are so full of energy and life (Conquistador is a great start to CD1) that they stand up well in their own right. At the other end of the cover-spectrum, the estimable Dr Cameron's sampler-in-a-car-crash approach to Barnyard Story seems to be out-Negativelanding Negativeland: perhaps a DJ set in Milton Keynes beckons.
Among the gems, Milk of Human Kindness is given a lounge treatment by Fran Glendining that would make Mary Coughlan sit up; Jack Vees gives a great, understated reading of Repent solely on bass guitars; Dr Cameron gets down in his kitchen with Souvenir of London; an Otway-esque Something Following Me also revenirs the Souvenir; Ed Palermo's band are big and give the songs welly; Strangers in Space has a widescreen setting that brings out potential in the song and suggests that original producers, the Alberts, were hopeless; McGreggor is revealed as a classic folk song, perhaps an out-take from The Wicker Man soundtrack; Song for a Dreamer comes across as Robin Trower might have worked it up before being Thomas'd in the studio; and a reflective, poignant New Lamps for Old would have been a perfect end for CD2 – but a rousing Learn To Fly is just right, ending the project not with a whimper but with a bang.
In honesty, the first listen suffers from the inevitable 'it's just not Procol' effect, and so a good few listens are needed to bring out the depth and joy of the recordings. Instrumentally, the quality on show is remarkable, as might be expected from previous recordings. At times the vocals suffer from not being sung by Mr Brooker, but to everyone's credit, no one is really trying to copy GB and it's refreshing to hear new angles on old favourites. It's a very broad-minded Procoholic who will like everything on offer here, but all in all the project has brought a different slant to many songs, as well as providing a reminder of good times at conventions and concerts.
If nothing in this world – with the possible exception of the ending to Robert's Box – is perfect, then this compilation is remarkable in that it not only demands use of the repeat button but also requires a return to the original recordings on a regular basis. Congrats to all concerned.