Trace of a Feeling

Peter Bourne [Canada]

“Let him not say that he knows better than his master, for he only holds a candle in sunshine”

Several reviews have been written about this, the third 2CD 42-track set from the fan collective The Palers’ Project, which came out nearly ten years ago in 2006 (its predecessor anthologies had been released in 2002 and 2004). Given that there are 42 (!) songs on Trace Of A Feeling by Brooker, Fisher, Trower and Reid (mostly Procol Harum and a few from solo projects), you might well ask: what doesn’t this third one contain? Well, two of the big hits (AWSoP and Conquistador) aren’t here, nor is any part of In Held 'Twas In I; those hits, as well as two fragments of In Held…, all appear in the first anthology (Lost In The Looking Glass), while from the second set (From Shadow To Shadow), there’s another read of Conquistador plus most of The Long One (although by different artists and not contiguous). We do get Homburg on the second set, however.

On Trace of a Feeling we have performances by over a hundred musicians, including members of Procol Harum and Cpt Beefheart’s Magic Band (really!), and other talented pros, amateurs and enthusiasts. There’s been plenty of commentary elsewhere, so I won’t burden you with a lot of track-by-track commentary “in an effort not to run anyone over…” nor by “…going into detail about every song would make the reader’s eyes glaze over, and might cause the writer to [have to] check into a Witness Protection program …. “ (as Bert Saraco said in another review). True, that! 

But a few tracks do stand out, and, in my view, merit a little more comment:

·        Homburg: This is its third appearance in The Palers’ Project repertoire (it appeared twice in the first anthology); I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this may be the most coverable Procol song that has truly stood the test of time, because here it is again! This version is fairly straightforward: one man (Klaus Tschirner’s One-Man Band – in the busking tradition) plays piano and drums simultaneously  (so no overdubs), singing well in a delightful German accent (hence an accurate pronunciation of ‘homburg’, among other things).

·        Butterfly Boys: Great treatment by The Doubtful Guests of a terrific song, which originally (probably) thumbed Procol’s collective nose at their record company of the day. It’s been observed (see the link above) that the “… melody stays close to the contour of GB's composition overall, but harmonises it rather differently.” Or as it was put another way, their “take on Butterfly Boys retains only the vocal melody, and plays havoc with all the harmonies.” The Guests are Roland Clare on multi-instruments and BV (terrific organ-playing here, RC!), along with son Peter Clare on drums, ‘guest’ backing vocalist Janey Carden (subbing for regular BV Jane Clare). And Dr Stephen ‘Doc’ Wallace from the Land of Oz really sings it well! Plus … his Guitarness Geoff Whitehorn makes an ‘undoubted’ guest appearance. So, in sum, don’t tell them that they’re savages! They may call themselves The Doubtful Guests; I might have called them The Redoubtable Guests. Undoubtedly.

·        The Devil Came From Kansas: One of my favourite (I probably have another thirty!) Procol Harum songs, done in fine style here by RAM (interesting story on how their take came to be – see link above) : marvellous guitar playing from Erik Russell and Alan Carnegie, a double-tracked lead vocal from Russell, some wonderful and unexpected 'choral voices' from Marina Johnson. Bass is, I suppose, supplied by the keyboards (Matthew White, son of Zombie /Argent’s Chris White! – those bands remain very high on my favourites list) and very sensitive, unobtrusive drumming from Sam Bushell, using his “very own sticks” (he ain’t no BJ Wilson, but then, who is?).

·        About To Die: Ah yes, this one, from 'the death album'. This song from Home has always deserved a heavy-metal, Black Sabbath / Motörhead treatment (I mean – the subject-matter, right?) and the German quartet calling themselves Never Void doesn’t disappoint (the group promotes themselves as 'Melodic Death Metal', so …. there … they also do ‘thrash metal’ and hard / Gothic rock. Don’t you love these sub-genre names? Can anyone tell me what ‘hair metal’ is? Or ‘speed metal’ for that matter?). Simple straightforward vocals, an overdubbed distorted guitar or two, drive-it-along bass and great drumming (very tight snare and great cowbell). Rock on, you metal-heads!

·        Weisselklenzenacht (The Signature): And now for something completely different! Matthew Fisher’s latter-day tour-de-force (he’s had several, hasn’t he?) from 2003’s The Well’s On Fire – his 21st Century Repent Walpurgis, some say – has been given a very welcome solo treatment on a real church pipe organ by Ian Hockley (‘The O-man from Oman’ (someone’s probably said that one before)). He is Head of Keyboard in the Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra, but English-trained. (Fun fact: his piano-teacher for many years was Josh Phillips's stepfather.) His reading of The Signature (typing out the German title again seems too exhausting) misses Geoff Whitehorn’s guitar solo, but hearing it this way, on classical pipe organ (which isn’t called King of Instruments for nothing) makes up for that. Organ scholars and others may be interested in the technical details (check the link above); this one’s a real 'goose-bumper'. Reminds me of a postlude at the end of an Anglican church service. Thanks, Ian – I hope Maf approved!

·        A Salty Captain Finally, something even more completely different, the album’s 'novelty item'. Actually, it’s not. This one is for creative, eclectic, observant, intelligent Procol fans and Palers (such as Rick Royston, guitarist/vocalist, who created this ‘hybrid’, and me and, I suppose, others who like it so much!). I now realise why I’ve always liked Good Captain Clack (and, incidentally, why I always resented its exclusion from the First Album in favour of AWSoP in the US release). Very simply, its metre is identical to A Salty Dog – probably the finest song in the entire Procol Harum repertoire – certainly my favourite, anyway; I’ll let Royston himself pick it up:

 “ … I've always thought of [Good Captain Clack] as an under-appreciated gem, with a melody somewhat at odds with the lyrics. I remember being struck at the time by the last, unexpected, minor chord, which brought out the poignancy of the lyrics of what was otherwise a mostly rowdy singalong. When I was approached to submit a recording, the song came to mind, and somehow the idea of a medley or cross-arrangement with A Salty Dog (the lyrics of which share the same metre) fell into place.”

And a very clever arrangement it is, and, not surprisingly, very musical – a kind of blended medley, or something. And its logical title, of course – probably my favourite cut on Trace Of A Feeling.

There are many more here, 36, in fact; I’ve highlighted only a few. Notably, several more feature Roland Clare, who plays several instruments rather well, not to say performs the rather mammoth task of coordination. (I’m reminded of an early Eagles’ album on which their manager was given full band credit; his instruments were “telephone and calculator” – no doubt Roland’s were more 21st century communication and calculating devices, but all the same …

All I can think of, after 'coming down' from a few good listens, is how much work must have gone into this: recordings from around the world, and putting them all together. Interesting that each disc is about 79:45 in length, 15 seconds or so short of being completely full. Great value, therefore!

This set is a real gem. I suppose the last word should go to the Commander (from a comment he made about the first Palers’ Project anthology, but it applies equally here. I trust he’d agree …): “… this was no 'pastiche' but a great appreciation of past works. By the end I began to see how important the words had been! I always knew this but to see my tunes 'bunged out the window' was a pleasure; at no point was the original musical mood lost. The 'Palers' Project' certainly proved something I'd never dared to dream, that PH songs were coverable; of course they are, it just takes imagination and artistry!” So it is with this one, as well.

So, at the risk of repeating myself with apologies to KR, a mammoth task was set – and the mission was accomplished! To be listened to in the spirit in which it was made, I suppose. Project well projected, Palers! Do it again!.

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