Procol Harum’s ninth album, the prosaically titled ‘Procol’s Ninth’, is hugely disliked by some fans. A far cry from the pomp, adventure and bombast of their early work, it took them in more of a pop-rock direction under the influence of producers Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller. Against the band’s wishes, the record included covers of Leiber/Stoller’s ‘I Keep Forgetting’ and The Beatles’ classic ‘Eight Days A Week’. Although, in many ways, it remains a true oddity within the Procol canon, its an album to which time has actually been very kind, sounding better decades on. …And regardless of what you may have thought of the original LP, the two discs’ worth of live material appended to the Esoteric Records deluxe reissue in 2018 created a fine package.
Having gained mass popularity from their 1967 debut single ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, Procol Harum’s career started with such force, it seemed they’d have nowhere to go but down. In the late 60s and early 70s, of course, bands weren’t always expected to follow their success – or even achieve success – instantly and that kind of open minded thinking really worked to Procol’s advantage. Across a series of varied but enjoyable albums released between 1967-1970, Gary Brooker, Robin Trower and company were given plenty of room to experiment. With the quirky pop of ‘She Wandered Through The Garden Fence’ (1967), they showed they could hold their own in the psychedelic world; with huge suites (‘In Held ‘Twas In I’, 1968) and an assortment of themed tracks on ‘Home’ (1970) they more than entertained the hardened prog fans; occasional Vaudevillian tendencies showed they also had a sense of fun and with various classically infused tracks they showed themselves as a cut above most musicians of the era. Prog, rock, pomp and even straight blues – for Procol Harum, nothing seemed off limits and yet their early works all still had a genuine coherency that some of their peers lacked.
For many listeners, Procol Harum’s legacy centres around their first three albums (1967’s ‘Procol Harum’, 1968’s ‘Shine On Brightly’ and 1969’s ‘A Salty Dog’) and the evergreen classic single ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Indeed, that would have been enough to secure them a place in the rock history books, but the ever prolific band released a further six albums between 1970 and 1977. While these albums were destined to only be heard by the more faithful fan, each one provided a selection of highlights, and while 1975’s ‘Procol’s Ninth’ doesn’t seem too inspirational in terms of either title or sleeve art, it is certainly no exception.
Most sensible session musicians would have walked out on Eric Clapton after his hateful, racist outburst in Birmingham on August 5th 1976. However, his regular band of musicians from Tulsa stuck by him throughout the following two years as he battled with the bottle. After the release of the ‘Backless’ album in 1978, Clapton and band took to the road once again for a world tour. A full length movie ‘Eric Clapton’s Rolling Hotel’ was shot at this time during the German leg of the tour, but has never been given a full release.