First released in March 1977, Something Magic by Procol Harum gets a remastered and expanded reboot with a live show from the period.
Release date: 30th October 2020
Label: Esoteric Recordings
Format: CD / Digital
’77 was a good year for the progressive music crowd, despite what the punks might say. Inevitably, rising to the surface were Seconds Out and Going For The One which would be two of the things I’d save in a house fire, having done a sterling job in making sure I would have a job for life in listening to and collecting music that might have a progressive nature.
However, Something Magic from the same period wasn’t quite what it suggested and proved to be the end for Procol. They split in ’77. They’d done their shift and given time would make a return, difficulties in the past forgotten.
After seeing producers Ron and Howie Albert reject a number of tracks on arrival at the sessions, Gary Brooker’s The Worm And The Tree went some way to saving the day. The similarity to one of their previous acclaimed epics, In Held ‘Twas In I, was proof of the old adage that if it ain’t broken why fix it? Taking up the whole of the old Side 2 with its three parts, it’s the obvious piece of music where Gary Brooker went for it in a big way.
However, first things first as the grand intro of the title track kicks in and we can briefly forget history and hindsight and indulge in some orchestral bound progressive songwriting. “Swimming against the tide” are prophetic words indeed in the languid and melancholy progression of Skating On Thin Ice. Wizard Man proved the obvious choice for single release given the groovy handclap rhythm. Nights In White Satin had spoiled the 45 buying public though and simply couldn’t be matched. Bluesy melancholy vibes and fizzing synth solos play their part on the first side that presents the Procol song craft, in much the same ballpark as 10cc were getting into.
However. the album is dominated by the mammoth composition of The Worm And The Tree. Nineteen minutes worth of ‘Nights’ moments, spoken word passages and lovely piano; the lovely relaxed instrumental in Part 2 where you can see influences exchanged with Camel and The Flower Kings. The tale unfolds and I’m reminded of David Hemmings narrating Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (sat in a big wicker chair) as part of Rick Wakeman’s Royal Festival Hall extravaganza. It’s of the period, complete with the big inspirational crescendo.
Sounding like it could easily be adopted as a TV theme tune (guess the programme style…) the B-side to Wizard Man, the instrumental Backgammon is the first of three extra tracks along with live versions of This Old Dog and You’d Better Wait that also appeared on the 2009 Salvo reissue.
The additional disc features Procol Harum’s performance for the BBC TV and Radio series, the sadly missed Sight & Sound In Concert, from March 1977. The grand intro announcing that you could listen on the 247m Medium waveband (oh how those numbers were burnt into our brains) but also glorious stereo if you can tune into the right Radio 2 VHF bandwidth. Or even watch on BBC in glorious colour – if you have a colour TV. Brilliant.
We only get the audio, but in doing so, lose some of the studio polish. It seems strange now to listen to Conquistador having become used to the version with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra version. The Floyd-y space rock effects on Strangers In Space get a short enhancement as the first half of the new album (no The Worm And The Tree) and ‘the hits’ get dusted off, A Whiter Shade Of Pale naturally closing the set with another chance to trip the light fandango. There’s a lot to be said for a healthy dose of nostalgia.
Listen to Something Magic here: