Procol Harum: Gary Brooker (vocals, piano); Mick Grabham (guitar); Chris Copping (organ); Alan Cartwright (bass); B. J. Wilson (drums, percussion); Keith Reid.
Additional personnel: Christianne LeGrand (vocals); The Pahene Recorder Ensemble (recorder).
Personnel: Gary Brooker (vocals, piano); Mick Grabham (electric guitar); B.J. Wilson (mandolin, drums, percussion); Chris Copping (organ); Alan Cartwright (acoustic bass).
Liner Note Author: Patrick Humphries.
Photographers: Jeffrey Weisel; Iris Jordan.
The release of Procol Harum's sixth studio album, Grand Hotel, in March 1973 marked a new phase in the band's career in a number of ways. The previous LP release, Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, had brought the group to a new commercial peak -- in the U.S., anyway -- reaching the Top Five of the Billboard chart in July 1972 and spawning a Top 20 hit in the new version of "Conquistador." In the meantime, Procol Harum had undergone another personnel change, with guitarist Dave Ball replaced by Mick Grabham after the Grand Hotel cover photo had been taken, such that a cropped picture of Grabham's face had to be superimposed above Ball's body. And the group had switched record labels, turning to Chrysalis. The impact of the live album's success was felt not only in an early lift at retail -- where Grand Hotel peaked at an all-time high for one of the band's studio LPs at number 21 -- but in the overall concept of the music as a mixture of rock and R&B with classical elements represented by the symphony orchestra and the arty, if non-linear lyrics contributed by Keith Reid. Thus, the title and lead-off song boasted a Viennese waltz style to go with the orchestra and choir that played on it, as Gary Brooker sang Reid's words about high living and rich foods ("Dover sole, and Oeufs Mornay/Profiteroles and Peach Flambe") masking decadence ("Our fortunes speed, and dissipate"). This sense of wealthy corruption weighed over the album, from "A Rum Tale" to "A Souvenir of London" (which, contrary to Reid's denials, probably really was, as the BBC decided, about venereal disease) and "For Liquorice John," about a friend's suicide. Nevertheless, the music, as usual, could be majestic, and it also boasted variety, from the street busker's folk of "A Souvenir of London" to the island rhythm of "Robert's Box." The reissue by the Salvo label is a deluxe affair with an extensive booklet containing new liner notes by Patrick Humphries. The remastering by Nick Robbins brings out sonic details not previously heard. And there are two bonus tracks, a "raw" version of "Grand Hotel" (which is to say, without the orchestra and chorus) and an early run-through take of "Bringing Home the Bacon" featuring Ball, who gets in some good guitar licks at the end. ~ William Ruhlmann