Procol Harum: Exotic Birds & Fruit Expanded – album review
EXOTIC BIRDS & FRUIT EXPANDED
Cherry Red Records
Released 29 June
The follow up to Grand Hotel gets the remaster treatment. Proculs Harum’s 1974 effort plus a shedload of period live material. Tasty.
1973’s Grand Hotel saw the beginnings of some line up stability for Procul Harum. However, it was also one that triggered a change in attitude. Exotic Birds… became the album which many saw as a reaction to what had gone recently before. “We made the live album with an orchestra. We’d taken the orchestra into the studio for Grand Hotel…we’d had enough of orchestras,” said Gary Brooker.
A time when the band had to deal with power cuts as the UK government and the working men’s unions struggled passionately for their own cause, the three day week and winter of discontent proved the social backdrop to Procol’s latest direction.
Perhaps the social and political climate also influenced the back to basics approach although proof of the maxim that the most trying conditions often conjure up the best performances. A handful of classic tracks emerged from the sessions. Nothing but The Truth kicks off in familiar style before the music hall barrelhouse of Beyond The Pale and a topically inclined Butterfly Boys that represents their own struggle against the terms of their contract with Chrysalis Records. Fresh Fruit provides the moment of light relief although the trimming down of any orchestral indulgences saw a more trim band and none the worse for it, although plenty of period organ ensures that the core sound remains at the, erm, core.
Two splendid bonus CDs contain live recordings from the era. The first a BBC Radio One ‘In Concert’ set from March 1974 half of which showcases the new album and perhaps surprisingly, none of the expected Procol biggies – no Salty Dog or Nights and how often do you find a major band making the bold move of ignoring their most recognisable works?
The third disc also comes from a radio broadcast, KZEW FM in Dallas a few months later. The same Exotic Birds tracks are included again in a 65 minute set, yet the archives are trawled for a little more interest in Long Gone Geek and Mabel and round up a wonderful add on for a collection around the album that many consider to be Procul Harum’s finest work.
And still the road goes on for Procul Harum. A new album, Novum, was released in 2017, while 1991’s The Prodigal Stranger has also undergone the remaster treatment. Unlike Grand Hotel and Exotic Birds, it contains not quite the same in depth archive trawl. Perhaps not surprising after a 14 year absence, but then at least they did manage to avoid the eighties and emerge reasonably intact and not too far removed from their heyday. There’s also the bonus of another set of noteworthy and knowledgably detailed liner notes from noted Procul Harum authority Roland Clare and comments from Gary Brooker.
Listen to Fresh Fruit from the album here:
Find Procol Harum online here