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Homburg - Procol Harum

Having remembered lyricist and poet Pete Brown (see previous posts), it's only proper that we should pay tribute to the remarkable lyric writing of his long term predecessor as scribe for Procol Harum, Keith Reid, who also died earlier this year, on the 23rd of March. Although he wrote or co-wrote several hits for other people, he will chiefly be remembered for the classic "A Whiter Shade of Pale", whose lyrics are crammed full of literary references, and are hauntingly memorable - who can forget the "sixteen vestal virgins who were leaving for the coast"? - I can still see them in my mind's eye on the concourse outside Fenchurch Street Station.

He also is another fine example in the "who is most important, music writer or lyricist?" debate (see post ).

A previously stated ambition of mine is to do a series of posts on the best b-sides ever. Another could be the best follow up singles by artists now famous for only one great record. Mary Hopkin, Mungo Jerry, Peter Sarstedt and Hawkwind spring immediately to mind. The pressure to follow-up with something equally excellent often defeats the artists concerned, and if they do succeed, even in part, the song gets lost over time in the shadow of it's predecessor. Homburg, the follow-up to "A Whiter Shade of Pale", is one such, reaching number 6 in the UK charts, but is now mostly lost beneath the sounds of time.

Undeservedly so, as Reid turned in some excellent lyrics for Procol Harum, haunting, prophetic, often dark, something he attributed to the fact that his parent were holocaust survivors. Certainly, he was conscious of the troubadour / poetic tradition that he is part of. The lyrics to Homburg are a fine example of this, strongly reminiscent as they are of the " London Bridge" section that ends the first part of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land", "The Burial of the Dead".

Here's Eliot:

"Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,

To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours

With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: 'Stetson!...." "

and here, distinctly poetic, equally apocalyptic, is Reid:

"Your multilingual business friend has packed her bags and fled, leaving only ash-filled ashtrays and the lipstick, unmade bed. The mirror, on reflection has climbed back upon the wall for the floor, she found descended, and the ceiling was too tall...

The town clock in the market square stands waiting for the hour when its hands, they both turn backward and on meeting will devour both themselves and also any fool who dares to tell the time and the sun and moon will shadow, and the signpost cease to sign.

Your trouser cuffs are dirty and your shoes are laced up wrong you'd better take off your homburg 'cause your overcoat is too long."


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