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Procol Harum - Grand Hotel CD (album) cover


Procol Harum


Crossover Prog

3.89 | 240 ratings

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Dreamer of Pictures
4 stars I originally wrote a review of this album in the early 1970s for The Tech, published by Massachusetts Institue Of Technology students. That review is available online in a PDF of the edition in which the review was published, through I loved the album in general back then, though I had q few quibbles with a couple of tunes. Today I am delighted to say that the album has stood up well over the decades. The following Grand Hotel tracks are on my iPhone: Grand Hotel, Toujours l'Amour, a Rum Tale, For Liquorice John, Fires, and Robert's Box. That last one is mostly a modest paen to the gentleman's approach to addiction, but at the end develops into the heaviest non-orchestrated finish every recorded by Procol with Mick Grabham on guitar, a real delight.

I want to tell you the tale of the album cover.

While I was in college, my editor and I wrangled an interview with Brooker and Reid when PH came to Boston on the Exotic Birds tour in 1974. We met in their hotel room at the Sheraton in the Prudential Center, a very nice crashpad. I still have an Ektachrome slide or two that I shot of the duo in that room.

Most of the questions came from my editor, who was like me a fan and paid attention to detail. But the final question came from me, and it provoked quite a response. I knew cut & paste when I saw it, and it was quite clear that the front cover and the foldout in the Grand Hotel vinyl album cover included the head of new guitarist Mick Grabham atop the body of former guitarist David Ball.

So I asked them why the cut & paste had happened.

Both Brooker and Reid shot out of their chairs. They were outraged that anyone had actually caught them at that particular deception. Then, after a minute or so, Brooker calmed down and spilled the beans.

Ball was still in the band during both the photo sessions for the cover, shot in Los Angeles, and the recording sessions for the album, done in the UK. Then Ball quit PH before the album was released. The band had to decide what to do about that, and the contract deadline for the album was looming. They did not have time to hire a new guitarist, re-record the album, and travel to reshoot the photos. They could do two out of three, and the parting with Ball was not pleasant so the hiring task was first on the list. After hiring Mick Grabham, they re-recorded the album with him, and then faked the photos. Back then there was no Photoshop. And big album covers made it easy to see cut & paste. It is not so obvious on the relatively tiny photos in the CD release.

In 2003 I was fortunate to see PH perform yet again, performing at the Birchmere in Alexandria VA. This time they sat afterward to sign autographs. I handed my CD of Grand Hotel to Brooker for an autograph, and I reminded Brooker about that conversation 29 years earlier. He smiled and said Dave Ball does indeed appear on the cover. He turned over the CD to point at the champaign glass on the back. Indeed there he is. The entire band appeared among the bubbles, highly distorted by the curved glass and the liquid. Apparently their cut & paste guy could not figure out how to distort Mick's head to fit in that odd context.

The unreleased tapes of the Ball version of Grand Hotel may still exist somewhere. I happen to think Grabham was a far better fit for PH. And my editor was Neal Vitale, now a major publisher with a whole lot more money than any rock musician I ever interviewed.

Dreamer of Pictures | 4/5 |


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