Procol Harum

the Pale

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Royer and Harrison

... a question of some idiot mixing the tapes up ...

It's well-known that the original Procol Harum line-up contained guitarist Ray Royer and drummer Bobby Harrison, who, on being replaced by Robin Trower and Barrie Wilson, went on to form their own group, pointedly naming it after the most experimental Paramounts cut of all, Charlie Mingus's Freedom.

What musical traces did Royer and Harrison leave in the Procol Harum catalogue? Ostensibly, they are present on the first single, though A Whiter Shade of Pale has scarcely any audible guitar, and the drums on the famous A-side were in fact played by Bill Eyden.

Royer and Harrison played very few gigs with Procol Harum (see here for one), though some of their June 1967 broadcasts of A Whiter Shade of Pale (twice), Conquistador, Lime Street Blues, Morning Dew, and Mabel have found its way into fans' collections via the Through the Garden Fence bootleg. Other BBC sessions could conceivably emerge on Westside, since they have acquired the rights to all Harum recordings made during the Regal Zonophone years.

Westside's Anniversary Box, of course, does contain A Whiter Shade of Pale - a stereo version - apparently recorded with Bobby Harrison; and fans have also wondered if Harrison can be heard on one of the alternate takes of Homburg. This would not be altogether surprising, since it is widely reported that the AWSoP sessions were by no means the only recordings Harrison and Royer made with the band.

Top of many fans' wish-list would be a chance to hear the Royer / Harrison versions of songs that were apparently recorded for the first album, Procol Harum, and then scrapped. This is not, I suspect, because we long to hear what Royer and Harrison played, but because we long to hear more magic playing from Brooker and Fisher.

It has been rumoured that an acetate of this ur-album was once in the possession of Rolling Stone Brian Jones ... but there was thought to be little chance that master tapes would come to light until Westside revealed to 'Beyond the Pale' (March 1998) that they would be releasing Royer / Harrison takes (hitherto-unheard versions of Cerdes (Outside the Gates of), Something Following Me, Salad Days (Are Here Again), and Mabel) in May or June of 1998.

The Mabel track is said to sound so similar to the official, original release that Westside actually suspect that we've always been listening to Bobby Harrison, in an uncredited residue of the original recording. They say Mabel vanished from the band's repertoire when Barrie Wilson joined the band, though Larry Pennisi has remarked that the song returned under the Exotic Birds and Fruit incarnation of Procol, which played it on 4 July 1974 at Dallas, Texas on a widely-bootlegged FM radio broadcast.

Westside say that the chances are 'pretty slim' of any further Harrison / Royer sessions showing up. Yet when the Uruguayan journalist Marcelo Pereira asked Matthew Fisher to clarify how much of the first album had been recorded with the original line-up, Matthew's reply was, 'I'm not sure how far we'd got in the recording of the album when the personnel changed. I think we may have recorded quite a lot (if not all) of it but I don't remember too clearly. Yes, I think that's basically true.'

What other Harrison recordings, apart from Mabel, may we have been unwittingly listening to down the years? Let us consider two well-known variant takes of In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence. For a long time I knew only the version that was released in Britain as the B-side of Quite Rightly So on Regal Zonophone in 1968: the same cut appeared on the Rock Roots compilation from Cube records in 1976. But on acquiring the Early Years compilation (licensed from Cube to the Dojo label in 1992) I first heard a very different recording of the track.

The song has now appeared on numerous compilations. In briefly comparing the two takes I shall refer to the former as 'RZ' and the latter as 'Dojo': it will be interesting to see if readers can match the following observations to versions of the song that they are familiar with.

RZ and Dojo are certainly different performances, not just different mixes, at least as far as drums and vocal are concerned. On RZ one can hear two instances of the GB (then) trademark off-mic 'yeah' and 'oh' vocalisations, during the instrumental section. The melody is markedly different -

the phrase 'now off to the wars' offers a clear basis for comparison. If the song's in C major, Gary sets the two syllables of 'wars' to C and A flat in the Dojo version (see right, higher stave). In RZ he uses D and C (lower example). This difference recurs at comparable points throughout.

Dojo's melody is more academic and should in principal be a 'better' tune, but RZ sounds more like a take from a few rehearsals down the line by which time it's become obvious that the lower note doesn't carry so well. Pat Keating points out that 'the performance of Sixpence on that German Beat Club show certainly indicates that RZ was the definitive version of the song' ... the one the band eventually settled for.

On RZ the drumming is crisp and inventive, the drum-sound conventional: Dojo features unusually slack-sounding tom-toms, and the breaks don't always sound very thought-out (for example the fill at 'waiting all in vain'). On Dojo, the drums simply keep the beat between 'blunt and sharp enough' and 'broken window pane'. On RZ the part is decorated with brisk rolls: very tasty. The two versions are so different that it is extremely tempting to imagine that two different percussionists are at work.

Other points of comparison are less readily apparent. The glorious high-register organ is significantly similar on both takes, suggesting that Matthew Fisher had worked out a great part to start with, and stuck to it: The Dojo mix, however, leaves rather a lot of suffocating organ in the tenor area in between the early lines of the song whereas on RZ Gary Brooker plays a neat little piano fill; you can hear it after the word 'chandelier' in verse one, for example. In the last verse the organ takes that fill: like the Beatles, Procol Harum used huge variety in their arrangements in those days! On Dojo the piano seems rather to be feeling its way, playing a tentative rising scale way in the background under the first 'grief is not the cause' for example.

RZ mixes the piano crunchy and high: on Dojo you strain to hear it in the verses, though it's clear enough in the instrumental section. On Dojo one hears a noise directly after the piano plays the first chord, as if a match is striking against a matchbox, very sudden, sharp and high: this intrusive sound is not audible on RZ. I can't detect any guitar on either take, but the bass-playing is much more interesting and prominent on RZ! All in all RZ is the much more integrated and vervesome performance, to my thinking.

A recent bootleg suggests that there are three recordings of the song in circulation, and dates the RZ version to February 1968 - clearly a Harrison recording would have to have been made a good eight months earlier. I asked Pat Keating which versions of the song he knew of and which records they could be found on.

Pat surmised that the RZ take 'only appears on the following: The A&M Bootleg Album (yes, that's the name of it from A&M - it has 'bootlegs' from various artists, including Procol's Sixpence, Geek, and probably Lime Street Blues or something - I don't have this album, and I don't know if it is available on CD); certain pressings of the Cube Rock Roots: PH album (I have a vinyl copy with the RZ Sixpence: oddly enough, my CD version of this album has the Dojo Sixpence; one or two of my contacts have reported that their vinyl version has the Dojo version!); on the USA A&M promo single of Quite Rightly So / Sixpence (oddly enough this single has the 'regular' Quite Rightly So from the album - not the alternate version that is on the box set rarities CD); and on Quite Rightly So / In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence on an Italian 45, IL NIL9013. (IL is the same label that the Il Tuo Diamante 45 is on.) This QRS is the regular album version.

Commenting on the liner note from the Westside triple box, Pat remarks, 'I never realized that the alternate Quite Rightly So with the Dojo Sixpence was released as a single in the UK'. I can only reply that that certainly is not true of my copy of that single, bought in Taunton, Somerset the day it was released in 1968. 'It is confusing,' Pat goes on, 'that the Dojo Early Years CD and the Westside box set contain the Dojo Sixpence that they claim is from the B-side of QRS. But you and I both have singles of QRS with the RZ Sixpence. I wonder if somewhere along the way a decision was made to switch the versions of Sixpence on the master tape?

Given the confusion that evidently surrounds the various incarnations of these early recordings I think it very unlikely that any 'decision' was ever made regarding these master-tapes.

Marcelo Pereira put the Sixpence question to Matthew Fisher in an e-mail: 'Do you remember why did the group record that song twice, and which is the first one? Is BJ Wilson playing in both of them (I ask cause the drums sound very different)?'

Matthew's reply was as follows: 'I've often wondered about that myself. I think it's quite possible that the slower version was actually with Bobby and Ray. My feelings are that it's simply a question of some idiot mixing the tapes up. I do remember that we recorded a version with the old line-up and the new line-up at the same studio (Lansdowne), which coincidentally was where Homburg was recorded.'

More and more 'befuddlement' (to borrow Larry Pennisi's catch-phrase) has emerged in the build-up to the next wave of Procol re-releases. Some fans initially suggested that Westside's withdrawal of the 'stereo fakes' of the first album might have more to do with legal difficulties than with musical accreditation, though Westside's explanation sheds credible light on the 'fakeness' of the promised recordings - and a glimmer or two on the origins of the stereo versions of the first album's tracks that have been available on cheap compilations since the early 1970s.

Still the truth is far from plain to see. It would be very nice to hear from Bobby Harrison himself on the matter of what recordings of his have ever seen the light of day. We don't even know for certain that it's the same backing-vocalist Bobby Harrison who sings 'it makes me feel so bad' and 'it really brings me down' on Matthew Fisher's Going for a Song.

One thing's certain, though: Royer and Harrison do contribute in an oblique way to the Shine on Brightly album. Cathy Frumerman from New York wrote to Shine On (February 1997) to ask, 'What is the dialogue in between 'In' and 'I'? There's a lot of yelling going on, and someone says 'soul'?' Matthew Fisher responded as follows:

'As far as the question is concerned, I'm not sure I understand it. If Cathy is referring to the shouting at the end of In the Autumn of my Madness then there is certainly a lot of yelling going on. The only recollection I have regarding this is that Denny Cordell shouts out the names 'Royer' and 'Harrison' (two ex-members of Procol), probably in the hope that some hippy freak would read some amazing meaning into it'.

Roland from BtP would like to thank Pat Keating, Larry Pennisi and Marcelo Pereira for their 'amazing meanings'!

See also: Dave Ball's musical and pictorial traces on Grand Hotel

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