Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Pandora's Box'

A Procoholic Double Review

This page presents part of a unique Procoholics' double-act: Larry Pennisi presents 'The Secrets of the Hive' and Clyde 'AJ' Johnson contributes 'Extracting the Honey' … both being detailed and personal looks, from very different perspectives, at tracks from the Westside Pandora's Box album

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The Secrets of the Hive
by Larry Pennisi / Cerdes

Extracting the Honey
by Clyde ‘AJ’ Johnson

the alternative Repent Walpurgis

Repent: this is the bastard musical child of numerous centuries. Its influences are, when seen aligned in the same, visual space, rather incongruous. Matthew Fisher, credited as composer, once said that he was awarded credit as some sort of "booby prize." This, no doubt, harks back to the dismissal of co-composer credit for A Whiter Shade of Pale. Hardly the work of a booby, the piece is centered on the four main chords of the Four Seasons' song, Beggin'. Bob Gaudio, the main musical impetus behind the Seasons, probably never dreamed that his music would be the backbone of an even mightier classic than his original track. Johann Sebastian Bach thankfully contributed the 'Ave Maria' section in the center of the track at the behest of Gary Brooker.

Matthew, in the Mike Ober interviews, firmly reminds us that, in his opinion, the track is luminous due to the guitar murmurings of Robin Trower. Clocking in at 7 minutes and 26 seconds, this unmitigated stereo version is clearly an earlier take than the familiar version from the first album. This version begins with BJ Wilson on drums at a slightly faster pace than the standard version. BJ also adds a couple of extra bass drum accents and off beats in this chapter of the track.

We can also straight away hear Trower's guitar strumming the chords, contrasting to the original where his entrance is made immediately before his first guitar solo. Matthew's organ in stereo is so pure, so crystalline, and so very perfect. His organ counterpoints are more improvisational as he adds occasional fills that stray from the original motif. It is on this version that Robin's guitar suffers. Being an earlier take, it is clear that he has not yet worked out a comfortable niche in which to play. The power is therefore diminished somewhat as he seems to wander about looking for the right words. Some of the lines he plays on this version were obviously deemed mighty enough to keep for the absolute version.

The original is tighter, more concise and crystallized. Here, the Bach mid section again has Trower's guitar noticeably strumming chords, which detracts somewhat for me as opposed to the sparser adaptation. Matthew plays something quite dissimilar when he returns for the main motif after the Bach prelude. More fluid and winding, Matthew nonetheless is in full command of his instrument. When Trower returns, he is again a bit lost and some obvious bad notes are heard.

The interesting thing to be heard here is the return of the Bach section after the second solo. Played straight once again, the sheer power of this track is still intact even with the aforementioned flaws. Robin returns for his third guitar break. He is more up front in the mix though this may not have been the best idea for the piece but it is a sheer delight to hear all of him captured. Someone whistles loudly to lead the band into the final dramatic coda. In the version there are a couple of timing errors where the band does not come back in on the downbeat quite all at the same time. But we can forgive all of this. And truly, this is testament to the LIVE aspect of that magical First Album. (Respectfully in Caps.)

The analysis of this piece was done in a more empirical way than most of the others that I have written. Perhaps it is because of the long spaces between the writings, that I am coming at this
from a different emotional place. Not a lesser place mind you, but one from which we can perhaps hear Robin "crying out like Thomas Hardy at century's end; himself exhausted, yet ready to report whatever hope he finds." (Paul Williams 1967- Crawdaddy)

As Larry/Cerdes pointed out as my esteemed colleague in this endeavor, this may have been an earlier take? Info Larry, we need more info! Just kidding. Nevertheless it was probably recorded on another day as the positioning of microphones and the live mix itself differ greatly from a technical standpoint. BJ Wilson's drums are up in the mix and where they should be or have been in the album version IMO. This take on just its recording technique varies greatly and is far superior in that regard. The organ, piano, guitar are about where they should be and are similar in dimension as the album stereo version on this album. But BJ's drums get special attention on this track, and rightly so. I just wish it had been so with the final cut. But wishing with Procol Harum is like tossing a coin in the wishing well, eh?

At over seven minutes this represents of course the true nature of the BEAST! I have heard live bootlegs of this version and also saw them perform this version live in 1969 so I know whereof I speak when I say this to me is the definitive version, lumps and all. Or is that warts and all? The ending could have been tighter but just listen to the separation and power in the mix with BJ's drums up-front doing that thing that only Mr. Wilson could do. Just listen to the monstrous ending he puts forth on this cut. Very, very different than the other and much more dramatic, the way it was meant to be IMO. A better day and a better mix with the mics in the right spots … the performance as a whole could have been tighter but maybe that's the magic of the track after all? And very well I might add. It is an awesome cut and although I enjoy the later keyboards and piano bit which makes it longer, for me it's still the guitar Robin offers up and those well-recorded drum bits you will not hear in any other officially-realized version of this titanic overture.

One thing I would mention if I haven't before is that Olympic Studios at the time of these cuts was considered a loose affair compared to every other studio in London. Things were never as slick or ordered as at EMI Abbey Road's studios where Pink Floyd and the Beatles recorded. And believe me they recorded two classics in that year of 1967. But over at Olympic things were said to have been cooler, as in breaking the rules which at the time needed breaking of course. Turning up the volume, getting stoned and not having the head of the studio or some lackey engineer freaking out and calling the cops or whatever they are called over there. Lol!? So in three days the producer, engineers and band had a party. This party resulted in their first album which we know is a classic right along with St Pepper and Pink Floyd 's first album. If they had just enough money to extend that party a few more days or weeks I think we would have gotten a far superior first album, in stereo with more studio effects and tricks which for all intents and purposes could and should have been used, such as phasing and flanging (two methods done by taking two tape machines and manually manipulating the tape flow of one or the other with one's fingers – a very long and time consuming affair but it would have made for much more fun on certain cuts to be sure). I know all you purists out there may be thinking 'bunk': well, I disagree: imagine Kaleidoscope with some tape manipulation as on some of the cuts off St Pepper by the Beatles. Not much, but just a little to enhance the feeling of the music, nothing that would get in the way and cover it up. As if they could with such a crude method of the time. Of course nowadays all one needs is a box or a rack-mounted bunch of recording gear to make these effects. Aah, but the original methods sounded the best: I guess in a way the liveness of these tracks is more honest and comparable to a live performance at the time.

I think CERDES covered the musical parts very well, and they need no embellishing from me here. I would like to say in conclusion I love this track and consider it the better of the two recording-wise. Performance-wise who knows. Toss a coin into the wishing well and make a wish .

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