Procol Harum

the Pale

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Wish Me Well (aka The Gospel according to Matthew)

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

Wish Me Well (aka The Gospel according to Matthew)

Hindsight Bias Sings the Blues

I must admit at the outset to having suffered for years from OPA, an uncommon, life-altering condition, yet one that I find rather desirable. OPA, or Obsessive Procol Analysis, is something that I have learned to live with. After centuries of OPA, I have been able to ascertain the source of the opening comments that define this Wish Me Well. Whilst I cannot fathom what is being said for reasons that may or may not be apparent, the voice that is in the fore of this sweet tidbit is Robin Trower's. The Wish Me Well from this honeycomb is close to the original in that the performance is the same only remixed and longer, with Trower teasing us toward the end. His solo was rightfully cut short for the final release since he begins to meander toward the end, having given us his left hook earlier on. Dripping with bluesadelic adornment, his guitar sound is reminiscent not only of itself but of Clapton's Disraeli Gears tone. I admit to having read AJ's treatise on Wish Me Well before having begun this section but I have always thought that anyway. We are on a convergence trajectory here. We usually work the other way around but how boring singularity of approach can become.

Lyrically the song reminds me, while stretching the parameters of the postulate for the sake of "journalism", of a tenet of modern social psychology known as 'hindsight bias'. "If I'd known then what I know now, do you think I would have been so blind?" Hindsight bias, as defined, is the tendency to exaggerate, after learning an outcome, one's ability to have foreseen how something turned out. In this ode to regret, Keith seems to ruminate on some event that he now believes he would have a different handle on. Too late. But this makes for all the better Blues Reporting. If only: Why didn't I: if I'd known then … regret, rumination, second-guessing and eventually hindsight bias lead us to the "I knew it all along," scenario to which everyone can relate on some level. Here, Keith is not so sure from the start when he tells us that he had, "… caught a glimpse, thought I understood." As is the fate of the blues protagonist of lore, "well my night has come and I'm goin' down." The ending is not cheerful and why would we want it to be anyway? The stifled, cobwebbed corridors of the early Reidian consciousness are permeated with the stuff of psychopathology. And while Keith is far from a pathological personality in real-time, he is so good at what he does that he forces us to believe that he is incapable of healthy living. Even at the time of the song's writing, though young, insecure and probably indulging in the recreational drugs of the epoch, Keith was obviously still functioning on a day-to-day level as any businessperson would who is engaged in the godawful mess of writing for and running a rock band.

This is a lovely sounding take. This Gospel According to Matthew is a tad longer, more pungently mixed and balanced and satisfies the need for difference after the stately and classical posturing of Quite Rightly So and Shine On Brightly. I must admit that I like this song better in the later four-piece incarnation without the organ. By then, Trower's muscle had increased considerably and the addition of Copping's more gut-punching basslines increased the bluesy ethos of the track. I never missed the organ on this in the 1970–71 live renditions. I prefer it organless. Will surprises never cease? I would just as soon play drums on this or add a punchy synth bassline than play organ to it. Go figure, Mouseketeers. Matthew is using the slightly thickened, gospel sound with higher drawbars pulled to about 7 and Leslie tremolo spinning at high speed. This is pure gospel intonation. The organ is nice, but decoration only. BJ adds unobtrusive but oh-so-right drumming and tambourine while Gary and Robin scat it out in the fore and aft. Trower once said he could not play and sing at the same time. There are live versions of this track where he does exactly that as well as a version of Crucifiction Lane where his guitar and singing are dominant, well-presented and quite live. So much for the artist as "final say" on the history of their own music. Gary, we love you but you are the worst offender in the contradictory befuddlement area of all Procol members. Matthew seems the most reliable to date and even he has a lapse or two … but it is, after all, understandable. The artist is not so intent on studying the inner machinations and extraneous details of the periphery of their own work as are the fans. That's us! "The bees gave a party and invited all they knew. Some wasps and some hornets and a few mosquitoes too!" The next chamber awaits …


‘ ... cause my night has come and I’m going down’. Indeed. This has to be the best blues Procol Harum ever did and my favorite song from their second album. Why? Why not? I love the blues. Always have and after the first few numbers on Shine On Brightly this one hits the listener right between the eyes. Also one of their great LIVE songs to be reckoned with on any given occasion.

Here we have I would guess the first version and sounding every bit as good as the final version from said album. This one is very LIVE and seems, although in true stereo, to have been recorded and mixed with perhaps a single in mind. At least a B side here, but for my money it could have been the A side with Wee Small Hours from this collection as the B side. And perhaps that was the plan since both songs display the almost exact and similar mix with everything panned toward the center. Also Denny has done what he did with several other songs during this period and put the organ which is on the left here in the shadows of the drums, bass and guitar … vocals and piano too are up front more.

The guitar is of the sonic condition considered in the first sessions here. I do believe perhaps Robin was using his Marshall by the time the second attempt was made. Here I would think the two-amp combo was used or perhaps a VOX AC50 or AC30 slaved up with another amp, perhaps a Selmer (very British) as a pre-amp before hitting the VOX. I have been told he used a Gretsch guitar on these sessions. This is evident in the way the whammy bar sounds compared to the later Gibson SG. Most Gretschs of the time were equipped with a ‘Bigsby’ which to this day is considered the Rolls Royce of whammy bars for ANY guitar rig. I do not think these first and original pieces from the time of the first LP will ever be duplicated because of this setup Robin was using at the time. No, in later LPs and gigs Gibson Les Pauls and SG Specials would rule the day. And although the SGs had Lyre type whammy bars for the vibrato sound, the Les Pauls many times came with their own smaller versions of the Bigsby.

A 'whammy bar' is just old slang used by musicians for the usually-metal bar on an electric guitar usually connected to the bridge where the strings lie at the south side of the body of the guitar. By moving the bar up or down you will sometimes and most likely get a sound resembling the vibrato which is usually done with one's finger on the string on the neck. Violinists use this technique a lot so the next time you see an orchestra watch the string section and their left hands and fingers carefully. Guitarists use the vibrato technique too, using their fingers. BB King would never have been able to do what he does without this trick. The whammy bar is just for lazy guitarists since it emulates this effect rather nicely and at the same time creates its own havoc. Just listen to some live Jimi Hendrix some time, using it with all those Fender Stratocaster guitars he was famous for playing – one reason Robin Trower eventually started to use the Stratocaster in the first place. Witness to this is his final classic produced by Mr Fisher after he left Procol Harum on Bridge of Sighs.

All in all a well-balanced and interesting version. More percussive than the final version and there is a certain tightness in the production where the later seems more relaxed. Toss a coin on this one lads. More organ and a better stereo spread? Also a better rendering of the lead vocals? Then listen to the Shine on Brightly version, otherwise this one would have been a hit in the top 40 here in the States ... I would have bet on it.



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