Procol Harum

the Pale 

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B J Wilson, Live in Calgary with Joe Cocker

Reviewed for BtP by Charlie Allison

BtP’s recent interview with Joe Cocker’s guitarist Cliff Goodwin set me looking for two known recordings of BJ Wilson playing live with Joe Cocker’s band.  Cliff stated that they had made a 1981 recording in Calgary or Edmonton (not in Montreal, as previously thought) and there was also a rare Japanese videodisc issued of a Tokyo concert, shot in a rainstorm at about the same time.

I have been fortunate to buy both on eBay (very cheaply!) – a VHS PAL video Joe Cocker Live in Calgary  issued in Australia and bought from Melbourne and another VHS NTSC video Joe Cocker Live in Tokyo, which I picked up from Toronto (and will review a some later date).

I can report that you can purchase the better of them on - as Joe Cocker Live (1981), which is said to be 'recorded in Italy'. I actually bought a Brazilian DVD purporting to be Live in Italy, thinking I had found something previously unknown, but it’s clearly the same Canadian recording.

It is interesting for those well-versed in the details of Procol Harum’s Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (1971) that the arena in Calgary has the same name (Jubilee Auditorium) and that the sound recording has been refined by the same Wally Heider who did the Edmonton symphony Orchestra event with Procol.

On this page are the scans of the front and rear of both the VHS and DVD of the Calgary event – can anyone read Portuguese?  As you might see, there are a couple of pictures of BJ shown on the DVD cover. 

The tracklist shown on the scan is from the VHS version - strangely Delta Lady is omitted from the Italy DVD.

BJ is superb throughout the one-hour concert, as indeed are Joe Cocker and his entire band (which includes guitarist Cliff Goodwin and a great Hammond player, Larry Marshall,  too).  Standout tracks are Feeling Alright, The Letter, You are So Beautiful and With a Little Help from My Friends.

BJ’s playing is technically immaculate with great power and inventiveness and I felt a great surge of emotional déjà vu as I watched the master at work with his low seat and distinctive left hand grip. He seems able to go round the kit with two independent hands with some hard hitting on the toms and trademark Boys' Brigade snare-rolls. There was some rim-shot reggae, his cymbals are beautifully played and crashed and he punctuates the two ballads with some great bass-drum kicks. 

The only sad omission was that there was no expected cowbell – they gave the female backing singer one to play during Hitchcock Railway, when I had expected the maestro to be playing his!  A minor disappointment only in what is a massively nostalgic and enjoyable show – not least for seeing Joe Cocker too, as I was a great fan of his as well (I should really have gone over to Austria recently).

The camera crew were obviously well briefed on when to feature BJ visually and I’ve included a couple of screenshots from my digital camera.  It was interesting that the lighting people bathed BJ in a brighter white light during AWSoP (even though we know he wasn’t on the original record!).  I thought Joe’s version sounded great – I have it on a vinyl album, but it was much better live.

Finally, at the conclusion of the show, with the credits rolling, he gives his all-in mad-crash finish to With a Little Help from My Friends.  

This, my friends, is an essential Procol Harum collectors' item which you should see.

BJ's page at BtP  

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