Procol Harum

the Pale

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David Howard, on Chris Thomas's early breaks

In Sonic Alchemy: Visionary Music Producers & Their Maverick Recordings

... another super-charged, ear-splitting take. Only this time, as it slid into the song’s chorus, Thomas rang a loud buzzer that rattled the studio. “Start again, there was a mistake,” he said calmly. The band was stunned, indignant to be called out by the scrub behind the board. Summarily, all four of them defiantly marched towards the control room to have a listen. As they approached, Thomas’s heart threatened to pop out of his chest. He prayed that he hadn’t imagined the gaffe – fortunately, he hadn’t.

Listening to the playback, the band heard the mistake. The men nodded their shaggy heads in acknowledgement, and ambled nonchalantly back into the studio like nothing had happened. Thomas was buoyed as he called for a new take. Officially indoctrinated into Beatledom, he began to grow more confident as the long night wore on. Seventeen draining takes later, the Helter Skelter session was over. Thomas had not only survived the ordeal, he had become a legitimate music producer in the process.

Thomas continued to be closely involved with the White Album sessions in Martin’s absence over the next three weeks, which included work on sardonic Lennon songs Happiness is a Warm Gun, and Glass Onion. For Harrison’s Piggies, Thomas suggested using a harpsichord that had been set up in the studio for an upcoming classical recording date. Harrison not only agreed, but he insisted Thomas play it himself. Thomas also wrote the peppy horn arrangement for Harrison’s Savoy Truffle and played droning keyboards on his yearning Long, Long, Long. When it came time to press the album, it was none other than Lennon who insisted that Thomas be credited for his assistance. Apparently Thomas had done his job after all.


After his baptism by flaming ashtray, Martin encouraged Thomas find his own band to shepherd. As a result, he found himself in a precarious position. Although he had served as an ostensible Beatles producer, his overall lack of experience was a hindrance towards cultivating a proven band. Since nearly every capable rock group in London had already been gobbled up by a recording contract, Thomas trekked out to the country in search of a hidden gem. Eventually, he stumbled upon the Climax Chicago Blues Band, a scruffy outfit who primarily gigged around the pubs of Stafford.

Just a week removed from his Beatles stint, Thomas began to produce their eponymous début. Without a background in engineering, Thomas’s knowledge of studio technology was severely limited. Fortunately, Climax was a warts-and-all British blues band in the mold of John Mayall and early Fleetwood Mac, which enabled him to cut a relatively no-frills document of the band. Thomas encouraged the group to write a few new originals to help distinguish the record from being a mere collection of blues covers, and the group obliged. Two days later the album was completed – a far cry from the Beatles seemingly endless five-month White Album endeavor. The release performed modestly well, and Thomas continued with the Climax Blues Band ('Chicago' was eventually dropped from the name) for three more albums, culminating with 1971’s taut Tightly Knit.

Soon after he began work with the unknown Climax, Thomas received an opportunity to polish his studio skills with a band that had already tasted the big time. In the early summer of 1967, Procol Harum released the evocative, classical-rock hybrid A Whiter Shade of Pale. On the strength of Gary Brooker’s [sic] cathedral-like organ and Keith Reid’s [sic] burnished vocal, the enigmatic song quickly became one of the most heralded singles of the decade. After three innovative, early progressive rock albums that combined guitarist Robin Trower’s limber blues workouts with Brooker’s lofty classical concepts, the band was searching for a hungry new producer to bring a fresh edge to its sound.

Through his affiliation with AIR, Thomas was paired with Procol Harum for its 1970 release, Home. The album was somewhat of a transitional affair for the band, hard rocking but somewhat aimless. However, Thomas was learning on the job, and he quickly re-teamed with the band for its more realised follow-up, Broken Barricades.

thanks, Jill, for the typing

There's more about Chris and Procol ... we suggest you buy the book, for which this is a taster! To get it, go to Amazon UK or Amazon USA

More about Chris Thomas at 'Beyond the Pale'

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