Procol Harum

the Pale

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Your Anorak is Too Long

'Procol Harum ... Plus!': those non-variant variants ...

In a recent review of the eagerly-awaited Procol Harum ... Plus! Roland Clare mentioned that the album contained 'a fair share of bewildering surprises': of its promised trove of rarities, some of the ‘Royer / Harrison cuts’ sounded suspiciously like the original takes!

'I hope to discuss this with [compiler] Henry Scott-Irvine shortly,' he promised: so here is the upshot of his lengthy conversation with the amiable Henry, held on 30 May 1998.

Read also a reply to this article from Westside's general manager, Tony Rounce.

I mentioned to Henry that no fan could believe that the performances on the supposedly alternative Cerdes and Something Following Me were by different musicians from the familiar versions. Had the tapes been labelled wrongly in 1967, or had there been some mix-up during the mastering of the album? And why had the compilers not trusted their ears?

Henry was not surprised by the question: Westside have been referring similar queries to him from fans who have taken advantage of the telephone and FAX numbers printed on the back cover of the CD.

'I was absolutely gutted when I saw the sleeve notes of PH ... Plus!,' he told me, pointing out that Westside’s jokey credit 'with interference from Tony Rounce' on the back of the disc meant exactly what it said. Without acrimony, he pointed out that he had written his liner-notes in the autumn of 1997 before the final selection of tracks had been made: some of them he had not even heard. It had therefore seemed natural enough that they should be adapted by the Westside men during the final programming of the songs.

Had he now heard the songs that had finally been put out? Surely Cerdes and Something Following Me were the familiar Trower / Wilson versions?

'Categorically they're the same takes,' he told me, though he emphasised that they were differently mixed. He drew my attention to the tape-box depicted in the insert, and explained that there certainly were Royer / Harrison cuts of Cerdes and of Something Following Me on the reel it contained, alongside the familiar Trower / Wilson versions: he guessed that they might have been lined up together on that tape to facilitate comparison, and mentioned that the earlier versions were very shambolic and amateurish indeed.

So why had these versions, of huge interest to the hard-core fan, not been released? Henry didn't know. It didn't seem likely that Westside had withdrawn them in deference to the band's wishes, since by that token the variant Salad Days would have had to go as well. Perhaps they'd just made a mistake?

I asked Henry how, even if the right variant tracks had been released, they could reasonably claim to feature 'the Brooker / Fisher / Knights / Harrison / Royer line-up ... recorded on August 1st 1967', when Harrison and Royer had in fact left the band before 15th July.

He suggested that the date on the tape-box might in fact represent the day of the dubbing of the tape rather than of the recording session; but conceded that 'the date error might be mine'. Thinking aloud, he said it was possible to see how that slip might have led Westside to misunderstand which tracks from that reel he was recommending for release on the final disc.

Henry pointed out that he had worked closely with Westside over the triple boxed set, and that there had been no difficulty at all with his liner note there, which had been faithfully reproduced, full artwork and wording, from a Quark Xpress file he had supplied to them. But he had been the victim of mix-ups before the present series: his liner-notes for the CD release of the last four 70s albums were sent in on floppy disc, yet Castle had instructed secretarial staff to re-type them from his paper copy, which resulted in the creation of new words ('self-reverential'), spelling errors ('piece de resistence') and lots of punctuation errors (most irritatingly a persistent "it's" for the possessive "its").

Castle still own the rights to these 70s recordings, licensed from Brooker and Reid's Strongman company, I gather; but Simon Platz's companies, Bucks / Onward Music and Cube Records, withdrew their franchise over the first four albums, feeling less than happy about Castle's stewardship of the catalogue. No doubt this explains why Westside are now able to exploit the material.

I concluded my album-review by hoping that the documentation on the Shine on Brightly ... Plus! package would will provoke fewer questions. Yet it seems that Henry is working even more in the dark over this next album: he has not yet heard the variant takes that were found by Tony Rounce in the Simon Platz archive, which originated from the Cube Records archive that rested in London's Poland Street. It seems that the documentation this time will not set out to be so specific about dates – the album was evidently recorded a couple of songs at a time when the band were back in the UK between overseas engagements.

The Shine on Brightly ... Plus! collection will seek to restore the bluesy side-two songs that were edged out by the growth of In Held ’Twas in I. As BtP has already reported, it should contain a multi-tracked Alpha, an vocal-less version of Pandora's Box, the now-familiar Seem to Have the Blues Most all the Time and Monsieur Armand, Il Tuo Diamante, the boxed-set variantly-worded Quite Rightly So, two versions of In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence (discussed here), and the mysterious Gospel According to Matthew. Henry wonders if this last number (recorded 19 March 1968) may turn out to be a mis-naming of A Robe of Silk, which he is not familiar with. But Tony Rounce reports that the song is 'a completed R&B-flavoured mid-tempo track in the mode of Lime Street Blues' – not a Robe-like description at all. [It later turned out, of course, to be Wish Me Well by any other name].

Why was Alpha not included on the first ... Plus! release, as it's often quoted as being the first song Brooker and Reid wrote? Henry answered that the studio tape-box states that Alpha was recorded in 1968, along with Pandora's Box and MacGreggor; he also vouchsafed that Gary and Matthew had a genial argument about this early chronology, regrettably off-camera, during the filming of It Was Thirty Years Ago Today. Equally, why were the variant Shine on Brightly and Quite Rightly So not held over for the second Plus ...! release? Because Brightly had truly been mastered for Procol's début album – it was on a reel with the other finished 1967 material; and Rightly was included as 'a whetter' for the second ... Plus! release later this year. Henry spoke intriguingly about having auditioned six near-identical takes of Quite Rightly So, settling on ‘final mix, take six’ for our delectation. The drums and organ here may sound suspiciously identical to the final release, but for Henry's money this is because the musicians were so good that they really did replicate their chosen licks and chops, indistinguishably, from take to take.

It has no doubt seemed to many fans that Henry Scott-Irvine, documenter of Procol Harum on film, and compiler of the Halcyon Daze collection for Westside's sister label, has been thickly involved in every stage of the present round of re-releases and exhumations of variant takes and mixes. The revelations above suggest something very different. Far from being the driving force, he has merely been employed as a specialised writer / consultant by Westside, and is not on a royalty.

The question that fans will now want to have answered, of course, is whether Westside will be intending to let us hear those genuine Royer / Harrison tracks on some future release, and how, with all the enthusiasm and effort that are being put into the Procol Harum re-releases, such a mix-up could have occurred.

What a shame there has not been a true meeting of minds over the re-releases of the Procol back-catalogue; if the musicians and the producers and the owners of the recordings could have sat round a table with the insert-writer, more interesting and thorough documentation and selection could have been made available to fans; this is what is happening with bands such as the Kinks at the moment, and it is a process that is incidentally raising plenty of press interest. In Procol Harum's case such collaboration is no doubt obstructed by their muddy management history, and the conflicting interests of companies who own the rights to their material from different eras.

Nonetheless Henry re-asserts that Westside are putting great and well-meaning efforts into the Procol re-releases, because the band is perceived to have a uniquely active and discerning fan-base. He is too modest to mention that, as the young founder of Shine On, he made a very significant contribution to keeping that fan-base alive when the band first went out of circulation. Shine On, Henry!

More about this album

Westside's reply to this article

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Buy the Procol Harum Pluss CD from CD-Now

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