Procol's producer, Dennis Weinreich, writes to 'Beyond the Pale' (Ides of March, 2017)
I had the pleasure of mixing two live albums [here and here] for Procol Harum, which necessitated listening to around sixty or seventy live performances looking for the best takes of the best songs to be included. One thing became clear: this was not a throw-together band out touring a long catalogue. This is a great band that play responsively to each other and follow a strong bandleader in Gary. The feel of the live performances was exciting and, for me, most often delivered a superior performance to the original recordings. The band were not laboured. They found grooves and dynamics that changed from show to show as they responded to their audience. For me the goal was to bring these qualities to a new PH studio album. Fortunately Gary was keen to try. A genuine band performance album at a time when most are making records in very isolated ways. All we could do was take a stab at it.
Recording began on 17 October 2016 at Angelic Studios in Northampton. We had had writing sessions in the months prior to recording, but no actual rehearsals. We wanted the songs to develop in the studio and have a freshness in the performance that comes from playing something new.
The band were all arranged in a circle, with Geoff Dunn against the back wall. Looking down, Geoff was at 12:00 o'clock; to his left at 2:00 was Matt Pegg, who needs very little space. Then at 4:00 was Geoff Whitehorn, surrounded by lots of guitars, pre-amps, line amps and pedals Ė it was quite a messy area, which I think suited Geoff. At 6:00, with his back to the control room window, was Gary with his C300 Yamaha piano directly across from Geoff Dunn, and a Yamaha C3 acoustic piano to his left. Then, around at 9:00, was Josh Phillips with his Hammond and Yamaha Montage, and other keyboards.
There was a big space in the middle for monitor speakers for rehearsing, and also mics set up for recording vocals. On almost every song the whole band played together. The format was to present a new song to the whole band and work out an arrangement that we all liked, then record it. It took a few days to settle in but once we got rolling it was pretty exciting.
Monday 17 October
Set-up day. Get sounds and make sure everyone was comfortable. Late start for travelling, early finish
Tuesday 18 October
Record You Canít Say That which at the time was called For Fuck Sake. Master was Take 7. After dinner we rehearsed Last Chance Motel. Although we put down a take, we left it for the morning.
Wednesday 19 October
Got the master of Last Chance Motel, Take 6 at 121 beats per minute. Then on to I Told on You. Master Take 4 at 104 bpm, although we used some bits from Take 5.
Thursday 20 October
Image of the Beast Master Take 5 @ 90 bpm. Then Sunday Morning Take 2 (yes really). Tempo was 63 bpm, but we gave the count in at 126.
Then after dinner, My Neighbour Master Take 3 @ 120 bpm.
A very good day.
Friday 21 October:
Josh had a synth pattern that we wanted to put down as a foundation, and then record the band over it. The morning was spent getting the synth down, then the band for the first time working to something fixed. Donít Get Caught master Take 3 @ 104 bpm.
The rest of the day was spent reviewing what we had done through the week and doing some overdubs.
Everyone was going home for the weekend so we excused the band at around 4:30 and Mo Hausler and I stayed behind and did rough mixes. (I usually engineer myself, but was concerned the need for production input would be a serious overhead to deal with as well as engineer. And so it was.)
Monday 24 October
Started with another track built around a pattern Josh put in the Montage. This would be Soldier. It was technically complex, and took all day
Tuesday 25 October
Businessman: eight takes in total, and 7 was the master at 116 bpm.
The rest of the day was spent doing more work on earlier tracks
Wednesday 26 October
Only One needed a lot of work. We had the song more or less in shape, but knew it would be a big effort to get that last ten percent ... which was why it was left to the end. Lots of messing with tempo finally settled on 64 bpm. Did two takes, then took a dinner-break. The first take after dinner felt too contrived and pushed: we did a few more, then decided to leave it till the morning.
We were all a little down. It was the first defeat we had.
Thursday 27 October
The Only One: first take nailed it. All we had needed to do was sleep on it. Tempo felt right.
Then it was our first go at what would be Somewhen. It was a work in progress, and Gary said heíd refine it over the weekend. I had promised Franky we would record this track the first day we met to discuss making the album. There was no way I (or Gary) was not going to make good on that promise.
The following week was a mess of overdubs, lead and backing vocals, and a mad dash to try and finish the entire recording by Friday 3 November. We didnít make it. We tried a new track, Honour, but it was not really ready. We got a great take with a superb feel and groove, but without knowing what the top line was going to be, it was underdeveloped.
When we reconvened at Rimshot Studios on Friday 18 November, after the band had gone off and done some live shows, it all felt fresh. Gary had lived with the tracks and wanted to have another go at his vocals, all of which turned out excellent. We finished off the record over five days spread around people's availability through the next two weeks. It all needed to be done before Gary left for New York on 7 December.
The last song recorded was Somewhen, which is Gary solo. It is what you hear, just Gary at the piano and singing a lyric that is very important to him.
Mo and I mixed through December, doing a playback for the band and getting their notes on Wednesday 21 December.
We made updates to the mixes from the band notes, and delivered the masters in mid-January.
Many thanks, Dennis; very interesting material, and a privilege to have this level of insight!
More about Novum | Studio notes on some Old Testament albums