Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum at the Dominion Theatre, London

What's been lost and what's been caught

BtP had the opportunity to compare an audience recording of last month’s Dominion Theatre gig with the Radio 2 broadcast version. Lining up pairs of wave files in a digital audio workstation it was possible to establish with great accuracy where there were differences between what we heard in the theatre and what we heard on air.

Note that where spoken comments are transcribed below, the purpose is only to highlight discrepant passages (stuff the BBC cut is shown in green): much more was said from the stage that night, but the rest was broadcast without excisions.

Note also that house sound was mixed in the auditorium, and broadcast sound was mixed in the truck outside the theatre, so relative volumes of instruments and vocals were occasionally at variance between the recordings, even though the musical performances themselves are identical.


The musical performances are identical; about 3.7 seconds of applause were cut from the end of song by the BBC.

Simple Sister
The BBC cut the four drumstick-clicks at the start; the musical performances are otherwise identical. Two seconds of applause (approx) were cut from end of song.

Grand Hotel
There are cuts in Gary’s broadcast intro: ‘… our first album that we had out with the Chrysalis record company. Nobody’s from them … I think they went away, didn’t they? Anyway, it was, er, it reflects the days in the seventies …’. The musical performances are identical, and about 9 seconds of applause are lost from end of song.

Fires (Which Burnt Brightly)
GB’s preface to the song is shortened as follows: ‘We’ve had some good fun here today. Having a rehearsal, so I hope it sounds all right. I know the Crouch End Festival Chorus has been doing a grand job’. The musical performances are identical, but 9 seconds of applause is lost from the end of song. The BBC includes ‘Thank you very much indeed’ which isn’t heard on the audience recording, and may be due to the fact that GB had two different-quality vocal mics which were individually mixed, sending one feed to the home listener and another to the punters in the Dominion Theatre.

Band intros
About 12 seconds of applause for Josh Phillips are cut, and GB’s ‘er. Thank you’ is lost before he introduces Matt Pegg. About six seconds of Matt’s applause are cut, and about two seconds of Geoff Dunn’s.

Missing Person
The spoken words and musical performances are identical.

Something Magic
About 24 seconds are cut before the song, during which Gary bantered with the audience ‘Phew (inaudible) … get my breath back here. I should be retired, really, I’m sure. Must admit … it’s all right for you! I suppose money could coax me out.’ After talking about Dave’s learning curve he goes on, ‘… every chord in the book, both major and minor … and some that aren’t in the book. And all you have to do … we have to do … is put them in the right order.' The musical performances are identical.

Broken Barricades
About 42 seconds of commentary and banter with the audience, and with Josh Phillips, are cut as follows: ‘Er, thanks very much. If anybody’s got any requests, you … write to the BBC at Bush House, and next time they invite us we’ll be only too pleased to play them. It’s true. Ah, this was requested by … you’re not on the ’phone over there, Josh? [Josh explains he was telling off someone in the audience who was using a ’phone]. Having a chat? Someone’s on the ’phone? All right, we needed a chance for a breather there. 803 chords in one song, it’s a bit of a strain.’ The musical performances are identical.

Symphathy for the Hard of Hearing
A mere three seconds (two words) are cut from the long spoken introduction: ‘… spent the rest of the war, until he was liberated in 1945, in a Labour Camp.’ The musical performances are identical.

A Salty Dog
The BBC cut out a gap of less than a second from the spoken prelude to this song in which GB merely paused, saying nothing. Regarding the music on the night, the whole song was played before the interval, and the opening was played again before the second half. The opening of the version in the Radio 2 broadcast is in fact taken from the performance that preceded the interval: the first eight piano chords, with the crowd’s applause. Then the radio audience hears the choir entry (in Latin) from the version recorded after the interval, in which Gary’s singing stopped after ‘All hands on deck’. [The opening bars of the broadcast, however, are accompanied by ‘seagull cries’ from Dave Colquhoun’s guitar which don’t exactly correspond, in their timing, with those heard on either of the recordings: preliminary gullings, heard unaccompanied at the start of the second performance, may have been dropped in over the piano and choir from the first performance … but it’s hard to be sure]. In any event, ‘We’ve run afloat’ are the first sung words broadcast from the pre-interval performance, which was slightly faster than the opening as re-done to rectify an error. Thereon in, the musical performances are identical.

Wall Street Blues
The post-interval half of the audience recording starts as follows: ‘Thank you very much and welcome back to the second half here, of Procol Harum with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus for Friday Night is Music Night’. For broadcast, the immediately-following words were omitted. ‘Now as you know this goes out on Radio, therefore we like to get things right, and during one of the pieces there there was a technical fault – actually I think the harp player passed wind, but we’ll keep that between ourselves right –. So we’ve just got to do this little bit and then we’ll be back proper. Don’t go away. I might encourage you to applaud after we’ve done this bit so that it seems as if we’ve only just come back on (laughs). You are involved in a technological wonder-piece here.’ After 'Friday Night is Music Night', on the broadcast recording, Wall Street Blues was played. As heard on the night, the fourth of the right-hand piano figures that prefaced the full band entry was mildly fumbled as GB reached to turn his words page with the other hand. On the broadcast, only two such piano figures are heard: about 5.2 seconds of Procol performance are therefore lost. Otherwise the musical performances are identical. Between the moment when GB says ‘Dave Calhoun, Ladies and gentlemen’ and ‘I couldn’t believe it’, .7 of a second has been cut. Gary then says, ‘We lost our Geoff, and we managed to find somebody. Well, we didn’t’ find somebody: Matt Pegg told him to come along’.

Nothing But the Truth
Between Gary announcing the song, and the four drum clips that herald it, .38 unimportant seconds have been cut. The musical performances – and the occasional reorganisation of the lyric – are identical. At the end of the song, rather unpredictably, the broadcast applause goes on longer than that heard on the audience recording. Not much longer – 1.4 seconds in fact – but since it beggars belief that the BBC has spliced in some applause from another point in the concert, we must perhaps conclude that the audience recording has a glitch.

Into the Flood
‘’Scuse me, just going to have a drink of Vodka – No, only kidding’. A ‘No’ lasting 3 seconds is missing from the broadcast version. After GB samples the fluid and exclaims ‘Good grief!’ about 5.5 seconds of audience tittering is omitted before the announcement of the next number. ‘This next one, we’ve never actually been in the studio with it, but we’ve … we’ve played it when we’ve done concerts here and there, with orchestras and choir – always enjoyed it – gives everybody a chance … it’s only rock’n’roll anyway, innit? ‘Is it, I mean.’ ‘Is it?’ ‘Wot is it?’ And this is called Into the Flood …’. The musical performances are identical. However the solipsistic audience clapping, which rapidly parts company with the strings’ hoedown, lasts an ignominious 27 seconds in the audience recording. On the BBC recording it can be heard – and not loudly – for only 16 seconds. Maybe it was simply eclipsed by the volume of the strings or maybe it’s been the victim of a mercy killing in the BBC truck, it’s hard to say. About 4 seconds of applause are lost before GB says, ‘This next one actually started it all out for Procol Harum …’ And a pause of slightly under two seconds, between ‘over to the maestro’ and the start of Darryl Way’s excellent prelude has been excised.

A Whiter Shade of Pale
The musical performances are identical, as are the protracted ovations that follows. But nearly three seconds of silence, before GB says ‘Jolly good. No, it’s always nice when you go down well’ have been cut.

An Old English Dream
The music and singing are exactly the same. But whereas GB leaves 3.6 seconds of silence between the end of the applause and his enquiry, ‘Everybody still feel all right?’ the BBC has the speech follow immediately the clapping has finished.

The Blink of an Eye
The long reminiscence about Procol’s times in New York is retained but for a glitch in the date. ‘I was so, so upset when in the course of their duty in ninth of September 2001 so many of them went about their duty but in fact gave their lives.’ As we’ve seen so often, about three seconds between the end of the title-announcement, and the start of the music, have been lost in a cross fade. The musical performances themselves are identical

Grand Finale
The segue between these songs is maintained and the musical performances themselves are identical. About 30 seconds of standing ovation, however, are cut before GB invites us to show our appreciation for the orchestra. The audience recording at my disposal doesn’t include the acknowledgments of the choir, conductor, producer, organists, bassist and drummer. It resumes with ‘Mr Dave, David, Calhoun’ (just the one, hypocoristic word dropped). Then Matt Pegg comes in with, ‘And also, don’t forget, our fearsome, fearless leader’ from which, again, one word has been very artfully excised.

The musical performances are identical. 8.2 seconds after the final chord of the song, Radio 2’s Station ID cuts in. On the Audience recording, the sound of the standing ovation persists a full two minutes before the taper fades it out.

It would be fascinating to follow a similar procedure for the famous Live at Edmonton recording, whose preparation for publication (see here) was reputedly a much more involved affair. (Or for Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain, for that matter!). We can infer that the cuts enacted by the Radio 2 team are in the main intended to shorten the broadcast to the allotted length, or to remove longueurs that made sense only to those who could see what was going on. BBC comedy recordings, for Radio 4, receive in the main a lot more manipulation, including re-reads and drop-ins, before they are aired. Procol Harum, and the fans, were well-served by the Radio 2 team.

Procol dates in 2014 | Procol Harum dates with orchestra

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