Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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Gimme Some Truth • 2019 Charity Single

The Full Story feat. KT Tunstall • Released 8 December 2019


 

Josh Phillips's new single Gimme Some Truth (feat. KT Tunstall) with the Full Story Band is available as of 8 December 2019 from Apple Music : click here .

Please listen to this excellent version of John Lennon's classic song, and buy it to support the War Child charity. YouTube film here: you'll recognise two former members of Procol Harum in addition to Josh.

BtP asked Josh for 'The Full Story' ... and the following interview [7 December 2019] is well worth reading in full: it gives some fascinating insight into the processes (and setbacks!) involved in mounting a goodwill enterprise of this sort with top musicians.


Roland from ‘Beyond the Pale’
Ok Josh: recording machine is running!

Josh Phillips
Are you using a cassette-recorder?

Why, do you think I’m stuck in the 1970s?

Well I am (laughter): I never came out of it! (More laughter).

So, Gimme Some Truth, your upcoming  single with KT Tunstall and The Full Story. Can you tell ‘Beyond the Pale’ readers what it’s all about and who started this particular ball rolling?

The issue of ‘Gimme Some Truth’ affects everybody, no matter whether you are talking about the NHS, Labour, The Tories, Lib Dems, the emissions scandal, climate emergency, the Catholic Church … I think we are all just fed up with the lies that seem to be being taken as the norm.

There’s no self-gain for me in this project: I’m not trying to put myself forward as a political figure or an activist or whatever. It’s just that it has got to me so strongly, because I have teenage children. The future is in their hands, obviously, and being told lies – in this country, and in America, and worldwide in fact – it’s just not healthy.

‘The post-truth generation’

Exactly. So, five or sixth months ago I was messaged by a friend of mine – Ian Grant – who used to manage Big Country, and he said ‘Josh, do you still want to do something about this?’ I had been quite vocal, with other musicians, saying we need to write a song or something … get something out there to raise awareness of ‘What’s happened to the truth?’ Can you trust even the sell-by date printed on a sandwich wrapper? There’s no dependable truth out there, it’s just a question of who you decide to believe, right across the board, at the moment.

Ian said, ‘Why don’t you re-record the song Gimme Some Truth by John Lennon?’ I said, ‘I haven’t heard that for years,’ and he said ‘Just give it a listen.’

So I put it on, and it hit me straight away: I thought ‘My God, these lyrics are so poignant, even more so now than they were in 1971 when there wasn’t social media, and people weren’t so aware of what was going on.’

When Richard Nixon – a statesman in high office – was proved to be a liar, it really sent shock waves …

Exactly, whereas now nobody seems to turn a hair.

So listening to this song, I rang Ian up and said ‘You know what, one of my mates, Matt Backer, plays guitar in Julian Lennon’s band: maybe we can invite Julian to do a re-version of it … maybe we’ll get Julian and Sean to do it as a duet,’ which I thought would have been such a cool idea.

So we sent messages through a lawyer, but we just never heard back: hours turned into days, which turned into weeks, which turned into months, while I was just getting more and more frustrated at living in a time when nothing really seem to add up.

And when we got no joy from the Lennon camp, I was on the point of giving up (as you know, lots of ideas come up for charity records, from people with the right sort of well-meaning sentiments … and for one reason or another many fall by the wayside.)

But you didn’t need to get Lennon permission to do this, surely?

No, we didn’t. Anyway we’d got worldwide permission from the publishers, and Yoko’s lawyer knows about it. It was certainly not going not be a problem to go ahead and do it.

If we’d been going to change the lyric, even a single word, that would have needed 100% permission from Yoko. But we honestly didn’t need to change anything: the bit about ‘Tricky Dicky’, referring to Nixon, that kind of works anyway because ‘Tricky Dicky’ is a phrase in its own right. He was so clever, Lennon, I mean, what a genius! And we can all relate to ‘yellow bellied’ … if you think ‘yellow-haired’ (laughs). All the stuff about pig-headed politicians, it all works still, something we can all relate to. He was so clever. ‘Mummy’s little chauvinists’!

I’ll choose my words carefully here because, as you know, the record is apolitical: it does not side with any particular party, even though my own views about contemporary politics are quite well known.

Dave Bronze mentioned the same issue to me, and said he thought ‘pan-political' might be nearer the mark, 'as they’re all at the “alternative truth” game'.

Yes, pan-political, that’s much better.

Anyway it was about six weeks ago that my lawyer friend, Nigel Davies, rang me, and he asked me what was happening. And I said, ‘I don’t think I’ve got time to do it now. We’re getting so close to Christmas, it’s just going to get lost in the wash. And he said, ‘I’ve had a thought’ (he’s a music lawyer) and he said ‘What about we get KT Tunstall to do it?’

I said, ‘That would be fantastic, because she’s quite right-on, she’s got a great voice and she would be quite rocky. See if she’s up for it! I don’t know how it’s going to go yet, but I have an idea about the sort of people I’d like to play on it. See what she thinks!’

And within three hours he rang me back to say ‘I’ve just spoken to KT’s manager and she’s up for it.’ So I said ‘Action Stations!’

Bit of a leap in the dark for her?

Bit of a leap in the dark for all of us actually: there was no demo … we didn’t know if we were going to do it the same as Lennon. ‘How do we go about this?’ was the question.

So I had a long think and I decided the only way to do it was to record it live.

To make a virtue of the fact that you hadn’t got much time?

Yes, and no money! No budget: we weren’t in the situation where you could go to a studio for a week and pay people, and do lots of versions and pre-production and so on. ‘We’re going to learn this, and go in and do it live. It’s the only way it’s going to happen.’

So a friend of mine down in Kent owns the studio called Rimshot, which is where Procol Harum did all the vocals for Novum, and a little bit of acoustic piano and some BVs. It’s a lovely little studio, and although it’s only been set up in the last five years it’s really old-school, with a vast array of vintage microphones and amplifiers. It’s even got the old Decca deck, which Mike Thorne has rebuilt – you know the one with the half-moon faders, a bit like Abbey Road desk? I think it’s Decca 002 as well, the first batch they ever made. So we arranged to use Rimshot.

But you didn’t use their fabulous Bechstein?

Have you played there, Roland?

Gary [Brooker] and Dennis [Weinreich] told me about that instrument.

Well we used their Fender Rhodes, and they’ve got Chris Stainton’s Hammond C3 down there. Anyway so then I had to put a band together first and foremost; and I didn’t want to use Procol … because that would have been a little bit … what’s the word I’m looking for?

Nepotistic?

Yes that’s it exactly! And also because there was no money I didn’t really want to be asking people to come too far. Well Dave Bronze on the bass, he literally lives only fifteen miles from the studio as the crow flies: you could almost wave from place to place. But he does have a forty-minute drive to find a Thames crossing (laughs). But Dave is a wonderful player … and there is a connection there with the Procols.

And similarly … I had bumped into Mark [Brzezicki] by chance just a few weeks before that (and he has already ended up playing on another tune I’ve just recorded). And he had just come back from the States: he’s pretty busy out there these days, Mark, playing in Nashville, with some fabulous people … Stevie Nicks, for instance, all sorts. He’s quite a busy guy but anyway he said to me, ‘Josh, I would love to do it.’

Dave wrote that '... it was nice to play with Mark again for the first time since our days together in PH'.
How about the non-Procol alumni?

Then I thought, ‘We’re going to need two keyboard players: if we’re going to do it live I can’t play it all myself in one go, and I wanted a bit of Hammond and some Rhodes to make it quite earthy. So I contacted my dear friend Sam Tanner, the keyboard player … you will have seen him at the Rock and Horsepower shows (and he’s a fabulous singer too).

Then I spent the next two-and-a-half weeks trying to get hold of Jeff Beck, because he lives very close to the studio, and I have his number. And I kept ringing and ringing but I think he’s just very busy … under his cars (laughs).

But I wanted names! I had to get some names on this thing, if it’s to have any traction at all. With Mark you’ve got the Big Country fans, and with Dave you’ve got fans of Eric Clapton and Tom Jones and Andy Fairweather.

Then I thought about Hamish Stuart, the guitar player from the Average White Band. He doesn’t live too far away, but sadly it was completely the wrong time: he was just about to attend poor Molly Duncan’s funeral, which was terribly sad for everybody of course. We all knew Molly, who was a friend of Procol Harum.

When I sat in with Procol, on bass at Chris Cooke’s wedding, you had Molly on sax for A Whiter Shade of Pale (laughs).

I do remember! So with Hamish it just wasn’t the right time, but I thought, ‘I really need to tie this up, as the date of the recording is fast approaching.’

Anyway Hamish finally called me back: I’ve worked with him a few times, a great guitar player and a lovely man. And then I had to think, what’s KT going to play? Is she likely to be a slide player? Then I thought of another friend of mine, Richard Studholme; he’s worked at Rimshot, knows Hamish, he’s a massive Beatles fan …. and he said he would play slide, and Hamish was happy to play rhythm.

So … I had a band … and that’s the Full Story!

Did you want a slide solo as a nod to the original George Harrison break?

Well, you don’t hear slide any more, do you? A bit on blues, a bit on country, but not on a chart record … and it’s such a lovely sound. Richard phoned me back, having listened to the Lennon record, saying ‘Yes I know this solo,’ though in fact what he did was rather different. I love his sound. It’s a bit less aggressive than Harrison’s.

Some might wonder why you didn’t pander to the sounds you thought might actually get into the charts? You’re looking to make money out of this for charity, so you could have gone down the road of creating an identikit chart version of the classic song.

We could … (hesitantly) ... have done that but … the thing is … we did want to record it live, and you just can’t do modern commercial music in one take. You could spend half a day just programming the drums, and then programming the bass part, and it always ends up sounding very one-dimensional and homogenised and plastic: to me, anyway.

I don’t mean a modern record production by The Eagles or Joe Walsh, which are recorded with real musicians: but even there, they probably spend a whole day getting the guitar sound, and another day getting a great solo recorded. Novum was done pretty quickly of course, but a lot of that is recorded live: I don’t remember doing many overdubs, which is why it works live on stage of course; I think all Procol stuff works live because that’s how it was mostly recorded..

So the recording was set for 18 November. Sam and I decided we had better get together and cut a demo of it, because we were not just going to copy the record. We had to guess that we were going to do it in G, rather than F like they did in 1971, and we’d listened to some of KT’s stuff so we thought that would work. KT was in Brazil at the time, on tour, and she literally came straight back from there, a couple of shows in Holland, and then straight to Rimshot.

We were in a position … it was a bit like flying to the moon: we hadn’t done it before (laughs). ‘Is it the right key,’ ‘Is it the right tempo?’ ‘Will she be able to sing it all in one go?’ And ‘Have we got time?’ Because there was only one day, and everybody was working for nothing. Sam and I got together about five days before and did a quick demo of it in my studio, with that kind of Beatle opening on it …

I am the Walrus!

Yes, and you heard the Beatle joke at the end, I hope?

The big Day in the Life chord?

Yes. That’s Rimshot’s Bechstein piano!

Doesn’t quite sound like three pianos all at once, though.

No no, it’s one piano with eight hands on it.

And we sent it round to the guys, and said ‘This is just a demo.’ It’s not necessarily the groove, but it’s got that Beatley opening on it, and we established that the third verse would have that descending bass line; and of course the ending is different from the Lennon one, with the …

Looping finale?

Yes, the looping finale, which is really powerful. The real irony is it took about three hours to make that demo, and about four minutes to cut the real thing (laughs). But we didn’t have to programme anything, it was really just a skeleton outline.

So the big day came and by 11 we were all at the Studio. Mike, the guy who owns it, is such a brilliant engineer. He sent me some photographs the night before of the setup. And it was literally a white-glove job, walk in and play. Everything was switched on, everything was mic'd up, everything sounded great. About ten minutes to get a drum sound, just a few tweaks, to a studio kit, and it sounded great straight away. Bronzie used a lovely old Ampeg amp and ended up using his Rickenbacker bass. Richard came in with a five-string Tele and a Fender Tweed, I think; Hamish came in with his lovely Tele as well; the C3 was already on and warmed up, the Fender Rhodes was mic'd-up, KT’s vocal booth was already built.

So we got our sounds, did a bit of a run-through … but poor KT wasn’t there. So we had to start recording some safety backups in case she ended up having to overdub it all; we’d done four or five takes, then she arrived and we all played it together. And her work ethic was brilliant, even though she had come in a taxi from London and the cab driver had got lost (Rimshot, it’s miles from anywhere [at Tunstall, oddly enough]) so there wasn’t much time left and the light was fading. She did a killer vocal, and she loved the band: there was no way you couldn’t love it, because it sounded exactly like it sounds on the record.

And then she said ‘Can I do some BVs?’ and I said ‘Yes, we can all do some.’ And she said, ‘Do you know what, I know what I want to do.’ So she just went in and – bang-bang-bang – in five minutes all the backing vocals were done … and we didn’t have to do anything to it. These days I’m so used to going into the studio with vocalists who can’t sing, and you think ‘Better get some Melodyne on this …’

So KT had really done her homework in the taxi, in terms of working out how she was going to pace that final looping build-up?

Yes, she really had done her homework! When I showed the film to Gary he said ‘That’s not an easy lyric to sight-read!’

So we actually had the track finished by 7 pm.

And what about filming?

That was done by a friend of mine called Ian Howes, a terrific cameraman who’s done masses of rock videos. He has a boat down in the marina where mine is, called ‘Alchemy’ … one of the reasons is that very successful Dire Straits live video, Alchemy, that he did. He’s worked with Sting, The Police, Michael Jackson, the Dancing in the Street Bowie/Jagger video – serious, serious stuff. He came down, did it for nothing. We hired in some camera gear, some lights, bits and bobs we paid for out of our pockets, and for the next couple of days Ian edited the film.

So it’s really filmed while you’re recording … nothing mimed to playback?

There are a few cutaways that are from different takes – because obviously you couldn’t get the camera in at that angle at that point – and once or twice you might see Mark playing along to something he’d just recorded five minutes before … otherwise he could not have been in those shots. But the only way we could have avoided cutaways would be if we’d paid to have a multi-camera shoot, which would have cost a lot more money, cameras locked off on stands, you know. But Ian had to do it piecemeal, and, as I said, all for nothing. Between Sam and me and the boys everyone paid for their own fuel and food, and the spirit in the studio was fantastic.

It looks a little bit serious! No one’s playing to the camera …

No (laughs), it is serious: we are concentrating. I think KT’s take was filmed pretty much as she was doing it, or as she was doing the BVs when Ian said ‘I can use that shot!’ But what you’re watching is pretty much the truth … just a couple of tweaks, otherwise it would be pretty boring and static.

Some people would have got round that with a collage of contemporary political figures …

That was suggested, but I put my foot down. It doesn’t have any specific allegiances. And you have to have permissions to use those images, and they can go stale more quickly. But most importantly everything had to be quick. We had to have the audio mastered and mixed that evening.

Before that some of us went down to the pub – the picture shows Sam Tanner, Josh Phillips, KT Tunstall, Richard Studholme and Mark Brzezicki – for a quick pint, you know, and an ear-break. KT came too: she was really excited about it, couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. You can tell she really means that lyric as she delivers it. Everybody was into it for the spirit of it.

And you were thinking of this all the time in terms of chart success … like Do They Know it’s Christmas?

I think the idea is that it’s more of an awareness record, about telling the truth. And if people buy it, we’ll give the proceeds to War Child.

An excellent charity, but I don’t quite see the link …

We absolutely wanted it to be a charity record. We asked who KT’s charity was, and when they told me it was War Child, I thought, brilliant! It makes absolute sense, here and now.

I think you’d said something to me a year ago about war children being in a sense a forgotten crisis, and how you’d like to do something for them.

I think you’re right, and in fact I was talking to Midge Ure the other day, when I’d found I had a really worn-out War Child tee-shirt, and we remembered we’d done something for them already, maybe twenty years ago.

Anyway War Child jumped at it, said they’d back us 100%. So. Add it to the video and artwork ... and off we go.

The artwork is very effective … looks like a 70s’ political screen-print.

That was all done by an eighteen-year old art-student, Scarlett Russell. I just said to her, ‘Look, hey, we’re going to do this record! Can you come up with something?’ And she came up with that, all hand-painted, in about a day. And I think all the images are very powerful, you know: the truth is the warm colour, that eyeball which is the world with the ice coming out because the icecaps are melting, whereas ‘the officials’ want you to see a black-and-white perfect eye. The ear-pod with ‘lies’ on it, the zipped lips. And from a distance you can spot that image, you know, because of the colour … even if it’s reduced to the size of a 5p piece.

Why did you do the film in black-and-white? Was that also for a period feel?

You know what, we saw it in colour of course, at the edit, but Sam and Ian and I all thought, ‘You know what? This would look so much better in black and white.’ You know there are maybe some colours that clash …

You mean you didn’t have an art-director at the time?

No (laughs), we just got on with it. But the lights Mike put up, to create an atmosphere, were coloured, and I think it was too happy. And when it was knocked down, to monochrome, the seriousness of the lyrics – which speak for themselves – that came out.

Did you have any other song in mind, a ‘B’ side as it were?

That could have complicated things. But we did think, as a band, that we wouldn’t be averse to being asked to do other things, with other artists. As for playing it live, KT’s working a lot next year … she maybe will fish it out of her songbook and do it herself, with guitar, or get her band to mimic what we’ve done. That’s totally fine, with me. We’re not her band!

But it could be a thing like James Taylor and the Section; or The Band when they were Dylan’s backing musicians. If Harry Styles, or whoever it might be, came to us and asked us to do an album with them, we would do it completely live, a whole album in a week.

Because what’s so lovely about that track is that it’s so organic, and it’s really real; and every time we played it, we’re not reading music … it’s from the heart. Every time we played it through, the guitar would be different, my little FacesMcLagan-y organ twiddles, the drum fills … it would always be different. Sam and I wanted to record live so it would get the chemistry going. It’s like playing on stage … after you’ve had a few runs at it, the magic starts to happen, it locks down.

A friend of mine says ‘it marinades’.

Yes, ‘marinades’ is good. It’s when you really listen to each other … and when we did that take, we all looked at each other, and I think it was Bronzie who said, ‘Do you know what? That was the first time it felt as if we were all walking down a street in a group at the same time, at the same pace’ … as if we had an imaginary hoop around the band, and nobody could stray away.

We all walked down that street together. We all took our headphones off, and looked at each other and said, ‘That was the one, wasn’t it?’ and we went in and listened to it. And when it comes out on 8 December, and you listen to it on a nice system, you’ll appreciate how brilliantly Mike Thorne engineered it all.

John Lennon’s death-day.

That was a coincidence, you know. They told us, ‘We don’t think we’ll be able to get it out until the 8th.’ And said, ‘I know that date’. And of course I remember what I was doing that day, working in a music-shop in Folkestone. I was almost eighteen, I think. And the announcement came on the radio … and we just sat in total disbelief, for most of the day.

No CD, no vinyl, in the music-shops for The Full Story, though?

It would be too uncool, in this day and age, to put anything out on plastic. Until someone comes up with a bio-degradable CD, we can’t do that.

And everybody in The Full Story was accustomed to playing with at least one other person in the band?

The only people who hadn’t played together were Mark and Hamish. On The Vampire Suite, [Crazy World of Arthur Brown] Mark and I played on that, and Richard Studholme, who owned the studio at the time, was the engineer, and he plays bass on a lot of it. He’s a great all-rounder. And with the Rock and Horsepower things, Bronzie and Sam and I have done those together.

So this cohesion helps you get a quick job done.

Yes, and there are no egos, everyone’s in the spirit of it.

But the spirit of it is, now, go and watch it free on YouTube, and when it comes out on 8 December buy it! And tweet about it, and share the news on social media.  

Thanks, Josh. Will do!


Procol dates in 2019 | Josh Phillips's page at BtP

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