Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol guitarist Richard Brown: BtP interview

Rehearsing with Morris and Wilson

Dear reader ... you are advised to read the preface to this interview and draw your own conclusions

'Beyond the Pale'
So what was it like in rehearsal?

Richard Brown
Rehearsals were held at the local church hall up the road from Guy's (the only place with an in-tune piano) and Gary sang mostly acoustically while we all played at sympathetic volume levels. Maybe that's where he got such a powerful soul voice from, and of course, PA systems at the time were very primitive and of a seriously dubious quality ... Dave and I mostly shared my amp, and I always worried about him blowing my speakers, because at the sad level of wages we were paid, there was no way I could afford to replace them!

Was there ever a tape machine running when you rehearsed?

I remember an old green Ferrograph recorder. I don't know whose it was though, maybe it was Alan's ... . If those masters still existed now, I would definitely like to own them or at least hear them, but of course the oxide on the tape has probably shedded after so long, and they wouldn't be either restorable or listenable.

This is Alan Morris, the organist? How do you remember his playing?

His keyboard style was very fluid in the same way that Matthew Fisher's was ... I was very into Jimmy Smith, the famous jazz organist at the time, a world-class Hammond player, and Alan knew all of that stuff off by heart ... He was also a fan of the work of Brian Auger, another superb jazz-rock organist at the time who played a Lowrey instrument. I think Alan was the member in the band with whom I had the greatest affinity music-wise, although I didn't know him for very long. At practices we used to jam away generally before the rest of the band set up, playing with a mad version of Wade in the Water played in 5/4 time like Dave Brubeck's Take Five ... He was very proficient at playing his bass pedals and both manuals on the keyboard at the same time, and he had a great mellow Hammond tone with lots of variation in his drawbar settings. He was very funny too, and he used to play solo breaks with his feet on the bass pedals while he waved his arms around ... He was always looning about, which made a welcome change from the normal Procol atmosphere!

The only disadvantage was the weight of his keyboards and the Leslie cabinet and the associated connecting cables, and getting the whole lot out of his Bedford van and up the stairs ... We were so knackered when we eventually got his gear up and into the practice room, we'd all nearly had heart attacks, and then we had to have at least a half-hour break before we could get enough breath back to play!

He had all of that classic shrieking style in it, in the breaks and turnarounds, which was popular at the time amongst Hammond players, where you run your hands up or down the keyboard, holding down four or five consecutive notes, and the tone generators through the Leslie cabinet sound as if they're going into overload ... I can't remember all of it ... but I remember some of the simpler melodic figures.

You still remember individual lines that he played?

I remember a song of Brooker's and Reid's ... with 'Lament before Pentecost ' or 'Pentecost Lament' ... or something ... in the title ... that was very like Whiter … where the lyrics went something like ...

"Sad words you spoke came easily ... not calculated to wound ...
something ... something ... something ... something ...
blind eyes scheming at the moon ...
we sailed forth across a land-locked desert ...
something ... something ... hidden sun" etc.

Is that right? ... (I can't remember the rest ... where the Captain lays the pennies on the dead man's eyes? What was that called ... ?)

I have to confess that this is a new one on me! But if someone reading this knows it, you can be sure they'll write in.

Anyway, the keyboard ornamentation on that when Alan played it was very Bach orientated, and a lot closer to the work Fisher did on Whiter.

It would be wonderful to hear what Alan Morris played on Whiter Shade and so on ...

On Whiter he ornamented the intro, not in the Bach style that Fisher used ... but much more simply, yet still very effectively. When I later heard the single a short while after I left (and it was only a few months later ... three or for months ... if that) I didn't notice so much of a difference. The classic riff wasn't there when Alan played it, obviously, but the style wasn't far off, and his version didn't suffer because of it ... His style and the way he played the intro before the vocals come in didn't lessen the impact of the number either ... That sounds like a strange thing to say, because that classic piece of writing is inseparable from the work, and has obviously gone into the public domain and become one of the most recognisable riffs in music ever ... but it was true ...

Procol's live sound in those early days was very clean, and very hi-fi, and quite unsuited to the primitive mid-60s recording technology available in studios then, which in my opinion never did the band justice at all.

You didn't think the first single sounded good?

Strangely, Whiter stands on its own and is still sounds as fresh and unique as the day it was pressed regardless of the low fidelity of the recordings and the pressing plants at the time.

Upon reflection, one of the most gratifying things about having been a part of the band is that I heard and contributed to the sound in its original form, and all of the songs were brand new when I first heard them ... I still remember them that way today. Of course, no similar lyrical imagery had ever been explored before (and rarely since) and to be there as those images rolled forth in Brooker's high soaring soulful voice, verse after verse, and number after number was astounding.

The band's sound was excellent in those days and very clean and very tight ... Nowadays I suppose, we can only listen to the relatively poor quality of those old late sixties recordings, made without even the arguable benefit of overdubs or multi-tracking ...

And Barrie Wilson ... did you sense his genius even at that time? [Wilson in fact joined the band in July 1967]

He was a very inventive and original drummer, and the perfect person to have in the driving seat of the band, but up to that time I'd been working with some of the best percussionists in Britain ... for instance, I'd shared the stage with people like John Hiseman who was with the Youth Jazz Orchestra, then worked with Graham Bond, and later with Collosseum, and also I'd gigged with Carl Palmer, who like myself was also from Birmingham. Carl co-formed 'The Nice' who later went on to become Emerson Lake and Palmer. I think that Barrie's ability and technique sat easily amongst drummers of that calibre, but he had a much different technique rooted into his own style.

However he didn't always play with a full drum kit, sometimes only a bass drum, snare, hi-hat, and a ride cymbal, and maybe one top tom, with no floor tom, no right hand tom and no crash cymbal ... I always thought that was a pity; after all, I wouldn't turn up to a gig with only three strings on my guitar! Maybe he was just too lazy to put the rest of the kit in his van, or he didn't think it was worth the effort ... I don't know ... He didn't seem very committed to the band then, and it seemed like more of a casual thing ...

In those days it was much different on the professional music scene ... You worked with one band and if it was OK and the money was alright, and you had a few laughs, then you stayed ... If not, then you just moved on to another one which offered more security and hopefully more money ... There was no big deal, it was just the way things were ... Barrie was also picking up wages doing other gigs and so maybe he wasn't so pressured, but he was definitely more casual about being in the band than I was. Remember also, that pro bands always got paid in those days; there was no such thing as 'pay to play' - God forbid!

So how did you and Alan make the break with Brooker, Reid and Stevens?

Alan took a gig playing the summer season with a drummer, working at backing cabaret singers and dancers and strippers if I remember correctly ... at Butlin's or Pontin's Holiday Camps or somewhere ... Minehead? ...

Anyway, it was a real gig that paid real pound notes, and he got a chalet I think, and all his keep, plus he had free naked ladies thrown in as well! I remember wishing at the time that they'd needed a guitarist instead! ... It was a real set-back for the band when Alan went, and although he was only with us for a few weeks or so, probably not much more than that, it was still a real disappointment when he left.

Richard Brown's page at BtP Index page for the other parts of this interview

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