Procol Harum

the Pale

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Is it on, Tommy?

Chris Thomas interviewed for BBC Radio One's
documentary 'The Producers', Winter 1992 – 93

All text carefully transcribed verbatim from the answers by Chris Thomas. The show was presented by Nicky Campbell. The interviewer's voice is not heard. See also the book-version of this interview.

Discussing his work with Procol Harum ...

They'd apparently made this conscious decision that they wanted to do an album with somebody who was sort of pretty young and not too experienced so that when they did something then the producer wouldn't be too sort of set in his ways ....

(most of Broken Barricades is then played)

First of all I did Home, then I did Broken Barricades. When we'd finished they had to go off and do an American tour about three days later and I was sort of the only person that sort of knew where the guitar solos were ... just simple things like that ...

(A Salty Dog is played from first vocal part: Edmonton version – it fades out on last vocal part)

It had got to the point where I was taking over a little bit too much ... and I was running out of ideas ... and I think the songs weren't really inspiring me very much ... I found it very difficult to get any ideas ... I was almost having to manipulate an idea think ... what can I think of for this one?

In fact at one point I was sitting there looking completely vague and Keith said ... in fact they were a bit stuck ... they were starting to wind down a fair bit ...

(Liquorice John starts to play from vocal part)

... and Keith said to me, 'Why don't you do like a Chris Thomas production on it?' as if you could just sort of pull one out of the bag and whop it on there!

Oh blimey ... I mean I used to have some crazy ideas for those songs ... on For Liquorice John which is on Grand Hotel I had a very strange set up with out of tune pianos ... I wanted the thing to sound underwater ... I didn't really do it by messing about in the control room so much as trying to sort of work out what the sound was. It was something like a 12-string being played ... then it would be picked up inside an old jangly piano with Gary playing the same riff ... so that it was just getting weird.

And he was hoping ...

At that particular point I knew what I wanted to get ... it's very hard to work out what it is ... you hear a song then you get an idea for the atmosphere of it and you try to illustrate that atmosphere on the record. That's where the fun is ... if you actually get inspired and it comes off.

The problem with the song in question is ... we were all sitting there ... it was just a duff song ... in fact I don't think it went on the album in the end ... well it sort of all came to an end.

It probably would have been better to have finished on Grand Hotel because I was very satisfied with the whole album but Nothing But The Truth ... that turned out great.

(Nothing But The Truth begins at the start including squeak – it is faded down during organ break)

And I went to America the first time... and I remember thinking, if I went to America that's it! When you first start playing in a band ... just to get a gig was something ... but to go to America ... the thought of going to the States ... this was just sort of dream material!

I was completely enamoured of the whole idea of sort of like flying round the world. In fact I saw my career as a roadie at that point ... it was Keith Reid who insisted on sacking me. He said I should go back and produce records for other people ... I said, 'I don't want to do that ... I love travelling round ... this is wonderful ... this is the life ... it's much better than actually being in the studio making records ...'. He said, 'No, you're fired, you're going back in the studio to make records for other people.'

(Paris 1919 by John Cale starts up and the interview continues: Thomas goes on to discuss his work producing Cale, Elton John, The Pretenders, The Sex Pistols and mixing Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Speaking as objectively as one can, he sounds much more enthusiastic about the work of these artists, especially Elton John. The Procol Harum section was prefaced by a discussion of his early work assisting George Martin with the Beatles and his first proper production role with the Climax (Chicago) Blues Band.

Thanks to Sam Cameron for transcribing this interview and for adding these editorial notes:

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