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Cerdes (Outside the Gates of)

A Procoholic Double Review

This page presents part of a unique Procoholics' double-act: Larry Pennisi presents 'The Secrets of the Hive' and Clyde 'AJ' Johnson contributes 'Extracting the Honey' … both being detailed and personal looks, from very different perspectives, at tracks from the Westside Pandora's Box album

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The Secrets of the Hive
by Larry Pennisi / Cerdes

Extracting the Honey
by Clyde ‘AJ’ Johnson

Cerdes (Outside the Gates of)

Outside The Gates of Cerdes: A Reification of Structures

Cerdes: an imaginary thoughtscape from the inner recesses of the Reidian consciousness, peopled by mythological figures and anthropormorphised animals, is the "true masterpiece of the album", according to Paul Williams. Flugelhorn-trumpeting two-pronged unicorns, mermaids, ailing whales, Peep the dipsomaniac, his comrade Souza Sam, Neptune, Salome, the befuddled Christian Scientists, the Wraiths and Greeps, notorious Phallus Phil and his pewter-painted pots and an extraordinary aural palette combine to make Cerdes not only a song but a reification of the Reidian projection.

One wonders how lysergically drenched were Mr Reid's synapsial connections at the time of Cerdes conception. Then again, great art is, as often as not, the kismet of a glimpse through a clear panel in the great wall of windows. We may never know.

Cerdes requires reification. It stems from that secreted place; that inner sun which so often refuses to shine. Left unexplored, Cerdes can be misinterpreted as psychedelic era song-pap. But, once taken out of the realm of concept and crystallized into the concrete piece of musical connectivity that it is, it becomes an entity on its own. Remarkably and effortlessly, Brooker and Reid, and Procol Harum as a group, never sounded typical of any epoch. While Ultimate Spinach and the Fugs (Mass in D minor) were churning out reverb-drenched, echoplexed, now very forgettable albums, Procol's catalog stood firmly based upon traditional instruments used in a most refreshing way. It seems even fresher now than it ever did before ... and with good reason.

The methodical bass, reticent piano echoing the mood, the resolute yet still subdued drums; all follow obediently and in sequence until the organ and guitar summon them to join forces in an apocalyptic conflagration of almost unbearable intensity. The Gates of Cerdes, once inviolate, are now torn asunder as the relentless march into the inner recesses of the Cerdian confines commences. The Hammond is used effectively to support the sparse atmosphere created by the rest of the band. Percussion is on and the Leslie tremolo is spinning fast until the verses begin. Now Matthew discreetly drops back, opting for a more crystalline sound to add foundation. His sound is tear-drop like; his playing wizened and old.

It is Robin who is most noticeable this time out. Relegated to decoration for the previous tracks, he now unleashes a screeching, howling assault, making it perfectly clear that this is a place of great danger and conjecture. Terra incognita; the vocal unfolds with melancholy and abandon as if to bemoan their fate. Bizarre images unfold and dreamlike expressions bubble forth. "Follow the dots is hard work." (Paul Williams)

As the tale unfolds, Trower becomes increasingly vocal. Chunking blocks of distorted frenzy herald what is to come. He steps into the morass cautiously, as if to take no chances in this strange, shadowy place at the edge of the known galaxy. Suddenly he is absorbed by the Cerdian vortex. Strangled by its fury, he lets forth with the screeching intensity of a terrified animal. This is truly Trower at his early best. It has often been noted that this solo sounds premeditated, but it is all-improvisational. The stereo effect, though straightforward, works well here with guitar and organ finally separated and discreetly placed at contrary fields. Unfortunately, the piano might have been turned up a tad.

All settles in after the solo as reason is somewhat restored. Toward the end of the track, the guitar comes to the fore again, with BJ upping the percussive dynamic on floor toms. Unlike the original album mix, the guitar begins to solo again with Brooker playing along in more animated style. Unfortunately, it sounds as if Trower floundered a bit here, and so the original edit is far more satisfying since he goes out in style, "himself exhausted, yet still ready to report whatever hope he finds." (Paul Williams) ... Now, endless, panoramic vistas, Kaleidoscopic in nature, begin to unfold ...

THE GATES OF CERDES . . . The Real Four Track Masterpiece

This may be my favorite cut from the first album. No, it is MY FAVORITE! And this stereo version which is unedited and complete is in my opinion the quintessential cut. Even if the first album had been a mix of real and altered stereo I would have chosen to use this stereo version over a mono even with edit. Ok, we have it start out like the mono version but something is very different. The bass surges in on the same track with the bass and piano … is it mono, is it a plane, is it superman? No. It is however much wider and the bass although seemingly not as tight is alive with the drums and piano dropping in making it bigger and ‘badder’ than the original mix. Still only a 'stereo' mono image. All the more dramatic. When track two and three dropped in I almost fell out of my seat! Outrageous and clear, and both the organ and guitar are roaring into an arena like the lions about to devour the Christians before Gary’s voice comes in and explains what’s going on. Well at least here on this stereo version for the first time I actually heard and understood every word …well almost. The timing and Gary’s accent always seemed to twist the words a bit. More so that I would imagine this to be a live take. No overdubs? Of course this is pure conjecture on my part. But a three-day-in-the-studio gig … well figure it out for yourself. We are getting better than soundboard recordings but capturing the essence of the ‘LIVE’ act, if nothing else, from these rare tapes.

Robin finally shows his mettle on this piece and for the first time on this collection we must realize just how original his playing is, right down to the way his amp was recorded. No studio tricks. No hotline to the mixing board as the Beatles and Pink Floyd enjoyed over at that 'other' studio that year (1967). Just the brutal honest sound of a British amp cranked and most likely captured with a good German condenser microphone! Nothing else but his fingers folks. And in a time where most studios would have turned blue and most engineers would have had a heart attack at the whole proceedings – for in these days most engineers were old school. This went not only for the British unions but in the USA too. I remember my first ‘real’ in-the-studio rants with engineers in the 60s in LA. "Turn that shit down if you want me to stay and record your ugly music at a recordable level guys!". They had no idea of how to record loud R&R when 50 to 100 watt amps were in use. Most all recording of guitars etc was based around low-watt amps which could be controlled. Perhaps this is why we hear that Robin used two amps for these sessions, eventually slaving them together for the final results. Have to wonder which one the producer … and, the final word in recording, the engineer … chose to mic? On the other hand Mr Fisher seemed to be no bother, I would imagine, with complete control of his Leslie from the Hammond via foot pedal, and he tended to use cleaner mic level tones with just a bit of grind when needed. Leslies are much simpler for microphones like the Neumanns and AKGs which were the most-used along with a few other German brands that are still considered top of the line today in most studios. It’s interesting that consoles and recording machines have changed so much but the mics used back then are basically the ones used today – the originals of course going for a lot more money these days at auction.

In the end we have for my money the real ‘Gates’ here. I always loved the original and have bought the Westside release of PH Plus taken from the ‘original’ master mix I have been told. It is much clearer, in my opinion, but still doesn’t come close for this song as this rare stereo version presented here (even though they are basically the same take). By the way after this cut you should be coming on to that bit in your belly (now resting in more than a few brain cells) that you may have consumed by intention or mistake when one of your friends told you to "close your eyes, smile, open your mouth and stick out your tongue" years ago before this set began, eh? Ready for Kaleidoscope? I thought so.

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