Procol Harum

the Pale

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from Il Corriere della Sera, Milan

4 December 2002

CONCERTS: At the Emerald [Theatre, Milan] the English group who scaled the world's hit parades with A Whiter Shade of Pale.

The grandfathers of symphonic pop

After 35 years, here are Procol Harum. They got a generation dancing with a Bach chorale. The band's name derives from the mangling of a Latin phrase.


Summer of 1967, August: there was no house or techno in the discos, programmes were still divided into "fast tempo" (mainly black music and beat) and "slow"; amongst the latter, the thing that all the DJs were playing was a 45 by an English band, Procol Harum, called A Whiter Shade of Pale. It stayed in the charts for five months, a resounding success: worldwide the single sold more than 10 million copies and became a discographic phenomenon. But above all it represented something new at the time, thanks to the introduction of a classically-inspired atmosphere born of the happy marriage of Hammond organ, voice, and piano. A Whiter Shade of Pale is a re-writing of a Bach organ chorale and was to be just the starting-point in a series of compositions and reworkings that would be produced by the group founded by Gary Brooker. It is perhaps the first flowering of what was to become symphonic pop even if Procol Harum (the group's name is the mangling of two Latin words which mean "Beyond, far from these things") also derived disadvantages from this first: the difficulty of following a hit like A Whiter Shade of Pale (also a hit in an Italian version by the Dik Diks: Senza Luce [Without Light]) and of succeeding in developing their distinctive sound in more complete works. In '68 came another hit, Homburg (over here there was also the inevitable Italian cover: L'Ora dell'Amore [Time for Love] by The Chameleons) followed up by two excellent albums, Shine On Brightly (1968) and A Salty Dog (1969).

Procol Harum's triumphs are associated with the late sixties and early seventies, a period in which they also conquered America. Brooker's musical intuitions, coupled with the work of a cultured wordsmith like Keith Reid, were a formula for magic. The group had not been seen in Italy since its golden age, that is for some thirty years.

What audience will there be in the stalls? Just nostalgists with their vinyl copies of A Whiter Shade of Pale, or new faces too? The band's return is intriguing also because in the last ten years that have seen them in action again, many young people who are looking for something different in pop music have joined the old fans in coming to hear Brooker. Apparently the band, Gary Brooker (voice and piano), Matthew Fisher (Hammond), Geoff Whitehorn (guitar), and the rhythm section consisting of Matt Pegg (bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums), still represent, after 35 years, something different in the panorama of rock.

The footnote to the photograph reads EVER GREEN The line-up of Procol Harum.

Translated into English by Martin Clare

Procol Harum concerts in 2002: index page



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