Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol guitarist Richard Brown: BtP interview

Reminiscences: repertoire ... Reid …

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

'Beyond the Pale'
Richard, what song-titles do you recall from those early rehearsals with Brooker and Reid?

Richard Brown
Dim memories from so long ago … but definitely Tombstone, Pandora's Box, Whiter, Conquistador, Homburg, Ceres [sic], Salad Days, early version of Quite Rightly, some of Autumn of my Madness, Shine on Brightly ... and some others which I can't remember, 'cos I haven't heard them since. Maybe if I listened to some of their early stuff, I might be able to recall a bit more.

It's surprising to see Autumn of my Madness on that list, since that has music by Matthew Fisher, who joined the band after you left.

I definitely remember doing Autumn madness ... "Some say that I'm a wise man, some think that I'm a fool ... " There was a difference of opinion at the time between myself and Dave about the chord root against the piano part, and the identity of some of the passing chords. And I remember the title ... also Brooker didn't sing right at the top of his range before the guitar part ... the line was voiced much lower.

The words you quote are from a song that ended up entitled Look to Your Soul. Maybe the 'Autumn' title was around before Matthew Fisher was.

I think the Fisher input for which he is credited consisted mainly of parts of the rest of the 'B side' and a lot of the Floyd-and-Hawkwind-meet-Sgt Pepper sound-collage stuff. [see here for who wrote what]

I am positive that the number existed in the very early days, but it didn't resolve in that way. There were many more 'scraps' of songs which I remember parts and lines of, which hadn't been completed, and were 'under construction', but they definitely did exist. I remember the words mostly ... because of the imagery. The chord progressions were similar to many of the parts of later numbers. There were scraps of stuff which maybe were just 'embryo' numbers which never ever saw much more of the light of day.

Are you familiar with any of Procol's later work?

I'm ashamed to say that haven't listened to any Procol stuff since I lived in Guy Stevens's horribly damp basement, apart from music I've heard on the radio or the TV.

I do remember the set list was around 18 numbers in total. Many of them were far too slow … I remember saying that they should pace them up a bit! Quite Rightly So was also originally at about a third of the final speed, if even as fast as that!

Any other titles?

There are definitely songs missing that I haven't traced, because I remember that we had only eighteen numbers, and that we needed at least twice that amount before we could gig. How many brain cells do you think I have left after nearly forty years! I also remember having to play Mabel on the Kitchen Table, although I always discouraged them from doing that because I thought it extremely naff at the time. I would imagine that it isn't one of those numbers that appreciate with age!

What gear did you play at the time?

Guitar: Gibson Custom Stereo 345 sunburst with early Gibson "side-bender trem"; Park 50watt valve amp; and Park 4x12" Celestion cab. That was the rig I auditioned with at the Roebuck, and which nearly everybody played through, including Ray Royer. I definitely had that gear when I was with the band ... and right through nearly into the seventies, except that I later bought another sunburst Gibson Custom Stereo, and so I had two of them.

And what did you sound like?

When I was with the band I played only finger-style, (using a thumb-pick and sometimes finger-picks) and in an electric folk / blues style. The Clapton album with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (the seminal Beano Album) had just been released and I was very influenced by that as well as Mike Bloomfield's Electric Flag.

My style was then and is now much more 'bluesy' and classically 'harmonic' (that sounds really pretentious) than Royer's ever was, and more similar to Trower's, although I always thought he was too influenced by, and sounded too much like Hendrix. People have said that my style is harmonically similar to Brian May's , but with much more of a blues component ... Maybe I can send you a tape of bits of my work.

Where would you start, talking about Guy Stevens?

While I lived at Guy Stevens's house, I listened to his blues collection virtually all day, except when we practised. His house was full of racks and racks of records which lined every wall, even in the kitchen, and he easily had more stock than a record shop. I remember listening to the 'Three Kings': BB. Freddie, and Albert to the total exclusion of all else, I would just play them over and over, which annoyed Reid, because he wanted to play Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands or some other half-asleep Dylan track!

Was Keith a strong influence at this time?

He played a huge part in the direction of Procol, and his contribution was always much greater than he is generally given credit for. Both he and Guy Stevens were deeply committed to and involved in the development and the direction of the band, and they were both in some ways joint managers in those very early days. He could be regarded as the lynchpin of the whole thing, working sometimes with Guy on the management and organisational side, and then with Gary on the music. Can you imagine Procol without Reid ... very difficult.

Keith was undoubtedly quite introverted and stand-offish, and to an outsider maybe he seemed to be trying to cultivate an image ... that's probably not a very charitable impression, but given his background it's possibly understandable.

This was to ward off anti-Semitism, do you mean?

Keith kept a lot of his background hidden, for reasons of his own, and certainly he wasn't outgoing about either his roots or his beliefs. I wasn't at all aware of his family history until I talked a little with Claes while he was writing the biography and he mentioned about Keith's family having to flee the pogroms ... It's only speculation on my part, but I would expect any persecuted minority to be reticent about their past. I mean it's not like you went around in the fifties and sixties saying "Hey, I'm Jewish and proud!" You'd have been lynched from the nearest lamp-post in about ten minutes flat!

Reid, like myself grew up in the post-war Mosely years in London, and I think I'm right in saying that after the war that fascist Mosely had had something like 40,000 followers in Britain ... His supporters used to fill Alexandra Palace and Harringey Arena. Racism and racial persecution were institutionalised, endemic, and prevalent throughout the social classes in those days, as they still are today ... . and I don't imagine that 40,000 British fascists either faded away into obscurity or just saw the light and reformed either!

I also have a lot of trouble reconciling his assertion in the book about his being working class ... He certainly came across as a middle-class eccentric intellectual and I think he probably tried hard to cultivate that image. If he had smoked his Gauloises through a cigarette holder he wouldn't have been out of place ... if you know what I mean ... An enigma certainly ...

Did you have much in common with him?

On the communication front, perhaps his apparent lack of communication was more influenced by choice rather than by a lack of ability, and so he directed his creative efforts inwards rather than outwards.

I found him fairly approachable, if a little strange and non-communicative on a personal level. I think his part in the band has sometimes been relegated to that of a lyricist working away in the sidelines ... but he was much more than that.

What else can you recall about Keith's musical tastes?

On the musical front, apart from the constant Dylan albums, which drove me up the wall, I remember Reidy sometimes listening to Jacques Brel. I also know that Keith was aware of lyricist Pete Brown's work with Jack Bruce, because we talked about Cream sometimes and listened to the first album occasionally.

I was hugely influenced by both Bruce and Clapton, and had played support to them in different bands and guises many times before joining Procol, working on the blues club circuit and doing support gigs with Clapton during his work with John Mayall and also with Jack Bruce and the Graham Bond Organisation and then later with Cream. Well-known London poet and Jack Bruce-collaborator Pete Brown's lyrics were in some ways not too dissimilar to Reid's ...

And Guy Stevens's tastes?

Guy had so many albums, it was unreal, and we could listen to anything we wanted at any time, day or night. He was an avid music fan, to the point of obsession ... A big part of his collection consisted of demo pressings and white labels, and he had huge swathes of obscure material everywhere, all catalogued and indexed, and so we listened to a wide range of stuff … sometimes classical, always Dylan, and sometimes delta rhythm and blues or old Stax or Chess type stuff. He even had stacks of racked and indexed 45s and albums in both the lavatory and in the kitchen.

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

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