Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol guitarist Richard Brown: BtP interview

Prospects with the band

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

'Beyond the Pale'
It sounds as though you did a lot of sitting around!

Richard Brown
While I worked with the band, the difference in pace was very difficult for me to cope with, and I was also the youngest member at the time. For example, before joining them, when I toured doing the Manchester clubs and the Northern cabaret circuit for instance, we sometimes did two or even three gigs a night. We owned two sets of gear including two drum kits and packed up our guitars as soon as the curtains came down at one venue, kept our stage clothes on and went straight to the next gig, in a taxi, while two of our four roadies were loading the van to leap-frog to another booking.

It was an intense time gig-wise and the money in those venues in those days was excellent, which was why I was able to afford just about the best equipment available in those days, unlike most working musicians on the scene ...

When I moved to London, working with Procol was very low-key after that level and pace of work, but the quality of the music made it all worth while, even though nothing much was happening.

Why was nothing much happening?

A criticism of the band in those days might be that they lacked an organised musical direction, and in some senses that would be justified. For example at rehearsals, Gary would play us chords of the songs and I'd develop a counterpoint to the vocal line as a possible future lead line or something to base a solo around, and then I'd voice the chords for guitar, and Dave would add melodic bass lines to the drum and Hammond parts. Apart from that there was no proper 'arrangement' procedure, except for an unspoken general consensus of how the music was going; there was no 'arranger' in the traditional sense and no-one was in charge of 'nailing' the sound or the style.

If it worked musically, then we played it next time. Keith's contribution in this area was probably underestimated and overlooked, in that the lyrics always came first when he and Gary were writing, and the melody second.

Of course, lyricists in those days being considered an integral part of the band was virtually unheard of (Pete Brown's contribution to Cream arguably wasn't a fraction of that of Reid's to Procol ) and obviously the pace and metre of Keith's lyrics played a huge part in the band's sound ... At the end of the day, it all worked and came together and somehow he managed to scrawl lines and lines of amazingly inspired surreal and visionary images on to crumpled bits of paper, usually penned in a strange and haunting iambic pentameter.

So Guy wasn't driving things along, exactly?

Guy Stevens was very positive about the band (we were his boys of course) and he sometimes dragged us around London with him to meet with people who could 'do things for us' ... We would meet Gary from the Southend train when he came up from his mom's and go off to these 'meetings' which were usually held in strangely-decorated bohemian cafés. Invariably, fluorescent posters of Gandalf's Magic Garden or the Grateful Dead were sellotaped on to the wall and a smell of essential oils and hashish pervaded everything. Reidy sat and puffed his Gauloises and people wore green and purple velvet hats and cloaks and cheesecloth shirts, and everyone looked like stoned beatniks or hippies and read Oz, or copies of Rolling Stone.

We all thought we would change the world, and why not? After all, the age of Aquarius had just dawned, and what mere mortal could stand in the way of the planets in their celestial courses? Ahhh. Those were the days!

I remember, I felt totally incongruous sitting there drinking Earl Grey tea dressed in my Levi gear ... I rarely wore anything else (being the consummate 60s bluesman - and just paying my dues ... ). I had white Levi suits, beige corduroy ones ... and at least two or three washed-out denim ones ... Sad act ...

You could afford these suits and fancy teas, then?

On the organisation and finance side, Guy was in charge of the money and paid us promptly (every Friday) and then deducted money for food. Unfortunately after that there was very little left! Really though, he kept the band together. He arranged all the rehearsals, phoned around for halls, and organised when and where people had to be picked up ... without him, the band would never have got anywhere ...

Yet you didn't play live with them?

Guy wasn't very confident in getting us gigs. I suppose in retrospect, that the London scene was very different to the venues I'd been playing up North, especially for an original band just starting out. I mean if you were the manager ... how could you sell them?

You'd maybe say ... "Um ... they're sort of like ... um ... now who can I compare them with? Um ... .well I guarantee you that they're totally original and like nothing you've ever heard."

The promoter would go ... "Uh? ... No ... I think I'll pass on that lot if you don't mind ... Have you got the phone number for Herman's Hermits?

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

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