Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale 

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Melody Maker's 'Band Breakdown'

Gary Brooker


This is the section on Gary Brooker from the Melody Maker's two-page Procol Harum spread from March 1973


After seven years, you might expect Gary Brooker to be a little tired of Procol's traditions. The group's history must, after all, have led to thousands of cries of "Play Whiter Shade of Pale!" since they discarded that illustrious chart-topper and began to progress further.

But Gary sees that tradition as a solid, living thing. 'It's very important. The only time it would wear off would be if I was the only one who saw it that way. If there was nobody saying 'When [sic] your next one coming out?' it would be the end, and time to go on to something new,

 "So it isn't particularly a bad thing when people remember you for your old songs. It's a hang-up, perhaps; but a nice sort of hang-up because it's better to be popular somewhere for something than not to be popular anywhere for anything."

To outsiders, the group has seemed to be in a constant state of flux ever since its inception and, as a co-founder, it's been Gary's job to piece successive new line-ups together. Has he became used to it over the years?

"Well it's a worry, because when somebody leaves it's always a major upset. A practical hang-up is that you have to find someone else and start rehearsing the numbers all over again.

"That really sets us back: if it happened now, for instance, we'd have to postpone our tours of Britain and America, which would put us back quite a long way.

"Also that kind of thing stifles our progression ... the way the writing progresses, for example: instead of being relaxed and able to stay at home, and write new songs, you're constantly worried about who to get and how it's going. Each time it happens, in fact, it's a disaster, but I don't see it happening again, honestly. Three years ago I'd have said yes, this group is always likely to collapse and crumble. Oh well, maybe it still is."

The major changes, he considers, were the departure of Matthew Fisher and Robin Trower, and the replacement of Dave Ball by Mick Grahham.

"Now the group seems to be content and it's important that everyone should enjoy what he's playing. Dave Ball didn't: he wanted to do more raving songs, because he thought he could be a blues guitarist, and he couldn't see the possibility of being that in Procol.

"What he didn't understand was that our guitarist has to be absolutely that. Mick Grabham knows it it's not a question of playing like Hubert Sumlin, but the guitarist is supposed to play that moody, minor feeling on top of the band.

"When Mick joined us, the first thing he did was play at the Rainbow with the orchestra that must have nearly killed him. It nearly killed me. No, he was really thrown in at the deep end, and it must have been a bit of a strain coming in and making the album like that. But the test is, when you're recording, and you lay down a solo, sometimes you come back into the control box after playing, it, and nobody says anything. But after each one of Mick's solos, people complimented him.

"Most of the songs were written before Dave left, but Mick can play as good a solo as anyone else, and he's also good at the kind of background work which changes the colour of a song."

His attitude to arranging for the orchestra and choir is, he says, "to get them playing exactly what the group plays, so that the sound is thickened, widening the textures. Instead of just bass guitar, you have the double-basses and 'celli doubling the line, and the sound takes on a much greater depth.

"The listener never hears anything particularly different, but everything sounds very much bigger. It would be wrong to have the orchestra becoming more important than the group in what it plays. It's just an extension of the five of us, really."


More from the Melody Maker's two-page Procol Harum spread from March 1973


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