The Procol Harum are five in number. But there is a sixth called Keith Reid, a strange, dreamy young man whose guiding, creative hand help shoot their first disc to number one in a short ness of time that made pop history. The Procol Harum's sixth sense talks to Rave pop writer Jeremy Pascall – about the Procol Harum.
The first time I met Keith Reid, creative director, and Gary Brooker, lead singer and pianist of the Procol Harum, was when they walked into a pub, completely unknown and unnoticed. They sat on bar stools and talked about a song they had written and recorded with their newly-formed group, the Procol Harum. They believed it could be a hit.
Three weeks later, backstage at London's Saville Theatre, I could hardly fight my way through the photographers, fans and celebrities congratulating the shy group on a number one hit, A Whiter Shade of Pale.
The traditional way to celebrate is to the sound of popping champagne corks, but the Harum are taking it all very calmly. Gary and Keith are two very cool characters. Gary is too much a professional to be dazzled by instant success. After all, it's taken him nearly seven years to achieve it! And Keith? He's a very private person who blinks at you wisely from behind smoke-grey granny glasses and gives nothing away. He may smile secretly and say 'I'm quite pleased'.
The only noticeable sign of success is their extreme tiredness. Keith looks around in bewilderment and tries to concentrate on questions. He does not perform, and yet is an important member of the Procol Harum.
'They call me the 'Creative Director'', he said, 'but I'm not quite sure what that means! The whole thing started about a year ago at a party when I heard someone say, 'You've turned a whiter shade of pale'. What a great thing to say. I wish I'd thought of it! Well, this kept with me and I started to write other things around it. It wasn't a poem, but I thought it would make a good pop song.
'I can't write music or play an instrument, so I went to a music publisher who liked the words and suggested I find somebody to write the music. I knew Gary, because we both [sic] lived in Southend, and I thought he might be interested. He was, he wrote the music and we then decided that we needed the right combination to perform it. So we spent months auditioning musicians, eventually satisfied ourselves, cut a demo disc, played it to record producer Denny Cordell, who liked it and recorded us. The rest happened so fast I'm still trying to catch up!'
Gary and Keith are complete opposites. Gary is robust and stocky, sporting a moustache that will, if all goes well, make him look like a Chinese mandarin. He knows the pop world and is used to its strains. Keith is frail and slender, his face so pallid that it resembles the title of his song. His hair is piled above his head in unruly curls. He looks like a poet and talks like one. He is a stranger to pop and doesn't wholly approve of its ways.
While Keith is a trifle nonplussed by the rigours and the demands of being part of a hit group, Gary is philosophic.
'How do I feel about being number one? Nothing. Same as when we were a number eleven and all rest. I'm pleased, of course, but we expected it the way sales were going; the only surprise was the speed. It was very fast, wasn't it? I don't know if it's been done before. I suppose it must have been. All it's meant to me so far is hard work, it just hasn't stopped. In the last week I've been to Paris, all over England, filming, television, the lot. I've only been home once for some clean clothes.
'I don't think I've really realised yet. I looked in the papers and they said we were top, so it had to be true. '
The rest of the group are Mathew [sic] Fisher, organist, who once studied at the Guildhall School of Music and then played with Billy Fury and Peter Jay's Jaywalkers; Ray Royer, lead guitarist, whose past is shrouded in mystery; Dave Knights, bassist, and Bobby Harrison, originally a singer with the Powerpack. How are the boys facing the killing pace? They are so tired and bewildered that they have nothing to say. They just stand waiting to be photographed for the thousandth time, asking politely if they could have a bite to eat because it's been a day since they last had food, automatically signing autographs and nodding and smiling listlessly at the congratulations. In between it all they just slump into chairs, reach for English cigarettes because the French ones from their Paris visit are destroying their throats, and try to recharge their spent batteries.
They are still getting to know each other. After all, they've only been together for a few weeks and they spend all their time in each other's company. Occasionally the pressure leads to friction and one of them will suddenly lose his temper, but it's to be expected and all is forgotten and forgiven just as fast..
As Gary put it : 'I haven't seen anybody getting big-headed. If anything we are more humble than before. We're all so tired. Really I'm the one that flares up. With all the pressures and tension it's a little thing like an untuned piano that does it.'
But what about the people around the group? Like Gary's girlfriend of two years? 'I'm a bit fed up. The only time I see him is at photo sessions, but I'm pleased for him. I knew he would make it and he's worked so hard for success. There have been bad times but they're over now. I would like to see him more often, though.'
The Harum's future plans are vague. A trip to America is planned for the near future and, of course, a new single, but there is no rush. 'We want time to work out a really good follow-up,' said Keith.
Thanks, David Pearcy
More Procol History at BtP | The same writer meets the second Procol line-up