Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

AWSoP seals fortunes of an early Procoler

Steve Mitchell in Scotland's Brechin Advertiser, 27 April 2000

Sixties Rock Star promises backing for Youth Project

A rock star and former member of the band who wrote what was arguably the anthem of the sixties has pledged his support to the fledgling Brechin Youth Project after a visit back to the ancient city at the weekend.

Richard Brown, whose family lived in Wards Road, was the first guitarist to play with the band Procol Harum, whose single Whiter Shade of Pale sold millions of copies throughout the world.

Before Procol Harum enjoyed mammoth success with the hit, Richard had actually left the group, but as he explained he has made more money since than he did while playing with the band.

He now runs his own studio and has completed a degree in community education, working with young people in the North. Therefore Richard is keen to help out the Brechin project in any way he can.

"I have a background in community education and training and have provided SCOTVEC modules, but all that has been done with youngsters, he told the Brechin Advertiser this week.

"I have done music workshops with up and coming bands and I would be delighted to perhaps hold a benefit gig in Brechin to raise money for the project.

"It could raise money for the project or it could simply raise awareness of the Project.

"I think it's great to see an area giving its youngsters something positive to do with their time, other than drugs and drink.

'This weekend was the first time I have been in Brechin in 20 years, but I'll be very happy to come back again and work with the youngsters."

Richard looked back on the time he spent living in the Ancient City with a great deal of affection.

"I played in a skiffle band with Gordon Hill and 'Flash' MacFarlane and various other Brechiners and at that time all of us wanted to emulate the bands we saw on the telly.

"In those days it was The Shadows and The Ventures for me, as both groups had really great guitarists and that's what I was most interested in.

"The skiffle band was really an impromptu thing. We never had any instruments to begin with and we used tea box bases [sic] and that sort of thing. We tried to get a band together, but it was difficult with no instruments and no money.

"At that time, there was no popular radio. There was only the BBC, so jazz was a big part of what young people enjoyed doing.

'The first real band I was involved in seriously was Jimmy Fulton and the Fultones!

"We changed our name to the Sabres, which was slightly better and I always remember our first gig being in the YM Hall in Bank Street. We stood on tressels [sic] across the snooker tables and had to dress in satin blue trousers that we got from the Co-op.

"Bill Collie, the bass player, worked there and he got a staff discount. So we were all rigged out for our first big gig in Co-op cast offs that hadn't sold!

"My father then went to Walsall, north of Birmingham, to manage a string of Co-op chemists and as I had played in bands up here, I continued to do that down south.

"I played in a number of working bands on the cabaret circuit and did a lot of touring in France and Germany. We played with a lot of well known people. One of my favourites were Cream, because Eric Clapton had a great influence on my music.

"I also worked with Jeff Beck (who had a hit with Hi Ho Silver Lining) but at that time it was mainly blues bands, rather than popular music.

It was during a spell playing in London that Richard found himself in demand.

"I was doing gigs and The Troggs had asked me to come and join them and play guitar parts and some 'cello parts.

"I was going to go on tour with them, but I had an audition with Procol Harum before that and they wanted me, so I decided to join them and it's a decision I have never regretted.

"I'm making more money from the short time I had with Procol than I did while I was actually in the band.

"Because of their name, it gained me a lot of respect in the business and means that fees are often twice what they might be otherwise.

"It's so much easier for a working musician with a pedigree like that. Their music has since been recognised as a real breakthrough in places like Scandinavia and Germany, because of the influence of classical music on it.

"In those areas, it was quite common for kids and their parents to like Whiter Shade of Pale. There would be a commonality between them, probably because of the Bach-related organ background on the track.

"Everybody picked up on that and it made Procol very respected in the music industry. Therefore, the following the band had was much bigger in these places than it was in Britain or America.

"Although I had left the band before Whiter Shade of Pale got to number one, I have no regrets. It was just great to be involved in something that many musicians view as being influential on their music and at a great time for the music business.

"Apart from the struggle financially, the reason I left Procol was that there was never any fun and larking about. That was part of the course for most bands in the sixties, but not Procol.

"We used to sleep in a basement flat, where the wallpaper curled down with the damp and we hardly had two shillings to rub together, so I couldn't stay in the band.

"I left Procol and went straight into a job touring. The work was steady and we went touring in Scotland, then the Alps playing for the ski set.

"So it was steady work and steady money, despite not being as headline grabbing as it was to play for a well known band.

Richard now runs a digital and analogue studio in his home in Eventon, north of Inverness.

"Many people in Brechin may remember my father, Leslie Brown. He was chief pharmacist at Stracathro Hospital and also a Labour Councillor in Brechin.

"It was very strange for us. We had come to Brechin from London in the 1950s. I am mixed race and my sister is black."

Richard's father was Caribbean and his mother Scottish and he had been adopted by Leslie Brown and his family.

"At that time, we always considered ourselves to be very different, as there weren't many coloured people living in Brechin at the time. But we experienced much more racism outside Brechin than there ever was inside it.

"Like every other place, there was one or two ignorant people who were racist, but I never saw Brechin as having a big racial discrimination problem.

"My main memories are fond ones and I made some long, and enduring friendships while I lived there.

"Even at the Edzell Base, there weren't many coloured servicemen, so I suppose it was strange for the Brechiners as well as it was for us.

"I had lots of jobs locally before I left Brechin and got involved on the music scene more seriously. I worked at Brechin Castle, the butcher's that was once in St Ninian's Square opposite the Gardner Memorial Church and generally lots of jobs that I was ill fitted for.

"I also used to have one of the biggest paper rounds in Brechin which went from the top of the Latch right down to River Street."

That's how it ends! Thanks for spotting this, Charlie!

Richard Brown's page at BtP

More Procol musicians

The whole Richard Brown episode is documented in Claes Johansen's Procol biography:
Order it from Amazon USA or from Amazon UK

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home