Procol Harum

the Pale

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Meet me where the [Procol] Hare[u]m is

Albert Hebing in 'Gorilla Beat' No 9, 1981

Caveat lector: Gorilla Beat has the look of a home-produced fanzine; the present writer is (we guess) not a native speaker of English. We therefore reproduce his PH article 'as is', sparing the '[sic]' button, but urging the reader to beware of passages coloured thus.


This is the story of an R&B band, one of the most unfortunate ones, that broke up after they'd been stripped to the waist, a story of their piano-player who became a session-man that met a tailor that wrote lyrics, and who helped to create a monster hit with an ad hoc group, later remembering old friends and gathering them around again. Readers, a kind of 20th century fairy-tale that we all saw become reality. It's a nice tell without the final happiness but let's set the epilogue:

The Coasters and the Raiders were 2 groups from Southend. The Coasters had Gary Brooker on piano and the Raiders featured Chris Copping on bass and Robin Trower on guitar (and Robin's brother Mick on vocals). When Gary left the Coasters he joined the Raiders, after Mick left, Brian Richards came as lead singer and Mick Browny on drums. But Brian only stayed for a short time, and was replaced by Bob Scott who stayed for a short time, too. So Gary and Mick took over the vocals. They did a lot of clubs and Friday night ballrooms. Then they changed their name to the Paramounts.

When Mick Browny left, the group advertised in Melody Maker to find a new drummer. Barry J Wilson was the lucky one. This line-up recorded Poison Ivy and introduced the tape to EMI and got a contract. Little Bitty Pretty One followed in February '64, but both stayed successless. Around this time the group supported the Stones, and Mick Jagger and his men were knocked out by the Paramounts. The Stones introduced then to a lot of important people, but as no perfect record appeared on the market, the group never had bigger times than gigging around the clubs.

Their problem was, that Glyn Johns recorded a lot of great songs for them, but when the discs appeared on the market they were amateurishly mixed. EMI gave the group no right to chose the songs that were to be released. None of their records made the charts. The third single was I'm the one who loved you and failed, too. One month later an EP containing the first 2 singles was released. A flop, of course. In October '64 Bad Blood came out, no success. Barry J left to join Jimmy Powell and the Dimensions. He was replaced by Phil Wainman, but when Barry re-joined 6 months later, Phil had to leave again. The next record to follow was You Never Had It So Good and some months later Blue Ribbons.

When both records dropped dead the group had to become the backing group for Sandie Shaw in order to avoid starvation. This wasn't Robin's cup of tea so he left and started a group named Jam. A new guitarist and a saxophonist joined.

Meanwhile the group backed Chris Andrews, and toured the Continent. On return to their home country Chris Copping left to go to university. He was replaced by Diz Derrick. The Paramounts supported the Beatles on their very last tour but it didn't help them much. In '66 the group broke up.

BJ Wilson joined Robin's Jam group, but left a bit later again, playing drums for Lulu, Millie, and Cat Stevens. Diz went back to school, and Gary became a songwriter. He met a tailor named Keith Reid and they teamed up. Gary was tired of touring and preferred the more quiet life in the studios. Both wrote a lot of songs and introduced them to a lot of people. As noone would give them a chance, Keith thought of doing it with a new self-formed group. Gary, almost out of money and on the edge of joining Dusty Springfield's backing group, agreed.

They got an ad in Melody Maker for finding a guitarist, bass player and organist, so Ray Royer, Dave Knight and Matthew Fisher from Screaming Lord Sutch's group joined. They took a friend of Gary (Bobby Harrison) on drums into the group and called it Procol Harum. Around this time A Whiter Shade of Pale was already planned as a single. Gary and Keith had made a demo under the supervision of Guy Stevens, one of the most prolific people in showbiz in these days. He was producer and executive for Island Records. With Guy's influence they tried to make a record of it.

Guy took it to Denny Cordell of Straight Ahead Productions and won a recording contract for the group. A Whiter Shade Of Pale was released on the Deram label and became one of the most bought records, one of the greatest hits in pop music, a true classic, one of the best records, and a lot more. The record went straight to no 6, and one week later it was no 1, where it stayed for 6 weeks. Not only the UK charts were stormed, every hit parade on the world saw it in a top position. The group was praised from every corner of the earth, and a real great song it was.

But things started to become worse very fast. The papers learned that Bobby Harrison wasn't playing on the record. He was the last one to enter the group, and he hadn't been familiar with the song so a session drummer helped. The group was called unable and words like hype and deceit were uttered. The next thing was that Roy Royer and Bobby Harrison left to form their own group Freedom.

There seemed to be no other choice than Barry J Wilson on drums, who was out of work then. Both remembered their old mate from the Paramounts' days, Robin Trower. But Robin wasn't too sure about being the right one, as he loved blues music and wouldn't want to do anything else. But Gary promised him enough space for his individual taste, and so he joined. The record buyers had waited quite a long time for the follow-up to Whiter Shade Of Pale which came in the shape of Homburg, another Brooker / Reid composition. Unfortunately it resembled A Whiter Shade Of Pale quite much, but made a good no 5 in the charts, and it was the last Procol Harum record in the Top 20 for quite some time.

The group had some problems to finish their first LP. The songs were already written, mostly from Gary's and Keith's studio days. The group was a bit out of direction around that time, the sudden success was too much for the first time, the management got out of control. Denny Cordell passed the group to Jonathan Winter, who passed them to Tony Secunda , who also handled The Move. All 3 and some more earned a lot with the group. They robbed Procol Harum, leaving not one penny for them. Don't think Procol Harum became rich with A Whiter Shade Of Pale, even Booker/Reid didn't get any money from it.

But let's go on! After all an album was released, simply called Procol Harum. It's a great record with my favourite tracks She Wandered Through The Garden Fence, Repent Walpurgis, Conquistador and more. The material is great, unfortunately the production was very poor, but never mind, a good song is even good when it is badly produced. The album was finished in 3 days and was recorded in 4 tracks, which might stand as an apologize for the poor sound. England dropped Procol Harum, saw them as a 2 hit wonder and ignored them and their LP. So the group was shipped to America, where they were more lucky. Their LP, released on A&M, sold good, and tours were so successful that it took them back to the States quite often.

Meanwhile the second LP was released with a cut-off single Quite Rightly So. The highlight of the LP was In Held 'Twas In I originally called Magnum Harum. A mixture between poetry and music, with a sound full of choir, orchestra, and power. Once again the record was ignored in England, and became a hit in the States, where they stayed more and more.

Together with their 3rd LP A Salty Dog a same named single was released. Although it had strong chart qualities, and became a hit on the Continent, it totally flopped in their home-country. The songs are brilliant again, written by Gary and Keith, Robin and Keith or Matthew and Keith. To me the highlights are A Salty Dog, The Milk Of Human Kindness, The Wreck Of The Hesperus, Juicy John Pink, The Devil Came From Kansas And All This And More. The record is about sailors, ships and the sea. For Juicy John Pink, a bluesy song by Robin, they tried to catch the old 50s sound. They didn't use a large equipment or any machines to record it as pure as possible they even went down to the old Rolling Stones studio in Bermondsey. The result is great. After the LP Matthew Fisher and Dave Knight left. Matthew tried it as producer and solo artist, Dave handled Legend who recorded for Vertigo. For their replacement they took Chris Copping, so the Paramounts were complete again. Chris played organ and occasional bass, Robin played lead guitar and also occasional bass. They recorded an LP called Home, a concept album, the subject of the LP was Death.

From this LP on Chris Thomas produced Procol Harum up to 1974. The album is the weakest of all 4, but has some brilliant tunes, like the opener Whisky Train, and songs like About To Die Whaling Stories or Your Own Choice. As usual the LP missed the charts in England, so when their contract with Regal Zonophone ran out, they didn't get a new contract with this branch of EMI. But the record became big on the Continent and in the States. The group had spent more time in the USA than in the UK.

But this should change in 1970. They toured with Jethro Tull and had that enormous gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall one year later. They also got a new contract with the new built Chrysalis label. The LP they recorded was called Broken Barricades and is more Robin Trower's album than Gary's. Keith's lyrics are once again mainly about one subject, in this case it's Sex, respectively in Luskus Delph or Playmate Of The Mouth. The LP is more a guitar album especially Simple Sister, Broken Barricades and of course Robin's almost-instrumental Song For A Dreamer. I remember that the LP sounded strange to me when I bought it ten years ago, I still think it doesn't have the qualities of A Salty Dog or Shine On Brightly or even their first LP. But it is one step further and my taste of music isn't everybody's taste.

After the LP Robin left to form a new group , Jude, together with Frankie Miller, Clive Bunker of Jethro Tull and Clive Dewar from Stone the Crows. But as this formation didn't work well, they split after some months. Clive Bunker seems to have disappeared, Frankie Miller joined Brinsley Schwartz and went solo later, Robin and Clive were joined by Reg Isidore from Quiver to release an album under Robin's name and the production of Matthew Fisher. Robin's replacement was Dave Ball, and with Dave a new bass-player joined to give Chris more freedom on organ, his name is Alan Cartwright, formerly with ex-Nice's Brian Davison and his Every Which Day.

Procol Harum project was an already fixed Canadian tour with a concert together with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Da Camera Singers. The problem was that the group didn't get enough time to rehearse or even arrange a good set. Gary wrote the arrangement on the plane to Canada. The result is astonishing good, and the LP cut from this concert brought them back into the scene, even in their home-country. A single Conquistador reached the Top 20 again. While trying to keep their success and recording a new album, Dave Ball left. His replacement came with ex-Plastic Penny, ex-Cochise Mick Grabham, who fitted a lot better.

The 7th album was called Grand Hotel and it was a pompous LP with choirs, and strings, etc. To me it was their worst up to this time, but still has some good tunes like the title track, Toujours l'Amour or Bringing Home The Bacon and maybe Souvenir from London.

Their next effort was an LP called Exotic Birds And Fruit in '74. The group had stopped working with Chris Thomas and surprisingly were joined by Leiber-Stoller. But even a great production couldn't save the average songs on it. The same could be said about their next album Ninth, with the exception of one song, Pandora's Box, which saw the charts again. One more change in the group took place, Alan left the group, Chris switched to bass and Pete Solley joined on organ. But this line up didn't last too long, they recorded Procol Harum's last LP Something Magic and split. Although the last four or five LPs sold quite good, the band saw themselves in a dead-end street and broke up some time ago. (Unfortunately I don't know which year, as it became quiet around the group since 1977).

Gary has recorded a solo album together with Pete Sinfield once poet for King Crimson called No More Fear Of Flying. It was produced by George Martin and it sounds fresher than all the last Procol Harum records. Barry J Wilson is playing in Joe Cocker's backing group. 

I don't think it is a happy ending for such a group. When I think about the concert, where I saw them in Dusseldorf, which was one of the most perfect and longest (over 2 hours) their split makes me sad. Left to say that we all wish them a happier future.

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