This interview with DJ and pop pundit Paul Gambaccini was broadcast the day before Procol Harum's sellout orchestral show at the London Barbican.
(Music: A Whiter Shade of Pale)
There have been two versions of A Whiter Shade of Pale used recently in films.
Annie Lennox’s interpretation was played over the credits of The Net. And a disco version is heard in the French Oscar candidate, French Twist. If others can issue new recordings of it, why not the original singer? Gary Brooker has produced a new CD called The Long Goodbye, the Symphonic Music of Procol Harum. It includes previous material from the group, as arranged for symphony orchestra. Gary Brooker joins us now.
Gary, this type of CD has done well in America, with repertoire from groups like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. Was this your inspiration?
Actually, I’d just heard the Rolling Stones one, I think, the day before I went in to record this one, so it wasn’t too much of an influence. I did hear theirs and I thought that perhaps that it had gone its way. It wasn’t theirs. It was the people who’d produced it. It had gone so far away from what the original Cream [sic], uh, tunes were, something like Street Fighting Man. Although it worked symphonically, you just wanted now and again on that CD to have – to have heard a little bit of the drum kit, just – just to relate it back. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing with orchestra. It’s still — still a musical instrument.
Well, here, you do have fusion of the rock instruments and the orchestra. Now, of course, we remember Procol Harum with Conquistador, which is done here again. That was a hit with the Edmonton Symphony.
Edmonton Symphony, yeah. Well, we kind of brought it up to – up to date a bit, made the orchestration better. I did that one on a plane, the one with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. It was a last-minute thought. Now we’ve given it a lot more thought this time and hopefully, it will stand up to any note-reading criticisms.
Homburg is there, A Salty Dog, and, of course, A Whiter Shade of Pale. Why do you think this song really not only stands the test of time, you know, it echoes through time?
I mean, obviously, I’ve pondered it. I’ve been asked it many times. And I don’t think that there is an answer. I actually think that it’s – it is, if it’s possible to have it – it is a mystery, I mean, the words, which we all know do mean something. And they are very readable. They’re – they’re – they make you think a lot. I mean, the original recording was a lucky haunting sound. And I think it’s still – I mean, Annie Lennox, as you say, I heard it and it still stands up. And I think that we’ll just have to be content with saying that it’s a mystery.
Well, it’s one that happily will follow you for the rest of your life. I particularly like The Long Goodbye on this album, which was with a smaller group than the symphony orchestra.
Yeah. I haven’t run out of money or anything. It was just that I did want … well, it was the actual song. It didn’t want the – all the pomp and circumstance of your big bass drums and your crashing cymbals and that, which – which I love, but it just didn’t suit it. So we got the Symphonia of London in, and very pared down, you know, harp and very small string sections and a couple of woods and – and away we went.
And, of course, no vocalist at all. On Pandora’s Box, James Galway’s playing the flute.
Yeah. Well, he’s a marvellous player and I thought it was a very interesting idea to – to have James Galway play it instead of, you know, singing it. It comes out great.
You’re performing this material tomorrow night at the Barbican. Now, whereas a group can rehearse in a garage or somewhere, you can’t really do that with a symphony orchestra, can you?
No, you can’t rehearse anywhere with a symphony orchestra, actually, not unless you’ve got a grant from the Art Council or something, which doesn’t come the way of rock groups very often. So we just get a three-hour rehearsal before. But half of the fun of a concert like that, which, in fact, it’s very, very encouraging to be invited by the orchestra to do that, and the Barbican. I think all other times that there’s been any collaboration between contemporary musicians and the rest is uh, when we’ve paid for it. But this time they’re paying.
Gary Brooker, good luck. Thank you. The music of Procol Harum will be performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Dodd, at the Barbican in London, tomorrow night. From us, for now, it’s never too late to repent – Repent Walpurgis from The Symphonic Music of Procol Harum. Goodbye.
Thanks, Jill, for transcribing
More pages about the Barbican concert