Sketch of B.J. Wilson from 12/96 Whaling Stories - artist unknown.
Spotlight on two more Procol Harum ...
Robin Trower ...
Robin Trower has a face like a punchy boxer who stepped into the ring once too often. His friend Barrie Wilson doesn't like his nose! But Robin's is a good-humoured face and like Robin's career it's taken a few knocks in its time. Despite all Robin is a bright, interesting character whose voice is raw and unpolished belying the good sense he talks. He admits to being an introvert, is shy about pushing forward an opinion but welcomes the opportunity to talk for himself. For the first time in his life Robin is making good money regularly. But he doesn't, and never has worried about filthy lucre. "I've only worried about it if I haven't had enough to buy food. I've been pretty well off occasionally and generally fairly comfortable,. But I starved once or twice in the old days. That was due to bad managements, not giving us our money. I've been conned many many times and I'm even a little scared nowadays. When you've been conned a few times you get wary. Although we've got a good organization now, sometimes when things go a little wrong, the memory of the old days comes back and I worry. Once it's been done to you you never trust anybody completely again. It's a lesson you learn and you never forget." Cynical perhaps. Realistic certainly. But Robin's an old pro. He's never done or even considered anything but music. "The only time I did anything that wasn't in pop was when I did nothing after the Paramounts broke up. I just sat around getting myself together, trying to find where I was going.
"The set-up at the end of the Paramounts was just so wrong. I had to get out, then get away and think for a time. I've always known I would make it. If I didn't believe this I couldn't go on. Look, five and six years ago we were playing James Brown stuff and before the Beatles came out we were doing all that gear. It broke big and we just got left behind. I'm 22 and I've been playing since I was 14. I've been a full time musician since I left school." "Then I formed a 3 piece group to play the stuff I was writing. It was like Hendrix in format, but my music is nothing like his, and I thought that at last I was going to get somewhere." "I called Barrie Wilson and three days later Gary Brooker called me. Being a blues guitarist I didn't think I'd fit into Procol Harum but, like Barrie, as soon as I heard what they were putting down I knew we were right for each other." Obviously Robin was happy with the Procols. What do they think of him? Barrie Wilson, old friend and hyper-critical adviser, tends to see him less as a person than a musician and says "He's the finest guitarist in the country, in his own style. He's completely original, completely sincere in everything he plays." If this sounds like a rather sickening mutual admiration society, it wasn't intended that way. It's just an assessment built up from years of working together. "And as a person he's the same, completely honest, sincere."
Robin is also a cool character. He doesn't get visibly upset, he looks hard and long before he makes up his mind about a situation or a person. He seldom blows his cool. If somebody upsets him he doesn't shout or scream, he mentally shrugs and figures that he'll probably never see the person again, so why bother getting involved? He doesn't go to people to make friends, if they want him they come to him. He doesn't have a lot of friends, nor does he make friends easily. He doesn't court popularity. Barrie and Robin are seen as a pair. They complement each other. "It's because he's the drummer and I'm the guitarist and we're doing much the same job in laying down the beat," says Robin. Almost everything he says that concerns people and relationships is translated into the context of the group. He gives the impression that all else is secondary to the group, its music and his role within that whole. "But Barrie and I don't have a lot to do with each other outside the group," he explained. "Once the gig, practice or interview has finished, the group go their separate ways." But Robin likes it that way, he reckons you can get too involved and that's bad. "We don't go out together. We have to be ourselves, as our private lives are getting smaller all the time. That's part of success. I enjoy success as I'm now in a position to play to people that I respect and that is what success means to me." Robin says something as a pure statement of fact which others would interpret as gross conceit. For instance "I always felt that I would be a great guitarist." Bald, matter of fact, but to him a self-evident truth. After all, it's what he's been working towards for so long and his own faith in himself has, he feels, been vindicated within the scope of Procol Harum. He'll feel that he's living up to his own high standards as long "as I blow our manager Keith Reid's mind every time I play! As long as he digs what I play I'll be happy." Occasionally he realizes that what he says could be misinterpreted. "I don't want to sound big-headed. Although I like a lot of people and what they do, I don't dig them, so they don't mean that much to me." In other words he acknowledges other people's work and its importance but he doesn't always follow the ecstatic eulogies bestowed on it by the Press, public and "business." He forms his own conclusions with reference to his work and tastes. Robin is a loner. He says: "I try not to meet people outside my own circle." And it's a small circle. One feels that he's got his own scene together, that he is intimately involved in it and that what others say, do or think doesn't concern him. He admits that he has a superiority complex, but he concedes it with a quiet grin. He says that he doesn't think about himself that much and that he only thinks about others when they affect him. A strange paradox! Robin Trower is one of the most difficult people I've ever interviewed. It's almost impossible to get under his skin. He doesn't laugh a lot, doesn't gag. He takes things seriously and he certainly takes Robin Trower seriously. But he is NOT a vain or conceited person. He's just very aware of what he's got to do and how he's got to do it. He's a challenge to talk to, he's diffident, disinterested in the wider scope of life outside what he's involved in and obstinately single-minded. An easy person to like for his honesty, a difficult person to know for his own protective shield. A musician's musician and a musician's person. Happiest in his own company or in the company of those he knows, likes and, as far as he'll let himself, trusts. Robin Trower is the enigmatic member of the Procol Harum.
... and Barrie Wilson
"I'm B.J. I'm a drummer. Twenty years old. I love playing music in any circumstances - in a studio, on stage, it makes no difference. I don't particularly love photo sessions and interviews because I never know what to say really. People just don't ask us the right sort of questions." Barrie J. Wilson, Procol's drummer, one of the latest additions to the group and, so far, an unmined source of interest, B.J., as he is known, has a humorous face that smiles easily, not an instantly handsome one, but attractive and mobile, worth taking a second look at. And B.J. is a person worth listening to, something that few have taken the trouble to discover. He has opinions and there are things he wants to say, misconceptions he wants to clear up. There has been some controversy about the fact that the two new Procols - Barrie and Robin - were part of Gary Brooker's old group The Paramounts. There have been denials of this fact in the Press. "I think we must tell the truth," Barrie admits wryly, "Both Robin and I were in the Paramounts but the fact that I was in the Paramounts has nothing to do with me joining Procol Harum. Nothing whatsoever. Nothing!" "Procol needed two new people - a guitarist and a drummer - and so we auditioned for it. Obviously Gary knew us because we'd worked with him for four years. But Gary would make no comment about us whatsoever and we were chosen out of all the people who auditioned by the other two in the group who had never known us. Gary didn't think it fair that he should make any comment upon our ability. It wasn't a case of our being Gary's friends," he stressed.
Barrie was with the Paramounts a long time and between leaving them and joining Procol Harum he played with three other groups, including Lulu's backing group, George Bean and the Runners. "Then I left the last group, Sands, and I was off to America. I didn't know what I was going to do. I just wanted to get away from England. There was nothing here for me. Because I couldn't be happy with what I was playing I kept changing groups." At which point Robin Trower, Procol's new guitarist, takes up the story. "I got a little band together and felt that I was really getting somewhere, except that the other two members weren't good enough. So I phoned up Barrie and told him This is it. We're going to go this time, and I wanted him with me because he's the only drummer as far as I'm concerned. And then three days later Gary called me." After that the two friends joined Procol Harum. And America lost Barrie Wilson. Barrie is a dedicated musician. "I've been playing since I was about 15. I've never considered another form of employment." But England was looking thin as far as he was concerned. He couldn't settle into the right scene and after five years of trying and getting nowhere you start doubting your own abilities, start wondering if you shouldn't chuck it all in and sweep roads. America looked promising and Barrie admits it was more than just the music business over there that attracted him. He has a girl friend in Los Angeles who "means a lot to me!" Then along came Gary Brooker's phone call out of the ether. "I must admit I had my doubts about me fitting in with Procol Harum. I had never heard what they were like apart from "Whiter Shade." I knew they'd be good because Gary would never do anything that wasn't good. My doubts were dispelled. I knew from the first number. The group have a great telepathy going, not a conscious one, but they can sit down and jam anything. A blues - anything! We were together and fitted into each other perfectly." As a musician he knows where he's at and where he's going. But has this young man - whose life has been so inextricably interwoven with music, gigging up and down the country, playing for peanuts and occasionally being conned out of them by crooks with flash smiles - come to any conclusions about himself? "We're all mixed up, trying to sort ourselves out and think about so many things. It's impossible to say about me. Anyway, who's interested in what I do or say? Nobody, surely?" And what about other people's opinion of him? Robin comments: "He's the backbone of the group being the drummer. He's the forceful drive. I couldn't play with anybody else. He knows exactly what I'm going to do, he can read me like a book." Barrie enjoys success "very very much." After all it's taken long enough to arrive. "I've seen the whole bit, all the crummy parts, everything. Now it's here and I never really thought we'd deserved it before. I always knew I'd make it one day."
Barrie seeks respect from the other members of the group. What they say and think matters to him. Who does he respect? "The Beatles, that's the obvious one. Oh, it's too varied to say. I personally respect Ravi Shankar, B.B. King, Dionne Warwick....I could go on forever." What are his hopes and fears outside music. Is he scared of death? "No, not at all." Poverty? "No, I'm afraid of being disliked by anybody, I like to be liked and admired as a musician. I meet a lot of phony people who say 'Hello Barrie.' There was a guy the other day I met for about 2 minutes I think and he was slapping me on the back and calling me Barrie as if he'd known me for years. He was saying 'Give me your phone number Barrie and I'll give you a ring when I get back to town and we'll get together...' I just couldn't figure it out, I never met him in my life before, and he obviously didn't like me as he didn't know me at all. Therefore he must be impressed by what I am or what he thinks I am. I don't like it. You can suss them out the minute you meet them and then ignore them." What character traits does Barrie have that others don't like? Again Robin acts as an informed source. These 2 are like a serious Morecambe and Wise. "He's loose," Robin comments, "not like me - tight and together. He's more outward going." Barrie takes it up. "I try to be tolerant with people. I try to see the best in them. I don't like violence in people." Robin steps in again: "Yes but the thing with you Barrie is that you do tend to get a bit hung up if someone does you wrong. Like that time some guy pinched our cab in Paris you blew up in a moment." "Yes," Barrie agreed without malice or embarrassment. I lose my temper. Not very often. I'm not quick tempered but when I do lose it, wow! I get annoyed at myself because I think I'm not good enough, I'm a musical perfectionist. I think I could be better, which is a great thing I guess." A perfectionist, Mr. Wilson, and if he would admit it, a romantic. But a romantic with a tough steely streak, a cynical self-doubt, and an extreme caution born of years in a hard business trying hard to get to the top. Now he's there he's playing it very cool because B.J. is not one to let it all blow up in his face.