It has been eighteen years since Gary Brooker and Keith Reid wrote the haunting A Whiter Shade of Pale, launching an outstanding, ten-album, ten-year career for Procol Harum. Today, with the release of Gary Brooker's latest solo LP Echoes in the Night, the songwriting core of that epochal group is back together again. Not only are they writing together for the first time since the break-up of Procol Harum in 1977, Brooker is joined on his Mercury / Polygram LP by the group's original drummer BJ Wilson and former Procol keyboard player Matthew Fisher.
Echoes In The Night, co-produced by Brooker and Fisher, is a re-generation of creative souls who created classic songs for a generation. "While it is the same three writers and musicians, plus myself, it wasn't a question of 'recapture'," Brooker notes, "it was a matter of finding something new. This album is even better than before, actually. Looking back, our ideas were often confined by a somewhat mystical reputation. Today we have a meeting of new ideas that are just as meaningful yet much less complicated."
As A Whiter Shade of Pale and other Procol Harum classics reverberate in the memories of millions, a new set of collaborative melodies echo through the air on the new album. In addition to the efforts of Reid, lyrical excellence springs from Matthew Fisher and Ian Sutherland. The first single from Echoes In The Night, a track called Count me Out, is co-written by Brooker and Sutherland and features the energetic percussion of Ray Cooper. A look back at earlier times is in the title cut, Echoes In The Night, of which Brooker says, "It's about how little bits of things can jolt you back to a certain time and place: a song, a friend, a lover. What I do through the music is reflected in Keith's lyrics." Memories are stirred by the lead guitar of Eric Clapton.
Gary Brooker's orchestral arrangements, which proved successful in Procol Harum's classical experiments, are exercised again on the Brooker / Sutherland piece Mr Blue Day. The track features the National Philharmonic Orchestra, as does the Brooker / Fisher / Reid composition, The Long Goodbye. Gary's love of gospel music surfaces here, with the London Gospel Community Choir included in the mass of eighty people who participated in the song.
Brooker's musical career began with The Paramounts, a British R&B band who had a UK hit in early 1963 with a cover of the Coasters' Poison Ivy. They played the British beat circuit for a couple of years, backing up Sandie (Always Something There To Remind Me) Shaw live, and they even supported the Beatles on their final British tour in 1965.
Brooker nearly gave up a career in music after that to join IBM as a computer operator in the industry's infancy. Dusty Springfield's backing group The Echoes beckoned also, but a chance meeting in 1966 with lyricist Keith Reid led to the formation of Procol Harum. They were pioneers in the use of two keyboards and classical themes in rock, and successfully integrated the pyrotechnics of guitar great Robin Trower, who left in 1972. It was Keith who came up with the words for A Whiter Shade of Pale, and Gary, inspired by Bach's Suite in D Major, wrote the music. The song was Number One worldwide for months. Since its release in 1967, A Whiter Shade of Pale has sold some six million copies.
The song's phenomenal success provided the foundation for the group's career, as they endured personnel shifts while nurturing a growing underground following for a decade. Their first album exercised a strong influence on The Band at their Woodstock retreat, while their 1971 live album, recorded with Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, created a unique standard in classical / rock fusion and spun off another worldwide smash hit, Conquistador. Procol Harum maintained a consistency of excellence throughout their ten-year history, further highlighted on such albums as Shine On Brightly, Salty Dog, Grand Hotel, Broken Barricades, and their final release Something Magic. All the while, Gary Brooker's voice and melodies were the focus of the Procol Harum saga.
After the break-up of the group, Brooker put together his first solo project in late 1979, No More Fear Of Flying, for Chrysalis UK. Having been a tunesmith for so long, Brooker recorded other people's songs for the first time, including tunes from Mickey Jupp, Matthew Fisher [sic], Pete Sinfield and Murray Head. The LP was produced by famed Beatles producer George Martin.
His next LP didn't come for three years. Brooker became an upstanding member of his neighbour Eric Clapton's touring band from 1980 – 82, and played on Clapton's LP Another Ticket (he also co-wrote the song Catch Me If You Can). Then, having stored away a catalogue of songs for so many years, Brooker released an LP written entirely alone, recorded with help from Phil Collins. The album, called Lead Me To The Water, was issued by Phonogram in UK in late 1982.
Brooker had been in touch with the members of Procol Harum in the interim. "We had never been disassociated," he says of Keith Reid, "and for my next album I didn't want to go out looking for songs. It was nice to go back to someone who had a way with words." Soon, with Wilson and Fisher joining in, a renaissance was born.
Along with the Procol mainstays, a trusted pool of musicians supported the album sessions, including Tim Renwick on guitar (ex of Sutherland Bros. and Quiver, Elton John, Joan Armatrading); bassists Dave Bronze and John Giblin (who's since joined Simple Minds); Henry Spinetti and Matt Lettley on drums; and Jamie Talbot, a young saxophonist who has previously played with the National Jazz Youth Orchestra. Rory Gallagher joined the recording of Echoes In The Night as well. He blends a beautiful slide guitar into the album closer, Trick Of The Night.
A humane approach, a solid framework of music
and lyrics, and a core of top-notch musicians continue the
tradition of excellence for Gary Brooker on his new Mercury /
PolyGram release. Old and new friends, together for a new
beginning. Listen for Echoes In The Night. You'll want to
hear it again and again.
Thanks to Ian Hockley for sending a copy of this release to BtP