Gary Brooker, who with Keith Reid is co-founder of Procol Harum, writes the music. He is, however, better known as the voice and face of Procol Harum. His piano dominates the stage, his voice, which has been likened to that which would issue from a throat made out of well pickled old sea boots, is one of the distinctive group sounds.
Ask Gary how he started and he will mention "The Paramounts." "I think we started in 1959 when we were all still at school in Southend." (Barrie Wilson, and Chris Copping were also part of The Paramounts.) "We thought of ourselves as a purist R & B group in the early days. We were all devout followers of Jerry Lee Lewis and all that sort of stuff."
It is a long way from a purist R & B group, to Procol Harum with the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl! Gary is responsible for all of the orchestrations for the pieces that will be performed this evening. Many hours of labor have gone into the arranging and writing of the scores, separating them into the various parts for each of the instruments of the orchestra. Although he is quoted as having said "I want to get the orchestra playing exactly what the group plays, so the sound is thickened, widening the textures. Instead of just a bass guitar you have the double basses and a chelli doubling the line, and the sound takes on a much greater depth." This is something of an understatement. If you listen carefully to the Edmonton album, you can hear themes written for instruments within the orchestra which the group could never play. These themes, however, in no way detract from the group's music. As Gary says, "Although the listener never hears anything particularly different, everything sounds much bigger. It would be wrong to have the orchestra becoming more important than the group, in what it plays. It is just an extension of the five of us, really."
Gary has been responsible for finding the musicians to interpret the music and successfully perform it on stage. Successive lineups in the group have not altered the tradition of Procol Harum. Gary sees this tradition as a solid living thing. "It's a very important thing. The only time it would wear off would be if I was the only one who saw it that way. If there was no one saying, when is your next album coming out, it would be the end, and time to go on to something else."
Although Gary is untrained, by classical standards, he comes from a musical family. His father was a professional musician who tried to teach his son ukulele, guitar, and saxophone. Gary, however, chose the piano and went his own way, albeit, encouraged from home. Fom skiffle groups to The Paramounts, from The Paramounts to Procol Harum, and now to Procol Harum with the 102 piece LA Philharmonic Orchestra and 40 voice Roger Wagner Chorale.