Procol Harum

the Pale

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home

The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale • 3 February 2013

The Facebook interview with Roch Parisien and Procol Harum biographer Henry Scott-Irvine

Roch Parisien
Thanks for joining us today at the Rocon Communications music chat page for the latest edition of 'The Facebook Music Interviews'! My guest today for this live/interactive text chat session is UK broadcaster and writer Henry Scott-Irvine, author of the recently published definitive tome Procol Harum: The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale (Omnibus Press).

Henry has produced and hosted a weekly Music & Arts heritage based show for Resonance FM 104.4 London on a weekly basis for the past four years, interviewing guests of all musical stripes. His prior credits include working for famous UK children’s TV producer Gerry Anderson (of Thunderbirds Are Go! fame), serving as Elton John's Video Archivist, working on Channel 4 TV's ‘Brit Pop’ series The White Room' and the Classic Albums series Music Of The Millennium, and co-producing the award-winning Punk Attitude. He first saw Procol Harum in 1973 and has known the band since 1979. He coordinated 'Procol Harum Live in Concert' with The LSO at London's Barbican Theatre in 1996, and co-hosted the band's Thirtieth Anniversary concert at The Redhill Theatre in 1997. He has been writing, researching, and developing TV programming for over 25 years. This is his first book, which he has called "a story of psychedelia, toilet paper, marriage, death and litigation" ... (you'll find out why today!)

Formed in the '60s, prog rock British group Procol Harum are best known for their multi-million selling single A Whiter Shade of Pale, which is the most-played record by a British artist of the last seventy years. The book features exclusive interviews with band members Gary Brooker, Keith Reid, Matthew Fisher, Robin Trower, Dave Ball, Mick Grabham, Geoff Whitehorn, Chris Copping and producer Chris Thomas. It also includes interviews with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, film director Alan Parker, as well as former managers, DJs and many others. It tells the story of their formation in Essex in the '60s, their split on their tenth anniversary in 1977 and their reforming in 1991. It delves into the details of one of the costliest court cases in British music history whereby a judge awarded a 40% share in the copyright of A Whiter Shade of Pale to organist Matthew Fisher. And it brings the story right up to date with details of their album releases and tours over the last decade.

Ok all, we're ready to start ... thanks for joining us everybody ... and welcome Henry! Let's kick off with a couple of standard questions I like to warm up with: what was your first single and/or album that you bought as a youth with your own money? And what was the first concert you attended?

Henry Scott-Irvine
Hello Roch, one and all. Good to be here. The first single I ever bought was Fire Brigade by The Move on EMI Regal Zonophone in 1968. Probably because it was about fire engines and I was just a boy. The first album I ever bought was Switched On Bach by Walter Carlos who later wrote the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange. It was the album that débuted the Moog synthesiser to the world. The first concert I ever attended was at The Caley Picture House in 1972 in Edinburgh’s Lothian Road (now The Edinburgh Theatre) Queen supporting Mott The Hoople. I was chaperoned by my old man’s pal’s sons who were in their late teens. Otherwise I could not have gone. My overriding memory was that Queen played so loudly that the balcony started to bounce. By the time Mott came on stage the balcony could actually be seen moving up and down with all of the Mott fans going totally mad. The police and fire brigade were called and the concert was immediately stopped. The balcony was deemed out of bounds until 2012.

What would you consider the best, and/or most entertaining music biography of all time? Was there one particular music journalist, biographer or biography that made you say "I'd like to give this a go"?

Ian Dury The Definitive Biography, by Will Birch published by Sidgwick & Jackson in 2010. Will is a great writer. Back in the 1970s he used to be in - and write songs for - Southend’s excellent combo The Kursaal Flyers as well as The Records. His Dury book is written like a screenplay. It is highly evocative and hugely involving. You almost feel that you were there witnessing events first hand. It is the most engrossing rock biography I have ever read. The journalist, and later screenwriter, Ray Connolly was the music writer for the London Evening Standard from 1967 until 1974. His writings are collected together in his book Stardust Memories published by Pavillion Books in 1983. Ray’s particular ability was his sleight of hand. He made his writing look easy. He got to the very core of a character in an utterly involving manner that was totally unpretentious. This was his gift. Good writing is never easy. But making it look easy, whilst getting to the very route [sic] of the subject, was his unique ability. I actually think he is the godfather of British music journalism. Both Ray and Will were certainly an inspiration. However, my biography had many bases to cover through publisher prerequisites and fan expectation. So it differs from their work in many instances.

Henry, you have a long history in the music business, although most of your background has been in broadcasting -- radio, TV and video -- as opposed to written music journalism ... what in your previous experience most prepared you to jump in with this first book? At the same time, walk us through some of the process of getting this début written and published ... how long did it take to write, shop and release for public consumption?

I was commissioned to write this book by Omnibus Press. They came to me. Unlike some writers who either write part-time over many years to finally conclude their work, or those who can afford to dedicate years of exclusive time to such an undertaking, I turned The Ghosts Of A Whiter Shade Of Pale around in a similar turnaround time to most of the music documentaries that I had worked on. Classic Albums was an ongoing series that I worked on between 2000 and 2002. I was involved with twelve of them. We were averaging a turnaround time of some eight to thirteen weeks per programme; from the basic idea to the final cut delivery with everything having to be copyright cleared and all of the facts in place with complete accuracy. This was a commercial prerequisite. However, my biography on Procol did warrant a re-write period due the sensitivity of the five-year ‘Pale’ court battle. There was also an editorial stance of having to write the whole of the book in the third person in order to achieve a notion of balance. So even though I was working exclusively with an aim to deliver in thirteen weeks, it actually took seventeen weeks initially, with a further five weeks to tighten the narrative, working in conjunction with the editor at Omnibus. A period of picture research followed this, too.

You've known the members of Procol Harum for quite some time ... give us some of your background with the band, and why you thought they would make a good subject for this kind of collective biography.

David Barraclough at Omnibus Press, who commissioned this biography, pointed out that I had been going to see various members of Procol Harum across the globe since I was a teenager. I first met lyric writer Keith Reid in 1978 when he was managing singer-songwriter Frankie Miller. A year later Keith Reid invited me to London to meet and interview Gary Brooker when he made his first solo album No More Fear of Flying. Gary later went on to play with Eric Clapton and we met again during this time. When Procol reformed in 1991 I was working for Elton John’s management company John Reid Enterprises in Hammersmith on the EJ Tribute Album Two Rooms for ITV and we thought about getting Procol to cover an Elton song for the album that tied in with the documentary. But it never happened. During their period of reformation I went to see Procol in France, Estonia, the USA, and England. I even made an as yet incomplete documentary about them. Any rich folk fancy investing in it?

The band are really hugely overlooked in England. Mojo magazine last did a feature on them in 1995. PROG magazine who gave my biog a glowing review [ ] should really do a huge feature on the band. But I expect they will decline any offer? It is really sad that this fine band are shunned in their homeland. I mean they have never been on Later With Jools Holland on BBC TV, which started way back in 1991 when Procol reformed! Why is that?

Good questions all ... Henry, as well as hard copy, I assume the book available electronically for Kindle and other e-readers?

Yes. Oddly the hardback printed version of this book is still only a UK export, but it is available on Kindle globally. The Apple iStores are stocking it. Amazon Canada are in fact doing the best Kindle deal anywhere on the planet.

Did you have the band members' approval of your project? Did all living members participate and contribute?

The band certainly approved of the documentary film I made in 2004/5 just before the AWSoP court case. I think Gary Brooker was unaware of the biography until quite late on, but he guitarist Geoff Whitehorn and Gary’s wife Franky Brooker came to the book launch screening at the BFI Southbank on 3 November which was very pleasing.

Asides Chris Copping none of the bass players contributed. Dave Bronze was very helpful though. Ray Royer could not be traced. Every other living band member from the 1967 – 1977 period was interviewed.

What has the reaction of band members been to the book?

I think they are happy with it. I really don’t know!?

People tend to be taken aback that you were able to secure a Forward [sic] for the book from Martin Scorsese and an Introduction by Sir Alan Parker. Was it as simple a matter as asking, and they said "sure"?

No it was not at all simple. It took a lot of liaison with many people over many months. I also got author Sebastian Faulks to write a superb 'Afterword' at the back of the book, I might add. I liaised with him directly.

I suppose we should ask at this point, what is your own personal favorite Procol Harum song, and favorite album, and why?

I would almost opt out of choosing a personal favourite song. But Conquistador with The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (from 1971) has a special place in my heart. It is so melodic. It has an epic quality about it, and fires on all cylinders. Home is Procol’s finest album and Whaling Stories the landmark song on that particular album. I also think Home is Chris Thomas’s finest work with Procol Harum (as a producer).

So Procol Harum was named after a cat ... ? Do you attribute much significance to the name?

Well on hearing an old radio interview that Brooker & Reid did for American Guard Scene Radio in 1967, I am inclined to think it did. Reid described their inspiration as being ‘one cool cat’

You've called the band's tale "a story of psychedelia, toilet paper, marriage, death & litigation". Give us a brief teaser for each of these to set the scene ...

That is an old title I came up with when we planned to do a radio show about the story behind the song. The song came out at the height of psychedelia in The Summer of Love in 1967. ‘Pale’ was used in a famous Andrex UK toilet paper commercial. Many famous people got married to A Whiter Shade of Pale including former Tory leader Michael Howard, Tony and Cherie Blair, and Cyndi Lauper. It was one of the songs that was played at playwright Joe Orton’s funeral and also featured at comedian Spike Milligan’s funeral, too (allegedly).

And "litigation" we'll get to shortly ... So how did a rock-solid but relatively straightforward R&B band like The Paramounts make the quantum leap to writing such a progressive (yet accessible) song as A Whiter Shade of Pale so early on in their career? Was there a 'eureka!' moment of inspiration, influence or transition that you would point to?

Going to see The Band with Bobby Dylan, liking the Young Rascals, and discovering Charlie Mingus’s Freedom, which was the final Paramounts (unreleased) song. And lots of pot!

Matthew Fisher would claim that the difference was when *he* came on to the scene ...

I'm not sure he would actually. Both he and Brooker shared a liking of Bach and Classical themes in 1967.

As the book's 'ghostly' title makes no bones about, the song A Whiter Shade of Pale tends to ‘haunt’ and overshadow the rest of the band's history and catalogue. Many artists grow resentful of this kind of relationship, view the dominant song in question as an 'albatross' or millstone, or it becomes at best a love-hate kind of thing ... how have the members of Procol Harum managed their relationship with the song over the years?

An ‘old friend’, ‘a pension plan’, and ‘one we no longer played’ (between 1970 and 1972). Then a court case.

And there's the rub ... it's both sad and ironic, is it not, that a song so beautiful as A Whiter Shade of Pale has become an endless battleground of litigation? (For those who haven't followed the scorecard on this, organist Matthew Fisher filed a much-belated challenge for a writing credit on the song, that has glacially wound its way through the High Court, the Appeal Court and The House of Lords ... ). Henry, give us a brief overview of the history of this challenge and where it currently stands ...

Matthew Fisher’s final [but see here] gig with Procol was at Union Chapel, London in November 2003. He played his final gig with Gary Brooker, and Jethro Tull, in Germany in early 2004, too. Then he filed his claim. It went to The High Court in 2005, a year later it went to The Court Of Appeal, and then The House Of Lords who in 2009 upheld Fisher’s claim that he co-composed the melody. Matthew Fisher is no longer in Procol Harum. Josh Phillips of Big Country has been Procol’s organ player on a regular basis since 2007. Matthew Fisher is still a musician!

But the challenge continues? Are there still appeals to be wound through? Where does it stand now and where is it heading?

My understanding of this is that The House Of Lords ruling of 2009 is fully binding. Fisher's claim was upheld allowing royalties from the day he filed the claim in 2004 only ... other than that I cannot say..

I know this is a difficult issue for you, because you know all the participants personally. But work with me on this fictional scenario ... say Brooker, Reid and Fisher had come to you and said "Henry, we're tired of all this legal quagmire and bickering, we've all agreed to appoint you as official binding arbitrator. Whatever you decide, we will abide by." How would you, in this scenario, have apportioned the songwriting credits to A Whiter Shade of Pale?

I am ducking out here ... Trust me. That would never happen. If Matthew Fisher and his wife Carol had not been in the USA on 3 November 2012 when we had Procol Harum Night (the book launch) at The BFI Southbank, London, none of the current members of Procol Harum would have turned up.

You mentioned earlier that there was a period, between 1970–72, that the band chose to no longer perform AWSoP. What estranged them to the song at that point, and how/why did they kiss and make up with it?

Well in 1970 they became a four piece. The world of music was much more 'Heavy' and I think they tired of it in the same way that Elton tired of doing Daniel, which he seldom does now. But it came back around 1973 I think. They certainly never did it in March 1973 when I saw Procol at The Usher Hall in Edinburgh, but they did do it in August 1973 at the Edinburgh Empire Theatre.

If A Whiter Shade of Pale had never existed, do you believe the band would still deserve the same level of respect? Can the rest of the catalogue make up for the gap?

'Without a Doubt!' They wrote so many great songs. If you were to consider the songs Shine on Brightly, A Salty Dog, Too Much Between Us, Nothing That I Didn’t Know, Whaling Stories, Conquistador, Homburg, As Strong as Samson, and Pandora’s Box as a body of work, they are every bit as good if not better than ‘Pale’. But I should refer you to the Afterword by Sebastian Faulks in the biog. As he really nails this matter with aplomb! NB: Martin Scorsese considers A Salty Dog (the album) to be their finest hour!

At this point Henry, let's take some of the many visitor questions that have been building up while we've nattered on here ...

Steve Andricks
Why exactly did Mathew Fisher leave when the group was experiencing worldwide success?

Matthew told me he hated being on the road for weeks at a time. He also was far more interested in getting into the studio, which is why Procol let him produce their third album A Salty Dog.

Steve Smith
What's the history of Robin Trower and Gary Brooker's relationship?

Robin decided he didn't want to play live with Procol after The 1991 album The Prodigal Stranger. He said to me, "I just couldn't go back there as I was so used to doing what I do with my own stuff!" Robin did play again with Procol on the BMG album The Symphonic Music of Procol Harum (1995) on the song Repent Walpurgis and he rejoined Gary and Chris Copping a few years back for a Paramounts re-union gig in Westcliff, Southend. So all is good I think!

Roch Parisien (follow-up from Steve Smith)
In 1990, Robin Trower recorded In the Line of Fire, but nothing until 1994's 20th Century Blues. So, why did he record Procol's reunion LP, The Prodigal Stranger with Brooker and Fisher, but chose not to go on tour with them?

Well as I said above, he felt that he just couldn't do it any more. His exact quote rings in my ears. "It was very hard to go back there to that place" And he had solo albums planned ... which did occur!

Nicholas David Jones
I always wondered how the great BJ Wilson could play the drums sitting so low to the ground! (I was lucky to see them in Vancouver on the same tour they recorded the Edmonton Symphony LP, still one of the best shows I've seen ... )

Apparently he was SO low on stage during a German tour with The Paramounts that when he leaned backwards, he almost fell over!

Paul Reynolds
How did/do Procol Harum's co-writers, Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, worked (or work) together. Music first? Lyrics first? Collaboratively?

Lyrics were sent in the post first and then later set to music by Brooker. This scenario changed in 1991 and in 2003 for Procol’s later two studio albums when Reid sat in with the composers. Roland Clare and Prof Sam Cameron have done a song-for-song breakdown for every [sic] song at [Taking Notes and Stealing Quotes]. The answers to the genesis of specific songs are there.

Doug Baynton
What on earth made Gary Brooker decide to recite the words to The Worm and the Tree, rather than sing them?

To quote Gary, "I have no idea!"

Timothy McLeary Crockett
In the early years, how extensively did Procol Harum tour in the US? Did they derive more support in the US or UK? Where there any unusual markets that supported the band?

Procol toured pretty extensively in the USA from 1968 until the mid 1970s. But it was not like the big tours of the late 1970s when bands became mega-touring stadium-rockers. Procol hired a U Hire van and drove across the USA! Oddly, Procol have always been very popular in Denmark and Norway (are still).

Carl Stanley
What would you consider to be the defining line up, and why ... it's changed so much over the years, hasn't it?

Well as a friend said recently ... 'The line-up changes are mild compared to say Steely Dan!' The 1967–1969 line-up was defining. The 1970–1971 line-up really rocked. The 1971–1972 line-up conquered the world and the 1973–1976 line-up came into its own after Grand Hotel ..The current line-up (2007–2013) seems to be the funkiest with more R&B in the output. They also all seem much happier now and are all filled with banter when on stage, than in any previous line-up! A personal view!

Carlo Asciutti
Do you think the relationship Brooker/Trower was similar to that of Anderson/Abrahams of Jethro Tull which led to a complete change of style?

I really couldn't say?

Steve Smith
How difficult do you think it was to replace the incredible syncopated drumming style of Barry (BJ) Wilson, who died way too young at only 43 in 1990? Did they look specifically for someone with a syncopated style in the BJ Wilson mould?

They were going to get Simon Phillips for The Prodigal Stranger, but went with Mark B of Big Country and he did a great job live and in the studio on their two comeback albums. Ian Wallace of King Crimson played with them in 1993 and Graham Broad of Bandit played with them in 1995. Geoff Dunn provides a solid beat to the current line-up, which is as good as any I have heard. But he is not trying to be BJ Wilson!

Jack Ponissi
Henry, you were partly responsible for Procol Harum's symphonic gig at the Barbican…Do you think that event worked well? What do you think of The Long Goodbye?

The event itself was magnificent! Some of the songs on the album work better than others. Repent, although with the originally line-up nearly, is just too fully blown for my liking. But A Salty Dog and 'Pale' are truly tremendous. BMG never marketed that album. It died!

Will Birch
Do you think Procol lost the plot at some point, and if so which album would you cite?

Something Magic was really very much a case in point. Three issues: lyrically it sounded like the end was nigh; the hellish production and mixing; and too much emphasis on too many keyboards. When the album toured live, it made me feel like Procol had suddenly decided that they had always wanted a Rick Wakeman figure surrounded by keyboards circa 1973. They were so out of step. Pete was - and still is - a great player, but Mick Grabham was totally lost amidst this sea of loud keyboards, while BJ Wilson and Chris Copping seemed more than a little overwhelmed on stage, despite their mutual respect for Pete. Procol had become the Solley-Brooker band. And the audiences laughed and booed at The Worm and The Tree to add insult to injury. The writing was clearly on the wall. Something Magic ended in May 1977 when Procol called time until 1991.

Will Birch
Henry, what in your opinion is the ‘classic’ Procol line-up, and which the most 'realised' Procol album?

Home is the most realised album. Chris Thomas had heard the first three and bettered the lot. The best line-up technically is probably the current line-up. But in terms of ‘feel’ the 1967–1969 version of Procol Harum was the best line-up, when they were all inventive and on fire. All of the tapes - both live and studio - prove this to be true. But Home is the best album, despite this almost contradictory assertion from Mr Biographer here.

Pierre Gaudreault
I was ten years old when A Salty Dog came out. It was, and still is one of my favorite of all time. Do you think a reunion tour with the original members would ever be possible?

No. It will never happen. BJ Wilson died in 1990; Dave Knights left the music business in 1974 and has refused to talk to me or any other Procol enquirer; Matthew Fisher is unlikely to be asked to re-join after a five-year court battle; and Robin Trower is still selling out theatres as a solo artist. But the current line-up is very good, I might add!

Steve Smith
How is Gary Brooker doing since his fall last year landed him in ICU in a hospital in South Africa for a week or two?

Gary has bounced back undefeated. His statement on this can be found at The incident is recounted in the biography I might add ...

Jack Ponissi
You closed the book with a brief hint at the future of the band. Can you elaborate a bit more on that? Also, there has been some chatter along the lines of "what happens _after_" ... what happens when Brooker eventually (hoping that happens in many, many years) can no longer continue with Procol?

Well Procol are touring in March and April, but after that I do not know. We shall have to wait and see!

Steve Smith
What do you think it would mean to Brooker and Fisher to make the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Or does it really not matter to them?

To get in there you have to have the willingness of the original (1967–1969) line-up to reform. As I said above, the 1967–1969 line-up cannot and will not reform. I’ll nibble my Homburg hat if they do! Does it matter to them? I really don’t know…

Roland Clare
What do you think the chances are of a second edition of your book, and would you envisage making any changes/updates in the future?

Well, I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. Maybe I’ll just duck under the bridge and sneak off along the tow path and hope nobody notices. We shall see. We need to get the thing out in the USA where a third of everyone over fifty loves Procol. If they all buy the book, I’d be a happy man. No US deal is envisaged as yet. If the UK sales are good, it just might happen!

Jay Douglas
I have too many favorites to pick a best album. What albums do the members of the band think are the best?

Good question…and many band members over the years. Some have cited Home. Many others cite the first three albums all lumped together.

Ron Dolce
Everybody who ever played in the band was very individual and frequently very idiosyncratic. What were rehearsals like, getting those individual and occasionally disparate styles together? How much direction did Mr Brooker provide and how much input did the other members have?

You would have to have really been there. Gary's nickname has always been 'The Commander' (in jest). It IS Gary's band! Live in Copenhagen in 2001 on Classic Pictures DVD goes some of the way to showing them in rehearsal for that gig as a DVD bonus. I have never personally witnessed Procol in rehearsal. (Note: the DVD is now deleted but can be found at online stores still).

Rick Wyman
Any comments good or bad regarding Gary Brooker's work with Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings?

They were always enjoyable shows!

Roch Parisien
Thanks to all our visitors for the great questions! Henry, we spent quite a bit of time already talking about A Whiter Shade of Pale ... in terms of other high points in the band's history and catalogue, one can't overlook the Canadian connection – the landmark Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the resultant hit Conquistador ...

Yes indeed! And the two [sic] sell out re-union concerts. The first in 1992 which was televised for Cable ITV – and the masters are now missing!

Despite Keith Reid's protestations that he does not write 'poetry', many critics over the years have put the Reid/Brooker songwriting partnership in league with the great Romantic poets like Coleridge and Keats. Hyperbole or justified?

I think it is wholly justified. A Salty Dog is up there with The Ancient Mariner for sure!

The band often gets classified as 'Prog Rock' for convenience sake, but that doesn't fully fit, does it? Procol always seemed more concise and accessible, somehow, than most of their peers who made up the progressive canon ...

I asked all of the band members past and present if they considered Procol to be a Prog band. All the answers were different. But as Prog has had a huge resurgence it could do no harm to bracket Procol in there I think. They did tour the USA last year with Yes. And they have toured many times with Jethro Tull. Both of those bands are of course cited as ‘kings of Prog’. Personally I find a lot of Prog a bit too experimental and far too self-indulgent. I mean Procol are a million miles removed from Van Der Graf Generator, Can, or Barclay James Harvest.

Still on the subject of 'Prog', Will Birch asks: Why do you think so many people lump Procol in with the Moody Blues, when they are completely the opposite. Do they think AWSoP is another Nights in White Satin?

It is funny how many confuse those two songs. They are utterly different. Matthew Fisher called The Moody Blues “weekend hippies who look like Italian wine waiters from Soho circa 1968”. He had a point. He also called them “a wishy washy band.” I personally would concur. It’s all twee folksy flotsam with mellotrons and flutes. Not at all Procol Harum. A very different deal.

One sees these pictures of Procol Harum from the 60s wearing the frilly, dayglo sub-Robin Hood-meets-sub-super hero outfits designed by The Fool, and it makes it almost difficult to take them seriously ... would it be fair to consider this an almost proto-Glam Rock look?

That was former manager (the late) Tony Secunda’s idea. Clothes rejected by the Move. More Psych-Gothic than Glam I’d say ...

Most general music fans think of Procol Harum as a band relevant to the late-60s and early-70s, but many later phases and line-ups of the group have also produced work of high merit. Take us through a couple of later periods, or albums, or line-ups that you would most recommend for those who wanted to explore beyond the obvious?

The Prodigal Stranger from 1991 features some good songs. But for me it suffered from far too much drummery and digital post production. It sounds like a 1980s’ production. In a word: overproduced. The better album is The Well’s On Fire from 2003 (although here, one could argue that the album is slightly underproduced). This album features the great guitar work of Geoff Whitehorn who has been Procol’s mainstay since 1991.

Why weren’t Procol bigger in the USA and the UK after 1973?

Former manager in the USA Derek Sutton said, 'Procol often refused to do US FM radio interviews. In the UK they never did BBC TV's landmark music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. This was patently crazy. When they made an album that their record company hated {although Chris Wright did provide the cover from an oil painting that he bought} called Exotic Birds & Fruit in 1974 – it simply died a death. They tried to bounce back with Procol's Ninth which bubbled under in NME for 1 week in August 1975, providing the hit single Pandora's Box, but Procol had some patchy material on this LP despite Leiber/Stoller being at the helm. The final album was simply awful in terms of production and The Worm was a huge blunder. Oddly, Chrysalis seemed to be fully behind them once more in 1977. Something Magic was the wrong album in the wrong time: the era of Disco and Punk (I think this is stated in the book). After that they split.

In fact, they split and took a fourteen-year hiatus ... what was the impetus and motivation for re-sailing the Procol ship in 1991 after so many years in dry-dock?

When Brooker was touring with Clapton and later with Bill Wyman (in the 1980s) fans kept asking when the band was going to reform. Former fan and Fillmore venue owner (the late) Bill Graham wanted to manage a reformed Procol as did Robin Trower’s manager Derek Sutton. So the reformation simply grew out of that. More importantly Procol’s former drummer BJ Wilson had lapsed into a coma. The idea was, hopefully, for BJ to recover and then get the 1960s’ line-up to reform with a new bassist (Dave Bronze). But BJ died and Gary Brooker said to me, “We decided that as we couldn’t do the album with him, we would do it for him ... as a tribute to him!”

I recently interviewed Barney Hoskyns about his oral history of Led Zeppelin, and we were talking about how society often condones bad behavior from rock stars (and by extension in today's culture, other 'celebrities') as a way of vicariously breaking the rules and taboos of their mundane everyday lives. Unlike Led Zep, The Who, etc., Procol Harum were rather straight arrows, wouldn't you say? Was it difficult finding enough 'drama' to make the book an interesting read beyond the immediate fan club?

I think BJ Wilson could be an eccentric man from time to time. He was also really witty and entertaining. He was Procol’s Keith Moon. Actually Chris Copping relayed a story about BJ and Keith Moon getting arrested. This story is slightly at odds with the version Gary Brooker tells in the biography, I might add. I think Chris’s version is probably on the money!

Whilst staying in the same Hotel California as The Who, “Keith Moon was not arrested {in Los Angeles 1970} indeed he gigged that night. But BJ Wilson joined him for a drink at the hotel bar at lunchtime with one of our roadies. Neither had the tolerance of Moon so they were both over-refreshed and went in the pool in their underwear. I was having a snooze (BJ and I shared a room) when I was woken by a noise to see BJ with blood coming out of his forehead and the perpetuator of this injury, a cop with a baton or whatever they have (oh yeah guns!) I instinctively (stupidly) jumped on the cop’s back and he, just in case, went and fetched his partner and we were arrested”. Chris Copping (2013)

As a fan of the group yourself, what would have been your single most treasured personal moment of revelation as you put the book together?

I think when Robin Trower recalled how he finally got to stand on stage in the very same spot as Jimi Hendrix in Berlin in 1970. Before Procol went on stage Trower went backstage into Jimi’s dressing room to tell him how gobsmacked he was by his performance. I might add that he relayed this to me on camera some years before he retold the same story to Chris Welch for some CD liner notes. However, Chris beat me in to print!

Where to next for Procol Harum?

Procol are touring Denmark in March with The National Danish Orchestra & Choir. They then play Wuppertal, Germany in April with another Orchestra and choir over two sold out shows, which will incorporate a Procol Harum convention, no less!

Henry, if we were to frame your book as The Fable of Procol Harum, what would you like the 'moral' or key message to be at the end for the reader?

Gary Brooker has always stuck to his guns and played the music that is true to his heart. Procol dared to be different and were perhaps marginalised here in the UK as a result. Despite this they achieved numerous goals, produced some fantastic albums and performed some magnificent gigs across all four corners of the planet. The line-up since 2007 shows Procol to be happier and more convivial then they have ever been. And the music is better for it. Gary Brooker’s voice remains undiminished. Procol Harum are simply a jewel in the crown of British musical heritage ... I can say no more than that.

Is there still anything coming up for you and the book in terms of promotion, reading, tours?

Readings? No chance! I’d get one man and his dog and two girls giggling in the corner, and have to give up! I am doing BBC Radio Merseyside as a pre-recorded interview with Beatles’ author Spencer Leigh tomorrow for a later transmission. Some specialist mags are doing features soon, namely Beat mag, Mudkiss (online), Ugly Things, and Flashback mag. So watch out for those along with the two 4-star reviews (out of 5) in Mojo and Record Collector as well as the 7 stars (out of 10) in Classic Rock.

And what's next for Henry Scott-Irvine? Do you another music biography in your sights?

I am writing a comedy-based book. A kind of secret history to make people smile. Out next Christmas.

Henry, where is the best place for people to exchange currency for multiple copies of Procol Harum: The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale for all their friends and family members?

[Henry cites the places mentioned here]

Henry, thanks so much for your time today ... and big thanks to all our visitors for sticking with us through this session, despite Facebook's best efforts to derail us with technical issues! Cheers all ...

Index page for this biography

Order your signed copy from the 'Beyond the Pale' online store: click here

Big delays at Amazon USA, sadly

Order it from
Amazon UK
or from The Book Depository

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home