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

Isle Of Wight postscript

Mark Plummer in 'Melody Maker', 12 September 1970

Procol Harum went to the top of the hit parade in one swift move. A Whiter Shade Of Pale sold millions throughout the world, and many recordings of the tune were made. At the same time that the group was wallowing in its success down in Southend, stories began to circulate putting the group down for what they had done.

Some of the stories were not too bad, but one in particular did the group a lot of damage. The story said that Procol Harum were just session men, and the group had been brought together after the record began to sell. That is not such a crime today when session men are a well known ingredient in a lot of records. But three years ago, people did not know so much about the recording scene, and consequently people did not bother going to see them - for the simple reason that they did not think they would see the group who made the record.

Luckily for British music, they do exist, and did exist playing local gigs in the Southend area before the record hit the top. Their appearance at the Isle of Wight was a high spot for a lot of people, because of their rather old-fashioned approach to rock and roll, and the unflustered mature guitar playing of Robin Trower.

"When we first made it, people said 'Yeah, great, knew it would be a hit,'" said Gary Brooker, singer and pianist with the group. "Then a lot of people seemed to resent the fact that we had made it. We worked for a long time before the hit and the group had existed before the record as well.

"A lot of young people over here, especially the ones who don't read the music press, don't realize we are a group. We went through a period when a lot of our affairs were handled by Americans, and they only booked us for the States, because they were not our management in the full meaning of the word. Consequently we would come back to Britain, and find we had nothing to do, because no one knew we were home.

Click to enlarge this image

"But now we are handled by Chrysalis, and it's nice to have your offices and managers in Britain, and they are among the best. We are doing a 12-city tour with Jethro Tull at the end of the month, and I hope a lot of people will get along to see us, and realize we are a group."

Procol Harum's line-up has changed from the band that made Whiter Shade Of Pale; the organist and the bassist left, and in their place Chris Copping joined, taking over both the bass and the organ. The present line-up is completed by B J Wilson on drums, and Robin Trower on guitar.

"We lost the bass-player and the organist about a year ago. Chris was a chemist before he joined, and used to play in a group with me when we were at school. He now plays both the bass and the organ, using a bass keyboard on top of the organ when he is playing it," said Gary. "Sometimes if the guitar is not needed Robin Trower will play bass."

I asked Gary if he had ever thought of playing the organ on stage but his answer was a definite no. "I prefer playing the piano. When we started we were one of the first groups to use both organ and piano on stage at the same time, so I never had to play organ.

"If I sat down for three years and learned to play it properly, then I might. The styles of playing the instruments are different - pianists converted to organists, I can tell them a mile away. I went to music lessons when I was younger, and I had a great music teacher who taught me chords and things. If there was a song I had heard that I wanted to learn we would work it out together. That way I was interested in learning and playing and didn't give up like a lot of kids."

Procol Harum have a clause written into contracts that states that the piano must be in a perfect tuning. If it is not they won't play the gig. "When you use both piano and organ the instruments must be in perfect tune, otherwise there is nothing you can do. You can use piano and organ in different tunings if they are not both being used at the same time, but you cannot possibly do it when they are both being used at the same time."

So I asked Gary if he had ever thought of using an electric piano which would keep a permanent tuning. "No," he said, "the electric piano is another instrument. They're good for R and B, but they're no good for rock and roll or blues. A lot of R and B records have electric piano on them, but for the style of music we play a conventional piano is best."

Gary said that another reason for the group not playing a lot in Britain was the lack of venues, and proceeded to rave about an American friend's idea of opening a big rock concert hall in Vauxhall. "He has a place in Vauxhall in mind that is big enough to take about 8,000 people.

"One of the reasons rock is so big in America is the fact that every major town has at least one rock venue, where they can hear top groups all over the weekend." But Gary does not think American audiences understand rock better than their British counterparts. "I think people here are as aware as they are in the States, if not more; American kids are very concerned with politics."

The group had enjoyed their set at the Isle of Wight, and Gary said they did not feel as cold as they looked on the stage. "Of course it was cold while we were waiting to go on, but once you are playing you soon get hot and sweaty.

"I really enjoyed playing there, it was not a bit like an American festival. Their festivals are into politics as much as the music and they tend to go on for a whole weekend without a break because it does not get cold at night. It was nice to play to an audience who had come solely for the music, in the most part."

The major tour with Jethro Tull should, if there is any justice in pop music, put Procol Harum back on the map. And I hope Gary's parting words come true. "I think people will like what we are doing when they hear us."

Isle of Wight reports here and here at 'Beyond the Pale';    or try a link to a page about the festival
Procol at the Isle of Wight 2006

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