This Gary Brooker interview was conducted in 1990 by Carsten Overgaard and Niels-Erik Mortensen: we've split it into various parts: find the rest by clicking here. This is the very beginning:
Classical influences, pre-Paramounts days, music lessons
(The introduction from AWSoP, then fading)
I think, at that time – 1966 or 1967 – I think I discovered Bach. Although of course he's always around, because you'd hear him a little bit on the radio here and there. But I discovered him and found he was quite – simple in some ways, um ... that was interesting, um – and the piece of music that we have heard there was in fact very popular in England ... um ... on the television in some cigar adverts.
(AWSoP fading up)
Gary Brooker remembers very well how his composition AWSoP was an overnight giant hit for Procol Harum. He not alone leaned his head to one JS Bach, he had another helping hand from a TV-commercial – for some cigar brand back then in 1967. Recently, Brooker visited Denmark to see the premiere of his and choreographer Laura Dean's ballet, Delta. As a matter of fact, we invited Brooker into our studios, where he was interviewed by Carsten Overgaard and Niels-Erik Mortensen.
(Final verse of AWSoP recorded from the Kupeen-show earlier: then during the applause, the first ten bars of Bach's Orchestral Suite (Overture) No 3, BWV 1068, 2nd mvt., Air – The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock – is heard. Fading.)
And the very first question to Gary Brooker is of course, does he consider himself a sort of 20th century-Bach?
Er ... how many children did he have?
I'm not sure – 21 or 22?
That's definitely not me. (Suppressed laughter in the studio.) Absolutely preposterous, I mean, he was a great musician who wrote a brilliant tune every Sunday for people at church, let alone what he wrote in the week. I've struggled to write my hundred tunes over the past twenty years or more, and ... um ...
But you started early!
I started ear –, no! I mean: no, that's not early, I mean I started writing when I was about 18 or 19 seriously, gave it some serious thought or rather wanting to be a songwriter.
But you used some of the Bach-themes in your various productions, especially on your first album you used the Bach Prelude in C Major directly on one of the tracks?
Yeah, well, Matthew Fisher had written a theme, um, which was very nice, and I thought 'We can't keep going through that.' and at that time I think I'd just learned the Bach Prelude – to my great satisfaction – and I said, 'Um, what about sticking this bit in, Matt?' And he said, 'Yeah, alright'.
I think, at that time – 1966 or 1967 – I think I discovered Bach. Although of course he's always around, because you'd hear him a little bit on the radio here and there. But I discovered him and found he was quite – simple in some ways, um ... that was interesting, um – and the piece of music that we have heard there was in fact very popular in England ... um ... on the television in some cigar adverts in some version by Jacques Loussier who had some trio called – and they played Bach in a jazz fashion, and I always liked this piece, so when I tried to play it I started off right I think, but then I must've lost how it went. I worked not from music, this was just for me at home but I just kept going round the chords and I sang along with it and I happened to have some words in front of me – so I just kinda wailed Keith Reid's lyrics over the top of these chords and – er – that was the start of AWSoP.
How much did this tune (Bach's Air) inspire you when you wrote AWSoP?
Well, only in the way I described it earlier that – I'd heard it and liked it and when I tried to play it, really, I copied the bass-line which is ... I think the only similarity is the first two or three bars, and then – Bach's Air on a G String, as it is known, goes a different way but I continued to go on down ...
– on the other way –
I got it wrong (giggling). But I think it was – you know a lot of people they said that it was copied from a Bach piece or a version of a piece of Bach music, but – it was Bach-like, it was inspired by Bach, and the whole atmosphere of the background was intended to be like that – um ...
The classical roots in rock music so to speak, it appeared especially on that whole first album.
I think there's quite a few classical influences on there, I mean, I was really in my songwriting not so much in the melodies but in lot of the backing arrangements we were using bits of famous little classical bits that I knew, you know, I mean, in that first album and the second album, I mean, there is a bit of Holst somewhere, and there's a bit of one of the wedding marches, it's not the Mendelsohn one, I think it's the Handel one [could Gary be thinking of the use of St George's March, attributed to Henry Purcell, on She Wandered Through The Garden Fence?] just snippets like that come in.
(Fading in: Repent Walpurgis)
What was the start of you? I mean where were you born and when?
I was born quite close to my mother in 1945. In London, just after the Second World War. I stuck my head out and asked, 'Is it over? Are you sure?!' (laughter). About three weeks after that had finished. My father was a professional musician, he was ... um ... well, the way I remember him, he was a Hawaiian guitarist, which is a certain kind of guitar. How he got into that I don't know, he must've liked it and he was the best player in Britain and for that he was very popular in the Forties, probably as a result of a lot of Americans being here during the war, I think, and my father send me to piano-lessons, which I didn't really like – used to get hit across the knuckles, but I used to perform with my father now and again. When his orchestra would be playing I would be pulled up, this little six-year-old, to play duets on the piano with him or something and I started playing then.
When did you first form your own group?
Well, at school at some point. I think it would probably have been about twelve, I should think and I was working on guitar then, I played guitar and banjo with some school-friends and there was a lot of other people played guitar and we all sort of strummed along as fast as we could ...
Was that The Paramounts?
No, that was before The Paramounts. One day, somebody from one of the school bands said, 'You play the piano, don't you?' 'Oh yes, but that's – what's that got to do with this?' We were hammering out these skiffle-songs. 'Well, Elvis Presley has a piano on it.' So I said, 'Um, if you like, I'll see if I can learn it,' so I listened to some Elvis records and learned some of the chords, and went on from there.
Who where The Paramounts?
Who was in The Paramounts? Well, it changed a little bit – though it's years 'cause it went on from school days and then we developed into a – well, we became professionals and started making records. When we came to making records, it was myself, BJ Wilson on the drums, Robin Trower on the guitar, and somebody named Diz Derrick on the bass.
No organ yet?
No. Nobody had an organ then, it cost too much money.
But you were quite young when you started, all of you.
Um not really, I think I was about eighteen. I suppose that's quite young, that depends. But we'd had quite a lot of experience, I think. It's important to think of that I'd been playing music to people without ... well, not musicians but other people since I was about twelve ... so that's, y'know, six years especially at that age is quite a long time, that's quite a lot of experience, and we've had a lot of experience playing.
You used all your available spare time after school later on, when you ...
Oh yeah, absolutely; I used to go into school some mornings so tired from having played ... you know, sixty miles away the night before ...oh, it was definitely more important than any education.
But did you continue your classical training after that?
No, when my father died when I was about eleven, we moved shortly before that, we had moved from London to Southend, and I had not got another piano teacher, I had not bothered to ... you know ... do any more with the piano and nobody forced me to, so that was all right with me but when my father died, a friend of his – I suppose to encourage me, perhaps – gave me a sort of a year's piano lessons with a teacher near Southend.
And he was a good teacher, I think he realized within the first couple of weeks that I was not going to learn Humoresque or any of these little classical pieces that beginners learned. And he said, 'Well, what do you want to?' And I said, 'I want to play a couple of those songs that are in the charts.' And so he said, 'Okay, we'll do that,' and he wrote them out, so that I could read them and play them. And than he taught me how to – how chord were constructed and a lot of boogie left-hand bass-work, perhaps, if you like, a much more modern approach to learning piano then than traditional. But he knew, going along a certain avenue was not the right way, and he found a way that did interest me. So, he was a good teacher as far as that goes.