Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Encyclopaedia of Rock' and 'Who's Who …' etc

Procol Harum in a nutshell, thrice

Encyclopaedia of Rock, edited by Tony Russel, introduced by Phil Collins. Peerage Books, London, 1983, revised and updated edition 1985. 192 pages, original price: £11.95.

'In that same year, though [1967], aided by pirate-radio airplay, a number of genuine Underground groups did reach the charts with a series of classic singles. As well as the already mentioned [Pink] Floyd, Hendrix and Cream successes, there were Traffic's Paper Sun and Hole in My Shoe, Arthur Brown's Fire, and Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale [sic]. More traditional pop groups embraced psychedelia: the Move, for example, with I Can Hear the Grass Grow and Fire Brigade, and the Herd, led by Peter Frampton, with From the Underworld and Paradise Lost." (p. 97.)

Who’s Who in Rock & Roll.
Edited by John Tobler. Crescent Books, London and New York, 1991.


Gary Brooker (piano, vocals)
Matthew Fisher (organ)
Ray Royer (guitar)
Dave Knights (bass)
Bobby Harrison (drums)

Procol Harum scored a No. 1 with their first single … then failed to repeat the feat over the next nine years despite producing solidly English music and regularly touring in the UK and US. That hit was Whiter Shade of Pale [sic] released at the height of the Summer of Love in 1967, and musically reminiscent of a Bach cantata.

Their first eponymous album appeared a full year later due to personnel changes – session drummer Bill Eyden and guitarist Ray Royer (born 1945), both on the single, were replaced by BJ Wilson (born 1947) and Robin Trower (born 1945), both from R&B band The Paramounts, whence Brooker (born 1945) had come. A UK record company problem meant that the album, recorded in haste with producer Denny Cordell, not surprisingly failed to chart in the UK until re-released in 1972 as a doubleback with their second [sic] album A Salty Dog. In the US, it had been titled after the hit, a shrewd move given the single's Top 5 chart placing, and made the Top 50.

Some critics compared the piano and organ line-up to The Band, whose Music From Big Pink was breaking new ground in the US, but Gary Brooker's vocals and the lyrics of non-playing member Keith Reid made Procol unique. Trower left after Broken Barricades to pursue his Hendrix fixation. His career was haunted by the comparison, but in harness with ex-Stone the Crows bassist/vocalist Jimmy Dewar and a succession of drummers, he found success in the UK and, more consistently, the US, where Bridge of Sighs, For Earth Below and Live! all went Top 10 between 1974 and 76. Trower subsequently teamed up with Jack Bruce (ex-Cream) in 1981.

Procol's Shine On Brightly (1968), A Salty Dog (1969), and Home (1970) were all solid releases, but only the second-named made it into the UK Top 30, though Homburg, the follow-up single to Whiter Shade … reached the UK Top 10. Like many distinctively British groups (Jethro Tull, The Kinks etc) Procol Harum prospered in the US when UK success was hard to some by, producing albums that were instrumentally almost flawless but sometimes unexciting.

Just as the first album was re-released to become their second UK Top 30 chart item in 1972, the band added that much-needed element to their music via a live album with Canada's Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Ironically, it was a remake of a track from that first album, Conquistador, which yielded a rare transAtlantic hit single. At he same time a re-issued Pale reached the UK Top 20.

Personnel changes centred around the organ, guitar and bass slots: Fisher (who opted for production) and Knights were replaced by Chris Copping (born 1945) doubling on bass and keyboards before bassist Alan Cartwright joined in 1971. Guitarist Mick Grabham replaced Trower's stand-in, Dave Ball (born 1950), and Pete Solley was a late addition on organ in 1976 when Copping returned to bass. None of this made much difference to the band's distinctive sound, and they carried on for four more albums, including 1975s Procols Ninth [sic], produced by Lieber [sic] and Stoller, which yielded a UK Top 20 single, Pandora's Box.

On Procol's 1976 [sic] demise, Brooker commenced an unsuccessful solo career, interspersing his own unexceptional albums with a stint in Eric Clapton's band and a guest appearance with The Alan Parsons Project on Stereotomy (1986)

The writer in question is not known, however the publishers name all the contributors on page 4 – among those we find none other than BJ Cole. So: is he the culprit?

BRITPOP – A Short History (in capsule form) of British Pop Music by Saki, March 1992

Songs include: A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967), Homburg (1967), Quite Rightly So (1968), A Salty Dog (1969), Conquistador (1972)

Gary Brooker had been a member of The Paramounts but obviously had more talent than that venue [sic] would provide. With lyricist Keith Reid (who played no instrument and could often be seen lurking in the curtains on stage during concerts), Robin Trower [sic], Barrie Wilson [sic], Chris Copping [sic], the group (named Procol Harum, allegedly Latin for "beyond these things") had a monstrously popular hit in mid 1967 with Whiter Shade of Pale. So big was this song that it often overshadows the group's respectable LP output over the next few years.

Brooker and Reid remained a solid part of the group though other members changed throughout the seventies. Reid eventually abandoned songwriting for management positions; Brooker did solo work, as did Trower. In 1991 the band (minus Trower) reformed for
a brief tour.

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