Procol Harum

the Pale

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Protocol Haarlem • Geoff Whitehorn

Gitaar Plus, January 2008 • English text by Hans Tammes

P R O T O C O L H A A R L E M : Geoff Whitehorn 

The Park Theatre in Hoorn belongs to the most beautiful in the country. The acutance are well matched for the dynamic culture of today, which rules the modern architects. The location on the Ijsselmeer gives a formidable view full of peace. Standing for the cash-register we heard we guest of Procol Harum. To give the lady the right pronunciation of the groups-name, we created under her soft tinted face A Whiter Shade of Pale.

A better lucky shot could not said about Procol Harum, inclusive guitar player Geoff Whitehorn. After a convulsed smile, we jumped into a dressing-room to pass through his most imposing career.

Many guitarists know the face of Whitehorn, but cannot place him. Although he stood for instance with Roger Chapman’s Shortlist for 60,000 people, he took over much of the guitar work for Townshend during the Quadrophenia festivity in Hyde Park for 250,000 visitors and he played for almost twenty years guitar for Procol Harum., people look after him and shake their heads asking: who’s that man?

Many years he wrote workshops for the English, and with it, for the Dutch magazine, Guitarist, he demonstrated instruments for PRS and Vintage and amplifiers for Marshall. He gave lessons and followed a course for guitar-building. Not much more can you endure as a guitarist, without mentioning that you can hear him endlessly on vinyl and silver. Today he works besides Procol Harum with Elkie Brooks, he renewed his tools, what surely leads to a bourse visit and demonstrations by Hughes & Kettner and Vintage Guitars, and he looks forward to the moment that PH in this set-up goes into the studio for a new album.

The first time we met is in the headquarters of Guitarist in a small English village called Ely.

Immediately he is enthusiastic that we take over his column in the just one year-old Guitarist – for those who started later, I started Guitarist in 1990. It’s clear he has a stable crowd of fans in the Benelux where he enjoys to spread his knowledge and tricks of guitar playing. To show his enthusiasm more slightly, another workshop of Phil Holborne and a repair column of Robbie Glaswell were accepted with difficulty as a translation out of the English magazine. They were more interested in money!

Specially in the beginning, and there were not so many readers, there was well reacted on my column. Regular I toured with Robin Trower, who I knew from my time with (Back Street) Crawler, and could add a few from his techniques. To work out pieces from music I liked a lot. Unfortunately there’s no time for it anymore.

(He learns his guitar playing out of the Bible of that time Play in One Day of Bert Weedon. His first guitar came from the Netherlands.)

I think I was eleven years old, most happy with my acoustic Egmond. He was snow-white and with an action, where you could not play an ordinary note, but with the Weedon Book I learned all the chords. So far my guitar lessons. Oh and on school I have learned to play the violin very bad. Later I listened often to Hank Marvin, The Beatles and the logical follow-up, so Cream and Hendrix too and a bit later Zeppelin. After all you know everything and you’re concentrating on your own developing and style.

(After manoeuvering with a lot of guitars he decided that the Gibson was his guitar. He bought a Les Paul and kept dreaming of a Goldtop)

After all I have saved my pension in 1972. In a small shop in Old Compton Street in the heart of London stood a Les Paul Goldtop of 1957. Almost hardly used. I must have spend a fortune, but I could shout it out from the roofs : I have realized my guitar dream.

(I don’t believe I never saw you with another amplifier than a Marshall. Why did you change to Hughes & Kettner?)

 If you say so, I’m feeling guilty. It was time for a change. Besides Marshall, I played via other amplifiers, but I realised that they could not win. I find recently that they’re not developing something new. I was ready for another sound, maybe more modern. I have an endorsement with Hughes & Kettner and I am impressed by the product and the company. My choice now is the Switchblade, but I know what is in the pipeline, so after Frankfurt it will surely change.

However the Switchblade sounds great. I was astonished about the service of your distributor. One of our roadies put it on the floor – I think – and no sound came out of the amplifier. We noticed it during the sound check in Veldhoven. They came just all the way from Roosendaal to bring a new amplifier. Never seen such a service. 

(Via drummer Colin Allan, known from Focus, Whitehorn was invited as a full-time guitarist and replacement for Paul Kossoff in the Back Street Crawlers. After the departure of Kossoff the name was shortened to “Crawlers”. It made him popular immediately as a studio musician. Personally his guitar playing struck me more in Roger Chapman’s Shortlist. Not only he was more a frontman, for the first time he sang and his attitude was more in harmony with the rough act of Chapman)

The Gibson Les Paul changed now and then for a Strat. Marshall amplifiers were standard. Because I visited the factory, looking for a small 15 watt studio amplifier, I was invited to demonstrate for the company. It was just the right moment, 'cause I only did some studio work. I suggested to demonstrate with a background-tape. I think I was first to do so.

(And you have demonstrated for PRS Guitars?)

No, I did something for Paul, but it was just to please a friend. We know each other for years, but I was never invited to demonstrate his guitars. 

(While the friendship rose above chatting and eating Paul made clear that a Geoff guitar was about to be born)

We talked about it to produce series, but it all leaded to nothing. But the biggest problem was that they made guitars which I found great. What can you add without the meaning to fill your own pockets.

 (Many questions about his material during his Marshall demonstrations lead to his first solo album.)

Once in 1974 I made a demo album Whitehorn where three of them were sold in Japan.

The new project was generated from the countless requests during the demonstrations. Often many people in Marshall T-shirts asked who was the man for the Marshall Stack. The answer always was : “Geoff Who?"and so the title of the album was born. Because it was sold via Guitarist and in the Benelux via the magazine, it was sold high above any expectations, which lead two years later to Big In Gravesend with the same marketing and big numbers. 

(With Crawlers, Maggie Bell Band, Elkie Brooks (Vinegar Joe) Roger Chapman and the Daltrey Band you placed himself in the corner of the Rhythm & Blues Whatever made you decide to join a keyboard oriented band like Procol Harum?)

Did you see the chords scales. I play since the start of the nineties with Gary Brooker and I never have experienced a bigger challenge in guitar playing. To me it is just a blues band, only with more chords. Maybe the most important reason is for playing for such a long time with them is the social intercourse. Brooker has a wonderful sense of humour and it clicks with the band.

(You don’t think it is sad, sometime bombastic music?)

 Yes, sometimes. Tonight you hear all sides of Procol Harum. Of course everybody thinks of the classical piano songs as Homburg and A Whiter Shade of Pale but there are many wonderful nice guitar licks in the repertoire.

(For the complicated parts of Grand Hotel, is that part of the concert this evening?)

I expect so

(You don’t know that?)

No, Gary changes the repertoire almost every night. We play more than fifty compositions.

Before every tour we are working on Gary’s farm on new material and when we have new members, we are playing through the whole repertoire. Some he will put on the setlist, which we see before, on the other hand, if he feels like it, without being able to avoid the classical songs as – Salty Dog, Homburg, Whiter Shade, Pandora’s Box – we play two new songs tonight.

(In 2003 the latest new album appeared. In a conversation before this interview Brooker told to be hopeful to present a new album next year. Before that the court matter has to be settled. The other face of Procol Harum, keyboard player Matthew Fisher, decided a year ago he wants to receive his part of the royalties. Last October the court adjudged to award him 40 %, which felt very wrong with Gary Brooker. According to him Matthew Fisher had no contribution in the composition accept the keyboard part. The high court is still considering.

The band brought out a few life DVDs to be seen on the website.

As Procol starts in 1967, tasting their first success, the following members are playing in the band: Gary Brooker (piano; lead vocals); Matthew Fisher (organ; vocals); Dave Knights (bass); Bobby Harrison (drums); Ray Royer (guitars). Harrison and Royer are replaced almost immediately by Robin Trower and BJ Wilson. Since 1991 Geoff joined the band full time and became the heart of the band. And in the background is always the illustrious writer of all the big hits, Keith Reid. Does it fits that he makes his appearance now and than?) 

Yes, we play an epic work from Shine On Brightly, where he does a monologue. On the original it was his voice too. He only speaks, he doesn’t sing !

(Keith calls himself a poet and brought out some books, but did he only write exclusively for Procol ?)

No, maybe his most well-known “other” hit You’re The Voice by John Farnham.

(All through the years we saw Whitehorn tap-dancing on a gigantic pedalboard. Nowadays he has a minimalistic set-up. On the stage you only find a Rotosphere pedal. All the sounds are in the Hughes & Kettner amplifier now ?)

I think that it’s only a matter of time. Time for something new. And I think that Marshall stands still for quite a long time and enjoys the glorious past. Paul Airey, brother of Don and Keith, I know him for years and does the marketing for H & K. He asked me to listen to the Switchblade and I got mad. I only use on stage a Gibson variant of a builder from Birmingham, Terry Morgan and a lousy cheap Vintage Relic Stratocaster, which sounds great.

So simple it can be.

(JHS, the mother-company of Vintage Guitars, has made a deal with Geoff to bring out a Signature Strat variant. “A Strat with humbuckers" thinks Geoff it will be. His love for a Strat and a Les Paul will continue forever)

Many thanks, Hans, for the translation!

Geoff Whitehorn's page at BtP 

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