Procol Harum

the Pale

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Darryl Way on Gary Brooker, 1993

Another (authorised) excerpt from the (unpublished) autobiography of Curved Air's violinist

During this set of concerts (1993's Night of the Proms) I would renew my acquaintance with Gary Brooker, who was also on the bill performing Procol Harum tracks, including, of course, A Whiter Shade of Pale. When we’d first met at the German Television ‘Classical Rock’ concert, someone had taken a photo of Gary sitting on my lap, so just for old time’s sake we had a photo taken of me sitting on Gary’s lap. Gary was very complimentary about my arrangements of Sting’s songs, which pleased me no end and told me that he had an album coming up of Procol Harum tracks that would be performed by the LSO. He enquired whether I would like to do a couple of the arrangements and gave me the choice of what track I’d like to arrange. Without hesitation I replied, Whiter Shade of Pale, please”. “Damn,” he said. “I wanted to do that one myself, but no problem, it’s yours.” I was immensely honoured to be trusted with such an iconic track and one that had been so influential on me when I was younger.

(Addendum) My approach to arranging this iconic track was to treat it as a piece of classical music and arrange it in the style of Bach, the composer who had been the inspiration behind the piece. I arranged the first part of the song just using Baroque instrumentation, before opening out the piece and bringing in the full power and majesty of the modern symphony orchestra. So in effect, the arrangement travels across time, in the same way that the original song does.  

Darryl Way on Gary Brooker's knee this time

After we had first met at the ‘Classical Rock’ concert in Germany, Gary invited me to play in a band he was putting together for a charity gig at his local pub. The members of the band would include himself on keyboards, Andy Fairweather Low on guitar and vocals and last, but definitely not least, Eric Clapton on guitar. I was pretty excited about the prospect of being on the same stage as Eric, as you can imagine, and was looking forward to the gig immensely. From time to time in the late ’80s I had been playing in a little wine bar in Windsor called Jethro's, with a very close friend of mine called Graham Smith, nothing heavy duty, just for fun really. Graham, as well as being an accomplished singer-songwriter who performed his songs accompanying himself on the guitar, played superb blues harp (harmonica). I asked Gary if he would like to include Graham on harp for the gig, as I guessed that the music would be mostly R & B, to which he immediately replied in the affirmative.

The gig was in a pretty small pub, which was packed to the roof with expectant punters. Me and Graham and Andy took up the front line, while Eric to my surprise remained sitting at the back. The material was mostly R & B, as I’d guessed, but in those days I was quite adept at picking up chord sequences and managing to join in, either as a soloist or an accompanist. Everyone was dying to hear Eric solo, but if I remember correctly, most of the time he played rhythm guitar, letting the rest of the band take most of the solos, much to my and the audience’s disappointment. The brief solos he did, however, were magical and well worth the wait.

After the ‘Night of the Proms’ concerts, Gary invited me again to participate in his charity gig, which by this time had become a regular fixture, held in a large marquee because of its popularity and the level of celebrity musicians it attracted. I was very honoured to be asked again, so agreed to do it. The rehearsals were held at Gary’s house and when I arrived, they were already in full swing. I got my violin out and plugged it into the nearest amp and then – froze. They were all expecting me to join in at any time and kept encouraging me to do so, but I found that I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t know any of the material and as I hadn’t jammed for years, I had lost my confidence in this area. After a couple of songs went by, where I just stood there embarrassed and unable to play a note, I decided to throw in the towel. I apologised profusely to Gary and the others for not being able to join in, explaining to them that I wasn’t familiar with the songs and did not feel confident enough to just busk it.

Apologising to Gary once more, I packed up my violin and left. I was absolutely heartbroken at not being able to take part in this event and felt like I’d let Gary down. I thought about Clint Eastwood’s famous phrase again, ‘A man has got to know his limitations’, and I had just discovered another of mine. Early on, I had dabbled with jazz and found that to get on top of it and conquer it I would have had to study it pretty damn hard, as it was a difficult art form, especially for the violin and did not come naturally to me. So I made the conscious decision not to pursue this route, as it would have taken up too much of my time. I had learnt and accepted my limitations with this genre. I had also looked at the blues in the same way and although I can do a passable imitation of this genre of music, it really is ‘ersatz’ and not the real thing. I am a classical musician and improvise in a classical style, with a few nods to electric guitar playing, such as bending notes and slides. Therefore, within the popular arts my sphere of operation is limited and I have learnt to fully accept this limitation and operate within its boundaries. (thanks, Darryl)

Gary Brooker's page at 'Beyond the Pale' | More from Darryl Way's autobiography

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