Procol Harum

the Pale

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Brooker, Whitehorn ... and 3 Beatles

Interviewed by Paul Walstra and René van Haarlem

This is the transcript of an interview BtP helped to set up, between two Procolers and Beatles Unlimited Magazine, to whom we are most grateful for permission to publish it here: visit their website! It lasted approximately 25 minutes, and took place backstage in de Boerderij in Zoetermeer, on 19 March 2003, just prior to the sound check that was due to start at 17:00. The sound-check photographs on this page come from the same day, and the same source: many thanks, Paul.

After the break-up of The Beatles, John, Paul, George and Ringo played with many other well-known musicians on their respective solo albums. One name that you encounter a lot in the liner notes and credits of their albums is Gary Brooker, Procol Harum's front man. As Procol Harum were doing a tour to promote their excellent new album The Well's on Fire, Beatles Unlimited Magazine seized the opportunity to arrange an interview with Gary to talk about his Beatle connections.

We also invited Procol guitarist Geoff Whitehorn to attend the interview as we had found that he played on Paul McCartney's Pipes Of Peace album. Here Gary's text is in black, and Geoff's in blue.

Beatles Unlimited Magazine
I've got a couple of questions about the new album, actually ... .

Gary Brooker
What, our new one?

Yes, your new album, this one ... (holding up The Well's on Fire CD booklet)

Yes, The Well's on Fire.

What's the title about, because it's not one of the songs on the album, I couldn't find a straight reference to it ...


Not in the lyrics ...

You're absolutely right. It's actually from another song which isn't on the album ... Normally we can find a title, but we didn't see one that jumped out of what we got on there. We could have had something, I don't know. Keith really thought that one up in the end. It's from another song, which we haven't quite finished yet. It's one of the lines from it. But it just seemed to fit in well with the atmosphere in some way ... of it. You know, quite lively, we felt full of energy, or we did (laughs).

I was wondering what it was about because on The Prodigal Stranger there was a song, I think it was the third one, which actually quotes the uhm ...

Yeah, Man With A Mission was on The Prodigal.

Yeah, that's the one, so on this one there was one lyric with wells in it, but not well's on fire. So it's from a song that will maybe appear on a single or something?

Yeah, in the future.

and the other thing was that, listening to the album I found that it sounded a lot more like Procol Harum than the previous album ...

... mmmm ...

... even though on the previous album you had three what I would call original Procol Harum members working on it and there's only two on this one.

... Yeah ...

Not to insult Geoff of course ...

Geoff Whitehorn
... (laughs) ...

I think the reason of that is that when we made The Prodigal Stranger we hadn't played ... at all on stage. We weren't quite sure how the record was going to end up, or any vision particularly. Where as this time we have been playing together as a band for many years. We're probably much more of a band than has been on ... well certainly as much of a band as there has been on any Procol Harum album. And I think that playing Procol Harum songs for the past few years has uhm ... just gave everybody a bit of the character of it all. Therefore when we've done new things, although they've always had a free hand to do what they want now, in the new stuff, they're not playing something that was done, you know, in the nineteen seventies. Everybody's able to do their own ... add their own bits, but it still sounds a bit totally Procolly.

Certainly a song like A Robe Of Silk sounds like it could have come of the 2nd album or the 3rd album ...

Uhm ... yes it's a little bit of a nod in that direction really.

And the one I always forget the name of, because it's uhm ... The Signature is the easier way to remember it ... Weisselklenzenacht, I mean the opening chord is ... you think Ah, Whiter Shade Of Pale and then it goes off on a different tangent ...

Yeah, for a second or two there ... that is the signature.

It just happens to be the same note in the same key. But apart from that it's completely different (laughs).

Same sound.

Yeah, well you know, listening to the album for the first time, you think Oh ... oh no it's not. On uhm ... this is probably the first Beatles related question; on Procol's Ninth you recorded Eight Days A Week.

Did we?

Yes, you certainly did (laughter). I mean, thinking of Beatles songs and Procol Harum, the styles are so different, if I'd had to pick a Beatles song for Procol Harum to record, it would never have been Eight Days A Week.

I would agree ... I would agree. So you're asking me why it's on there?

Yes, because I was told by someone that actually your favourite Beatles number is Tomorrow Never Knows.

I think I did say that some time ago [to RC at BtP]. I do like that one as well, yeah. What happened was ... I think at that stage with Procol on stage we were quite often throwing in some ad lib numbers near the end of the show or in the encore. It might have been a bit of rock or it might have been something else. And I do recall that we did play Eight Days A Week a couple of times. Now we probably made the mistake of playing that in the studio whilst we were warming up or something ...

But it ended up on the album.

... and Leiber and Stoller probably said (US accent) "Hey Guys, that's great, tape it".

Because that was the album they produced.

Yeah. There's no great secret behind it in anyway, you know. There's fifty other ones that Procol Harum could have done.

But it's true that you did throw in some rock 'n' roll numbers. I remember I saw you in '74 in Amsterdam in the concert building there and I remember the encore was I can't help myself which went straight into A Whiter Shade Of Pale, which was magic. [more likely into Nothing But the Truth]

Mmm ...

Right from the beginning then. The thing is you played the Speakeasy with Procol Harum.

Speakeasy, yes.

And the story goes that Paul and Linda met each other at the Bag O' Nails and went later that evening to the Speakeasy where you performed. And that was when their relation started. Were you aware that Paul was in the audience at that moment? I know it's a very long time ago, but I think that must be one of the reasons why you're interested in the Beatles and why you have been in such long contact with them.

Well, no, I don't think that's a true story. Sorry.

It's one of those stories in many publications about the Beatles ...

I think he went out with Linda to somewhere like uhm ... could have been the Bag O' Nails. And Whiter Shade Of Pale was just out, and they heard it there and (secretive tone) it became 'their song'. Reminded them when they met. That was in the Bag O' Nails just in the disco, rather ... but uhm, I'm sure The Beatles weren't down ... I don't know if they were down the Speakeasy when we played. I only remember Jimi Hendrix being there, so ... they could have been sneaking around in the background.

There's another story that you were present at the recording of All You Need Is Love some months later that same year.

No I wasn't, no.

None of the members of Procol Harum?

No ...

Did you tell them the story about your clothes fitting in the King's Road?

No. You like Beatles stories then?


When we started, Whiter Shade Of Pale came out and in fact it was uhm ... I think it went to number eleven the first week and the second week it was number one. And we weren't really ready and we had to go and get some clothes. So we booked up for us to go to this boutique down the King's Road. It was one of those fancy places where you didn't just walk in, you had to make an appointment. So we made our appointment and went and rang the doorbell and when we went in, The Beatles were in there and they were all round you know a harmonium, it's like an organ, they were all round this harmonium singing A Whiter Shade of Pale as we came in.

That's a coincidence!

Not for us ... it was just like they just happened to be doing it, at that moment.

And that was the first time that you met them, actually?

No, no, no. I toured with them in 1965.

That was one of the things we were wondering whether or not when you were in the Paramounts, whether you were doing the same gigs sometimes.

We toured on their UK tour in 1965

Right, so that's when you met them first time. You never worked with John, did you?

No, never worked ... never played on his records, no. No, it's a shame.

Well, you worked with all the others ...

I could have had a full house (laughs) ... too late. But I did see John Lennon one New Year's eve. I was walking down the King's Road, my wife and I had been in a pub, and it got so noisy ... I think it was 1967 New Year's eve ... and it got so noisy that we said we'd had enough ... we thought we'd rather walk home or walk ... we walked down King's Road and I passed this Rolls Royce and the door flew open (continues in a Liverpool accent) and he said "Hey Gary, come in!"

And it was John and he had A Whiter Shade Of Pale on his uhm ... he had a little 45 record player that used to fit in cars. And he was playing it, and he had a bottle of champagne in with him, so we saw the New Year in with him in his car.

In 1967 ... that's a coincidence every time A Whiter Shade Of Pale ...

... uhmmm ...

The first thing that is very obvious when you were involved in recording with The Beatles was All Things Must Pass sessions. In the booklet of the just re-released version you actually get a mention by George as you were one of the friends he was meeting at the time, so obviously the relationship was getting a bit closer. But nowhere does it say who plays on what tracks. Do you remember on which tracks you played?

Yes I do, I played only on a couple. I played on My Sweet Lord and Wah Wah.

Those two. You played on the Jam session as well?

No, not with him, not with George. Only the sessions with Phil Spector.

How did you find it, working with Phil Spector, because of his wall of sound technique?

Well you walked in, and it was a wall of sound. It was unbelievable wall of sound. There's a lot of people on that ... My Sweet Lord. A lot of guitarists, a lot of keyboards, everything you know ... a lot of people in the studio, all going at once. We all crammed into the control room, studio 3. And he said, right, play it and there was this wall of sound.

Yeah, I read somewhere from some of the members of Badfinger who were also there ...

Yeah they were strumming away

... that they were in separate booths ...

strumming away ... I don't remember them being in booths ... strumming away, yeah.

Well, that's what it said ... Were many takes required?

No I don't think so.

So you only were with the sessions for a short while?

Just for a day. It might even have been an evening.

They're professionals ... ..

Yes, of course.

Well there's quite a few well known names on that album ...

Even Ringo. He was great on that. He does the drums on that. When he came in, he was really ... the first time I ever played with him, actually. And he was great.

Anything else you remember of that session?

No ...

And that resulted in George playing on your Lead Me To The Water Album?

Uh, yes he did, yeah.

You asked him to play on the album?

Well, I asked Eric Clapton actually. And he said "No, you don't want me ... if you want really good steel playing like that, then you should have George". So I asked George.

And there's another link as you also did the Lonnie Donegan album Puttin' On The Style . You did a song, but Ringo is also present on the album. Is that on the same session or was that separate?

Did I play with Ringo on Lonnie Donegan's album?


Is that what you're asking?


No. I don't remember him being there.

There are two songs were Ringo is drumming and a song where you're playing.

I think I might have overdubbed my part on that album, It's like Sloop John B or something.

The next link is Rockestra ...

Rockestra, yeah ...

How did that come together, because everybody is on that one, Gilmour, Townshend ...

Well, it was an idea that Paul McCartney had. To have as many ... well he had two of everything for a start. Maybe even three of everything, can't remember ...

I think there were two drummers actually ...

John Bonham and somebody else ... , can't remember ...

Well, the Wings drummer was there, Steve Holly ...

Steve Holly! So that's how he stole Steve Holly off me ... .(laughs). Steve Holly played on Lead Me To The Water and after that he went with Wings.

So that's the relation how he became ...

I don't know ... I don't think ... Was he on that Rockestra then?


Maybe that was after Lead Me To The Water. What year was that, do you know?



79. Because the show at the end was before Paul was busted in Japan. After that he did the English tour then, and then he went to Japan and he was arrested. But you did So Glad To See You Here as well?

I did two songs. I can't quite remember what the other one was.

Well there's the Rockestra Theme ...

Yeah, I remember that one.

... and So Glad To See You Here which is the other one on the album. And then later on I think you also played at The Concerts For Kampuchea.

Yeah, Hammersmith Odeon.

On the album there's three songs, there's the Theme, there's Lucille and Let It Be. I don't know if more were recorded or played?

I didn't even know that it was recorded ...

Yeah, there's a double album from way back when ... I don't think it has appeared on CD it's only been released on vinyl. But there were three tracks. And the story goes, because everybody was wearing this show costume and Pete Townshend was there and he refused to wear the Top Hat that went with it ... I don't know if you remember any of that?

Did we have funny outfits on? Quite a few of us wouldn't put things on ... I mean, Linda McCartney had already forced us to take vitamin pills. Reminded us all to take a Red Ox before we went on.

And a vegetarian meal before you started?

Yeah ...

(Chris Cooke comes in to remind Gary and Geoff that they still have to sound check)

(To Geoff Whitehorn) and Pipes Of Peace is your department I think?

I just did one track on Pipes Of Peace. Called Through Our Love or something.

Did you know Paul already before then?

No, No I knew ... there was a guy ... he had a guy who was a sort of a personal assistant/road manager or something or other, that I happened to know ... Pete Fulham actually ... and McCartney was just looking for sort of different players to come and contribute to the album. But I mean, I just ended up playing acoustic guitar on that one track. But it was good, because Paul was actually playing bass, George Martin was playing electric piano and Dave Mattacks played drums and we knocked this song off in about ... an hour.

You went to the Air Studios in Oxford Street?

Yeah. I only had a really cheap nasty acoustic guitar I took with me in a sort of bag, you know like a canvas bag. I didn't play much acoustics. So McCartney said "Well, better use this," and he gave me this beautiful Gibson. It was a nice session ... Linda McCartney was ... charming. She gave me a book of her photographs ...

The first one? Linda's Pictures?

Uhm, the one with Janis Joplin and all that ... and Hendrix and what have you. Sixties. She was actually really, really nice. And I was so gobsmacked, I forgot to ask her autograph. But I've still got the book.

We met her ... she used to come to ... when we first went to New York ... taking photographs then. Her name was Linda Eastman.

I know that you did the Rock Symphony and you had a link with Ringo's son, Zak Starkey ...

Yeah, of course. I played with Zak, well I played with Zak initially with Roger Daltrey's band which ... It was a project called Daltrey sings Townshend. That went down the States in '94 ... .and we did those few gigs. Well I did a few gigs with The Who, I mean Zak. It was kind of Roger Daltrey's band plus Pete that became The Who. Then we did that big concert in Hyde Park with uhm ... Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and so on. And of course, you know, I was doing something else, I had to sort of leave Roger at the time, I just couldn't do any more work with him. But really a great experience obviously for me to do, which Gary was part of as well, for the live concerts ...

Yes, not for the album.

Not for the album unfortunately, I mean it was more American based really, we did a lot of the rhythm tracks in England.

And that's the link between you two, that you met for the first time?

No ... We've been going for as long as since 1992.

In fact late 1991. My first gig was the Johnny Carson show in LA. Right at the end of 1991.

Well, you certainly played on the live album One More Time ... in Utrecht.

Oh for sure yeah. I did meet Gary, he denies it, I did meet Gary once in a club in Atlanta in 1973.


Richards (laughter)

I heard about that ...

Gary denies it, he said "No I never met you, boy". (Laughter) But I mean Procol obviously had come ... he must have been playing the Omni or something and they'd just come ...

Well was uhm ... Buddy Guy on?

No, we were playing with Lynyrd Skynyrd ...

No, was he on in Richards.


Was Terry Reid on ?

No. I think we were playing with Lynyrd Skynyrd.

... Different night ...

Lynyrd Skynyrd will perform in Europe again this summer.

They were great!

At that show, Rock Symphony you did a lot of Beatles songs ...

Yeah! Yeah!

... Let it Be and there was a peace thing with Imagine ...

Yes, there was a kind of a Beatles medley, wasn't there ... Blackbird and there was a whole bunch of stuff.

I did one night when Paul Young didn't show up, I did Come Together.

That's right!

Well that sounds more like you than Eight Days A Week.

Yeah, really.

Then we get the link with Ringo and the All Starr Band. You were asked by him?

Or was it pure coincidence?

That doesn't happen by pure coincidence. No, he asked me.

What songs did you do at the live songs. I know about A Whiter Shade Of Pale and A Salty Dog ...

Oh, I played uhm ... I played on three tours with him, so I played a lot of different songs. He liked A Whiter Shade Of Pale so that always had to be in, but I did Whisky Train ... The Devil Came From Kansas ... Conquistador ... A Salty Dog ... I had my own little spot in the middle, solo.

A Salty Dog I think you did on your own ...

Yeah, that's what I'm saying, solo.

When Ringo did the European Tour, you went to Belgium ...

Yeah, when old what's his name was on, the one with the bad leg ... Ian Dury.

Yeah, Ian Dury and Anouk that was the Dutch girl and there was a Belgian guy ... But Ringo was obviously the star of the show ... Well, we're pretty near the end actually ... You were at the tribute concert for George?

Yeah, the concert for George ...

We tried to get tickets, but couldn't. It was very difficult ... it sold out within half an hour actually.

I think there was people from all over the world there, actually. A lot of journalist type people. You should have been there obviously if you're a Beatles Magazine ...

How did you feel doing that concert, it seems to have been a very emotional sort of evening.

Well. It was three weeks in rehearsal as well. Yes, it was a very drawn out thing, you were very much part of it after three weeks.

I never realised, three weeks, you know all these professionals just sort of come on and play ...

Yeah, no, I didn't come on just to do a spot, I was on there more or less all night.

Was it organised by Olivia?

Yeah, it was really. Olivia and Eric. Yeah, nobody got on without her approval.

A lot of people that George was involved with in the past were there.

Yeah, well just too many people kept showing up, you know, wanted to be on. And it got into politics at times, you know. And uhm ... Eric Clapton was the MD and he had to now and again ... say something ... He'd always start off with "With the greatest respect ... " (Laughter) ... You knew when you heard those words 'with the greatest respect' that somebody was going to be out ... Don't play on this one ... clear off. (laughter)

(At this point Chris Cooke comes back in and urges Gary and Geoff to come down to the sound check now)

Do you have one anecdote from doing a tour with Ringo ...


Yeah, because it was obvious when the band was performing they were having fun ...

The funniest thing I remember about Ringo is that we played one night ... you know, of course there's Pete Frampton and Jack Bruce and what not ... it might have been with Todd Rundgren, I can't remember ... .but uhm ... I hadn't been announced ... I'd already played like three or four songs you know ... and I hadn't been announced. And I came to do another one, and it was like Ringo's ready up on the drums, and he hadn't said anything. So I said, "Well nobody has announced me, so I'll announce myself," so I'm going "Hello everybody," you know. Of course when Ringo comes down to do his next number, he said "Oh. Let's not forget over on the piano, Gary Brooker." And then Jack Bruce got up and said "Yes, Gary on piano." And then Frampton started it, you know, and then Ringo started a chant "Gary," you know, about 8,000 people all going "Gary, Gary ..." (laughter). You know, I was getting smaller and smaller and wished I never said a thing. And every song, he'd say "This next one we're going to do, it's not written by Gary Brooker here unfortunately," (laughter). You know, even if I wasn't doing it he'd still announce me. He got my name in right to the point of cringing. Oh, it was awful. He's that sort of person you see, he cracks the jokes, Ringo cracks the jokes.

George had a good sense of humour too ...

They were all fantastic. All the Beatles were ... well, you saw it when they first started. Their humour is amazing and it still is. Very, very funny. Very funny.

Is there anything we forgot to ask?

Oh, probably.

Who did that book Beatles Uncovered ... All the things they played on ... can't remember who did it ... some American.

(Chris Cooke now insists Gary and Geoff go down to the sound check, to which we are also invited. During the sound check we hear versions of 'This World Is Rich' and 'Shadow Boxed' off the new album, Procol oldies like 'Luskus Delph' and 'Holding On', and to our surprise a Georgie Fame number plus ... 'Come Together'!

The excellent concert later that evening features another surprise. As it is the eve of the war on Iraq, Gary leads Procol Harum into an anti-war chant during the encore, titled 'War Is Not Healthy').

 Read a 1990 interview on the same subject

Video clip of GB singing All You Need is Love

Gary Brooker plays at George Harrison's memorial concert, 29 November 2002

Order the Beatles Anthology Book from Amazon USA

Order the Beatles Anthology Book from Amazon UK Beatles store

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