Procol Harum

the Pale 

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A Whiter Shade Of Pale

1967 – Repertoire re-issue 1997

REP 4666-WY

Matthew Fisher – organ 
Dave Knights – bass 
Gary Brooker – piano, vocal 
Keith Reid – words 
BJ Wilson – drums 
Robin Trower – guitar 
Producer: Denny Cordell 
1 A Whiter Shade of Pale*
2 Conquistador
3 She Wandered Through The Garden Fence
4 Something Following Me
5 Mabel
6 Cerdes (Outside the Gates of)
7 A Christmas Camel
8 Kaleidoscope
9 Salad Days (Are Here Again)
10 Good Captain Clack
11 – Repent Walpurgis: Matthew Fisher explains the origins (title and music) of this instrumental
12 Lime Street Blues*
13 Homburg*
14 Monsieur Armand*#
15 Seem To Have The Blues Most All The Time*
* = Bonus tracks on this re-issue: not on original album ; # = later reworked as Monsieur R Monde

Liner notes:
A Whiter Shade of Pale first dawned upon the world during 1967, forever known as the Summer Of Love. Beads, bells, incense and caftans had become the latest fashion hippie accessories. But more than just a passing fad, it was part of a social revolution. Gary Brooker's soaring vocals, Keith Reid's poetic images, and the swelling organ tones of Matthew Fisher created a magical new sound that was happily in tune with those romantic, adventurous times.

A Whiter Shade Of Pale became an anthem for the flower children and helped launch Procol Harum, a progressive new rock band destined to enjoy a long and fruitful career. Their unusual song, based on Bach's Air On The G String, was first heard on British pirate radio stations broadcasting illegally off-shore. Their support added to the mystical buzz about a band that seemed to spring out of nowhere. Procol Harum, with its peculiar name and its unusual mixture of keyboards and soulful vocals, fired up the public's imagination.

Yet the hit backfired against them at home. For a long time they were regarded as one-hit wonders. They found a greater appreciation in Germany and America, where the material featured on their debut album was given a fair hearing. Originally called simply Procol Harum we have re-titled it A Whiter Shade Of Pale in honour of one of the greatest pop records of all time. The single was missing from the original vinyl record for reasons explained later, but it now heads a selection of brilliantly varied compositions that make this album unique.

The classic Procol line up of Gary Brooker (vocals, piano), Matthew Fisher (Hammond organ), Robin Trower (lead guitar), Dave Knights (bass) and B. J. Wilson (drums) created such extraordinary works as Conquistador, She Wandered Through The Garden Fence, A Christmas Camel, and Salad Days which sparkle with imaginative lyrics and metaphorical word play, all provided by the band's lyricist Keith Reid. How Gary Brooker, a down to earth R&B pianist from Southend, got together with Keith Reid, a softly spoken young lyricist from the East End of London, to form Procol Harum makes a fascinating tale.

Gary Brooker was born in Southend-on-Sea [sic], Essex on May 29, 1945. His father was a musician and Gary took piano lessons as a child, learning the basic of classical music. Then he discovered rock'n'roll. Once he'd heard Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles, his piano playing and singing took a new direction. He formed a skiffle band at school and played banjo and guitar until he was encouraged by a friend to switch to piano.

Recalls Gary: 'My father died when I was eleven and I packed up playing the piano because we'd moved. Then a bass-playing friend of my father's wanted to encourage me to keep on playing, and he bought me a year's lessons with a teacher, who was vastly different in his approach. He realized I didn't want to learn standard classical pieces. I wanted to play like Ray Charles.

'The teacher wrote out the way Ray played, which was much more fun. Then he taught me some chords and left hand boogie. I got very interested again because it was a different approach. So I started playing the piano in rock, which was very different. I mean we were in Southend-on-Sea, and we'd only just discovered the electric guitar!'

Gary played in various groups including The Electrics and The Coasters. One day in 1959 the best local bands entered a competition held at a dance hall. The promoter asked Gary to join a 'supergroup' with guitarist Robin Trower and bassist Chris Copping from The Raiders. Singer Bob Scott and drummer Mick Brownlee came in from The Outlaws. The new band was named The Paramounts. After a while Scott left and Brooker took over as lead vocalist while BJ Wilson played drums.

The band wore a smart uniform of waistcoats and suede boots and became very popular around Southend. As their fame spread the were signed to a major record company and released half a dozen singles and an EP.

The Paramounts were among the first British bands to make a national impact. Says Gary: 'There were very few groups around in those days. The only famous group was The Shadows. I quite liked them, but we mainly liked black American music which was what we tried to play. We also played a bit of white rock in the Jerry Lee Lewis style. Then we got into James Brown and Bobby Bland so we were an R&B group. We made records from 1963 onwards and got a contract with Parlophone. Our first record was Poison Ivy, which got into the charts in January 1964. We made a few more singles and toured the country. I can remember playing with The Rolling Stones on the same day their first hit Come on came out. We took over a lot of the places they played on the R&B circuit.'

In 1963 Chris Copping left to go to college, and was replaced by Diz Derrick. The band slogged on, but by 1966, as Gary says: 'We'd had enough. We had been doing cover songs for all those years, trying to be like other people, and by 1966 those artists were actually appearing in Britain. Soul had taken off and it wasn't enough for us to play a Sam & Dave song when they were playing at the local theatre that night. The interest fell away and we retired! I had met Keith Reid and we started writing songs together during 1966. We tried to take them around to other artists, but nobody seemed to want to do them. I don't know if they found them too bizarre, but it wasn't anything like the stuff we'd been playing before. At the end Keith said "You'll have to sing 'em Gary", so I came out of retirement.'

Gary Brooker was 21 when he first met Keith Reid (born London, October 1946). they were introduced by the wildly enthusiastic R&B producer Guy Stevens who worked for Island records and was something of a catalyst.

'I knew Guy when he was a disc jockey. We used to go round his house and listen to music and he would always pull out great records and say "Listen to this!" He played very obscure R&B stuff from America and we'd have a listen, then go out and play it. Guy was a very inspiring person. I remember going round to see him the night he introduced me to Keith Reid.

'He said "Gary, this is Keith – he writes lyrics. Keith – this is Gary – he writes music!" I hadn't even thought about writing songs at the time."

Brooker was given a packet of lyrics by Keith and went home and promptly forgot about it. He found the packet a few weeks later and discovered a dozen or so verses. He read them and thought they were amazing. He sat down at the piano and wrote Something Following Me.

'The next day I had a letter from Keith asking me if I'd thought about the words. He signed it with a line from Something Following Me, so I phoned him from a call box and told him I'd just written the song. He came down and heard it and we wrote a couple more and that's how it all started.'

Keith's lyrics were challenging to set to music, but Gary knew that he had written them rhythmically and that they were meant to be sung. 'Keith was very well-read and I think he'd been a bookworm from the age of eight, and by the time he was 14 he'd read everything. When we started writing songs together we didn't have any great scheme in mind. I just liked the idea of being able to come up with lots of ideas that were bubbling away. We wrote a song for Dusty Springfield and one for the Beach Boys without any luck, so it was a bit disheartening.

'In the end Keith suggested that if nobody else was going to sing our songs, I'd have to. We sat down and thought about the type of band we needed. It was kind of like the stuff we had been listening to at Guy Steven's place – American gospel and R&B using two keyboards. We wanted more sophisticated sound with Hammond organ and piano. On top of that we wanted guitar, bass and drums.'

The band started rehearsing in a Methodist church in Stockwell, South London, trying out different musicians. Eventually they found organist Matthew Fisher through an advertisement in the Melody Maker. They went round to his place and Gary played the new songs to Matthew who liked them so much he instantly joined the band. 'We had a bit of trouble finding exactly the right people but everyone liked the songs. A lot of those first songs I wrote had little classical overtones. I always thought that with two keyboards and a guitar you could have plenty of solos and still give them a powerful backing.' One of the first songs to benefit from the treatment was A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Says Gary: "I'd written it before Matthew came along. I remember our bass player Dave Knights really liked it and said: "That's a hit!" I said: "What are you talking about? That's just one of our songs." It was influenced by Bach's Suite Number 3 in D Major Air On The G String, as played by Jacques Loussier on a TV advertisement for Hamlet cigars.

Gary; 'I tried to play it one day. Keith's words were lying on the piano, which I'd got that day and I sang them over the theme. We made a demo version of it which sounded very much like the final single.'

Keith and Gary had signed a publishing deal with David Platz at Essex Music, and producer Denny Cordell made the record with the band at Olympic Studios in Barnes. It was released on the Deram label in May 1967. The band had already chosen its name. Says Gary: 'At some point during rehearsals Guy Stevens phoned and said: "I've found a name for the band."
Guy explained it came from a friend's cat whose pedigree name was Procol Harum! It was kind of an ambiguous name and we were writing ambiguous music. This name seemed to fit and had a sound and a meaning.'

After heavy plays on pirate radio, A Whiter Shade Of Pale was Number One in France before it was a hit in England.

Gary: 'As soon as it was in the charts, everyone wanted to know where our name came from and I told everybody about the cat. But they wanted to know more than that, so we got hold of the cat's birth certificate and found we'd actually spelt it wrong! It should have been 'Procul Harun', but we weren't going to change our name. We were Procol Harum! Latin scholars got involved and it turned out to mean 'beyond these things', which added a bit of mystery.

In June A Whiter Shade Of Pale topped the UK charts for six weeks. The rest of the first album was actually written before the hit. Says Gary: 'I really like this album because there are a lot of different styles on there, like Mabel, which is a bit of a humorous pub song. There were many different influences from Mose Allison to Bob Dylan.'

On She Wandered Through The Garden Fence, Gary used the first three notes from an old song called To A Wild Rose. He added bits from Mars from The Planets Suite on Kaleidoscope. Matthew Fisher wrote the instrumental Repent Walpurgis. 'That became a complete and utter 'classic' in live performance. We always finished our shows with that one when we first toured America because it was a very powerful piece and everybody got a chance to shine.'

Good Captain Clack is a rather odd ditty. Explains Gary: 'A lot of Reid's early work had weird characters in the lyrics. Cerdes is full of people with very complicated names weaving in and out of the underworld. Good Captain Clack is like a later equivalent of Mabel which is a Noel Coward sort of song.'

Among the bonus tracks is Lime Street Blues, which was the B-side of A Whiter Shade Of Pale, and Homburg, which was the follow up single. Homburg got to number 6 in the UK charts, but surprisingly the album didn't make the charts in England. It was however Top 50 in America, where the pressing included A Whiter Shade Of Pale among the tracks. The song itself sold over a million in the States and reached number 5 in the US Billboard Chart.

Additional tracks Monsieur Armand and Seem To Have The Blues All The Time are rare archive items which weren't intended for release. The former was re-recorded in 1975 and retitled Monsieur R. Monde. Recalls Gary: Seem To Have The Blues All the Time was just an out-take, something we knocked out one day and never went any further.'

Keith Reid remember that their first album was recorded in mono instead of stereo. 'It got re-channelled for stereo in America, which was a cause for chagrin. Why it wasn't recorded in stereo I have absolutely no idea. And we didn't put A Whiter Shade of Pale on the album. That was all part of our idealism. We couldn't possibly put it on because people had already bought and paid for the single. And so we cleverly stopped ourselves from selling millions more records! The album was done in a terrible rush because once the single was a hit there was a lot of pressure from America to get an album out. We just didn't spend any time on it, and essentially it is a 'live' record. I remember one day we cranked out about five of the tracks in one session. It was ridiculous really. We spent two years writing and rehearsing and preparing the songs and spent two days making the record. Conquistador started to get a lot of airplay in America and they expected it to be the follow up single. But we felt we had to outdo A Whiter Shade Of Pale and we brought out Homburg instead. In retrospect we should probably have released Conquistador because when it came out a lot later, it was a hit for us.'

Homburg only got to number 34 in America, but a few years later a live version of Conquistador got to Number 16.

The song about a Spanish Conquistador with its memorable line about a 'jewel encrusted blade' was one of a few Procol songs where the music was written first. Says Keith: 'I went down to Southend to see Gary during the period before we had done any recording and Gary had the music ready. I just got this idea about a Conquistador and knocked it out in his front room. It was pretty unusual for our mode of working.'

Keith thinks that Mabel was the result of listening to Lovin' Spoonful. 'It's got a bit of a good time jug band feel to that one, while Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of) has a more surreal kind of imagery. Cerdes is just a name that I made up. There's no such place as Cerdes! On the early stuff I was quite influenced by Bob Dylan and A Christmas Camel was quite Dylanesque. We were trying to make music that was an amalgam of all the things that we liked. We just made things up and it was never a case of Gary saying "You should play this and that". We would write a song and Gary would play it to the rest of the band and everybody would come up with their own ideas. Anything Matthew Fisher played on the organ was his own invention. It was quite an all-star band and with an incredible amount of talent. We had a world-class drummer in BJ Wilson, and we had Robin Trower who went on to have a hugely successful solo career. We had Gary who was a world class composer and singer and we had the monstrously talented lyricist – myself!'

Kaleidoscope was a lyric written for a film of the same name starring Warren Beatty which Keith had prepared before he even met Gary. However the lyrics didn't get used in the movie and Brooker set it to music for Procol Harum.

Keith doesn't remember much about the origins of Salad Days, but Good Captain Clack has some significance for him. 'I can't actually remember what inspired it, but I know that I listed my name in the telephone directory as Captain Clack for some years!'

Repent Walpurgis was written by Matthew Fisher and came up while the band was rehearsing. 'They started jamming on it and Gary came up with the middle section. It was the closing number for 'live' shows for years. In fact, the band would never play an encore because after Repent Walpurgis everything else seemed anti-climactic.'

Keith contributed a few spoken parts to some records and went to all the sessions, but, as he says: 'I was more than happy to sit and listen to what they played!'

Procol Harum went on to record such albums as A Salty Dog, Shine On Brightly and Home (all reissued on Repertoire CDs), and continued recording and touring until they finally broke up in 1977 after ten years at the top. That same year A Whiter Shade Of Pale was voted Best British Pop Single 1952-1977 (sharing the honours with Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody). Gary Brooker went on to record solo albums, while Keith Reid went to live in America where he continues to write songs with different artists. Robin Trower led his own band which achieved great success during the seventies. After suffering ill health, drummer BJ Wilson died in 1992. In 1991 Gary Brooker and Keith Reid teamed up once more and wrote material for their first album in 14 years called The Prodigal Stranger. Matthew Fisher and Robin Trower were on hand in the studio to complete the long-awaited reunion of one of rock's best loved and most distinguished bands. It was a long way from the Summer of Love, but audiences once again thrilled to the magical sound of a unique band.

Chris Welch, London 1997

Read an eyewitness account of one recording session for this album
About the 'Plus' re-release of this album
About the original release 'Procol Harum'
Order this CD from Amazon Germany
Order this CD from Amazon UK
More Procol / Brooker re-releases from Repertoire Records

PH on stage | PH on record | PH in print | BtP features | What's new | Interact with BtP | For sale | Site search | Home