Procol Harum

the Pale

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More than just a nostalgia trip

John Collinge in Progression

Digging way back in progressive rock history, Procol Harum appears to be prog's second-oldest band behind the Moody Blues. According to the Rolling Stone Encyclopaedia of Rock 'n' Roll, the Moodies formed in 1964, Procol in '66 and The Nice in '67.

So, depending on how you want to chart the genre, it can be argued that we've already surpassed 30 years of progressive rock!

It remains notable that at least two of these original war-horses remain viable musical entities. Of course, the Moody Blues are perennial summer shed attractions, something akin to the Beach Boys of progressive music. Procol Harum, though, remains in the process of defining its second life after a long hiatus stretching from 1977 to 1991.

Recently, Procol has mined the nostalgia circuit, touring last summer as part of a triple bill with Steppenwolf and Jefferson Airplane. Of course, the greatest hits packaging of their set didn't suggest further progressive ambitions, although selections from the band's 1991 comeback disc Prodigal Stranger were included.

Another long, dry spell between Procol releases was mitigated somewhat by last year's The Long Goodbye: The Symphonic Music of Procol Harum. As these projects go, it's a rather commendable effort, with vocalist Gary Brooker, organist Matthew Fisher, and guitarist Robin Trower joining forces to reprise Procol classics with the London Symphony Orchestra. Also joining in are current Procol members Geoff Whitehorn (guitars) and Mark Brzezicki (drums), along with some special guests.

The album, which was quietly issued by RCA Victor, includes dynamic versions of Conquistador, Simple Sister, A Whiter Shade of Pale, and Repent Walpurgis among others. It's a fitting tribute to the timeless music of a prog-rock legend.

Recently, that legend has become cross-generational – not only in the sense that Procol continues to draw new fans, but through addition of bassist Matthew Pegg to the group's permanent line-up.

Pegg is the son of Dave Pegg, bassist extraordinaire for Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull. Matthew followed closely enough in his father's footsteps to have spelled his absence in many a Tull gig, later earning the respect of Procol mainman Brooker. Young Matt has been Procol Harum's bassist since 1992, and Gary Brooker hopes to someday see his name in the liner notes of a Procol studio recording.

The following interview, done during Procol's last American tour, examines the current state of Procol Harum through the 51-year-old eyes of Brooker, and those of his 24-year-old bandmate, who also reflects on his work with Tull.

Brooker first, then Pegg.

More about Procol and prog

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