Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum's first year in the NME

Problems start to surface: 1 July 1967

These excerpts from New Musical Express, kindly selected for 'Beyond the Pale' by Yan Friis, show the managerial hassles that started to beset Procol Harum, presumably conspiring with their exhaustion to impede the recording of the follow-up record. The prominence given to Keith Reid is notable; puzzling that 70s journalists so often seemed not to understand the depth of his association with the band. 

Front page: full page advert for The Creation's If I Stay Too Long (on Polydor).

Top 3 on the NME charts:

1 (1) A Whiter Shade Of Pale, Procol Harum
2 (2) There Goes My Everything, Engelbert Humperdinck
3 (3) Carrie Anne, The Hollies

A Whiter Shade Of Pale in at No. 28 on the Billboard charts.

Says KEITH REID, the man who created the group - to ALAN SMITH

'I knew', said Keith Reid, 'That Procol Harum would be a success. Even before the record was released, I knew it just had to happen, believed in it.' He sat in a dark corner of a London pub, and manoeuvred his way around a plate of coleslaw, potato and veal-and-ham pie. A glass of white wine sparkled at his elbow.

Keith is the young ('almost 21') slight figure who envisaged Procol Harum and helped to get the group under way. He would be embarrassed if you called him a mastermind - but he wrote the words to Whiter Shade Of Pale, set up the Procol with lead singer Gary Brooker, and now has a quiet and intense faith in its future.

Keith is as far removed from the old idea of a pop group manager as Engelbert Humperdinck from Jimi Hendrix. He doesn't smoke a big cigar or spend his time working on the pounds, shillings and pence.

Instead he's a slight, pale, almost nervous person with a liking for a blue denim jacket matched with a brown corduroy shirt, dark granny glasses and a wild and wooly hair style. And he sticks with the group so much, you could almost say he is Procol Harum.


But he's shrewd as well as anything else and anybody who tries to put Keith down because he's new to showbusiness is going to have a big shock indeed.

'The idea of Procol had been in my mind for a long time,' he told me.

'It began to take shape when a mutual friend named Gary Stevens introduced me to Gary Brooker. At that time he was still with his old group, the Paramounts.

'One day I just sat down and did some writing, and then I put the words in an envelope and gave them to Gary. Then I didn't see him for six months, except by chance - he said: 'Oh, I've written some music to your words.'

'After that, I didn't see him for another six months. Then I heard the Paramounts had broken up, so I got in touch.

'We didn't know it, but Procol Harum and Whiter Shade Of Pale were beginning to take shape.

'We started getting together a lot and by about last November or December we had a stockpile of songs. Then we realized that we needed a good group to bring out our ideas. I can't play at all, although Gary plays piano.

'What we wanted were people with ideas, not just a group who would do just what they were told and that was that. We wanted progress.

'Our philosophy now is that making money is only a by-product of making the music and records we want to. I wouldn't have been brought down if Whiter Shade Of Pale had been a flop, because it was something we wanted to do and it was satisfying for that reason. The same will apply if we flop with the follow-up.'

What are the qualities Keith sees in each member of Procol Harum?

He replied: 'Firstly, Gary Brooker means so much to the group because he is a good friend. That means we can communicate better. And secondly, I admire him tremendously as a musician. He really believes in what we are trying to do.

'Mathew [sic] fitted in instantly. We found him because he was working out his notice with Screaming Lord Sutch, and he advertised himself as available for work. I could tell he was right for Procol Harum just by talking to him. I hadn't even heard him play.


'We got Ray the other way round: we advertised, and we were inundated with replies. This time we went to a lot of trouble to sort out the right person, and you could say we held more of a quiz game than an audition. We literally grilled the applicants.

'The object of this was to see that we got someone with the right state of mind. And with Ray, we did.

'Next we got Dave, and the same applied to him in that we felt he was right for the Procol as a person. What I would like to say is that he is also an exceptionally good bass player, not just competent, but very original.

'The final member of the group we found was Bobby, the drummer. By this time we'd already made a rough demo of Whiter Shade Of Pale, and he just got hung up on it and wanted to come in on the idea straight away. Until then we'd had about eight or nine drummers, but he was the first we could really work with.'

Keith smiled a faint smile and looked over his small, round glasses.

'One of the best things about Bobby', he said, 'is that he makes us put ourselves in the right perspective. I think sometimes the Procol Harum and I take ourselves a little too seriously. He balances us out and sees the funny side.

Having fun

'Out of the six of us, I think Bobby is the one who's enjoying everything the most. He's really having fun.'

I asked about the public image of Procol Harum - did he feel it was too cool, too detached, for the group's own good?

Said Keith: 'We are as we are. It is the public's prerogative to accept or reject us. We don't make a conscious attempt to be ourselves or anything else. And as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter if our next record makes No 1 or nothing at all, or if we earn £500 or £10. Just doing what we believe in is what matters most. Making money is nice, but it's incidental.'

These are brave words from Keith considering he spent most of last year, quote, 'ligging about in poverty.' In fact, he asked me to pass on a kind word of thanks to Brixton Labour Exchange for the sustenance it gave him during his hard times!

Considering the Exchange helped him to keep his head above water long enough to write A Whiter Shade Of Pale and to inspire Procol Harum, pop fans owe it a big debt!


On the News-pages:
One piece announcing that Tony Hall resigns from Decca and might start his own company, maybe in association with Denny Cordell. 

Right beside it is the following piece:

Sack for P. Harum's manager
A statement issued this week by Keith Reid, co-founder of the Procol Harum, announced that the group had 'terminated its association' with its business manager, Jonathan Weston - who had been on the point of departure for America to set up the Harum's U.S. visit. In his capacity as personal manager, Reid will now handle enquiries for the group.

Harold Davison continues to act as Procol's agent, and Keith Reid says he is now making arrangements for new management. With the departure from Decca of Tony Hall - who played such a large part in promoting the group's No 1 hit - there is widespread speculation regarding the rôle he will play in the Harum's future. Reid told the NME: 'We should be very happy if Tony were to be involved with us.'

This week the group spent two days in the recording studio. They are meeting today (Friday) to decide when they are to resume personal appearances, following their lay-off due to exhaustion.

from New York (June Harris's column):
 ... Outside that, it now seems that the Procol Harum are likely for an August visit. Their US agency, Associated Booking, would like them to come in as soon as possible, such is the response to their current hit, A Whiter Shade Of Pale from the deejays.

They'll do a major tour; details are expected to be wrapped up this week.

Tipped for the charts by Derek Johnson:
John Walker, Annabella
Bachelors, My World (Il Mondo)
Roy Orbison, Cry Softly Lonely One

Tailpieces by the Alley Cat:

... A whiter shade of pale - the ailing Procol Harum ...

Read more from the first year of Procol press

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