NEWS FROM ROLAND AND JENS: The GARY BROOKER MEMORIAL CONCERT will take place on 4th December, 2023 at G LIVE, GUILDFORD on 4th December, 2023. There will be special guest performances by Eric Clapton, Mike Rutherford, Paul Carrack, Roger Taylor, Andy Fairweather Low and others and the house band includes Dave Bronze, Geoff Dunn, Matt Pegg, Josh Phillips, Henry Spinetti, Geoff Whitehorn and others. Presale for tickets is now open by following this link:
https://procolharum.com/231204_gb_memorial-concert.htm I never thought I would get a chance to see Procol Harum one more time, but the occasion arose in Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on the release of their ‘Novum’ album. I was reviewing for the Esoteric label at the time and had the chance to interview Gary (by phone!) When pushed I always say my favourite three bands are The Beatles, Van Der Graaf Generator and Procol Harum so this was a great honour for me. I reproduce an abridged version of that interview here: for the full interview I once again strongly recommend ordering the back issue of ACID DRAGON. First of all, I asked Gary if he was pleased with ‘Novum’. He replied that the band really enjoyed writing and making the album and hoped the inspiration to do it again as soon as possible would appear. Sadly, this did not transpire.
I also took the opportunity to ask Gary a question that had always intrigued me if, because of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ and because Procol Harum was never sufficiently recognised as a producer of magnificent albums, there was a popular misconception of what the group was really about. Gary’s response was that there is perhaps a misconception, but it didn’t personally bother him too much because “many groups wish they could AWSOP as their first record and suddenly be well known all over the world.” However, “it was so big that perhaps some people find it hard to get beyond it. It might It might get played frequently at weddings but so has ‘Magdalene, My Regal Zonophone’, at a wedding in Norway”.
I asked Gary specifically about the concert at Ledreborg Castle in 2006 (captured on DVD) which came about because of Procol’s previous work with orchestras (most famously live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra) and Gary commented that “the Danish Radio Orchestra were right up to scratch with technical ways of amplifying for the flutes, violas etcetera and that it was a big jump for orchestras to play with rock groups.”
I clarified a few things about THE PARAMOUNTS from Southend-on-Sea, the ‘Essex Delta’:
Gary: I was in a group called The Coasters, Robin Trower and Chris Copping were in The Raiders and all the local groups assembled to have a great band contest. I think we came second- we were an instrumental band, we had two guitarists and a piano - we shouldn’t even have come second, our guitarist was fantastic and we played Les Paul songs. I was the only piano player there, Robin and Chris, the drummer from the winners Mickey Law and The Outlaws Mick Brownlee and singer Bob Scott of The Clansman were chosen as a ‘supergroup’ who would be called The Paramounts – literally the top ‘band’. “
In response to me asking about The Paramounts songs ‘Bad Blood’ and a cover of Charles Mingus’s ‘Freedom’ which are often cited as examples of an embryonic Procol Harum, Gary responded, “The Paramounts didn’t write their own songs, just a B side here and there, we weren’t really songwriters at all, we just tried to find unusual songs from the R&B catalogue. Things started to change - I think our last recording was ‘Freedom’, quite adventurous, probably in 1966. Anyway, we’d had enough, got a job backing Sandie Shaw and supporting Chris Andrews on a German tour - Robin Trower had had enough full stop and we went our own separate ways. Then I sat down and thought, “I think I’ll be a songwriter” and then I met Keith Reid and all the influences of the music I’d ever listened to got mixed up in what I wrote.”
Phil: Despite the serious stuff there were always great melodies and fun in PH numbers. I’m thinking of ‘Mabel’ and ‘Good Captain Clack’ and later songs like ‘A Souvenir of London’ which always bring a smile to my face. Humour has always been important for you, hasn’t it?
Gary: There’s always a light moment, not all doom, death and reflection. We’ve always been happy with albums having bit of humour. ‘Fresh Fruit’ had that element in it. Keith knew how to write humorous lyrics. He thought ‘A Salty Dog’ was going to be a humorous song. To me it was serious- man’s journey through life to reach a greater heaven- I didn’t see any humour in it. Keith would see something the wrong way round “all hands on deck - we’ve run afloat”- you don’t run afloat you run aground!
Phil: Progressive rock became unpopular in the punk era but has returned as one of the most popular genres now. When I interviewed Roine Stolt of THE FLOWER KINGS he remembered buying ‘Shine On Brightly’ at the age of 11 and his band went on to record ‘In Held ‘Twas In I’. He said your voice is one of the greatest in rock (I would add soul).
Gary: Sometimes people think about who they are going to appeal to but we never did that. The reason we cross over and are considered in the progressive rock genre is that we always wanted to progress our music. There was no such word as prog rock or progressive rock at the time of ‘Shine On Brightly’. We did something 20 minutes long short suite- a progressive idea; it’s nice that the Swedish man could see that.
As for singing I express myself as best as I can. I’d like to be able to sing as well as the Everly Brothers Sam Cooke or even Elvis - to have that talent to communicate with their voices. Our songs of course started with some rather strange lines: “skip the light fandango”, “multi-lingual business friend”, “my Prussian blue electric clocks”- most people look at that and say- I can’t sing that!
Phil: When Procol Harum split it must have been quite a wrench but post-Procol you played with some fantastic musicians. Do you have any particular reflections on this. Mine would be hearing your duet with Kate Bush on ‘Somewhere In Between’ and being disappointed when you didn’t turn up again on ’50 Words for Snow’!
Gary: Yes, I’ve played with interesting people like Eric Clapton- imagine playing piano or singing along and you’ve got those guitar solos coming at you, it’s a great place to be! Then there’s Ringo’s All Star Band with Jack Bruce, Peter Frampton, Todd Rundgren and Simon Kirke. Also, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings with Georgie Fame and Albert Lee.
Phil: I seem to remember you first met Bill Wyman when he was with The Cliftons on the same bill as The Paramounts. Both The Stones and The Paramounts recorded ‘Poison Ivy’.
GB: Yes, we knew The Stones. They were going to release ‘Poison Ivy’ as a single but withdrew it when they knew we were doing it. It ended up on an EP I believe.
I thanked Gary for being very generous with his time and personally thanked him and Procol Harum for their brilliant, timeless music which has provided the soundtrack to many people’s lives.