Fame & Fortune: Procol Harum founder Gary Brooker discusses the pitfalls of being a band member, from fights over copyright to dodgy managers
|Melody maker: 'I donít think extravagance is in my nature,' says Procol Harum's Gary Brooker, who still regularly performs|
|Clockwise, from upper left: singer Gary Brooker, drummer BJ (Barrie) Wilson, bassist David Knights, guitarist Robin Trower, songwriter Keith Reid, and organist Matthew Fisher|
Gary Brooker, 70, found fame in 1967 when he formed Procol Harum and sang A Whiter Shade of Pale that became an instant worldwide hit and one of the most performed songs of all time. Today he lives in Surrey with his wife Franky.
How did your childhood influence your attitude to money?
My father was a professional musician at the top of his game in the Forties, as a Hawaiian guitarist. I grew up with kind of a strange life. We had our own house in Bush Hill Park, a leafy suburb of Enfield and I remember life being very comfortable.
By the Fifties he had a residency at Southend-on-Sea with his orchestra. It must have been quite hard for my mum with him gone five nights a week playing, so in the end we moved there. When I came of age she encouraged me to have a profession, as long as it wasnít music.
What was your first job?
My father died suddenly, of a heart attack at 42, when I was 11. We werenít ready for that and the bottom dropped out of everything. He hadnít really provided and weíd just moved and bought another place, presumably with a mortgage which my mother was left with.
She got a job and was careful with money after that. I donít think she ever saved; it was make ends meet.
I got a paper round after my dad died which involved cycling round at 6.30 in the morning with a heavy bag, especially on Sundays.
I interspersed that after a couple of years with helping the milkman out on Sunday mornings on his milk float.
Are you a spender or a saver?
Whatís nice if you donít spend beyond your means and youíve built up some savings, you can go, ďI think Iíll get one of those.Ē Might be a nice car or something youíve always wanted.
When I was about 13, a neighbour with two sons my age was secretary to the Conservative MP for Southend-on-Sea and used to give me nuggets of information. When I got paid £1 for my first amateur job as a musician he said, ďRemember, Gary, in the future only 50% of what you make is yours. The rest will go to the government.Ē
It stuck in my mind. Iíve heard about lads that have a hit record and go out and buy a Rolls for 30,000 quid (Iím talking a long time ago), and when the manager goes wrong and the taxman asks for £200,000 they go, ďWell, Iíve spent it.Ē
How did personnel changes affect your income?
Weíd just turned professional as The Paramounts just before our cover version of Poison Ivy got into the British charts (#35) in 1964. None of us went to work.
We were 17 or 18, going to be a band and had a pretty good manager. With Procol Harum it was a bit of a mess for a few weeks, bit of a shock. This record we thought would be a hit [A Whiter Shade of Pale Ė AWSoP] was more than that. I donít think the music industry was quite ready for something so popular globally so quickly.
We got rid of the manager and found another, Tony Secunda, who was a bit more switched on Ė sometimes a bit too switched on. Paris Match wanted to interview us and he said, ďWeíll tell them no. Itís best to keep people wanting.Ē Whereas Lady Gaga would probably say yes Iíll do Paris Match.
We werenít ready as a band. We had to change two of the musicians. One didn't play on AWSoP anyway, and the other who did you canít hear what he played. They all to this day earn a slice of that record.
I donít see the point in your accountant avoiding tax for four years, who says, ďIím sorry but you owe the taxman £125,000Ē. ďWell why didnít we pay it at the time?Ē
Iíve had a couple of those. You learn. The first time it happened I thought I donít like this. The second one didnít grab enough back, for expenses. But Iíve been happy with the people Iím with now.
Did you ever get into financial difficulty?
No, but probably because I listened to the secretary to the Conservative MP! In the music industry people always get chiselled by managers and record companies. Itís quite self-regulating but there are always surprises.
When I started Procol Harum I thought, Iíve been in The Paramounts for three or four years with record contracts, I know everything. When I write a song Iím going to make sure itís copyrighted. Forty years later turns out the copyright doesnít really protect the writer. I also hope for most rock artistsí sake that tour and road managers never decide they shouldíve had a pension for their 25 years of loyalty. The band is usually surrounded by a lot of people that work with them, particularly out on the road. But they arenít really protected in that job.
Whatís the most extravagantly youíve splashed out?
Iím really ashamed that I havenít. I donít think extravagance is in my nature. The worst thing Iíve ever done is buy a house to move into before Iíd sold the one before.
All the agents told me, ďYouíll have no trouble selling this.Ē Three years later Iím still waiting.
I never hold back on a good party, but perhaps I donít have enough imagination to book something outrageous. I also think of the people Iím inviting. You canít say weíre going to Ocho Rios in Jamaica to celebrate my fiftieth birthday; weíd love to see you there. Nobody would come.
Have you saved for your retirement?
Iím not retired. Artists in the music business can never know how long their earning power will last. Itís worse than being footballers who, when theyíre no longer as good, are still an important part of teams, and if theyíre lucky they go into management and really make money.
You need a good accountant. Accountants are as hard to find as a decent manager.
Do you have Isas?
After many years hearing about Isas finally I did buy an Isa for myself and one for the wife. You were allowed at one point to spend £7,000 in one year.
The stock market goes up and down and if you give it a five-year period you will always be up. We bought ours in 2001 and sat waiting for it to grow but nobody told me theyíd send jets into the New York World Trade Centre. The bottom fell out of the market and theyíre still having trouble now. I can tell it from my Isa. Itís gradually growing. My wife did badly but mine was more risky; I donít mind a risk. I said put it all into East German concrete and I think mineís double by now. I think the Indians and the Chinese might come up in the next couple of years.
Have you ever been ripped off?
Yes, I wouldnít have gone through life without a good old rip-off. I did buy a couple of oil wells for about $18,000 [all up], but they didnít really exist. And if they did they didnít have any oil in them. The guy I bought them through suddenly was bankrupt, an American trusted friend who must have been mad as well.
I was going through a spell that whatever I did I seemed to win. That was a nice lesson in losing.
How much money has A Whiter Shade of Pale made?
Iíve no idea. As far as fame and fortune goes you get to your comfort zone and then youíre rich enough. I wonít say Iím fortunate but weíve never had any children. Per child thatís probably saved us £100,000 a year.
I see what some of my friends pay for school fees and straw hats with their hockey sticks and uniform: itís endless, and itís a huge thing youíd have to go out and work for.
How much did the lawsuit over copyright-sharing with Matthew Fisher, Hammond organist on AWSoP, cost you in legal fees?
You could probably say goodbye to a million. I havenít totalled it up because it would frighten me too much. You just lose trust in British justice; I think lawyers ought to be shot.
Whatís the most youíve earned at any one time?
I think my small part in [Alan Parkerís] Evita would take the biscuit, playing Juan Atilio Bramuglia, the Foreign Minister of the Argentine Government. I canít remember how much I was paid, but for a couple of days work it was good.
Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands?
Does money make you happy?
Itís a means to an end. It means you can build that model railway set you always wanted to without worrying. But it doesnít mean Iím going to have a 60 foot yacht with a crew.
Whatís the best thing you ever bought?
I did buy a girl once who cost me twice the normal price Ė for the marriage licence because she was from Switzerland. It cost twice what it wouldíve for a girl from Southend. It was usually seven and six and I had to pay 15 shillings, and she was worth it because weíre still together and I met her fifty years ago.
Procol Harum will perform at the ĎGiants of Rockí Festival at Butlins, Minehead in Somerset on 30 January 2016
Gary Brooker's page at 'Beyond the Pale' | Procol Harum history in print