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the Pale 

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February 2002: Keith Reid interview from UCLA

Part One

Guest DJ No 6 at broadcast his fifth internet Procol Harum marathon on Saturday 23 February, including this brand-new interview with Procol Harum's Keith Reid, recorded on 4 February 2002


First mp3 extract: DJ Number Six introduces the interview

DJ Number Six
Certainly the success of your recent Procol Harum tours, the success of the 'Beyond the Pale' Website, and even this Procol Harum marathon series we're doing here at UCLA suggests that you really do have a very large and faithful fan base out there. I've been a long-time admirer of your brilliant writing. The words that you write create unique images - visual images - of dreamy atmospheres and landscapes that really take the listeners to another place. So where do you get your inspiration? Where do the ideas come from?

Second mp3 extract: Keith Reid talks about the sources of inspiration


Keith Reid
Well, you know that's one of those questions like how - long is a piece of string. I mean, it's here, there, and everywhere, really. It's something that you think you heard that you didn't hear, something that you kind of get a glimpse of. I'm sure you've heard other writers say this ... It's a question of being ready to receive. Putting yourself in a receptive state. And when you are in a receptive state, it seems like songs, ideas for songs come to you, like every day. I mean you can be in a receptive state and just everything that seems to happen seems to trigger something. But when you're not in a receptive state ... it doesn't happen. So ... it's more a question of making yourself open to receiving ideas rather than finding them.

So, essentially it sounds like ideas come from just life - experiences, and real life experiences ...

Yeah. It just comes from your senses being open. Your senses are open so you just absorb what's going on around you. And you're receptive. Sometimes things are very direct, I mean. I think this is probably an example I've quoted before, but it's because it's a very good example. One time ... I can remember I was wanting to write a song, it was around the time ... writing songs which turned out to be an album called Grand Hotel. And I just was wanting to write some songs and I'm just holding a pencil; and the pencil says 'A Souvenir of London' on it. So that inspired me to write a song, about ... which was called A Souvenir of London, but it was ... I don't know if you're familiar with it.

Yes I am familiar with it. That's the "VD" one ( laughs)

Well. So if you see what I mean. From holding a pencil which says 'A Souvenir of London' to writing that song ... So really it's a question of ... it's not direct in that way. It's just ... you kind of look at something and it makes you think of something else.

I remember reading also that Dead Man's Dream originated from your seeing the movie Midnight Cowboy or something along those lines.

God, I don't know if that's true. I mean it's such a long time ago since that song. I don't remember that. It could be true but I don't remember. [The Midnight Cowboy connection is explicit in 1970's 'The Procol Harum' video by Robin Copping: see here]

Third mp3 extract: Keith Reid talks about his influences

Now, are there certain writers that have influenced you over the years?

Oh, very much so. I mean, without question, Bob Dylan was a huge influence on me, right at the beginning. Because he was the first person that when I heard him ... I thought "hmm," maybe I would do that. So although I'd liked a lot of music and liked a lot of songs before then, it was Dylan that made me think I could write. So I'd have to say he was a very formative influence on me. And then I've also been influenced by things like ... playwrights. I like Pinter and Samuel Beckett and people like that. And so it's kind of style ... and I actually find I'm quite influenced by painters as well. I think my outlook, as a writer, is more like the way a painter approaches a painting then it is, say another songwriter's or anything like that. People like Bacon - I'm a big fan of Francis Bacon and people like that.

And your writing is very visual, too.

Yeah, but also just in the way I write. I can't remember who it was ... I once read a quote by a painter who said that you're given a piece of the puzzle. You have a piece and then you build the picture from the piece. And kind of that's the way I write songs, as well. You've just got a little piece - which is your bit of inspiration and then you kind of make a picture that fits the pieces of the puzzle you've been given. So it's a kind of painterly approach.

Fourth mp3 extract: Keith Reid talks about AWSoP

It's been now nearly 35 years since the release of Whiter Shade of Pale and its music and words remain haunting, it 's been performed by thousands of musicians, and recent covers by people like Annie Lennox. Why has this song remained such an absolute phenomenon?

Uhm ... I think it's the words ... . I'm only joking (laughter). The words are so great ... No!

The words are great.

Well, I think in a funny way it's because it's, it's kind of loose enough to ... How can I put it? It kind of defies categorizing. You can't really put your finger on what it is and therefore ... it's kind of elusive quality to it, which kind of makes it timeless.

Well it is timeless and I think people spend a lot of time trying to analyze the exact meaning and this sort of thing and I think that's actually what makes it kind of interesting ... that there are so many ways you could read it or interpret it.

Yeah, which I think gives it a depth that sustains it as a piece of work.

Fifth mp3 extract: Keith Reid talks about writing with Gary Brooker

Now you and Gary Brooker have made a formidable team. How does the process of song writing work for the two of you? Do you write the words first and then he puts the words to song or does he write the tune first?

Yeah, 99% of our songs were written in that way.

So you write the words and then he puts it to tune.

Yeah, I mean, there are less than a handful of songs that weren't written in that way. So yes, basically the words were always written first and then they were set to music.

When Gary puts the music to your words; does it, the music, come back to you as what you would have expected? Or is it sometimes a surprise?

Very often it was a surprise. Actually, I'd have to say, not totally a surprise, 'cause usually what would happen is that I give him the words and he'd usually like me to give him not just ... he'd usually like me to give him as many as possible, so hopefully I'd give him maybe a half-a-dozen lyrics, depending on how productive I'd been. And usually then he'd give me a call after a while and say, 'I've got some ideas and come down and have a listen'. And he wouldn't usually have written the whole ... set the whole thing to music. He'd have ideas and just sort of play them to me, and we'd sort of go 'Yes that works ... that works, good and maybe it could go here or maybe it could go there'. So, on some occasions ... I remember Salty Dog being one where I'd given him the lyric and then sometime later he said, 'I've written something for this,' and played it for me and it was kind of nothing like I had imaged it, (laughs) at all. So, have I answered your question yet?

Yes. It [Salty Dog] is still one of the most powerful songs, I think. Salty Dog is a terrific song.

Right, right. I think it's one of my favorites.

What are some of the other songs that you're most proud of in terms of your work with Procol Harum?

Uhm ... God, that's difficult to say ... I sort of look at it as a whole, really. There's a few that I don't care for that much (laughs) but overall it tends to be more like that. Kind of a few that I don't like, really. You're always trying to do the best you can so, I can't say there are any that I'm prouder of ... really.

Second part of the Keith Reid interview

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