Late in 1998, after an interesting conversation about the Solid Silver album, 'Beyond the Pale' invited Bobby Harrison to reflect in general on his brief time with Procol Harum: genial, quick-talking and still unmistakably a Londoner, Bobby had plenty of unexpected insights to offer into that troubled era.
Like all attempts to document Procol history, this conversation contains a number of surprises: the opinions are all Bobby's, of course: so read on, and, as ever, draw your own conclusions.
Can we start with Matthew Fisher's first solo album, where you put some harmony vocals on his Going For A Song ...
Yes, I did a bit on that album with him.
The two phrases you sing are, 'It really brings me down' and 'It makes me feel so sad'. Does that relate to A Whiter Shade of Pale, which gets its organ melody quoted in that song?
I was always concerned that he wasn't getting his just rewards. I went to court with them, you know that. Two years it took me and Royer. I was always unhappy that he [Fisher] never received what he should have got: that organ part is definitely the selling-part, with the vocal. I think that should have been ... you know like on Baker Street you got that ... (sings trademark sax riff) ... you know I think Matthew should have got something for that. I know again, today, if he pursued it he could do it. I know people that have done it. Yeah, I've always thought he deserved much more with that.
I was on Homburg. Never saw a penny from that.
I thought BJ overdubbed you on that?
He overdubbed the snare drum, the offbeat, that's all.
You must have recorded that very early on with Procol, then.
I did, yeah.
What other tracks do we hear you on. Apart from the obvious Lime Street Blues?
I must have been on three-quarters of the first album. She Wandered Through the Garden Fence ... (pause) ... whatever there was on there.
Surely the band re-recorded those from scratch?
No, I don't think so.
You know Westside put out what they claimed at the time were the Royer / Harrison versions of Something Following Me and Cerdes.
That was on the Anthology.
It was on something called Procol Harum ... Plus! But those versions turned out to be the same performances as the ones we've been listening to for thirty years.
I think you've always been listening to the Harrison / Royer versions.
What's Ray Royer doing now?
Unfortunately I'm not a great fan of Ray Royer's, so I don't particularly find out what he's doing, I don't really want to know.
Is he in music still?
No ... I can't hack it with Ray Royer.
Do you think that if he had been a different player in the Procol days, you would have still been in the band?
(Long pause) I don't know how to answer that. I would say 'Yes,' they should never have split the band up, the band was going to get better and better, but we never got the chance. If the original band had stayed together I think they would have been ... bigger. But because of the change of personnel ... they changed the personnel because maybe they got better musicians but ... they didn't have the magic that the original band had. Denny Cordell was behind it all. And Tony Secunda.
Are you saying they were behind firing you and Ray Royer?
Not Brooker and Reid?
No. No. I don't think so, not from my experience. It came from Denny Cordell and Tony Secunda.
And their reason?
Well Ray and I were against Keith Reid becoming a sixth member. He was the lyricist really, as far as I was concerned, and the man that got things together. I thought being the sixth member, and playing tambourine, I didn't think ... that was going to be any kind of focal point for Procol Harum.
He did play tambourine on stage, did he?
He wanted to. Only on a couple of occasions. I thought it would take away from Procol, rather than add. And me being the eldest one in the band, you see, I was doing quite a bit of talking, trying to keep it together. That I think had a large impact on Denny Cordell wanting me out of the band.
I didn't want to change the management. When we had a Number One hit everything was changed around. When we were down there rehearsing, we were all happy together. We had Jonathan Weston working for us and everything was lovely, hunky-dory. But as soon as we got a Number One hit, mate, then they all moved in, including what's-his-face from the publishing, and got rid of the people that were going to be the flies in the ointment, basically. Very sad.
I remember one session down at Advision, when I was playing Homburg, and he would not leave me alone. He just got on my case, and I never forgave him for that. And after all that, two hours of getting on my case with that song, he asked to borrow five quid off me, I'll never forget that. And I gave it to him! And five quid was a lot of money in those days. Matthew couldn't get over that.
And that was the take that was used!
I don't think Ray was up to it, musically, in any of the bands. I don't like to really judge him in this sort of way, but it wasn't so much that he wasn't up to it as that he had a chip on his shoulder. Which is very hard to work with.
Do you feel that the management threw out the baby with the bathwater?
I think ... it made me very paranoid. I wasn't used to that kind of handling. It made me very nervous.
So when you say people didn't get their just rewards, is it the management that you're pointing the finger at?
The people that were more involved in control of the money was Brooker and Reid, and what they said basically went, I think. I'd already left the band, I didn't know what was going on with that really; but personally, myself, the only money that I ever had has been from A Whiter Shade of Pale which basically was the only track I didn't play on (laughs).
Bill Eyden gets on my nerves, because ... the guy accepted session fees, and when we got to Number One he wanted his cut ... the one reason Royer and myself won our case was because we'd done all the donkey-work for the promotion of the song, more or less six months of hard graft on radio, concerts and so on. But Eyden accepted a session fee, he didn't do any promotion, and yet he gets a big spread in the newspapers saying he's the one that played on Whiter Shade of Pale while Bobby Harrison was sitting in the studio. But I'd only joined the band that night!
But there is a recording of A Whiter Shade of Pale with you on it.
I know, that's the second one, the six-minute one.
Why did they re-record it?
Um ... I tell you why, if you listen to the six-minute one ... for me, Gary goes flat, and sharp, so that's the reason why they didn't use that.
But they didn't do that vocal at the same time as the backing track, did they? Surely there's a backing-track recorded separately?
I think they did. In those days I think we went for the live takes, couldn't replace anything afterwards. Not in those days. But I think the feel ... they went for the one with Bill Eyden on because of the feel ... but the band were really against that ... they didn't want that one.
So whose decision was it?
But in the end he wasn't wrong, was he?
Yes, of course he wasn't wrong. But who's not to know that if the six-minute one come out maybe that would have done even better. But there you go, we had no control over it.
And, with the industry being so much younger then ...
Of course it was, we were like little babies ...
How old were Secunda and Cordell?
Roughly a bit older than me, they'd been college boys and you know ... university ...
Were you aware of the influence of Guy Stevens? Did you meet the famous cat?
No I didn't know anything about the cat, after all don't forget I was the last to join after they'd gone through about forty drummers, even though they knew me from way back, in the Rockefellas. All I remember was that in the early months, Guy Stevens was always around, until Denny Cordell and Tony Secunda and David Platz became involved.
I got on well with Keith Reid, I got on well with Gary: we were all good mates, really close.
I thought you implied that Keith and Gary called the shots ...
After the band had split. Then they called in Robin Trower. He didn't even play live with the band did he? He only done session work.
There are some pretty well-known audience tapes of Trower playing live with the band! Certainly when they went over to the States.
(Genial) Well, I don't know that. I don't think Robin done very much live work with them.
What about favourite gigs that you played yourself? There must be some performance memories ...
Well I remember the night we played with Hendrix. Bloody nervous, I was, we all were, I can tell you. We'd just got to number one, I think it was ... all the heroes were there ... Paul McCartney was up in the balcony with his girlfriend. I don't think any of us thought we played that well. Denny Laine was on that bill with us, Denny Laine's Electric Light Orchestra.
A few last questions, Bobby: did you play a song called Alpha?
I remember the title.
It's about someone with an eye in the middle of their head.
That must have been a very early session.
And did you play on one of the versions of In the Wee Small Hours of Sixpence?
Yes, I drummed on that. I remember recording loads of stuff with Procol in those early days. In fact I remember playing probably stuff that I don't even remember. Have Love, Will Travel. That was one we were recording.
Not a Keith Reid song, surely?
Gary Brooker, I think. I know we used to do it live.
Did you have many songs in the repertoire that weren't Keith and Gary's?
Not many, I would think. Morning Dew we used to open up with, by Tim Rose. I ended up playing with him. I made a couple of albums with him.
I took over from the guy in Zeppelin that died.
Yeah, John Bonham. I got the job from him.
But you didn't drum in Snafu, I think. What was the reason for that?
Because my voice was really taking over and I wanted to become frontman really, I wanted to get up front and lead the band. And that's when ... we decided to change everything when Freedom split up, hence the solo album. And then from there on I went solo.
When you were with Procol Harum, did you ever feel that you wanted to do the singing there?
Yes. I wanted to be very prominent as a vocalist in Procol, you know, but obviously that wasn't on.
Was that because Gary was already the singer, or because you were in there behind the kit?
No, I could sing behind the kit, all right. I'd done years singing behind the kit in the East End.
Yet Gary became a fan of Snafu's, I think. Have you had anything to do with him?
Not really. I've spoken fairly recently with him, must be about a year ago. I mean .... we're all right ... we're professional, you know. Procol Harum is something of a grey area to me, now. (Genial) Of course I was bitter, very bitter in those days, but that's all forgotten. Water under the bridge.
Bobby Harrison's page at 'Beyond the Pale'