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Gary Brooker : 'The Tracks of my Tears'

Interviewed (late 2014) by Ken Bruce, BBC Radio 2

Listen to the interview here, and read the transcript below (Ken Bruce,  in small green writing; Gary Brooker in black)

B Bumble & The Stingers – Nut Rocker | Emeli Sandé – Next To Me

George Harrison – My Sweet Lord | Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights

Chuck Berry – Memphis Tennessee | Andy Fairweather–Low – Life Ain't No Competition

The Beatles – Day Tripper | Ray Charles – What'd I Say

The Rolling Stones – The Last Time | The Coasters – Searchin'

Pictured with Gary Brooker, the presenter Ken Bruce (right)

Image from the BBC website: click here to see it in context and follow links to see what else Ken Bruce was playing


Ken Bruce
Time for The Tracks of My Years. This week, Gary Brooker, the leading light of Procol Harum, chooses the tracks of his years [Station ID]. Yes, Gary Brooker’s choices, beginning this week with B Bumble and the Stingers.

Gary Brooker
Well, it’s a great bit of piano–playing, in a really true Rock style, and I think at the time I was very impressed with the fact that ‘Mr Bumble’ had mixed in a Classical piece and just turned it into a great Rock classic. You know, the opening I think is from The Nutcracker Suite – this was … when ‘Nutrocker’ comes from … starts off with it as Tchaikovsky wrote it, more or less, and then goes, then goes wild [laughter].

What age roughly would you have been when you first heard this, do you think? Young teenage, probably?

Young teenage, perhaps fourteen or something.

And did that inspire you, that make you think ‘This is what I want to do’?

I was already, I think, probably playing piano. I was having piano lessons, had done since I was about five. So, if you like, Rock was just starting, and it was just obvious that piano was part of Rock. And yes, it did inspire me, and I thought ‘Well, this is what I want to do.’

Right! And you did. You did, OK. Ah let’s jump forward right to pretty much the present and Emili Sandé with Next to Me.

Well, I wanted to have something modern to play here, and this is about as modern as I get. Although I listen to everything that’s on the radios, it doesn’t always prick my ears up. There’s a lot of stuff which seems to sound very the same, and over–produced, and … but there’s something about Emili Sandé which I just thought, ‘Hang on,’ and I saw her perform on her own once, and then she comes out with this – I suppose it’s like a disco dance song – but it seemed to have a great production, and I could hear everything she was singing … I like the drums on it as well.

So this is, to you, the embodiment of good modern music?

Good modern music, this is what it sounds like, yeah.

Well, I was always a great fan of George Harrison, in fact he did ask me to come along, and I played on this one as well.

Did you play on this?


Oh, right! Oh, how did that happen?

We recorded at Abbey Road. Ah, you just get a phone call, [Scouse accent] ‘George here,’ you know, ‘Can you come round the studios?’

Oh, right!

So I did [laughs].

There you are! Now we’ll always know, you’re there.

Yeah, it was a tremendous day, because it was done ‘live’, if you like, so everyone was playing that was on it: you've got Ringo on drums, Badfinger were on acoustic guitars, Eric Clapton’s in the corner, and we’re all thrashing away. And then you walked back into the control room, and there was Phil Spector in there, and you’ve got this complete wall of sound … which, er, didn’t sound anything like what we’d been doing in the studio … but it was a fantastic sound.

[laughter] A great memorable moment for you as well, to be part of something like that.

Oh yeah, it sort of continued on, um, I ended up playing at The Concert for George as well, his memorial if you like, in The Albert Hall, many many … well, after his death … so I always retained the connection there.

Yeah. You were a friend.

Yeah, I’d like to call him a friend.

Yeah, absolutely. Next one is Kate Bush and Wuthering Heights.

Kate Bush, you can’t say much about. It’s very hard to find a track by Kate, because they all seem to be Off the Wall. Er, and I did record quite a few times with Kate, so … I really appreciate her and I think she’s one of the greatest … I mean, I’m not saying that because she’s just had a resurgence if you like … I’ve always believed that she’s got a huge amount of content and I’d love to hear more on the radio even than Wuthering Heights, but when this first came out, I think late 70s, it was absolutely astounding.

Well Chuck Berry I think was a very important part of most people that aspired to play in bands – let’s say the early 60s – Chuck Berry nailed it every time. I think he actually – I’m sure he’s thought of – he’s one of the greatest, the greatest rock lyricist: every track that he put out, from Roll Over Beethoven to this one, you know, it told a tremendous story, in a really brilliant way. And even if you were British, and had never heard of ‘Memphis, Tennessee’, or never knew what it was like to grow up by the railroad tracks, playing a guitar, it took you somewhere every time. I think the story of this, with its punchline, its hook at the end, is a lovely story, and slightly different from his other, rock ones. It’s got a marvellous sound to it which everybody absolutely adored at the time, and still does.

Great variety in his work. It doesn’t always seem so at first, but when you get into it a bit more, you can hear: every song’s different.

Well I mean some, if you like, sometimes get over–worked, in that everybody plays Roll Over Beethoven,
or Sweet Little Rock and Roller or something, and you can find tracks like this one or Jo Jo Gunne or something, Havana Moon … stories all over the place.

Yeah, great fella. Ah, next, Andy Fairweather Low, who was, like you, a young man in a band in the 60s, and Life Ain't No Competition is the track you’ve gone for.

Well I worked with Andy a lot over the years. We’ve had a good rock and roll band over the last couple of decades, at least, and we get together at least, at least once a year, to play just our roots music. And Andy now, although he’s been accompanying many artists over the years, from Van Morrison to Roger Waters to Eric Clapton, he’s been making his own solo albums; and I think on this one he gets … it’s him at his best, and he’s got a good groove going, he’s a lovely guitar–player, and vocals … recognise him every time.

I eventually got round to liking the Beatles. [see here]

What, you didn’t start off liking them?

No, I always liked them, but there was time, early 60s there, where you kind of liked The Stones, or you liked The Beatles. And I was a Stones man, you know, for admiring what they did, but then … I had a group called The Paramounts, before Procol Harum, and we had the good luck to do many tours with these people. We did a tour in 1965 with The Beatles, and, um, we used to watch them from the wings. And they had this particular track out, Day Tripper, on that tour, and just used to stand at the side mesmerised, because if you were out front you couldn’t hear them because everybody was screaming; but at the side you could hear their vocals, and the way they were playing. And they were good guys, although they were trapped: you know, they couldn’t go out anywhere, because they were … so famous.

Yeah. You had more freedom. Although you were famous, you weren’t at that stratospheric level.

[laughs] No, I don’t think so, I could go out and get some fish and chips without being harassed. I went out with John Lennon one night, while we were on tour, I think it was Newcastle or somewhere, he said, ‘Come on Gary, we’ll go at get some fish and chips’. So he disguised himself, and we went out and we got it. And then walked, you know, walked along the road eating it, and then when we got back to the theatre at the stage door, they wouldn’t let him in! [laughter]. Well he was disguised …

It was too good a disguise …

He said, ‘But I’m in The Beatles,’ and the doorman actually said, ‘You couldn’t come in here if you were John Lennon himself’. But he was.

[laughter]. A great story. Lovely. Your next one is … Ray Charles, singing What’d I Say.

I think I heard this, I went to Paris with the school, and we went into a coffee bar ... the juke box, and this sound suddenly came out of it. I’d never heard anything like it at all. It absolutely wiped me out: it does to this day. From that moment on, I wanted to be Ray Charles.

Yeah, as I was saying the other day, we did tour, when I had The Paramounts, we toured quite a lot with, er, well certainly with the Rolling Stones, we became friends with them early on, they liked what The Paramounts did. When they became successful, they put a lot of their old jobs, that they were too big to play, they put them our way. Oh, I loved them on stage. They were absolutely dynamite. Well, I think this one was out when we toured with them the last time. Also I think it was one of the first ones that, er, Mick and Keith wrote as well: up to then they’d been covering old R&B classics … and it’s great.

It’s an absolute classic of itself. And finally, it’s The Coasters, and Searchin’.

I don’t know what all the other rockers at the time, when you’re growing up, thought, but I thought The Coasters were fantastic. I loved their harmonies and vocals, there was always great backing, great written songs by Leiber and Stoller, and also … they were funny.

Yeah … it was a comedy …

Yes, not like Benny Hill, Ernie the Milkman or something. But they … it was very humorous. I never actually saw them, unfortunately, but knew every one of their tracks. This one’s a little story about the detectives that were popular at the time, in comic books, or on cartoons.

 They were funny songs, weren’t they, they were … witty.

They were very witty, and in fact we worked with Leiber and Stoller with Procol Harum when we made our ninth album, we dragged them out of the woodwork … they were fine guys … and it was an honour, honour to work with them.

Tell me about the Procol Harum story today. What is the story? We heard our wonderful BBC Radio 2 Procol Harum in concert not long ago, a terrific concert: you must have been very happy with that.

Well, happily … I waited … boy, did I wait … but finally the BBC Concert Orchestra asked us to come and play with them … a fabulous choir … did it at The Dominion and it all went smoothly. [laughter]

Has it fired you up? To do, um, more?

Well … I think I’ve always been fired up. I might not look it [laughter] but I am, and you know, with Procol we enjoy touring, we enjoy playing live, and we do quite a bit of it. Not three–month tours, round the world; but you know, we do a fair amount of gigs.

You got any [plans for recordings?

Er, yes, we hope to record some new songs; we do have a record label and a contract, so that’s a good start.


Trouble is, there aren’t any record shops.

But there are ways and means …

We’ll get round …

[laughter] People … people get the music somehow, don’t they?

I like the hardware of it, you know. Vinyl’s coming back … that’s fine with me, because at least I can read the artwork that’s on it.

It becomes more of an experience, doesn’t it, when you’ve got something to … something chunky to hold … and to appreciate. It adds to the experience …

Yes, and I think of course, the quality … that you have on a CD particularly, it reached its peak. Er, mp3s, you lose a lot of frequencies, and to listen, walk round with it coming out of your earphones … There is another way to listen to music, and that’s through great big speakers, up to full volume.

That’s the way ahead [laughter]. Gary it’s wonderful to see you here. Many more years of making music, I hope, lie ahead of you.

I hope too. Thank you very much, Ken.

(thanks, Carol, for all the typing)

More interviews and printed history at this website

Gary Brooker's BtP page

Compare with GB's 1999 Radio selection

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