THEY’RE FLYING in from all over the world to listen to Procol Harum play live. The English rock band who made one of the all-time biggest world No 1 hit songs, A Whiter Shade of Pale, are alive and well. But they are making their only appearance in the world this year in England.
Fans of the band will be arriving on September 17 at Guildford from five continents to hear Procol play by special invitation with an orchestra, choir and fireworks at the climax at an all-day multi-media arts festival entitled The Web.
And it’s the worldwide web which has brought the fans together for the concert, many of whom log in to a 2,000-page Procol Harum website. They’re coming from Scandinavia, Europe, the Mediterranean, Australia, the USA, and even Peru in South America
People simply desperate to hear the band, who last toured in 1995, were frustrated when Procol Harum abandoned their plan to stage their Millennium appearance in the Millennium Dome.
Now the Guildford announcement has got them booking hotels in Guildford from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Northern Ireland and Crete, as well as Queensland, and at least 10 of the United States - where former Procol percussionist Barrie Wilson, voted world No 1 rock drummer in an internet poll last year, is buried.
A Whiter Shade of Pale continues to fascinate and haunt the globe with a magic which not only earns it repeated radio airtime but use too in radio and TV commercials. The record has long outlived the age which gave it birth. Its heady mix of images, sparking off a variety of interpretations, has proved timeless and fashionless.
Enigmatic, mystical, with even erotic lyrics written by East Ender, Keith Reid, and churchy, Bach-inspired organ played by South-Londoner, Matthew Fisher, will be heard in the flesh at The Web and it will be the subject of two forthcoming TV documentaries - all of 33 years since it soared to the top as the music of the 1960s reached a peak.
Musical experts reckon the song, which fascinated the Beatles and has since been interpreted by top female artistes as well, such as Sarah Brightman and Annie Lennox, was the first rock anthem and the inspiration, since, of such epics as Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
It now has a permanent niche in everyday British life. The composer, Gary Brooker, recently heard it played at a funeral.
'People have been getting married to the song ever since it first came out,’ mused the delighted 55-year-old maestro, 'And people who lost their virginity to it are now getting buried to it!’
It’s not unusual. The song sold 11 million copies and it’s found on many a crematorium playlist, having already long been part of church organists’ wedding repertoires.
The pianist and bluesy vocalist even has a friend, a countess, who confesses she gave birth to it.
`Just about the only thing it hasn’t caught on for is christenings,’ Brooker said.
Brooker’s voice, now in vintage condition like many great singers in middle age, is much in demand. He was head-hunted by Beatle Ringo Starr and Rolling Stone Bill Wyman to play and sing on their recent tours, and he was given a singing role in the movie Evita.
'I enjoy singing even more, now, than ever,’ he vowed.
Procol Harum are still in demand, too. Far from being aged and past it, the band have a 29-year-old bass player in Matt Pegg. 'We’re in better shape than we ever have been,’ said Brooker.
If British rock music is a national export, then this band is also proving, effectiively to be a tourist attraction.
Further details from Diane Rolph, including interview appointments with Gary Brooker : mail to this address
internet info contacts : www.guildford-arts.org.uk