This Gary Brooker interview was conducted in 1990 by Carsten Overgaard and Niels-Erik Mortensen: we've split it into various parts: find the rest by clicking here
Working with other Procols
About the Latin name. How did you invent that? [see here]
We didn't invent it, our manager at the time 'phoned up and said he'd found a name. We said, 'What is it?' 'Procol Harum.' 'Oh, great.' And it sounds like us, in fact, sounds like what we sound like, so that was that. He didn't just pluck it out of the air, it was the name of a Pedigree name of a cat of a friend of his. And ... er ... of course everyone went, 'What does it mean? What does it mean?' We didn't know it, so we had to find out. We did find out that we actually had got the name wrong over the telephone, we spelt it wrong. But in Latin, the cat's name was 'Procul' with a 'u' and 'Harun' with an 'n' on the end, 'Beyond these things' in Latin. We got round to saying that Procol Harum in fact meant 'Beyond these things', which was a nice coincidence: at least it didn't mean, 'I'm going to town to buy a cow' or something.
One question about the tune, The Devil Came From Kansas from the album A Salty Dog. I believe I can hear additional or artificial double-tracking on this tune. It sounds as if your voice is in double.
It's er ... it's the echo systems of the time: it was purely tape-echo. Rather the sort of crude echoes of the time, it's only the same version as ... that um Elvis Presley has on heartbreak Hotel. It's the same echo.
But it was only a one-time echo.
Yes, it's single-repeat: I think ... maybe my voice comes out of one side and the repeat comes out of the other.
You changed the line-up of Procol Harum quite often. Why?
Well um ... you've ... well either it's because somebody wanted to leave ...
Yeah, he never did like touring. Um, sometimes, well ... sometimes people want to leave, or sometimes it seems that you feel that somebody in some ways is holding you back, perhaps, or is not ... is not quite the right player to go in some other direction that you feel you might want to go in. Or sometimes you just ... you know the personalities start to rub a bit and you just ... you know ... it's usually quite a mutual thing.
So there was no harm done between you and the people who left the band?
Oh no no, not at all. No everybody has always remained, to varying extents, friends, some of them very close and some of them not so close, but all ... , oh no, all perfectly amicable and on speaking terms with them. Good luck to anybody, you know ... I mean some of the guys left to pursue solo careers and some of them just left, you know, but I hope they've all done well.
But your last solo album, Echoes in the Night, from 1985, it is really almost a resurrection of the Procol Harum, at least some of the songs were made and performed by the original Procol Harum backbone. I mean BJ Wilson, Matthew Fisher, Keith Reid and yourself.
But you didn't call it Procol Harum
No, because there were other songs on there that ... I mean it wasn't a Procol Harum, it wasn't ... I mean even the words that Keith has contributed to that album are not very Procol Harum-like, if there is such a thing. You know, they're much more contemporary than Keith would probably put them himself [sic]. He was amenable on, say, something like that song Echoes in the Night to developing a lyrical idea that I'd had; you know I would say , well this is what I want the chorus to be, and this is kind of the idea of the song, and he would help to develop that lyrically. I mean normally ... um ... if Keith and I are writing, he would write the words entirely separately to wheat I would wrote the music.
Afterwards? Or you had the music first?
Usually words first. Probably Saw the Fire is the most nearest to a Procol song on that album.
And the Ghost Train, I think, it sounds very Procol Harum-like, well maybe not the words but the sound and the drumming and so on
Yeah, well it is BJ on the drums, and I think that um, yeah, Matthew and I in the studio sometimes, we'd do ... it's a typical bit of working between Matthew and I that type of weird ... I mean not weirdness, there's lots of noise going on, there's lots of ... it's retrying to put life ... you know ... we're trying to recreate the ghost train, musically, that's the sort of thing that Matthew and I do together sometimes.
Did you get the idea of the song by seeing the ghost train that we hear on the record? Or was it the other way around that you wrote the song and found this train?
Er ... I don't know, can't remember how it was written (laughs) sorry. I think that it was .... that in fact was one of those rare occasions when we worked out the music and the words at the same time, which is quite a painful process, it takes a long time, it took about two days ... 'cos Keith tends to sit there for about two hours and then comes up with one more line. It'll be a good line, but it's ... you know ... it's a long time to sit there waiting (laughs)
Perhaps you could have written a few other songs in between?
Oh yeah, but you couldn't disturb him, so we just had to sit there and wait, as he stared at the wall. So it just gradually came together, words and music together, and then Matthew in fact went down to Brighton pier and ... with his tape recorder, sat on the ghost train, and recorded it, had to do that of course.
But the collaboration you have had with Matthew Fisher ... and you are still continuing this collaboration ... either you are the composer, or he is the composer, you don't do the composing together?
We do, yeah, yeah, we do the composing together.
Writing the lyrics also together with Keith Reid?
Well as I said, on that one we did and perhaps a couple of the other ones on that album. Yeah, now Matthew and I usually, well we do ... we sit down with two keyboards and he'll play ... or I'll play something and he'll play something and I'll say, 'Oh, that sounds nice' then I'll put a melody over the top and 'Oh, how about going to this chord, or that chord, and what shall we do now ... and then we just work it out.
Develop it, working together working like that?
Did you do that also back in the Procol Harum time?
(Long pause) No.
Not at all?
No. No, I think there's very few Brooker / Fisher / Reid songs.
It's only In Held 'Twas in I, I think, the others are either Fisher ...
And a few on A Salty Dog too
Well most of In Held 'Twas in I is either written by me or written by Matthew, and a few pieces of it are collaboration: I can remember one night or twice we got together and worked a couple of bits out. Most of it was done sep ... you know Matthew had In The Autumn Of My Madness, that section, and I had another bit, and we just strung them together.
But he also only worked with you on the first two albums, or three albums; the rest of the Procol Harum albums he was not really in the group.
No, he wasn't, no.
What about Keith Reid? When did you meet him, and has he ever been an integrated part of the orchestra touring with you, and so on, doing gigs with you?
I met Keith in 1966: he was introduced to me as a lyricist, and I eventually got around to writing songs with him, and Keith was always ... well him and I started the thing together really as an idea, and he always remained an important part of our thought really, you know and I suppose he's not really a manager at all, 'cos he's an artist, he's not a businessman, but um he's the sort of person that you respect his thought: he does have a good vision of things, and he was the sort of person who say 'We;; that's right, that's the right thing to do, that the right way to go, or that's the wrong way to go, and he would usually be right.
Ha she published in his own right? Books, and so on?
No, no he doesn't write books, no. Lyrics.
And only lyrics?
Well, I think he did write a play, but ... you'd best ask him about that .(Laughs)