Brooker and Trower had been in a band called the Paramounts since 1961, which from 1963 also included drummer BJ Wilson. The group recorded some singles that didn't get very far, and then changed their name [sic] in early 1967, added Fisher and bassist David Knights, and recorded their masterpiece A Whiter Shade of Pale. The single reached the Top 10 in both the UK and US, giving them room to record their debut LP. Their follow-up single Homburg also did well, but after that they weren't much of a chart presence, despite recording arguably their best LPs around 1969 – 1970. Unfortunately, the group suffered from numerous personnel changes, and their albums through the early and mid-70s were less and less successful. They managed a surprise hit in 1972 with a live re-recording of Conquistador, but then staggered along until folding in 1977. They reformed for a one-off [sic] album in 1991, and since then Brooker has led various incarnations of the band (often joined by Fisher and/or other Procol Harum veterans) in occasional live performances.
Meanwhile, Trower left the band in 1971, laid off for a while, and then emerged as a major figure on the 70s guitar hero scene, peaking out early with his classic second album Bridge of Sighs (1974). Trower's career trajectory makes a remarkable story: initially just another British blues-rocker, albeit one with a harsh, piercing guitar tone, after going solo he seems to have become obsessed with Jimi Hendrix's late-period guitar technique and production style. On his best records he pulls off such a remarkable and consistent homage that you could swear Trower had absconded with all of Hendrix's electronic equipment and a good chunk of the man's brain. Unfortunately, Trower's records are marred by weak lyrics, cheesy soul-man vocals by sidekick James Dewar, and a disturbing lack of creativity – not once does he step outside of the Hendrix formula, except when he wallows in impersonal 70s rock clichés. Trower also continued to release weaker and weaker efforts for years after his commercial peak. Still, though, I think Trower's mid-70s solo work is every bit as worthwhile as the initial Procol Harum discs.
There's an extensive fan-run band web site called Beyond the Pale that appears to have no major competition. There's also a fantastic Robin Trower web site. (JA)
Gary Brooker (vocals, piano), Matthew Fisher (organ), David Knights (bass), Keith Reid (lyrics), Robin Trower (guitar), B. J. Wilson (drums).
Wilson was replaced [sic] on the Whiter Shade of Pale single (early 1967) by Bobby Harrison [sic]; Ray Royer (guitar) also appears on the recording.
Fisher and Knights left, 1969, replaced by Chris Copping (bass, organ).
Trower replaced by Dave Ball, Alan Cartwright (bass) added, Copping moved to organ, 1971.
Ball replaced by Mick Grabham, 1972.
Cartwright left, Copping switched to bass, Pete Solley (organ, synth) added, 1976.
Group disbanded, 1977, reformed, 1991–1993.
Wilson died, 1990.
More Procol history