Procol Harum

the Pale

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Gary Brooker : Radio Caroline, 26 December 2004

Interviewed by Mark Stafford (part two)

[Station break ... Radio Caroline's new look etc (part one of the interview is here]

I’m Mark Stafford and you’re listening to The Gary Brooker Story. It’s 1975 and Procol Harum returned to the studios to cut their ninth album, Procol’s Ninth. The album was produced by veteran production team, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the men behind some of the great rock and roll songs of our time. Gary tells us exactly how this unlikely combination came about.

We’d been stuck in Air Studios with Chris Thomas for, like, five albums by now and I think we were all sick of the sight of each other. So we, but it really wasn’t like that, but a change is a good thing sometimes. It was all mutually said. And we thought, 'Well, who on earth do we do something with?' And it just happened that Leiber and Stoller were working in England at that time and producing, I think they were doing Stealers Wheel or somebody. And we felt that as they were songwriters (because, in fact, the song I talked about just now, Bad Blood, was written by Leiber and Stoller for The Coasters) had always been great songwriters that produced their songs well, and we felt that they might be able to do that for us as well. Totally wrong, of course. They spent the entire album trying to get us to play their songs that they’d written for a Peggy Lee album which she's turned down. And every day we went in the studio, they’d say, 'Listen to this one, guys.' So we’d say, 'Listen to this one,' and play one of their old ones which were much better. But we eventually got the album made anyway.

They obviously did you a favour at the end because you were back in the charts with Pandora’s Box [Pandora’s Box under] off the album.

Yeah, well that was an absolute miracle, I thought. And it was a brilliant production. I think it was worth working for them just to get that. It was a fantastic production. I mean, when I heard the mix of that I didn’t think it was us.

[Pandora’s Box]

So it’s 1975 and a hit single again. And on the face of it, it would look that everything was fine with the band but you were only one album away from a breakup, the 1977 album Something Magic. And then what happened?

Something tragic. That’s what that album’s known as. Well, I think we just, we never conceded but it was actually time for a rest. We didn’t look at it like that but you know, I think in 1977 punks were around in Britain, disco was all over America. We go to Miami to make a record. And what do we do? An eighteen-minute spoken word. Totally ridiculous. We were out of touch. Well, we always said that when we sort of run out of ideas a bit then we’ll pack it up. We did feel that we’d kind of gone full circle. And so we packed it up.

Two years went by and you started your own solo career with the No More Fear of Flying album which included a superb version of Murray Head’s Say It Isn't So and the title track which actually went on to be a hit single in Holland, which was the No More Flee – Fear Of Flying single, album produced by George Martin. You’re going through a few producers here. How did George compare with the Chris Thomas days?

Well, George is a fine producer: he taught Chris Thomas how to do it. So we’ve all taught each other at some point or learned from each other. George has been around forever. He turned down A Whiter Shade Of Pale actually. [Laughs] He’s not that brilliant is he? He thought it was too long and too bizarre. But I’ve always stayed friends with George. He’s always been very, very helpful. And at that time, he was, he got associated with Chrysalis or Chrysalis bought Air Studios. [No More Fear Of Flying under] There was some tie-up. And it was quite a natural thing to do, you know. And it was also nice to do other people’s songs and to play with sax players and backing singers and all that. Really interesting.

[No More Fear Of Flying]

And that was Top 30 in Holland was it? No More Fear of Flying?

Oh, it’s, strangely, yeah, very popular there.

It still gets played a lot on Dutch radio to this day actually. You flip through some of the Dutch radio stations and you’ll hear it.

Yeah. And if I go there, they’ll say, 'Can you play that one?' you know. They’re just as happy for me to play that as I would A Whiter Shade of Pale or Salty Dog. Good old Dutch.

The ‘79 album then followed a few years later by the Lead Me To The Water album. A pretty hefty lineup of musicians helping you out on that: Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, George Harrison. Any memories of that album?

Were they on it? Well, it was the only one I’d ever written myself. And I thought this, it was easy to write words. When I came to do it with the album after that, I found out that I’d used up all the ideas that I’d ever had. And it wasn’t that easy. So, but I was very pleased to have done something this, you know, produced it myself, and everything. And they are great – the contribution those, those people made was magnificent. And George Harrison has a huge guitar solo on that one, Mineral Man, was fantastic. In fact, I asked Eric Clapton to play slide guitar. And he said, 'You don’t want me. You want the best slide player there is.' I said, 'Who’s that?' He said, 'George.' And he offered to pay me, George. I said, 'How much do you want?' out of politeness. And he said [Scouse brogue] 'I was thinking of paying you, Gary. Nobody’s ever asked me before.' [Laughs]

We move on to the third solo album which is the Echoes In The Night album. And at that point, you’re starting to get the nucleus of the old Procol Harum band back together again. Was there, was there a sense that you were moving back together again?

Um, yeah, I didn’t realise that. Yeah, you’re right. Yeah, Matthew Fisher co-produced it and wrote some songs. Keith did some of the words. BJ came over and played the drums on some. Perhaps there was sort of some ... there wasn’t any intention in any way or else it would have been a Procol Harum record or something, you know, because I think you’ve almost got it there with those, those four. It was probably just a coincidence. BJ wasn’t doing very much over in America and it was nice to sort of invite him over, a holiday really. But magnificent drumming, fine production with Fisher – a hopeless flop, of course.

And, in fact, if you’re holding the story through then, a few years later, the reunion did happen in '91. I think you got back together in '92. You cut The Prodigal Stranger album, the circle being complete.

Not yet. No, that’s just things re-growing from the roots of the elder, isn’t it? You listen to the end of Something Magic. There’s a message there. Right.

Obviously. I’ll do it.


So many things you’ve been involved in over the past ten years. You mentioned Holland earlier actually and they seem to take you to heart because you did one of their, their version of Night of the Proms which is actually the Rock Night of the Proms.

It is. It’s like the Proms, classical hits and good names as well doing their things but all with the orchestra and choir. It’s a brilliant idea and of course only the Dutch could pull it off. Why couldn’t you do it here? Because you can’t. People aren’t interested. They’d rather go out the pub. You know, when I first did that Night of the Proms, they did five nights in Antwerp at the cycle arena, 18,000 people a night. Now they do, I spoke to John Miles the other day who usually is the MD of the Rock Band: He’s just come off tour 52 nights to that, to those sorts of crowds. He must be rich.

Yes. It’s a big thing in Holland. It’s national TV and …

They go, they go all the way around Europe – now except here.

The cast of people you’ve been involved with and projects you've been involved with in the last ten years or so is reads like a Who’s Who. I mean, you played with Ringo Starr’s All Star Band, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. You’ve done some stuff with Kate Bush and obviously you worked closely with Eric Clapton and of course deeply involved in the George Harrison Memorial Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

Yeah. We were the house band. Yeah. Well, we, not Procol Harum, but No Stiletto Shoes was the house band.

And not a bad line-up for a house band.

No. We had a couple of extras. Chris Stainton was on keyboards. But that was basically it. Yeah, house band. But then all these other people kept joining in, you know, Billy Preston and Jeff Lynne and all people like that, Ringo Starr. We had four drummers in the end.

Reformed Procol Harum. Can you tell us about The Well’s on Fire?

Finally somebody came up with a record deal. A record company came up and said, 'We’d like to do it.' We sat there for a few days until some ideas came and it is probably one of our best albums. The thing is that the people on, in our band, can I just say who they are?


Me. Mark Brzezicki on drums, Matt Pegg, young Matt Pegg on bass, Geoff Whitehorn on guitar, Matthew Fisher on organ, Keith Reid on words. And we’ve been playing together for quite a few years now. But we’d never actually been in the studio in all that time. So this is the first time and the first time that we’ve been in as a together band, if you like, and made a record for a real long time [Shadow Boxed under] since probably the '70s. And it sounds better than that.

[Shadow Boxed]

I’ll let you off. You’re about to go on stage with your fun band, No Stiletto Shoes, and we’re looking forward to a good evening.

Okay. Yeah. All the best. Merry Christmas.

[Wizard Man under]

The Gary Brooker story was written and produced by Mark Stafford. We’d like to thank Gary for allowing us to go on this unique journey through forty  years in the career of one of the greatest voices in British rock music.

[Wizard Man]

Thanks, Jill, for the transcription!

Procol Harum concerts in 2004: index page No Stiletto Shoes, 2004 Part One of this interview

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