Procol Harum hadn't played in Chicago since the
mid-70s when it took to the Vic stage in 1991, with Clash frontman Joe
Strummer sitting in the audience and declaring afterward: "What a voice!"
Nineteen years later, Procol Harum has returned again to the area, opening for Jethro Tull Sunday at Ravinia in Highland Park. Although none of his original bandmates are with him, Gary Brooker, owner of that powerhouse voice, is still seated at the keyboard leading Procol's singular fusion of blues, classical and straight-ahead rock.
On the 'phone from a tour stop in Boston, Brooker reflected on why the band didn't like sharing a bill with the Grateful Dead, how he still can't fathom that A Whiter Shade of Pale lawsuit and why Procol exists in 2010.
On the band's first visit to Chicago in 1967
"Those were the days when you had amazing people on with you. Howlin' Wolf and his band were on with us. Of course, we were always great fans of Howlin' Wolf, and it was fantastic to see him."
On a less satisfying Chicago co-billing with the Grateful Dead:
"We played a set, then they were meant to play a set, and then we were meant to play a set, and then they were meant to play a set. We never played our second set because the Grateful Dead just went on for about four hours. Ohhh, ridiculous. I think we almost got ill."
On whether former organist Matthew Fisher's 2006 lawsuit belatedly demanding songwriting credit and royalties for the 1967 hit A Whiter Shade of Pale pretty much scotched their relationship:
"Pretty much scotched that."
On whether he was surprised that someone with whom he had played for decades (including that 1991 Chicago show) would suddenly sue him:
"Surprised me that you can bring an action like that, which of course requires defending, and that the passage of time seems to be totally irrelevant ... I can see why you've got (copyright) law, but for somebody to come out of the woodwork and say 'Oh, by the way, I think I should get some money for that, I think I've made a compositional contribution' after that amount of time, that is not defense of copyright.
On whether, following the House of Lords' judgment
in Fisher's favor, the matter is settled:
"I believe it is settled, and I believe I won't hear any more about it, and I believe that life moves on, and I'd rather not ever hear his name again."
On whether A Whiter Shade of Pale gets the greatest response of their songs in concert:
"There's a lot of songs more important than that in our repertoire, always have been — and especially in America."
On what those more important songs are:
"Well, A Salty Dog has always been one of my favorites. I love doing (the 17 1/2-minute) In Held 'Twas in I when we do it with orchestra and choir. It's a very uplifting piece to play, very exciting, but it's always a great relief when you get through it all without some terrible disaster."
On whether Procol Harum has much in common musically with Jethro Tull:
"I don't think musically, no. They're completely different influences, I think. In fact, there's not many bands that are like Jethro Tull."
On whether we'll ever hear another new Procol Harum album:
"Yeah, we're working on some new stuff in England. We shall get it out at some point."
On why it's important to him to keep Procol Harum going after so many years:
"I wonder that myself sometimes."
On whether he's come up with an answer:
"It usually involves other people rather than just myself. We've got a great band, the musicians and everything. They've all given it some good years. We do have some very, very good fans as well. I think if we didn't play, I would feel that we were letting some people down."
On whether he ever noticed that Genisis's 1983 hit That's All bears a strong melodic resemblance to Procol's The Milk of Human Kindness:
"Yeah, it does. Nothing you can pin down. I wouldn't want to go to court over it, certainly." (laughing)
Procol Harum concerts in 2010: index page