Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Gary Brooker interview, summer 2017

 Reproduced from the band's Fiftieth Anniversary Tour Souvenir Programme

RC from BtP
In a 1967 interview you mentioned an ambition ‘to master twenty-five instruments’. How’s that going?

Gary Brooker
Let’s think: I've got piano, guitar, banjo, accordion and cornet under my belt. I’ve drummed on home demos, and played stand-up bass on record [Barnyard Story]. I’ve joined a ukulele group, very enjoyable. But the alto sax I planned to learn never left its case. My father’s Hawaiian guitar still works: I genuinely intend to play that. So, not yet twenty-five: but I always enjoy a challenge!

Have fans changed since the internet came along?
There’s no doubt that websites and chatrooms have helped Procol Harum, and linked fans together, from Norway to Australia to … Bristol. I only ever meet a certain stratum – the Palers – so I can’t comment on any overall change. They seem like successful people: the bosses of national railways, or law firms (I don’t always talk to them!). You don't need ‘intellectual stature’ to enjoy Procol, you can respond emotionally; but our fans typically want to be something. I met a couple of East German fans, when the Wall came down: absolutely destitute, but they were trying to better themselves too.

Favourite highlights from your stage career?
The Concert for George, at the Albert Hall: a brilliant lesson in staging something huge and really interesting. Three weeks’ rehearsing, and each day I’d clock off at 4pm (Clapton time) and motor from London to Surrey to continue recording The Well’s on Fire: constantly changing hats, twisting my whole psychology around.

And also Procol’s first live orchestral show [Stratford, Ontario, 1969]. I’d worked hard, getting those musical ideas from my head on to paper, then into motion with musicians playing, Shakespearean actors singing, and an audience listening. The climax of In Held was hugely emotional. I won't say everyone was overawed by the music … maybe by the effort, or our belief that it could work, especially combining Trower with orchestra: how did we make that happen?

What’s your most magical Procol memory?
A power failure in a New York theatre, which blew our amps and PA. BJ Wilson struck up this fantastic drum solo, but after fifteen minutes, still without power, we started wondering how it could end. So we removed Barrie’s instruments one by one, down to his last cymbal. While he soloed up and down its stand, I put on janitor’s overalls, and started sweeping the stage. The follow-spot operator cottoned on, and together we brushed this shrinking circle of light towards BJ, who ended his solo just as it vanished. It was hilarious, but also magical – both the drumming and the lighting-man’s intuition, everyone thinking together.Y

You’ve played with many greats: are there gaps you regret?
I played live, or recorded, with every Beatle except John. Even when they jammed with us [Paramounts] at soundcheck – always McCartney on drums – I don't remember Lennon being there. I wish I’d played with Whitney Houston, such a fantastic singer. In fact, regardless of particular artists, I’d love to play in a gospel ensemble, having that inspirational sound all around me.

For a fantasy festival, who would Procol invite to share the billing?
Given a time-machine, I’d bring on Little Richard, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee and Sam Cooke, my great influences. Procol could be a bit of an anti-climax after them: we’d have to go on first! Or how about Never the Bride (for female energy), Leo Kottke (for virtuosity) and Little Feat (to epitomise American cool)? And maybe Genesis, with Phil Collins, representing first-class British pop.

From your current listening, what would you like to share with other people?

It’s been a real critical success: so where next?
Writing Novum collaboratively, with Pete and the Procols, has proved there’s still life in the old dog. After the dust settles from this bit of touring, we should start thinking about some new ideas … I hope it won’t take another fourteen years!

More from the Souvenir Programme | More about Gary Brooker

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