Procol Harum

the Pale

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Gary Brooker: progress and passing

Bulletins from the last months of his extraordinary life

9 February 2022:
Roland from BtP spent an hour with Gary, at what we must sadly now call his deathbed. The Commander was pale, well-aware of his plight, but not daunted. He was at his Surrey home, with Franky in ever-watchful attendance, and Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Care as well. He was not hooked up to tubes or machines, nor in apparent pain: tired, lean, he was nonetheless willing and able to hold a conversation.

He smiled at all kinds of reminiscences from backstage on tour, and from BtP's Procol conventions; he requested his favourite autographing-Sharpies to lie by his bedside, in case he needed to write anything down. He made a comic and affectionate remark about the large physical presence of Jens Anders Ravnaas in any audience; and on recalling Stefano Ciccioriccio (a lifelong AS Roma follower) he joked, ever-waywardly, 'He's the Napoli supporter, no?' Gary was still able to entertain with a mysteriously erudite pun ('Those bruises on your hands ... is that where the hospital put cannulas in?' / 'No, they're just knocks.' / 'What sort of knocks?' / 'Just ordinary knocks, not from beating up the Pope' [readers may recall John Knox, the Sixteenth-century reformer largely responsible for the overthrow of Roman Catholicism in Scotland]).

I left Gary with a new, dedicated CD album sent by Ronnie D'Addario, which he received with considerable enthusiasm; and also offered heartfelt thanks for his lifetime's work Paramounts, Procol, and so much more on behalf of fans around the world ... which he acknowledged (or perhaps deflected) with characteristic wry humility, as if he'd accomplished nothing of particular merit or note; I was moved by his courage and composure.

As we shook hands both hands I felt quite sure we should never meet again, and, ten days later, he was gone. Franky asked me to prepare a quick 'official' obituary for 'Beyond the Pale' and for the world's press, which may be read here. She has set up a special Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice charity page in GB's memory. Please, fellow fans, leave your tribute, message and donation by clicking here.

9 December:
A phonecall to ‘Beyond the Pale’ this morning revealed quite a lot more detail about Gary Brooker’s condition, and Franky wants to share this with sympathetic fans through the pages of BtP.

Towards the end of the summer just past GB had a first course of chemotherapy to reduce a tumour, in preparation for having it surgically removed. That initial therapy was successful, but there’s since been some ongoing trouble with the 'motorway slip-road into the guts' that 'Gary Two-Stents' refers to below in his 27 May bulletin.

The ensuing gastric discomfort has reduced his appetite so that – as well as awaiting a satisfactory resolution of the 'slip-road' predicament – he’ll be obliged to regain some lost weight before he can be judged fit to face the planned second round of chemo. Hence the uncertainty about when his surgical treatment will be safely able to start, and the impossibility of planning gigs.

Our very best wishes go out to Franky, along with thanks for sharing this information.

29 November:
We're very sorry to advise that all scheduled gigs for 2022 are now cancelled (thanks, Barry)

21 November 2021: Procol's manager advises 'Beyond the Pale' that the band's projected shows in Trondheim and Greve (Norway and Denmark) have been added to the list of concerts that cannot now take place. The German Tour dates, temporarily marked 'postponed', are now -- sad to say -- cancelled.

Our photograph shows GB, a few weeks back, at the helm of his new barbecue. Needless to say, this isn't related to the ‘knife-and-fork job’ mentioned below.


(photo by Franky Brooker)

9 November 2021: Procol's manager, Barry Sinclair, advises 'Beyond the Pale' that the band's projected concerts in London, Germany, Austria and Switzerland are regrettably, and regretfully, cancelled. Gary Brooker MBE is still waiting for the procedure that we all hope will alleviate his present medical condition, and which will require a significant period of enforced rest and recuperation. In light of this delay, forward planning is very problematic, and it's judged better not to keep fans guessing, but to pull out of the London Palladium gig and the following European tour. As ever, any ensuing changes will be announced through the pages of 'Beyond the Pale'.

Low-Flying Bird news: the photograph below was kindly sent to BtP by Franky Brooker, who relates how, towards the end of October, '... this nuthatch flew into the window and was stunned. Gary pick it up, and after a while we put it on my finger, to fly away. But instead he flew on to Gary’s waistcoat and stayed there for a while. Eventually he [the nuthatch (Ed.)] did fly off, which made us happy.'


(thanks, Franky)

Gary's fans will doubtless also be interested in this article, which contains an absorbing phylogenetic diagram from 2020 (based on work by Martin Päckert and others), packed with essential insight for admirers of this agreeable little passerine. Among other choice snippets it reminds us that 'the English term nuthatch refers to the propensity of some species to wedge a large insect or seed in a crack and hack at it with their strong bills'.

BtP paid a pleasant visit to the Brooker residence on 17 September and found Gary in characteristic good spirits as he awaits the next stage of some ongoing treatment. He's pictured (below, twice) in his garden, signing Procol rarities, which he's kindly made available, from his own collection, to be offered to fans and collectors – and prize-winners in the BtP Christmas Conundrums – in weeks to come. Eagle-eyed readers will be able to determine what that white-label test pressing album is; and people who've read 'Beyond the Pale' thoroughly will recognise the Extremely Desirable boxed multimedia set, even though almost all its front cover is obscured by the handwritten text.

7 August 2021: Gary Brooker writes to 'Beyond the Pale' ...

"As you know I asked Geoff Whitehorn to make me a guitar as I didn’t have one !

This is it on the day (11 July) when he delivered it. I chose the setup and the non-colour and it uses a lightweight body. It’s a beautiful thing!

I am dressed for the soccer match that evening as a loyal follower of the Iceni, but joined the rest of the land in a very sad end to the day. The guitar was the saving grace!"

Gary sends his best wishes to all who visit and trusts that their ears are open and working and the ‘big speakers’ are on.

Shining 'thru
Gary Brooker
7 August 2021                                  (photo by Barry Sinclair)

Gary Brooker was recuperating on 29 May, not to be disturbed. The following morning BtP asked him how it had been, spending his birthday in hospital.

‘I’ve never not had a good birthday, until now. All in all it’s a bit of a strange time, spending it like this. After all I’ve had accidents, but I’ve never been unwell before, with two surgeons battling in my insides to fit stents before I came round. I wasn’t supposed to have visitors but I told them it was my birthday – and I had a new record out – so they did allow Franky to come in.’

And how had he been spending the time?

‘I’ve been reading a bit. Television is just terrible, even with the sound off. A choice of idiocy and … more idiocy. I mostly spend the time looking forward to being home, eating through my mouth again. I lost my sense of taste in South Africa, but I can still look forward to something with texture, a bit crunchy.’

We related to Gary all the good wishes sent in by ‘Beyond the Pale’ readers. He appreciated ‘all the good vibes coming in across the waves’. We also mentioned that various fans had posted greetings for him on Facebook, perhaps not realising they wouldn’t reach him. ‘Please say I would enjoy them if I saw them,’ he said.

Fans will be heartened to learn, even from so brief a conversation, that the fighting spirit and sense of humour have not deserted The Commander.

Procol Harum fans will be delighted to learn that Gary Brooker – whose indisposition was announced at ‘Beyond the Pale’ on 3 May 2021 – continues to do well.

In a phone call this morning (27 May) BtP learns that a stent procedure has gone to plan, allowing him to eat in the normal way (‘it’s like a motorway slip-road into the guts’), and that a touch of jaundice has been averted thanks to a bile-duct intervention. Gary's in excellent spirits, looking forward to returning home in a few days’ time. [In a follow-up e-mail he asserts that 'I am the Missing Person' (in the manner of ‘I am Spartacus’), and signs off as 'Gary Two-Stents'.]

There is, however, another ‘knife-and-fork job’ in the offing, so the band feels obliged to let fans know that the prospect of Procol gigs this side of Christmas is faint. We all wish Gary and Franky the best, and of course BtP will keep fans posted as and when there’s anything to add to this brief, but encouraging, bulletin.


Buy Procol's 2021 EP by clicking this link | Gary Brooker's page at BtP | The 'official' obituary | Make your charity donation here in Gary Brooker's memory

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