As everyone knows, Procol Harum, with two Gold Discs, including the magnificent Whiter Shade of Pale, were later beset by personnel problems. They went to America – and stayed – purely as a matter of survival. So says a reflective Gary Brooker, who adds: ‘In any case, there is less aggression from the public in America.
‘What I mean is this. For groups of a certain stature, the public here can behave strangely. Once you’ve had a big hit, with the public completely on your side, they expect you to go down on your knees and be grateful. They want you to say everything they want to hear from you – but THEY wouldn’t come up and say ‘sorry’ if you weren’t a continued success. You can only know what it is like it’ you actually experience it.
‘It’s more healthy in America in a lot of ways. A group can get work, become good, have a following without having records in the charts. Also it’s easier to exist. Groups just spend two years practising without doing any work and because you can relax in the sunshine it’s possible to exist on more or less nothing.
‘There are a lot more groups there – all getting along well.’
In America, Procol Harum did themselves a considerable favour. They made three tours over twelve months, and the fans became aware. The second album, Shine on Brightly, got to number twenty in the album charts – and two [sic] others sold ‘reasonably well’.
Now, of course, Procol Harum are back – pinning hopes on their single A Salty Dog and the album from which it came. So is British appreciation on the way up in terms of knowledge?
Said Gary, still reflective: ‘Well, it’s improved since the days of Whiter Shade – audiences are better. They weren’t very musically inclined before. But though I like to hear some of the good sounds on this mass of re-released material, it shows how bad things are. I’d like to go on record as saying that I consider those re-releases arc a great step back.
‘I think some of these records weren’t particularly well bought at the time of their release but now, with all the publicity, they’re attracting attention. But it’s all cramping new artists – doesn’t give them much inspiration or incentive to progress.’
A return booking at the Lyceum gave Gary a cold shiver or two because it was on a Friday the thirteenth. ‘Things always go wrong on that day,’. he said. ‘Twice our equipment has blown up on stage. Once we got on stage and had a mental block and ended up singing What’d I Say.’
About Salty Dog – ‘It was written by Keith Reed [sic], who is the sixth member of the group and is as important as the rest of us. I wrote the music – didn’t take very long. Sometimes I work the music round the lyrics – but more usually we work together. On the album, Matthew Fisher and Robin Trower have also written numbers, which is a relatively new thing for them ... though Matthew has done stuff before.’
Gary still sprouts his moustache which he claims is better than ever before. He owns: ‘Some of the things I say may sound rather bitter, but really they come more from disappointment. After Whiter Shade and Homburg the third single flopped – and I think it was due to under-exposure. Same thing applies to the album Shine on Brightly here – I’d like to see that sell even now.’
Yet the boys don’t mind being under-exposed in terms of personal appearances at this time. They have been picking their dates very carefully, even though the personnel is the same as when they worked in America.
So, instrumentally, things don’t change much. Gary, lead singer, plays any piano that happens to be available, plus pick-ups, and through a Marshall 100-watt, two-cabinet amplifier. Matthew is on a Hammond M-100 organ, with another Marshall 100-watt amp, plus a Leslie tone-cabinet.
Barry [sic] Wilson uses a Ludwig drum kit, but the snare-drum is from Rogers. Bassist David Knights uses a Gibson model. Lead guitarist Robin plays a Gibson Les Paul. And there is another guitar, a Gretsch, which Matthew uses when not operating on organ.
And a final word from Gary: ‘A lot of music today is based on classical influences. We’re very interested in that, but there is no point in going for a direct copy. It’s simply a style that has evolved and which we are still developing.’
More Procol history in print