In celebration of Chris
Thirty mourners [the maximum permitted under Covid regulations then in force] gathered at Chris's funeral on 30 June; click the programme-scans below to read the Order of Service. The tributes began with a statement on behalf of the Procol fanbase:
My name’s Roland, and since 1997 I’ve been involved in running a Procol Harum website, ‘Beyond the Pale’. So I’m here to speak on behalf of thousands of music aficionados (aka ‘nutters’) from many nations, who follow their favourite band through our 8,000+ pages. Nutters who have good reason to be grateful to our late friend, Chris Cooke.
But that’s not how it seemed when our paths first crossed back in 2002. Procol were about to play at the Fairfield Halls and the website was organising a party for fans and band. They were also about to release a concert DVD, so I rang Classic Pictures to beg an advance copy to screen. Off the cuff, they offered us fifty discs, at half price, so party-goers could buy it early, saving a wadge of cash to spend at the bar.
So far so good.
Until, out of the blue, someone phoned me at the school where I worked, and instructed me, in unambiguous terms, to cancel this arrangement with Classic Pictures. So who was this obstructive busybody with his Essex vowels, heavy throat-clearing, and high-pitched voice? He said he was called ‘Chris’. I guessed he was on a work-experience placement.
‘Sorry, we’ve already advertised the DVDs for sale,’ I told him.
‘I know,’ he said. ‘That’s why I’m cancelling.’
‘Look,’ I reasoned, ‘if you’d just paid for an ice-cream and a stranger jumped out of the bushes and told you the sale was off, how would you feel?’
Chris did not take this jest ‘in the spirit in which it was made’.
‘50% discount is the artists’ price,’ he said. ‘Are you the artist?’
‘Obviously not,’ I said.
‘So you’re not entitled to buy DVDs at the artists’ price.’
‘That’s just what I was offered. I’ve never even heard of ‘artists’ price’.’
‘That’s not the point. You have now.’
Luckily the school bell rang, and I had to go and talk for an hour to 29 huge teenagers about Shakespeare … which was quite a relief.
When I phoned Chris back, for Round Two, I was pretty confident … he couldn’t win. The DVDs were paid for. I held all the cards ...
Except Chris had an ace up his sleeve – and he served it at 100 mph.
‘Have you got no respect … for Gary?’
‘Well of course.’
‘Good. So you’ve got two choices. Cancel the order yourself, or I’ll cancel it for you. Goodbye.’
So I slunk off home to word an apology for the website, one that hopefully would not imply that Procol’s new, young manager seemed, frankly, a bit of a bastard.
Next day, Chris sent the dreaded e-mail.
‘Have cancelled order and DVDs will … be available at party.’
Surely he’d left out a key word, ‘not available’? I rang him, for clarification … something I’d need to do, time and again, down the years.
And I learnt that he’d not only cancelled my order, he’d bought 50 DVDs himself, at the artists' price, and he was bringing them to the party so we could keep faith with our fellow fans.
At which point I saw the light. It wasn’t bloody-mindedness, it was smooth-running-mindedness. And characteristically, Chris had spent time and imagination sorting out someone else’s blunder, so honour was satisfied all round.
At that party, Chris introduced himself with a friendly handshake, beaming with wry amusement. With his mop of grey hair he was about three times older than he sounded on the phone. And wiser. I started apologising for the mix-up and he swept it aside, as if his mantra was Don’t look back. ‘Just doing my job,’ he said.
Just as he’d done throughout a long career in music. And though he obviously put his responsibility to the artists first, we Procoholics often felt we came in pretty close behind. After all Chris was a massive enthusiast himself, for all sorts of things – traction engines, Egyptology, asparagus – so he got it. And – to a man who had singlehandedly defended Jerry Lee and piano when Rockers stormed the stage and frightened his band away – our sedate Procol fanbase must have seemed pretty easy to handle.
And he gave us two great, late albums, numerous tours, and the company of band and crew at every party and convention we held during his tenure as manager. We couldn’t be more grateful for all this thoughtful work.
Though Chris didn’t suffer fools gladly, he really was nothing like as stubborn as he chose to appear. ‘Management … it shouldn’t be hands-on … the job is to make suggestions, then listen.’ That was one of many insights I gathered when we set about drafting his memoirs together. I really appreciate the sub-career Chris opened up for me, writing press releases and liner notes for the band, and selling their merch on a few tours. But he was always quick to spot fans’ strengths, and gave many of us the chance to repay, in part, our lifetime’s pleasure in some marvellous music.
So … loyal, creative, amusing and fearless, Chris was a great character, and – consequently – a great loss. As we shall hear now from Procol Harum themselves.
[Josh Phillips, Geoff Dunn, Geoff Whitehorn, and Gary Brooker then spoke, in that order, followed by a speech from Chris’s motorcycling friends, many of whom had escorted the hearse to the crematorium, with impressive rumbling and roaring of engines]
The photograph, taken by Franky Brooker after the ceremony, shows members of the
touring and support staff from Procol’s recent tours,
from left to right Mssrs Clare, Whitehorn, Dunn, Firman, Phillips, and Brooker, flanking Chris's daughters Gaby and Natasha.
Not pictured, but close by, were stage personnel John Magner and Howard Colinese; absent, Matt Pegg.
Producer Dennis Weinreich was, sadly, prevented by Covid regulations from attending.
Send your donations in Chris's memory – to
the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds –
by clicking https://rgreenfs.co.uk/donate-
We’re very sorry indeed to have to report the death, following a long illness, of Chris Cooke (29 March 1945 – 1 June 2021). As Procol Harum’s manager, Chris steered the band through a late-blossoming period that included The Well’s on Fire and Novum, download-only live albums, concert DVDs and numerous high-profile concerts and tours at home, all over Europe, North America and in Japan. He was also a prime mover behind the profusion of album reissues and boxed sets that saw the band’s illustrious catalogue stylishly collated, both for established completists and for fresh converts of all ages.
Like many Southenders of his generation, Chris was an intriguing and unusual character. He was a creative thinker and problem-solver, and an excellent communicator person-to-person (though his written memos verged occasionally on the impenetrable). His gold records were ignominiously exhibited in the downstairs loo. Long experience in the music industry (roadie, label-owner, producer, tour manager) – coupled with irreverent humour and fair-minded humanity – were the bedrock of his managerial prowess. He certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly, but was skilled at maintaining and motivating a team; he led by example in terms of energy and commitment.
Chris’s interests and passions outside music were many and various, from bird-watching through husky-sledding to Egyptology. Despite a fascination with the past, he was forward-thinking and imaginative, and an early adopter of new technology. This ran parallel to an enduring fascination with engineering (he’d had a spell in the world of motor-racing). And despite his down-to-earth approach to everyday problems, he fortified himself against cancer by fastidious eating and the guidance of ‘alternative’ healers.
Wittingly or not, Procol fans owe him a great deal; he was a fan and enthusiast himself, and his long collaboration with ‘Beyond the Pale’ reflected a kindly understanding of the special rapport that distinguishes a great band’s adherents. He handled his long, slow illness with indomitable determination, and it took two major strokes – while motorcycling in Cuba – to quench the exuberance of (his own words) ‘a lifelong teenager’.
The BtP team would like, on behalf of fans worldwide, to extend our sympathy to Chris’s family and friends, and of course his professional associates. What a privilege to have worked with – and learnt from – such a true original.
Chris in his own words | Stroke bulletins