Procol Harum

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the Pale 

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Gary Brooker MBE, 19452022

Fans' memories of The Commander


If you'd like your own experience with Gary to be memorialised on this widely-read page, please send your article to webmaster@procolharum.com .
We warmly welcome submissions, but please keep them vivid and concise, between 375400 words. Articles may be edited for length.


Peter Cohen, UK: Associate Director of a retail PLC 

Little did I realise, at the time, that 14 February 2019 would be the last time I’d see Procol Harum live. My penultimate concert had been just the day before, both shows on board ship somewhere between Haiti and Miami. This was the Rock Cruise, so I also had the opportunity to speak to The Commander and other members of the band.

I was sailing with my godson, his parents, grandmother and a mutual friend. Initially Amy, my godson’s mother, got talking to Gary; she reported to me that he had expressed interest in going with Franky to see the tennis at Wimbledon. Amy knew I was a Centre Court Debenture Holder and therefore had access to tickets, so I explained this to Gary when we did indeed speak. Ironically, it also turned out to be the last face-to-face conversation we ever had. Gary appeared so well and full of life that it makes what has happened even sadder.  And sadly this ‘Wimblebrooker’ plan, as my go-between in Bristol later called it, never happened, thanks to Covid.

My first Procol concert was back in February 1974: what is it about that month? Having bought the Cube double LP A Whiter Shade of Pale / A Salty Dog in 1971, during my first year at Exeter, and being completely bowled over by it, I couldn’t believe that a West Coast American band was actually going to gig at my University! Little did I know at the time that Procol originated from Southend, Essex, UK! This was the occasion Gary referred to Harold Wilson's tongue turning A Whiter Shade of Pale, in his intro to AWSoP (it was also the date of the first General Election that year). From that day onwards I was hooked, and I was privileged to attend numerous Gary concerts, whether with Procol, No Stiletto Shoes, Band du Lac, Ringo Starr, Bill Wyman, etc over the next 45 years.

Although I did not know Gary as a person and spoke to him only a few times, his music spoke for itself. He was uniquely talented, provided unique entertainment noone can ever come close to replicating, and has left an unfillable hole in my existence. And the entertainment was not only musical; his banter between songs was a show in itself. Memories of him and his music will live with me for the rest of my life.


François Courvoisier, Switzerland: Professor Emeritus

In June 1998, in Gryon, County of Vaud in the Alps of Switzerland, where Gary and Franky Brooker owned a chalet, I personally met them for the first time during a popular brass band festival. For this event, Gary had been commissioned to write a piece for brass band which he entitled Bourdon des Alpes. He was naturally present to listen to this unique performance. I was able to meet and interview Gary after the event: this conversation is posted on ‘Beyond the Pale’ here.

I then saw Gary and Franky again on several other occasions, after memorable concerts in Switzerland, France, England, Germany and even Finland: during the July 2009 concert at the Keitele Festival – perhaps the shortest show in Procol Harum's entire career – Gary bravely played a set with ribs broken from a fall (read a full account here), which prevented him from singing properly. Luckily, Geoff Whitehorn and Matt knew most of the lyrics and were able to support Gary and provide a few songs. In 2010 Procol Harum returned to the same Keitele festival, following Gary's promise to play a full concert this time for his Finnish fans.

Here are two more memorable memories of mine: the first one is the weekend of concerts that took place in Wuppertal, in April 2013, with the magnificent performances of Procol with orchestra and choir at the Stadthalle. Palers, fans, and the symphonic musicians were then able to attend a private party organised by ‘Beyond the Pale’ at a local club where the Palers’ Band played an extensive repertoire of Procol songs. They notably welcomed a special vocalist: Gary Brooker, who sang some compositions of his own, such as Saw the Fire and Hear What You’re Saying.

The second memory is the superb concert that closed Procol’s fiftieth anniversary tour in 2017 Le Trianon in Paris, and especially the private aftershow party which took place in the Parisian bistro, Le Progrès. We were all very tight to roister, drink beers and even a good Knight's Sword whisky around Gary and his fellow musicians (see picture!)

A huge thank you to Gary and the Procol Boys for all these excellent musical and convivial moments. We terribly miss Gary but are thankful for all good memories. His brilliant music will live on forever.


Phil Jackson, UK: reviewer, author and musician

The phone interview I conducted with Gary Brooker when the Esoteric CDs series began was the highlight of a long writing and reviewing career for me. He was everything I'd previously heard in interviews and live concerts: a real gentleman with great stories to tell. Since my first book was about to be published I asked if Gary would say a few words about it. He was especially gracious, having received his copy: ‘You certainly know your Procol Harum’ is the greatest compliment I’ve been paid during a life in music!

My main reviewing has been for Acid Dragon, whose editor and I were much saddened by Gary's passing. In a tribute I wrote that I couldn't imagine a life without Procol Harum, and that I was glad to have made the Edinburgh (Queen's Hall) gig during the Novum tour.

Gary was in great form then, joking about how Procol used to stay in grand hotels in their heyday, and now, playing smaller venues, had to make do with the Seamen's Mission! There was no trace of bitterness in his remark, but I cannot help but think that Gary and Procol Harum, while they achieved so much, are the most underrated phenomenon modern music has ever known.

In my interview Gary said Procol was very happy with Novum, and really enjoyed making it. It had given them good inspiration ‘to do it again’. The new numbers certainly went down well in Edinburgh! He was in great form discussing the humour in Procol's music, citing A Salty Dog , which Keith Reid thought was a humorous song – after all ‘you don't run afloat, you run aground!’. Gary's take? It was serious: ‘a man's journey through life to reach a greater heaven’.

Lines like ‘Prussian blue electric clocks’, he said, are ‘not the sort of thing you find in most songs’! He related how ‘Beyond the Pale’ had a get-together [Croydon, 2005] involving badges bearing lines from Procol songs, and he’d had a hard time remembering where some of them came from!

Although my book (Within You, Without You: A Sociological, Cultural and Musical History of Great Britain, 1945
1967) only allowed me the scope to cover the first LP in depth, I make no apologies for devoting two whole pages to Procol Harum.

God bless Gary Brooker, and I sincerely hope he is up there leading a great orchestra in the sky.


Leigh Goldstein, USA: singer /songwriter

I am still crying real tears as I write this today, so many weeks after Gary’s passing. My story is a bit different, but I thought maybe it could be shared.

A good friend of mine is a promoter and Procol needed a cheap, or inexpensive opening act for a 2010 show. And my friend hired me … I would have paid them to play that show …

But before the show I wound up in the restroom with a horrifying stomach, unable to watch Procol’s soundcheck. My favorite Procol piece is In Held ... I would have given anything to see and hear it … and they played the whole thing, practising for a future gig! A bad sandwich literally was the cause of one of the greatest regrets in my life! I heard their masterpiece, but I had to stay where I was, if you know what I mean.

My set was solo
just my own songs, barring a Tom Rush cover and lasted about thirty minutes. It felt so amazing and fulfilling to be on the stage where Procol was going to play, surrounded by all their gear ... and I am not the hero-worshipper type at all.

After the gig, still not feeling great, I made my way to the lounge for a quick drink and was standing right next to Gary and the whole band … feeling a bit loopy and awestruck as well. ‘What’s your name … Goldberg?’ Gary asked. He could have called me ‘McGillicuddy’ … I was standing next to the whole of Procol Harum, drinks in our hands! I never took any pictures of that moment – luckily wonderful photographer Bert Saraco was there, to prove this wasn’t just a dream.
[thanks for the photo, Bert]

But on a night where not as many tickets were sold as could have been … there was no complaining, just obvious great camaraderie and pleasure that they were all hanging around together. And even though the hall was not full, Procol did what they always did … they played as if a million people were listening, with the respect and musical dignity for their audience and their songs that they always had.

It was one of the greatest nights of my life: ‘Harrisburg PA, at The Whittaker Center: Goldberg and Procol Harum’ (ha!), a night for the ages, forever in my memory.

RIP Gary Brooker. Thank you for all the gifts you have given.


Frank Matheus, Germany: university lecturer

‘To be listened to in the spirit in which it was made’. These were the words I read on the back of a record sleeve, in 1970, when I was just twelve years old. I did not know Procol Harum at that time, because my interest in music was just on the point of unfolding. Not satisfied with radio station pop music, and not touched by the favourite bands of my friends, I bought the album for 22 Deutschmarks (which was a lot of money at that time) just on the off-chance, tempted by these words, and the corresponding painting on the front side. When I heard the music for the first time, I was captivated – as I have been ever since. Not knowing that the band was famous for especially one song, I listened to the whole oeuvre impartially, and I was especially impressed by the songs Cerdes, A Christmas Camel and Repent Walpurgis with its five endings. Nothing came close to the experience of listening to this music.

It took me seven years to attend my first concert, in Dortmund – a fantastic experience that went hand in hand with the sad realisation of the band’s subsequent break-up. Fourteen dark years followed, until in 1991 I experienced the sensation of real, fundamental happiness (which was partly due to my marriage and the fact that my wife Hanna was pregnant) when I was able to buy the new album, The Prodigal Stranger, and attend a Procol concert in Düsseldorf. Even before she was born our daughter Clara had a clear idea of what a top rock concert should be.

Since then, I have visited as many concerts as possible in Europe, often accompanied by my wife and our daughters. I got in contact with Michael Ackermann’s ‘Whaling Stories’, the Gary Brooker fanclub, then with Jens and Roland, webmasters of Procol’s ‘Beyond the Pale’ homepage. Their slogan rang true: every gathering of the fans truly was ‘Old friends meeting for the first time’. The band members were always charming and enjoyed maintaining friendly interactions with their followers. A couple of times I met Gary at those conventions and was always impressed by his gentle, not overbearing attitude: a musical genius, an open-minded person and a real friend to his fans.

He is gone now, which I still cannot grasp, but his music will never cease to touch my mind.


Bøje Arenholt Jeppesen, Denmark: Coordinator, Asset Management, Tech. Documentation at the Danish Railroads

In 2003 I was very lucky to get the opportunity to pay a visit backstage at a Procol Harum gig in Greve, a little south of Copenhagen, and of course … I took it! I then got the idea to bring my old, faithful Fender Jazz Bass, with the insidious motive of getting it signed by Gary and the rest of the band. 

I made a lot of efforts to find the right felt-tip pen for the event, and at the same time I had given the bass a rinse to the best of my ability, to be completely ready to achieve the very special honour of having my beloved instrument signed by the band that, more than anything else, had shaped my musical life. 

Finally the day came, and when I arrived and opened the door to the band's locker room, I was almost bumping into Gary, whom I obviously recognised right away. He was actually trying to open a beer-bottle on the edge of the kitchenette table, and even though I was totally starstruck for a few seconds, I quickly got an opener out of my pocket, helping him out of his predicament.

We both couldn’t help laughing a bit because of the traces the bottle-cap had left on the gastro-furniture.  If they are still there, they should somehow be preserved for posterity. 

Then followed a small hour filled with the pleasure and honour of saying hello to Matthew Fisher, Geoff Whitehorn, Matt Pegg and Mark Brzezicki in addition to Gary; they were all incredibly gracious, humorous and down-to-earth. The picture shows Gary autographing the bass: he wrote under the strings, as it was best protected there. 

I will never forget that night, though my efforts to preserve the autographs for posterity were sadly in vain. Over the years the writing simply disappeared, probably because the colour was not really UV-resistant after all. But it does not mean so much anyway, because I know the autographs were once there – and that is the most important thing for me.

I'm sure the bass mysteriously got the Procol Harum spirit introduced that special night when my idols became real people of flesh and blood to me; and that battered, old instrument will stay with me until the day I close my eyes. I’ve been using it on a few Procol Harum cover tracks, by the way: click here.

 


Heidi Widmer, Switzerland, former check-in agent

Living abroad in 1974/75, I attended my first Procol Harum concert at the Brighton Dome (September 1974). Detailed memories have faded but I was mesmerised by the music and Gary’s distinctive voice. Although I was familiar with their records, nothing could beat the magic and power of live music. I then witnessed them at the London Palladium (August 1975) where they not only performed their classics and all songs from Procol’s Ninth (except Taking the Time) but also a great version of The Blue Danube in homage to Johann Strauss II. In spring 1975, Procol had recorded this waltz, perfectly showcasing Gary’s piano skills, for a Strauss 150th birthday album.

Since Procol’s reunion, my husband and I also travelled abroad to see them. Various concerts with orchestra and choir were a fantastic experience, as was ‘Procol Rarum, The Lost Songs of Brooker/Reid’, part of the ‘Beyond the Pale’ festivities in London for the fortieth anniversary of A Whiter Shade of Pale.

In the nineties, I was inspired to delve deeper into Eric Clapton’s music too. Many fond memories relate to Gary and Eric performing together, whether at Guildford Civic Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, the Ferrari Maserati Festival, charity Christmas shows, picnic concerts or Eric's alcohol-free New Year's Eve dances. Often they paid tribute to their early musical influences, in the tradition Gary maintained with his side-band, No Stiletto Shoes. They enjoyed making music together and shared a sense of humour. Gary was able to propel Eric out of his comfort zone, and was held in the highest esteem by his peers.

Procol Harum loved to meet their fans at BtP conventions, after-show parties and birthday celebrations. They even made impromptu guest appearances with the Palers’ Band, who treated us to popular and rare tracks from Procol’s catalogue. I don’t know of any other artist or band who took such a keen interest in their fans.

My favourite encounter with Gary was during an afterparty celebrating his sixtieth birthday at the Konzertfabrik Z7 in Pratteln (CH) to which I brought a Procol Harum cake. He was delighted, and later grabbed some silver foil and removed the Salty Dog icing sheet with the intention of taking it home, a gesture that meant a lot to me. My heart is heavy but full of gratitude for everything Gary has given us, fantastic music and a treasure trove of memories.

Thank you, Gary!


Robin Tetlow, UK, author and retired town planner

My interest in Procol was sparked by A Whiter Shade of Pale, Homburg, the first album and Broken Barricades … my enthusiasm by Edmonton Live and the albums that followed. I enjoyed 20 plus concerts … from Edinburgh 1977 through to London 2018. Interspersed were several Palers events, notably Wuppertal in 2013 … where my son, Justin, played with Gary on Hear What You’re Saying [pictured] and fronted an energetic The Mark of the Claw, with other band sons and daughters.

Few fans, I imagine, had more than a fleeting encounter with Gary … perhaps a minute or two at an after-concert event before something or someone else soon cropped up. My encounter on 15 May 2017 … the eve of the Bristol concert … proved to be very special. Linda Clare phoned that afternoon, from the M4 motorway. Could Dina and I be at an impromptu boat trip around Bristol Harbour with the band and their entourage, starting within the next hour? As it happened, we had recently done a similar trip on this same vessel, the Bagheera – to mark my retirement from Tetlow King Planning. So, we knew the ropes. We dropped what we were doing and arrived just in time on the quayside, slightly ahead of Linda and Roland. In the event (and the rain!), only the keyboardists Gary and Josh ... with their particular marine credentials ... sailed, along with Chris Cooke and about a dozen others.

Once on board Gary was soon introduced. I brought out my Japanese CD version of Novum, which it transpired he hadn’t seen before. Gary was fascinated by the track-listing and booklet  [pictured] … particularly how the ‘extra track’, Honour, had been fully integrated. We debated both the merits of Honour and its ordering on the CD (I said very apt). I had attended the recent Manchester and Birmingham concerts, so we proceeded to discuss how the various Novum tracks were sounding live. I suggested The Only One was one of the finest pieces he had ever written … Gary feigned not to ‘hear’, but I sensed deep appreciation! As the boat wended its way back along the harbour, various other matters were touched upon, including the history of Bristol and the joys of ‘retirement’ … something Gary ‘could never contemplate’.

Truly an ‘Honour’ and a privilege ...
 


Steve Hunter, Canada: freelance pianist/arranger/conductor

‘We salute our dear friend Gary now as he leaves us to join up with history: history on which he made an indelible mark during his lifetime, a mark that legions of fans will cherish for the duration of our own.’

This is the perfect written tribute by Roland Clare. I’ve been thinking of you often, Roland, wondering how you’re holding up during this difficult time. 

After perusing the great tributes published at BtP, I think you phrased the perfect words above; it’s impossible to put into words what this music meant to those it deeply touched. It came from such a deep well of … what? Words like ‘muse’, ‘creativity’ etc don’t suffice. I thought GB’s ability to take Keith Reid’s poetry and devise music/melodies that reflected the words so perfectly is one of the underrated aspects of his talent. He never repeated himself: I know this from transcribing 27 songs from the first five albums; I did all the band parts, including melody, piano, organ, bass, guitar and drums.

One of the great points of pride in my musical career was hearing a recording in which Gary praised my transcriptions and gave his blessing to having them on sale at ‘Beyond the Pale’. Unfortunately, this never came to pass: even though Keith Reid also gave his blessing, the publishers were not on board. Roland, your efforts to make this project come to fruition will never be forgotten.

I also was blessed to do five Procol transcriptions for a 2016 gig in Estonia for a local band playing with an orchestra. The regular band was unable to play, and so band charts matching the orchestra parts exactly were needed. Imagine how thrilled I was to submit an invoice for this project that included the titles A Whiter Shade of Pale, Conquistador, and A Salty Dog. Also thrilling was being sent Gary’s original orchestral scores and seeing first-hand how his arrangements were written.

Like countless others, I was deeply saddened by Gary Brooker’s passing. It is similar to losing a lover, it was that close to my soul. After reading the many tributes, including his lovely wife's, I am even more touched. A talent like this doesn’t come along very often, in my opinion.

Above all, he had soul. Fitting that a Ray Charles song was chosen as the last piece of music at his funeral.

Shine on, Gary Brooker
 


Gary Shepard, USA: former eye-doctor, musician

I’m devastated at the loss of my greatest musical hero and influence, Gary Brooker, leader, composer, and vocalist for Procol Harum. Procol were my favourite band because of the crafty and classy union of piano and organ, which lent a classical bent to their repertoire: having Robin Trower on guitar didn't hurt either. When I was teaching myself to play keys and guitar their exciting music pulled me in: I just put their records on and played along.

I saw Procol’s first Boston show in 1968, at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Kenmore Square: they played music from the first album plus Homburg, McGregor, Sixpence. At their afternoon rehearsal Trower told me his overdriven sound was created by a friend wiring a radio into the back of his small amp. Matthew Fisher, in his Soho accent, explained to me that Kaleidoscope ended on ‘Ab with a D in the bass’. The place had no seating, just a hundred or so listening and watching, mouths agape. A poster advertised Joni Mitchell and Cream next week, but I had no money. Did Gary and Eric's friendship intersect at that early stage?

I had the thrill of supporting Gary – when he sang with the Palers' Band in Los Angeles, Long Island, London, Denmark, Holland, and Germany – on various instruments. Whaling Stories in LA, and Something Magic in Denmark, were exciting numbers full of complicated changes which really appealed to me.

My funniest experience (Denmark 2006) was when Procol played Ledreborg with orchestra and choir over two nights. Geoff Whitehorn broke a string during the final rehearsal of Conquistador. He lost a spring, or something, while replacing it in his hotel room, and frantically contacted the Palers' Band via Allen ‘One-Eye’ Edelist, the growling vocalist we all miss. Soon I was rushing (from a Roskilde restaurant) to the band’s dressing rooms with my PRS guitar, which was to lie stageside in case disaster struck again. I had the time of my life there, while the whole band got ready for the first of those gigs. Fortunately Geoff didn't break a string during the actual performances, but everyone signed my guitar, while Gary pranced around in his underwear and undershirt in that hot, hot trailer.

It was a riot: not the first time, nor the last time Gary Brooker was a joy to be around. And what fabulous concerts Procol Harum gave, as always!

RIP, Commander.

Peter Bourne, Canada: retired civil servant / record store employee

It’s now been six weeks since I read the shocking news of Gary Brooker’s passing. It’s taken me this long to process the sad reality.

I saw Procol only once: Montreal, Place des Nations (the Expo ’67 site), August 1971, the 'Dave Ball era’. Odd to think that only Chris Copping survives from that version of the band ... and that even then, Gary had been the only original member.

I never met Gary in person, yet I feel I knew him. From the many clips I’ve seen and accounts I’ve heard, I feel we’d have got on well. One degree of separation: my brother Brian was the bassist/Chapman Stick-ist of Charlie A’Court’s blues band, from Nova Scotia, Canada (documented here and here), who were the well-received support act in Germany when Procol were touring ‘The Well’s On Fire’ in 2003. They socialised frequently with the band members as well, and Brian has fond memories of Gary (and of Franky, who gave him an Eric Clapton guitar pick – on which was printed 'sausage in my raincoat b/w ketchup on my shoes'). He remembers Gary being extremely kind, generous, hilariously funny: in off-hours, the two bands spent time watching England’s victorious run at the Rugby World Championships. Amidst the euphoria, Brian had mentioned he’d played soccer – GB retorted with something like ‘Girls’ game – this one’s played by men!’. Much laughter and mutual taunting ensued! Brian also managed to get hold of autographed copies of The Well’s on Fire for himself and for me.

Gary was, of course, the only remaining ‘original’ but, significantly, the driving force, the constant, the inspiration, the ‘front man’, the undisputed leader (indeed, ‘The Commander’) of one of the most important groups in the history of rock music. Every version of the band was as good as the last, which can be attributed to Gary’s unerring instinct and astute choices of bandmates. The fact he was rarely credited on their many albums as ‘producer’ belies the fact that he always had the major say in their direction and choices – the producer’s ‘job’, so to speak.

So, my genuine sympathies to all who knew and loved Gary Brooker (there are so many, judging from the tributes, accounts and memoirs in the wonderful ‘Beyond the Pale’).

Shine on brightly, Gary. ‘No lofty peak, nor fortress bold, could match our captain's eye … our tears [are] tears of joy.’ Thanks.


Hans Volkhardt, Germany: former civil servant

The very first time I watched Gary with Procol (Brooker, Wilson, Copping, Grabham, Solley) was at an open-air concert in Offenburg, Germany on 6 June 1976, together with bands like Scorpions, Van der Graf Generator, The Wailers, War, Man, Wishbone Ash and Alvin Lee. I went to Offenburg with two friends just to watch Procol Harum. When Procol began to play we went to the first row, directly in front of the stage. I took some photos, which were published at 'Beyond the Pale'.

All together I saw Gary 29 times, most of course with Procol, but also with Rock meets Classic, Ringo Starr, Bill Wyman, No Stiletto Shoes and Procol Rarum. At the concert with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings Gary didn’t play one of his own songs – an absolute exception. Nevertheless it was a great concert, with Graham Broad on drums. But the best that evening was the bass-playing by Bill – fantastic!

Twice I was at the charity concerts in Chiddingfold, where we had lunch together with the musicians, and in Southend-on-Sea, and on the thirtieth, fortieth [see picture] and fiftieth anniversary concerts in London. At all the concerts I got to know nice people like Roland, Jens, Michael, Hermann …. My first personal contact with Michael Ackermann was in the ’80s: I visited him in Wuppertal. It was the beginning of a nice friendship.

At the first Chiddingfold concert I had lunch together with Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens, his wife Margo Buchanan, and Franky. Franky told us that she had to pay for the use of the hall, even though it was a charity concert! At the thirtieth anniversary the Nine-man Harum was onstage (Graham Broad, Chris Copping, Pete Solley, Matthew Fisher, Mick Grabham, Alan Cartwright, Gary Brooker, Matt Pegg, Dave Bronze). In front of the bass drum was a bunch of flowers in remembrance of BJ Wilson, which impressed me very much.

All the concerts were unforgettable moments for me, and often for my wife Doris. My children once said they had ‘grown up with Procol Harum’, because their music was present all the time in our home. I’ve chosen Gary's song The Long Goodbye for my own funeral.

I have tickets for 2022’s the planned concerts in Mainz and Dresden, but unfortunately I won’t be able to watch Gary on stage ever again.

That makes me very sad.

Shine on!


Charles Etterlin, Switzerland: medical doctor

In 1976 I was at school, and one breaktime a classmate was playing records by different bands. At the age of fourteen I heard Procol Harum’s Exotic Birds and Fruit for the first time, and As Strong as Samson knocked me out.

I asked if I could borrow the record, and the students said I should ask the teacher: it was his! And so I did. And that was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, to this day, between one of the youngest teachers in Switzerland and me. Thanks, Procol Harum.

But at first we lost contact. After finishing my medical study in Zürich, I went to Cambridge, England in 1991 to do some research in nutrition. At a record fair I met a neighbour of Gary’s, who gave me his ’phone number. Françoise was kind enough to sell me two tickets for No Stiletto Shoes’ 1991 Christmas concert at the Chiddingfold Club. This was the first time that I saw Gary Brooker playing live, which was wonderful … though there wasn’t much Procol.

Shortly after this I flew back to Zürich, my hometown, for a long weekend, in order to see Procol live for the first time, at the Kongresshaus (January 1992): this was also fantastic. On concluding my English work I was again at Chiddingfold in December for the Christmas Cracker with Gary and friends. And after seeing many Procol concerts (The Barbican Hall, 30th anniversary at Redhill) I invited my former teacher friend to Zurich’s Volkshaus concert in December 2003.

27 years after borrowing Exotic Birds from him, my teacher and I spent a wonderful evening with Procol Harum. From that day on, we went together to every Procol show in Switzerland. The greatest event for us was Procol at the Royal Festival Hall, March 2017. 41 years after the friendship started, we spent a weekend in London, seeing the great man and his band.

To close the circle of life, I also had the chance – as a paediatrician – to be the doctor attending the teacher's granddaughter. Just great. Thanks to Procol Harum.

So that is the story of my personal relationship with Procol Harum and Gary. This music will stay in my heart forever, and I’m very grateful for all the consequences of that music. Thank you, Gary, and rest in peace.

Françoise, my condolences; and thanks to you again, for the opportunity you gave me.


Warren Schimano, Canada: industrial designer

My wife Wendy and I took the On The Blue cruise, out of Miami back in 2019. We were very fortunate to see Gary and Procol Harum perform on board, alongside Justin Hayward, Steve Hackett, Alan Parsons, Dave Mason, Rick Derringer, The Zombies, Wishbone Ash, Vanilla Fudge, Todd Rundgren, Al Stewart .... Each played at least two shows: a fantastic cross-section of new and older music. A Salty Dog, Nights in White Satin, Time of the Season, Eye on the Sky, Year of the Cat … if we’d been asking for requests, the bands couldn't have picked a better selection!

Prior to the first shows, we were in an elevator with a very nice-looking lady and a dapper, distinguished man. At first, we did not recognise them, until he spoke quietly to his lady-friend. It became apparent that it was Gary (and Franky) … an unmistakable voice! I am not by any means a shy person, so I said to him, 'You're Gary Brooker, aren't you?' He replied pleasantly, 'Yes, Gary'.

Of course, I told him how we were really looking forward to seeing Procol perform! He said ‘Thank you,' and – just as he and Franky departed to their floor – he was standing near the floor number buttons and the manufacturers’ plaque, which read ‘Schindler’. Gary’s comment, ‘Ahhh, Schindler’s Lift!’ absolutely cracked us up. That was Gary, always thinking of his next funny to share with people in his light-hearted fashion. His humour is something we always will remember about him.

We’d last seen Procol Harum perform in 1972 in Toronto! I remember a youthful, dark-haired Gary Brooker singing and playing songs like Conquistador, In Held ’Twas in I, Whaling Stories and more, along with one-time band-members Dave Ball, BJ Wilson, Chris Copping and Alan Cartwright. So you can imagine how we were so looking forward to Procol Harum’s performances on the cruise ship.

The cruise ended with a major act, which happened to be Procol Harum. That was quite an honour. The most amazing thing that we noticed – aside from the fabulous show – was that almost every other artist on the ship attended the final Procol show. That speaks volumes about Gary and his band: 'an act that is hard to follow', as they say, is his legacy. 

Aside from Gary's gift of writing and performing, his personality shines on, and will always shine on brightly in our hearts.


Richard Williams, USA: Palers' Band drummer, former Director of Engineering

I was one of the last musicians to sign up for the 2013 fans’ convention in Wuppertal, Germany, having read about it at ‘Beyond the Pale’. I had been a Procol fan for decades but had not frequented the website until just before the convention, which became one of the most memorable events of my life.

It was my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. The Palers’ Band was rehearsing on a well-lit stage in Rainer’s Emerson’s percussion studio, for a performance at Live Club Barmen (his wife Louise skilfully prepared breakfast for us every morning!). Gary Brooker was coming, to rehearse two songs he’d agreed to play with The Palers’ Band: he entered to a respectful hush and a sense of awe. He sat and played the Hammond (an organ shipped to Germany from Queensland, Australia, by Dennis Grant, a fan who was ultimately unable to travel to the party).

The Palers are musicians of all shapes and ages, and varying degrees of musical experience, gathering from all over the world for the special experience of performing Procol music with other dedicated fans, and also to see Procol’s concerts at the Stadthalle. Being a zealous drummer, one of several in the band, I tend to play loudly, and I was requested to ‘keep it down a bit’. I told the gentleman in question that I had brought a pair of Styrofoam sticks specifically for this purpose … so I am now referred to as 'Captain Styrofoam'.

The nights Procol played in Wuppertal were the two finest concerts I have ever witnessed. The music was incredible, the chorale and orchestra inspiring. My wife Dixie and I were in line at a BtP dinner that week, where Gary Brooker very courteously allowed us to step in front of him to serve ourselves. Dixie and I sat with former Procol guitarist Dave Ball (also playing with the Palers’ Band) through dinner that night … he kept us in stitches.

My wife died later that next year, following the Palers’ Convention on Long Island, New York. That same year I won some percussion equipment in a BtP auction, which I had shipped from Bristol, England. I have photographs of Gary holding the pieces, and three signed certificates of authenticity indicating that they were owned and played by the remarkable BJ Wilson in the late days of the Paramounts, and early days of Procol Harum.


Wolfgang Lieke, Germany: former advertising manager

The first song I ever heard from Procol Harum was Repent Walpurgis. I had never heard anything like it before, nor heard of a band with such a strange name. I was blown away. When afterwards A Whiter Shade of Pale sounded, with this wonderful voice, I could hardly believe it. Since that day, Procol’s music has accompanied me through my life. It gave me confidence and joy in life in times of happiness, as well as comfort in times when things were not always going so well.

In 1991 I met Gary in person for the first time at ‘Rock Meets Classic’ in Würzburg. It was the end of the tour and there was an after-show party, which I was lucky enough to attend. I was in heaven when Gary came to our table and immediately impressed by his warm personality and dry English humour.

That evening began a time that I would like to call one of the best in my life. I have attended many Procol Harum concerts and met many great people over the past 30+ years. I am still friends with many of them. An unforgettable experience for me was that I got to play drums on his The Angler with Gary, together with the Palers’ Band. I will never forget the feeling of being on that stage in Zoetermeer with him.

Also unforgettable were the annual No Stiletto Shoes charity concerts at the Ex-Servicemen’s Club in Chiddingfold at Christmas time. For example, 1992’s line-up, beside Gary, included Andy Fairweather Low, Henry Spinetti, Bill Wyman and Frank Mead. After a beer with Douglas Adams and a look at David Gilmour in the audience we went, after the great concert, with band, crew and guests to Gary and Franky’s home, ‘Wintershall’, in Dunsfold … and into the legendary barn there.

Gary said, ‘There’s chili!’ As the evening progressed, he asked if I could help him for a minute. We went upstairs and moved a huge mixer. Suddenly Franky called from below, ‘Gary, phone!’ When he came back he said, ‘That was Paul McCartney!’ Well ... imagine my surprise …

And there I was, sitting on the floor in the barn with Bill Wyman, listening to Gary perform Skip Softly at Franky’s request, and I thought to myself ‘Wait until I tell this in my club back home...’

Thanks Gary. Thank you for everything.

Shine on!


Charlie Allison, Scotland: retired anaesthetist

I’m a Procol Harum fan (from the very start) who’s spoken quite a few times to Gary Brooker in passing. He seemed to know who I was, but I wasn’t one of the ‘inner circle’, just someone who wrote concert reviews (in the UK or from several European countries). He was invariably friendly and approachable, but then someone else would appear and our brief encounter was over.

Gary was a hugely-accomplished composer and musician, but it was as a singer I felt he excelled. He could deliver soul, drama, humour (even a bit of C&W!) and was often compared to Ray Charles and others of that calibre. His voice changed with the years – I reckon AWSoP at Ledreborg was at least as good as that magic studio day in early ‘67.

Gary ‘commanded’ the stage leading Procol Harum, the perfect vehicle for all his talents. Formality was interspersed with moments of lightness, whimsy and humour – all from a partnership with Keith writing amazing off-the-wall lyrics. Gary excelled in scaling up, in leading orchestral concerts taking his music to new heights.

Gary was ever there as Procol personnel changed then, after a hiatus with solo records and tours with Eric Clapton, Ringo and Bill Wyman, he resuscitated the band for further albums and wonderful gigs, notably Union Chapel and Ledreborg. I was proud to see Gary with his MBE in Islington, and over the moon at that Palers' Party in Lejre [pictured left, with the late Chris Cooke]

Gary also commanded great respect from fellow musicians, and a career highlight must have been that marvellous Concert for George. He arranged many charity events -- ironically his £1.3m Royal Marsden event was to be his last hurrah.

Now the personal bit. Gary sent me a very supportive letter when I had heart surgery in 2017. He was a kind, compassionate human being and I’m so glad a decent person like him was one of my life heroes. It’s clear from this tribute-page that he had a lot of time for many round the world sharing this love for Procol Harum.

Gary got much enjoyment (and accomplishment) from his interests in ‘the great outdoors’ and his wonderful fifty-year marriage to Franky – the ultimate devoted couple. There can be no more emotional song to listen to just now than his Somewhen. Our thoughts are with Franky, his extended family and all those fortunate to know him well.


Mac Gajda, Poland: former engineering company manager

I’m still coming to terms with the passing of such an important person in my life. From my teenage Procol infatuation I’ve been faithful over fifty years, meeting Gary in person my perpetual dream.

The opportunity came in 1978 when he guested at Sopot TV festival, then among Poland’s premier events. I deduced his hotel, and waited in the lobby. ‘Mr Brooker,’ I asked, dry-throated, requesting him to sign Something Magic. He looked straight into my eyes (as at many later meetings). After a short chat, I regretted not asking all the questions I had in mind.

Then, after possible encounters in Germany and England, we came closer again in Sopot (2000). The promoters used me as Procol’s artist liaison, and after soundcheck Gary categorically rejected the supplied piano, demanding a Roland instrument. The promoter located one in Warsaw (300+ kms away): thirty minutes into gig-time an old Trabant and trailer rolled onstage, saving the show.

Performing the same role at Warsaw (Christmas 2001) I asked Gary to play a song for my son, Jan; he said he never did dedications. Yet he did announce, ‘This is for Jan’s birthday, 3 years old!’. On hearing 16 year-old Jan’s ‘Bugger off!’ from the front row, GB observed, ‘He knows some English, then’ … and started the Christmas Camel piano glissando, the most moving thing he could have done.

At Katowice, 2002, the sound and light techs downed tools, claiming they hadn’t been paid. After a nervous stand-off, an hour beyond showtime, Gary saved the day, offering to pay them from band income! He asked me to fix everyone a whisky in the intermission; part two started in better mood! At the after-gig party Gary toasted me with vodka, recognising my support. The band got some pay, but in the morning the promoter had disappeared, and the hotel bills fell to me. I never recouped that money, nor regretted being able to help.

Eight years later we met again in Charlotta, where Procol played in a late-night thunderstorm worthy of Autumn of my Madness, followed by a pirate-party (see photo: Procol, me, and Mirek Plodzik).

Last time I saw Gary, (Szczecin, 2017) he kindly invited me backstage (photo above). He looked tired, and complained about an aching finger. Somehow I felt it was the last time we would meet.

His music and voice will stay with me the rest of my life.


Rob Barnes, UK: former director of IT business

Memory takes me back to the weekend of 16/17 September 2000, in Guildford UK: to the inaugural get-together of The Palers' Band (listen to our 2CD, Nothing But The Sea Between Us), then to Stoke Park for Procol Harum’s Millennium Concert the following evening, following afternoon fan-time and ‘meet the Commander’ at the Procol stand in the park.

 
In the Guildford lead-up the ‘Beyond the Pale’ team invited ‘fans who could play a bit’ to nominate their instruments and songs of choice; and so a disparate, eclectic and wonderful group flew in – from Australia, the USA, and greater Europe – to play and to listen, from college-age to the far end of life and experience. The UK-based participants had their own major travel challenge in the teeth of a fuel delivery strike. Pumps were dry across the country. In my case, it was a train from Newcastle to London, another to a London suburb, and picked up colleague’s car with just enough fuel to get to Guildford. The strike broke over the weekend, but there were some hair-raising tales before I drove home again.

 

Why were we doing this? Because of our love and respect for Gary Brooker and the various incarnations of Procol Harum, the music, and the camaraderie. And, wow, Gary came to see the Palers’ Band with Franky, and Dave Ball came too – and they both played that evening … wow again! What more could we ask? It was a genuine show of affection from all parties, with thanks and so much more...

 

I played some guitar and sang a little in the Civic Hall that Saturday night, one song being Boredom: and I remember seeing Gary's face through an open door to the right of the stage, his eyes locked on me, possibly wondering why I was bothering (that last comment is just a Brit humour thing). I do know that Gary, and Franky, and Dave were really grateful that so many came to honour Procol Harum – and of course this was just the first of many Palers' Bands gigs in years to follow.

 

And then on to Stoke Park, with Procol Harum and orchestra headlining. A blur of brilliant music, and fireworks after Grand Finale. Gary cared – something that I know was echoed in so many parts of his life. We are happy to have met him and known him as we did.


Paul Wolfe, Canada: former Financial and Systems Consultant

On first hearing A Whiter Shade of Pale on my little two-transistor radio in May 1967, my concept of music appreciation changed in an instant. Having spent my high-school years debating the merits of Dave Clark’s drumming, or whether the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits or Petula Clark would have the next Number One, I suddenly felt everything I’d heard becoming irrelevant, as my musical taste suddenly became much more discriminating.

Who was it who sang this song so beautifully? Why did I have such an emotional response to his singing, and to the melody? Surprisingly, my first Procol album was not the first, but Shine on Brightly in 1968. As the cliché goes, the rest is history. Hearing that voice singing Quite Rightly So and Shine on Brightly made me flash back to hearing AWSoP the first time. And when the tour-de-force, In Held ’Twas In I, finished, I was shaking in my proverbial boots. Gary’s haunting singing, gorgeous melody and restrained yet exquisite piano captured me: I was hooked, a fan for life. I started saving every article I could find on the band: ten-word snippet or two-page article, it got clipped and filed away.

My dream of seeing and hearing Gary in concert finally came true in Montreal, 1971. I saw the band numerous times over the years, with its many changes in personnel, but the one constant was Gary’s superb singing and wonderful music. Fortunately, I managed to see Procol Harum here in Canada a half-dozen times, and I flew ‘at great expense’ to New York and London a combined seven times to see my heroes.

As a trained pianist, I marvelled at the complexity of Gary’s music, and the joy I got learning to play his creations. I finally got to chat with him at the ‘Beyond the Pale’ Convention in 2014 – where playing Rambling On and A Rum Tale in the Palers’ Band, with my son Josh on guitar for the latter, was certainly a highlight – and again at a post-concert reception in London (2018).

I often wondered what I’d say to the hero who had so profoundly influenced my love of music. Haven’t all musicians heard the same questions hundreds of times, are they not tired of providing the same responses? So at that reception in London, the only question that came to mind was: ‘May I please have your autograph?’

Rest in peace, Gary.


G*D*, Sweden: flute-teacher

Wot, no Mick?I’m a 68-year young girl, who first heard A Whiter Shade of Pale on Radio Luxemburg. In 1970 I bought Procol’s first LP, then one yearly, ending with The Prodigal Stranger. I loved the mix of rock, classical, beautiful/frightening tunes and crazy arrangements where every instrument seems to play a different part, yet together. It was my dream to meet the boys behind that music and ask about influences and words I didn't understand. And who was that man with the magic voice, the sensitive and kindly singing ?

After Procol’s Stockholm Folkets Hus concert (1971) I first met them and asked for autographs. From the new personnel I recognised only Gary Brooker, Keith Reid and BJ Wilson. One young man was a bit embarrassed when I asked for his autograph. GB explained: he was their producer. Gary kindly answered my music questions. I was astonished to meet the gentle, very low-key man with such integrity and great determination. I was a bit shy but enjoyed his company.

In 1972 I wanted to meet them again, and sat on the floor near the stage: great for listening, not only with my ears but also with my body, feeling the vibrations. I only saw GB’s legs and hair, and sometimes BJ’s hair. It didn't matter at all. After the concert I went to a room and knocked. Hearing shouts, I opened the door. ‘Can I come in?’ I asked. ‘You are already in,’ GB answered. I thanked them for the concert, and playing AWSoP. At GB’s invitation, I sat beside Alan Cartwright, and the other players were there too, alongside two Swedish guys and a girl (Franky?). One of my favourite songs is Conquistador so I asked GB if he would write down the poem … which he did! More details of meeting Procol are in my thick diaries.

I’m grateful to have met GB, and my memory is very vivid after 51 years. It was very sad to hear he had died. I have listened to many of his and the band’s tunes during the past weeks. When I listened to Somewhen my tears ran. It is so sincere. Strangers in Space and The Long Goodbye are now also among my favourites. For me Gary still lives on with his music and the fine memories. My condolences go to his wife Franky, his family and friends.


Jeff Levine, USA: former warehouse manager

I first met Gary just after the release of Exotic Birds. Corey Chaskelberg and I drove up Poughkeepsie way, to a college where Procol was playing that evening. There was no security, so we got into the soundcheck. When the band came out to a little porch where we were standing, I had a brief conversation with Gary (he clarified the lyric ‘when you’re being held to ransom’ for me). It was really a special moment.

Every New York and New Jersey tour after that we were fortunate enough to get backstage again. In 1976 they played the Felt Forum, after which we were hanging out by the Plaza Hotel on Central Park south when we saw the Procols walking up the hallway. I was standing on the steps when Gary slipped and fell into my arms. Wow, he looked up at me and said, in his English accent, ‘It’s you, come with us!’

Up in Gary's room we watched A Clockwork Orange. Dave Ball even stopped by for a few minutes. It was unforgettable, hanging out in private with the entire band. Our last get-together of the ‘Old Testament’ was after 1977’s Palladium show, their tenth anniversary, at a party with birthday cake. Mick Grabham said to me, ‘This is our last show: we are breaking up.’ I didn't believe him but, as it turned out … Procol Harum was done.

It wasn’t until Manchester in 2001 that we met again; then at all the other ‘Beyond the Pale’ fan events until 2014 in Westbury, New York, when Gary joined the Palers’ Band in which I got to play drums (on songs including In Held!). Then came the cruise, sailing out of Miami in 2019. I will cherish that last time I would see Gary. We watched together as other bands performed. Once when he and Franky were dining with Paul and Jeri Holland, Maritza and I sent over a bottle of wine. It was special, seeing the genuine gratitude the Brookers showed us.

It was a funny moment when Maritza and I were going to the elevator, and ran into Gary who was facing the other way. She started singing AWSoP, and tapped Gary on the shoulder. It was special, seeing Maritza a little embarrassed by Gary's startled reaction. These memories of Procol Harum, and Gary in particular, I’ll never forget.

RIP my friend.


Bjørn Røvær, Norway: former HR manager/business consultant

Being spellbound by the music of Procol Harum/Gary Brooker for 50+ years, it takes a while to realise that, with Gary’s passing, an epoch is over. Grand Hotel was the first Procol album I listened to: it has always been specially important to me, but I love every release.

Happily I experienced Gary many times: with Bill Wyman in Oslo, with No Stiletto Shoes in Southend, with Procol Harum in Kristiansand (2001), Skien (2003), Haugesund (2005), Oslo (2006), and Copenhagen (2013). And, of course, with Procol and friends in London 2007, celebrating forty years of A Whiter Shade of Pale: magic days!

I arranged our first meeting (at Club Riga in Southend) through his then manager Diane: my wife wanted Gary for a big jazz festival she worked for in Haugesund (admittedly, encouraged by me). But Gary was about to reestablish Procol Harum for touring … fantastic news!

Next time we met was in Kristiansand; as a very amateur drummer I’d signed up to play two songs in the Palers’ Band, stretching my abilities, so I was rather shocked when the band entered the moment I took the stage: completely surreal! Gary commented, ‘The band plays well, but I can’t stand that kind of music.’ In Skien (2003) we bumped into each other at dinner [see picture].

In Haugesund (my home town) in 2005 I co-hosted a double gig in an almost-full 520-seater venue. The band stayed a couple of days and it was nice to take them fishing. Gary wasn’t a big deep-sea angler, being more accustomed to inland fishing; he was reluctant to be photographed holding a big cod that someone else had caught, but the shot eventually appeared at BtP! I took the band to lunch near my former workplace, Norway’s biggest aluminum plant: they asked for a full tour! A memorable evening and memorable days!

In Copenhagen we bumped into Gary and Geoff before the 2013 gig and were immediately invited to post-concert drinks. I call that being nice to dedicated fans.

I’ll always remember Gary as very nice, forthcoming, reflective, humoristic, determined and humble. I can’t help reflecting on the title of his last recording: Missing Persons (Alive forever). Yes, we shall miss the Commander. But his musical legacy? Truly alive forever.

My condolences to Franky. And I thank webmasters Roland and Jens for running BtP, and keeping The Procol Community together over so many years.


Pat Keating, USA: software developer

Five of my fondest memories:

* My first Procol Harum concert and Gary Brooker autograph after the show in Kansas City on 30 April 1977 [see illustration, and click for more detail]. This was my first and only ‘Old Testament’ show. Who knew they were about to call it a day shortly thereafter? I recall that my cousin and I watched the Procols pile into the back of an old-school station wagon, and we followed them in our car for a short while – waving at them the entire time as they laughed at us!

* An autographed postcard Gary sent to me on 15 February 1986 on which he quoted me a lyric to Rambling On. I had found his management info on the record sleeve of the Echoes In The Night album and wrote to him requesting that lyrical clarification [see illustration, and click for more detail].

*  My first ‘New Testament’ show (Vancouver, 1991) was plagued with ‘technical difficulties’, but Procol finally took the stage at about 12:25 am with a slightly-shortened, sixteen-song set. Backstage afterwards I was able to ask Gary the meaning of ‘silver paper’ in The Devil Came From Kansas: ‘Al-ooo-min-um foil,’ he responded.

* A letter and autographed photo Gary sent to me in February 1993, recounting some tour info from the previous year.

* I travelled to Minneapolis, Minnesota to see the PH show on 24 April 1992 (one week before the two Edmonton reunion shows). I think I coincidentally chose to stay in their same hotel. I was somehow granted VIP Access and was able to travel to and from the hotel and concert on the tour bus. I attended the soundcheck, had chili dinner at The Loon Cafe with the band and attended the show -- where Gary cleverly incorporated ‘Loon Café’ into Grand Hotel and a riff about chili, Ring of Fire and Johnny Cash before Whisky Train (as I recall).

Upon arriving back at the hotel, as the other band members dispersed, I told Gary that I did not want to overstay my welcome. He then said something like: ‘I think we need to have a party. What's your room number?’ A few minutes later there was a knock on my door and Gary was there holding four beers. We spent about two hours just shooting the shit about music and Procol Harum.

There are so many more memories. These are just the cream of crop.

 Shine On, Gary Brooker.


Peter Skorpik, Austria: composer

It was in 1968, at the age of nine, that I heard A Whiter Shade of Pale for the first time. My elder sisters informed me about the title and band, and it wasn’t long until I held Procol`s first album in my hands. I was amazed at the quality and independence of tracks like Garden Fence, Something Following Me and Christmas Camel: all far away from mainstream and the beginning of deepest admiration. Gary was my hero and, in the end, influenced my decision to study Composition at Vienna's Academy of Music (I had already been playing the piano since 1967).

Between 1973 and 2018 I went to see Procol Harum about twenty times in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and at London’s Crystal Palace (a 1974 Hippie Garden Party). My wife and I had first-row tickets for Procol`s 2021 Vienna show, but sadly the epidemic thwarted our plans. Procol live grew much more precise in the last three decades, but my favourite gig was my first, at Vienna's Konzerthaus: the band grooved incredibly. It started at midnight (border/customs problems) instead of 9:30 pm, so we watched the equipment being set up, then cheered my favourite line-up: Brooker, Wilson, Grabham, Copping and Cartwright.

Occasionally I had the opportunity to talk with Gary after soundchecking, or even dining after the show. In Schio (Italy) we discussed the first chord of A Salty Dog, in Basel (Switzerland) he had a look at the score of my orchestration of The Emperor's New Clothes. I still can hear his response: 'Very busy'! He asked me if I had used MIDI, which would have been useful since the original key was now too high for his voice. I had to declare that – unfortunately – the whole orchestra had been recorded with real musicians.

After 2018’s soundcheck at Vienna`s Gasometer we discussed another orchestration I’d prepared, for I Told On You. Gary told me how difficult the interplay between his piano and the bass of Matt Pegg (who was also with us) would be, to get the groove right. He made sure to own a copy of the score, before disappearing into the tour-bus to rest (sadly the next gig with orchestra was cancelled). This was also the last time I saw him offstage. The evening show was magnificent as always, however, and I admired how well his voice survived.

His music will always be my companion.


Runar Todok, Norway: former Communication Adviser

No other musician has ever inspired me, personally, more than Gary Brooker. He, and Procol’s music, have been a continuous inspiration throughout fifty years. So strong an inspiration, in fact, that I for long periods haven’t been able to listen to them. For – then- to return, and enjoy the music even more.

In 1973 I played A Whiter Shade of Pale in a church in a gospel band ('Ten Sing') in a small town in Norway, rather a village actually, using a Yamaha ‘living room’ organ. It must have sounded awful, but back then playing that kind of music in Norwegian churches was kind of revolutionary. The strong association with Bach must have paved the way.

After Roland and Jens set up the website ‘Beyond the Pale’, in 1997, I coincidentally came across it some two or three years later. They asked the site’s followers to submit wishes for contributions to a 'Palers’ Band' gathering before Procol Harum played in the Sørlandshallen outside Kristiansand, Jens’s hometown, in the spring of 2001. At the time I didn’t even own an upright Yamaha organ, solely a lousy Casio keyboard, and hadn’t been to a Procol Harum concert for many years ... and hadn’t been playing myself for some twenty years.

It was a frightening, great experience, and I was overwhelmed by meeting Gary and the band ‘in real life’ [see illustration!]. Twelve years later the same thing happened again, in Wuppertal, Germany, although this time Jens and Roland had put a lot more detailed work in the preparation, having organised many Palers’ gatherings between 1997 and 2013. And this time I found myself on the same stage as Gary Brooker on a couple of occasions!

Now, well ... I’ve met, known and worked with quite a few celebrities during my working career, but it’s something special about meeting in persona, the musical idol of your youth. Gary struck me as a very humble man, with an almost shy – yet strong – integrity, and a hard to define charisma.

He was a true inventor, inspirer and contributor to popular music. I will always keep the memory of him in my heart. Every time I sit down to play, these days – eventually – on a genuine ’61 tonewheel Hammond C3. And always including a few Procol Harum tunes ...


Stefano Ciccioriccio, Italy: accounting lawyer

Gary, a month on from your death I still struggle to write, unable to accept that you are no longer with us. With so many wonderful memories I could write a book; but space here will not allow.

It started in July 1967 in La Neuveville (French part of Switzerland) when, on a language course, I bought A Whiter Shade of Pale: the song made me rediscover music. My first Procol concert (1973, Royal Festival Hall) was followed by years of silence until 1996’s Barbican show, but it was with the launch of ‘Beyond the Pale’ (1997) that my attachment to Procol Harum became love and reality. Then came my first Palers’ gathering (Croydon 2002) where I met Martin Awsop: that brotherly friendship is still in place twenty years later.

Thenceforth many concerts (I lost track); my young son Andrea was often responsible for merchandise sales (onstage in Rome you even announced him as a band-member); Christmas concerts and lunches in Chiddingfold; concerts at Club Riga in Southend (No Stiletto Shoes, GB and Friends, Paramounts’ reunion etc.) which Andrea attended covertly, being underage for the pub; the BtP car (with Roland, Linda, One-Eye and Andrea) following the 2006 concerts in Italy); 2003’s New York shows, transferring by train and taxi to Huntington, during which I struck up a friendship (now also twenty years old) with George Lovell; the pre-concert beer in Naples (2003) when you tried to convince me the British Empire had been greater than the Roman Empire; your unexpected phonecall (I hardly recognised or believed it was you) inviting Andrea and me to the 2005 Epiphany Concert in Naples … and I could go on much longer.

I shall never forget the birthday celebrations, your sixtieth in Basel, 69th in Freising, 71st in Zoetermeer, and the dinner-party in Rome for the fiftieth anniversary of AWSoP (and your Roman Emperor pose in commemorative tee-shirt). Nor the way you remembered my support for my team, AS Roma, during your last meeting with Roland.

Too many memories, now memories only, never to be followed up: the end of my youth and one of the three most important things in my life. What more can I add? Just THANK YOU, MAESTRO.

PS Franky, I know it is a difficult time, but you must be proud to have spent over 56 years by the side of such a special person: a big hug.


Hermann Braunschmidt, Germany: former HiFi dealer

Already at my first rock concert (Ekseption, Netherlands, April 1972) I felt compelled to preserve this wonderful event. Years followed in which I dragged heavy tape-machines through night and rain, just to preserve yet another moment for eternity!

I first saw Procol Harum in Hannover (21 January 1992): Brooker!!! Fisher!! A marvellous Whitehorn, the ultra-tight Bronze/Brzezicki rhythm section, everything far beyond my expectations! This gig did not cure my recording obsession ...

Cumbersome tape-machines gave way to small digital recorders, and moving pictures became possible. A year later (Hannover, 22 January) with battery-filled bags, microphones in my lapels and a conspicuous camera, I saw Gary again: ‘Rock meets Classic’, with orchestra and choir, felt like Edmonton 1972.

But documenting the more intimate No Stiletto Shoes Christmas concerts at Chiddingfold? I didn’t dare ask Gary: it was too likely that he would say No. But the ever-benevolent Franky put in a good word: a friendly wink just before the first set gave me the green light ...

Then came the thirtieth anniversary of the band (Redhill, 1997): I interrupted my holiday in Denmark, not wanting to miss this wonderful reunion – various former band-members in changing line-ups – for anything. As a special highlight Gary announced This Old Dog, unavailable in any format at that time. Pete Solley got out his violin for this deeply unProcolish song. A ‘Got your tape running, Hermann?’, thrown in by Gary shortly before the first bar, caused great hilarity in the hall. Yes, I had! But I would now love to see a photo of my head turning bright red.

It was not until 2002 (Zoetermeer, 14 June) that Gary and I talked explicitly about my secret goings-on. My CD list of rarities and live concerts circulated within the inner circle of diehard Procol friends. He said he didn’t appreciate what I was doing, but he also knew that I was responsible with the material. More praise was hardly possible. How great was my joy later, when Gary himself wanted to make use of my archive. 1996’s prestigious Barbican concert with the LSO had not been documented by the band, nor their Redhill extravaganza.

What remains is an infinite gratitude for almost thirty years that Procol Harum played a decisive role in my life, for a treasure-trove of irretrievable moments, atmospheres and nuances, pointed remarks and spontaneous wit, that I owe to Gary’s generosity.

Thank you Gary.


Reid Bishop, Switzerland: historian

By pure serendipity, I was in Paris in the early summer of 1967, when A Whiter Shade of Pale descended from God knows where and assaulted our collective senses. For a young, hopeless romantic the seemingly magical arrival of AWSoP was compensation of sorts for the extreme difficulty posed by French girls. My Michel Polnareff fixation was utterly trumped by this neo-Baroque psychedelic fantasy of love gone askew in some distant mediaeval dream or whatever. Music and place instantly melded in my tender brain: I still can’t separate the two during my occasional return visits to Paris.

There was no doubt, this was a quantum leap in musical inspiration. Something utterly new and fresh, unprecedented, music carved in marble. Its unmistakable stately, transcendental quality, while perfectly situated in the budding 1960s’ rock idiom, somehow harked back to a distant past, both historic and mythical.

 

I eagerly bought each succeeding album, hypnotized by Brooker’s soulful voice and incisive piano-playing, Reid’s oblique texts, Fisher’s swirling organ and Trower’s surgical guitar. The likes of Shine on Brightly and the innovative In Held ‘Twas in I suite confirmed the magic was not ephemeral. And when A Salty Dog replaced AWSoP as their brightest gem, things began to get very serious. I was alone. None of my friends followed me, preferring the primeval riffs of the nascent Creedence Clearwater Revival.

 

Some Procol Harum fans would be slightly disappointed by the heavier, guitar-led albums that followed, but soon re-enchanted by Grand Hotel and Exotic Birds and Fruit. The latter led off with a rollicking Nothing But the Truth, which I decades later understood to be a painfully honest account of the band’s demise, like the mythical Icarus who flew too close to the sun. Brooker set his standards so high that he unintentionally flew over the heads of the wider public.

 

Gary would slowly lose his genius for the killer, heaven-sent melody, and the ever-renewed personnel would never quite match the golden years. No disgrace here. Noone can tap their muse for much more than ten years, it’s diminishing returns. He was a one-off, and we’ll probably never see his like again. How lucky were we who chose to accompany him on his glorious but fateful (sea) voyage? His music sounds every bit as fresh today, proof that the group’s muse was firmly attuned to the eternal human predicament. And it’s now preserved in musical marble.

Ronnie D'Addario, USA: songwriter

Mr Fox, my high school teacher, entered the classroom carrying A Salty Dog: my introduction to Procol Harum. After playing that title-track many, many times I had to decide, at fifteen, if I liked them better than The Beatles! Awesome song, and production, and Gary's voice … when those strings soar, I was screaming along at the top of my lungs. My mom came in and said, ‘Good Heavens!’

A whole new world opened to me. Gary was the master of great chord changes. Procol had so many epic things to come. They weren't just A Whiter Shade of Pale! Friends and family never talked about Procol Harum in nostalgic terms – ‘Oh, the memories’ etc. We never stopped listening, never stored the records away. Procol is current to me: I’ve kept up with them through the years, including the solo albums.

And the live shows. After one, I got to talk to Gary backstage. I was in awe, but he made me feel comfortable, he was so open, natural and nice. He talked to me like I meant something. And an awesome memory I’ll always treasure: he sang Conquistador to me, one-on-one, the way he originally envisioned it, as a Beach Boys’ song. He gave me over a minute, with a God Only Knows feel, including the harmony in-between lines. He was so into it.

Gary’s passing is a real tough one. Maybe it’s because Procol Harum weren’t huge like The Beatles, so it was a more personal band for all of us. They reached Beatle heights musically, that’s for sure: Gary for me was part of The Four Bs, Beatles, Beach Boys, Bacharach and Brooker. He made this life not only liveable but also enjoyable for over fifty years. His music lives and shall happily continue. Dare I say, Shine on Brightly!

My boys Brian and Michael were fortunate to have our last few albums passed along by Roland Clare; we were thrilled at such positive feedback from Gary. And I got to perform with him, in The Palers’ Band, at 2014’s Westbury NY Convention [see illustration], organised by ‘Beyond the Pale’. A class act, with majestic music to match: and rockin’ R&B on top of that!

Gary Brooker. What an amazing songwriter and singer. I’ve loved this man since I was fifteen. He was a huge presence in my life, and now my boys’.

Our family is heartbroken. RIP Gary.


Rita Martin, USA: Elementary School Office Manager

As many of you know, my husband George and I travelled to many Procol concerts by my favorite fellas of all time: but this event during BtP's 2014 Palers' Convention took the prize.

It was a beautiful morning in New York, so we all took off to find the most wonderful breakfast one could purchase, and to see which of us got the best deal. Geoff Whitehorn and the rest of the fellas went to the Diner while Chris Cooke, Gary, George and I went to the International House of Pancakes.

We really didn’t want Chris or Gary to think we were following them, so we lingered behind a bit … but were soon seated a few seats away to allow them privacy. After all this was the most Honorable Commander Gary Brooker! My heart was beating out of my chest in disbelief that we were actually – well sorta – having breakfast with the most important men in the world!

After we had all eaten, George called the waiter over and, pointing to Chris and Gary, said he would like to pay for their meal as well. ‘Awww,’ said the waiter, ‘It’s not often people take the time or money to pay for a big breakfast for two homeless people.’

Look out world, here she goes …

Rita looked at him and began to school him on the Greatest Band ever to make and play music! ‘Do you know who those men are?’ she exclaimed. ‘Straight from London, that is the Commander Gary Brooker of Procol Harum, and he sings and plays A Whiter Shade of Pale! Now you take that to the back and bring us the ticket!’

Less than a moment later, as he returned, the entire staff came peeking around the door in astonishment. Yep, they all knew who Gary was then! While George was paying, I told the waiter to ease over there and bring me the coffee mug that Gary was drinking from, because I was his biggest fan and I felt that was the very least he could do. He did. In a little brown bag. A spot of coffee remaining at the bottom, dried of course, but nevertheless it was his.

We hope you enjoyed our little bit of time with the man and, guess what … We Still Have More. Please always remember the one, the only Gary Brooker MBE and Chris Cooke. Miss them both.


John Bobin, Southend, UK: bass-player

I was truly shocked when I heard the very sad news that Gary had passed away. I first met him when he was in The Paramounts, in the ’60s, and they were playing at The Shades coffee bar in Southend. I was immediately struck by his fantastic voice and great piano-playing.

I’ve seen him on stage many times over the years, with No Stiletto Shoes, Procol Harum and other bands, such as Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting up with him at various gigs, and of being on the same bill as him on a few occasions, the last of which was when he was the headliner at the benefit gig in November 2017, in memory of Paramount Mickey Brownlee. I never got to play with Gary, but would have liked to have done so.

Gary seemed a bit frail offstage at Mickey’s memorial, but the minute he started singing and playing, that commanding magic was in the air again. Mickey would have been pleased that he appeared and helped to make this fundraiser such a success. Gary has personally raised huge amounts for charity, and this is a measure of a caring person, who put himself out to help worthy causes.

I’ve seen lots of Procol Harum line ups, as a band by itself, with an orchestra, or with orchestra and choir. Gary has led every line-up with great musical panache. There have been lots of very good musicians in the band over the years, but Gary was ‘the only one’ who held things together, and was obviously an incredible influence on the others. They all held him in high esteem. He has written many wonderful songs, my personal favourite being A Salty Dog. He used to dedicate that ‘to absent friends’. That’s even more poignant now, of course.

I’ve read speculation about the slim possibility of Procol Harum continuing with another singer/pianist. It would still be a great band, but it wouldn’t be the same without Gary’s presence. I loved his very dry sense of humour. At one concert in Denmark, he said he thought that the English got on very well with the Danes, ‘especially now that they’ve stopped invading our country’.

He was a one-off. He had an unmistakable voice. He was a brilliant pianist. He wrote terrific songs. He was my favourite singer of all time.

RIP Gary Brooker (The Commander)


Matthías Kristiansen, Iceland, translator

Like everybody else, I was thunderstruck by A Whiter Shade of Pale in the summer of 1967, and kept on spinning the record as often as I could. I found the song so fantastically futuristic that I even wrote an article in my High School paper about the future of popular music, basically describing the Procol Harum sound with drums, bass, guitar, organ, and piano, suggesting we would more hear groups incorporating classical elements and arrangements with surrealistic lyrics.

Later I heard and loved Homburg, but after that Procol Harum drifted away from my musical radar for some years. However, Iceland at that time had an American naval base complete with radio station that brought us a lot of new music, and late one night in late 1970 I heard the LP Home played in its entirety and got hooked again, discovered the earlier records, and became a dedicated Procoholic.

Iceland was not the hub of interesting international acts in those days, so imagine my surprise when Procol visited Reykjavik in 1974. Everybody who was somebody on the Icelandic music scene at that time attended, and we witnessed a fantastic evening, complete with a power failure where Gary played In the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg, and Strauss’s Blue Danube, alone on the piano grand.

Later I saw the group in Trondheim, Norway, in 1976, but then they disbanded, and Gary released his fantastic No More Fear of Flying, which I played endlessly in Demark, where I lived at that time.

When the group reformed and began touring again, I turned cartwheels ’cross the floor, but didn’t get the chance to see them until 2001 in in Helsingborg, Sweden. To me, The Well’s on Fire is up there with the group’s best work. Later I saw them at the Ledreborg Castle festival in Denmark in 2006 with my terminally-ill friend who died the following year; at the Falconer Theatre in Copenhagen in 2013, where Gary talked about his Icelandic experience; and then finally at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 2017, when I flew in from Gran Canaria for the concert.

Looking back, Gary Brooker and his band Procol Harum have been an indispensable part of the soundtrack of my life, as well as countless other music lovers’; and that is a gift that can never be appreciated enough.
 

Frans Steensma, Netherlands: music journalist

Everybody knows Gary Brooker was the perfect English gentleman. But in the 1970s he acquired a dubious reputation with the Netherlands rock press, especially OOR (where I worked from 1976 to 2013, creating its bi-yearly Rock Encyclopedia). Each time Dutch journalists interviewed Procol’s leader, there would be trouble …

Night Of Entertainment at the Antwerp Sport Palace, Belgium (18 February 1995)In 1972, at the Amsterdam Hilton, Brooker was reported to be slightly drunk, and gave confusing answers. At Bilzen in 1973, he answered (‘OOR: Do you consider yourself an entertainer?’ GB: ‘I couldn’t care less.’) challengingly close to a deafening Argent performance. Stupid questions received stupid answers.

In 1974 his OOR interview collapsed when the whole band joined him at table (the article closed with ‘Next time we nail this tricky fellow’). But in August 1975 Gary subtly showed his disdain by responding very briefly, and throwing darts. A new OOR journalist, in 1976, concluded that Booker was ‘an asshole’: he’d consented to the use of a tape-recorder only if he answered standing up.

Imagine my trepidation, then, approaching my first Brooker interview, February 1992 in Utrecht, almost the final stop of Procol’s well-received European tour. Luckily he’s in a sunny mood, and many subjects are discussed (Why the long-delayed reunion? Why record tonight’s show? What befell BJ?). Winding up, I show him a taster of the Procol day-by-day overview I’m compiling. GB shows great interest, and promises additional info.

The next time we meet (Night of the Proms, Rotterdam, 1993) he lends me a unique agenda showing all his early gig dates. Thereafter we meet regularly (Belgium, Germany, Denmark, UK) and in 2000 he commissions my liner-note for Utrecht’s One More Time live CD. During Procol’s elaborate Netherlands tour in 2007, Gary and band visit my ‘Procol Harum museum’ in Huizen. He’s amazed that it includes the same gold Edmonton album that he possesses!

Between 1973 and 2018 I hear 35 Procol shows and 20 Brooker performances, meeting one last time at Zoetermeer, November 2018. Post-show Franky, Gary and I head for the bar, to talk music as usual. I mention 1964’s obscure session with Andrew Loog Oldham (16 Hip Hits), newly-released on Japanese CD with a Brooker bonus track. Immediately, 54 years on, GB names it: It’s Only Make Believe, the Conway Twitty classic.

That’s how I remember Gary, sharp as a knife. A great musician and a great music-lover. What a privilege to have known him. Shine on!


Martin Awsop, Spain: former taxi-driver

My first memories of Procol Harum involve A Whiter Shade of Pale, which has been lodged in my mind since I heard it, aged about 13, at a party with somewhat older people.

Later I dedicated myself to collecting all available cover versions, thanks to which I was able to get to know Gary Brooker. In 2001 he came to my city, Barcelona, with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings; following the soundcheck I was able to talk with Gary and show him a photo-album of the cover-records in my collection. He was thrilled to see how many existed (I had 240 at then: now the total is 1,354) and called Wyman and Georgie Fame over to see. That night’s concert was a fabulous experience: I had met a rock star, and now I heard my song live … wow!

In 2005 I saw my first Procol Harum concert, at Croydon UK, the last-ever in which Keith Reid performed! At the ‘Beyond the Pale’ party there I met fans from all over the world, and began to feel part of a great family. I was also able to greet the rest of the band.

I have been lucky enough to go to seven shows in London, two in Germany and six in Italy, and also to mingle with the band at aftershow parties, over dinner or beers, or stay in the same hotel. A prime memory is the lavish dinner organised in Rome by our friend Stefano to celebrate Procol’s fiftieth anniversary, and above all making so many friends, fans like me. Two – George Lovell and Stefano Ciccioriccio (pictured left) – are like brothers to me; others are also family.

What can I say about Gary Brooker, that all his followers don’t already know? A great musician, an incredible voice, a kind and treasured character. I remember onstage at Pordenone (Italy 2017) he spoke a few words supporting the people of Catalonia – then fighting for independence and being mistreated for it – and dedicated Conquistador to them! It was so emotional, and I thanked him later. Similarly at the London Palladium (2018) the choral/orchestral Within our House moved me so much that I wept, an inexplicable emotion that I’d never felt in concert before.

I just want to thank him for his music, and the good memories spent with him and with all you other Palers.

I shall never be able to forget it.
 


Michael Ackerman, Germany: former banker

I joined Procol's Official Fan Club (member #228!) in September 1968, and first saw the band live the same year. And I enjoyed the first of many, many conversations with Gary Brooker in October 1973 at Düsseldorf. Normally, down the decades, we talked most about Procol and other favourite artists. I first made an impact on him in the note I gave him at Tokyo’s Budokan (7 December 1981): ‘… good to see you onstage with Clapton, but we need to hear you with your own music’. Incredibly, after extended travels with my rucksack, I came home to a postcard from Japan: ‘Michael – new album out late January, cheers Gary!’

As I recall we were having a drink in March 1989 after a concert by No Stiletto Shoes (at The Half Moon, Putney) when I asked Gary whether he knew the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms (my all-time favourite piece of classical music, which Brahms finished after his mother’s death 1865, selecting text from holy scripture). Gary did not.

So I sent him a CD soon afterwards. And some six years later, having already forgotten that conversation, I received a long letter from him, enclosing an American music magazine (Listener Volume 1 No 4, Autumn 1995) in which an interviewer asked him to name his favourite classical piece of music. Gary’s answer: A German Requiem

Yet we did not touch this topic again, until his last e-mail to me, in autumn 2021, calling my attention to a special recording of the Requiem that he’d found online (a metal version, by Selin Schönbeck), and asking my opinion. In addition, he mentioned a concert involving this, his ‘favourite piece of music’, at Guildford Cathedral with a huge choir and orchestra, in which his cousin David Pike had sung the baritone part. Gary closed with the words, ‘Forever grateful, Mike!’ As I knew a bit about Gary’s state of health, and how his condition related to Brahms’s chosen Bible texts, you can imagine how deeply touched I was.

I am so grateful that I was able to give a very little bit in return to that wonderful man, that fantastic musician and composer, who made my life so rich with his music and friendship. Sometimes, as I remember him, I imagine that in his last weeks he listened to the Requiem, and that it gave him comfort and confidence.

RIP Gary, and Shine on!


Russell Murphy, Australia: General Manager, surfer, philosopher and poet

I was in my office at Ripley’s Believe it or Not! in Surfers Paradise, early March 2000. The phone rang and the voice said it was Gary Brooker calling! I was caught completely off-guard, even though a friend of mine, who knew Alan Cartwright, had agreed to pass on my letter inviting Gary to dinner while he was touring on the Australian leg of ‘The Ultimate Rock Concert Tour’.

I pulled myself together, thanked him for calling, and organised the dinner there and then. I was knocked out that the singer of one of the best-selling songs ever had called me! When I first heard AWSoP in May 1967 I never would have imagined that I would one day not only talk to him but have dinner with him sitting next to me!

We met at Michael’s Restaurant in Brisbane two nights later, and spent the evening with Gary and Franky, my wife Maxine and a few friends. Rock stories from the ’60s – the meaning of ‘Procol Harum’, what A Whiter Shade of Pale was about, and the time Gary was hailed by John Lennon, sitting in his car playing AWSoP!

A lovely meal, followed by photographs and autographs all round, one being on my upcoming wedding invitation (a treasured memory!); then it was almost time to go. Without being asked, Gary quietly sat down at the piano, and played and sang my favourite song of all time. We were the only patrons left, as it was late, and the room was completely silent while Gary performed for us. We were all caught up in the magic that was AWSoP live! The manager was knocked out on hearing the song, but took a while to realise that this really was Gary Brooker of Procol Harum at his restaurant!

No encores were needed, as all of us were completely caught up in that magical four-minute blissful moment! We were invited to the concert the next night, where Gary stole the show both with his wardrobe – light-coloured trousers, white shirt and red sports-jacket – as well as his songs. A Commander indeed! His set was the highlight of the night.

Thanx Gary for more than fifty years of The Most Beautiful Music from The Most Wonderful Man! A true gentleman of rock. I shall always remember you and your music, as my favourite Procol Harum songs grace my jukebox playlist.

Vale, GB


Bert Saraco, USA: photographer

 

‘Gary said you could come downstairs.’ It was more a fact than an invitation from this pretty lady (in 1977 we didn’t recognise Franky Brooker). Carina and I felt a rush of nervousness. I’d seen Procol at various New York venues: now, at The Hofstra Playhouse, we would actually be in the same room! I was not yet a ‘real’ photographer, but had a borrowed 35mm camera in hand when I unexpectedly met Gary and managed to get a picture of him [right], complete with firehose and sand-bucket. He seemed pensive, reflective: understandable in retrospect, since this show (broadcast live) was close to the end of Procol’s First Testament. But he was nicer than we could have hoped, emboldening Carina to ask if A Rum Tale was on the setlist. We heard the opening bars (played for us?) at soundcheck, but the song didn’t feature that evening, nor at The Palladium show a few nights later.

Then it’s decades before Procol tour again: Gary still at the helm, his vocals amazingly richer and stronger than ever. Personnel changes follow but, from 2006, a wonderfully stable crew of comrades allows the good ship Procol to thrill and delight a loyal international fanbase. Now I’m a ‘real’ photographer and, thanks to the good graces of management (and others), I find myself capturing my favorite band in concert. A second chance, never expected … and Carina’s Rum Tale dream may yet come to pass! After his South African assault (2012) and stage-fall in London (2017), who could have expected The Commander to soldier on, strong as ever? Still, his obscure, clever banter keeps the mood lively, and those mighty high notes seem to come from no mortal place at all ... 

 

In 2019 Carina and I ‘tagged along’ at six northeast American concerts, working the merch tables and photographing onstage action, ‘warming our hands by the blaze of greatness’. Any perceived intimidation emanated not from the man, simply from the enormity of his unique gifts. And so it was, later – 42 years later! – that a Rum Tale soundcheck fragment was heard again, at Connecticut’s Ridgefield Playhouse. But when an emotional Carina asked Gary if we’d actually hear it performed, his non-committal answer didn’t inspire any hopes. Yet then, typically of course, he did play it! And as we gathered, post-show, he smiled at Carina: ‘You got your request.’ 

 

My goodness, how we’ll all miss Gary Brooker! 

 


W George Lovell, Canada: Professor of Geography, Professor of Latin American History

In a quiet moment shared at one of the forty-two Procol Harum concerts I was fortunate to attend between October 1970 (Glasgow) and April 2019 (Lisbon), Gary Brooker referred to Procol’s fourth studio recording as ‘The Death Album’. About death Home (1970) assuredly is, albeit punctuated with songs in a contrary mode, survival against all odds. ‘Death affirms life,’ I reflected in The Waiter Brought a Tray (2007), my first Procol memoir. And I believe it does still, even if – to paraphrase a Home lyric – there’ll be no more sung live by one of the greatest voices, bluesy and assertive yet soulful and searching, in the history of rock.

On the very day of his demise, I had begun an e-mail exchange with two of Gary’s greatest fans, Martín Pérez in Barcelona and Stefano Ciccioriccio in Rome, expressing my fears for the worst, which I relayed also to BtP. ‘I often think back to when last I was with you and Linda,’ I wrote to Roland (alluding to the 2019 Lisbon show, two years before Linda’s life was also cut short). ‘I wonder if, at least for yours truly, having the pleasure of hearing Procol Harum play live, that was “The Final Thrust”. I hope not.’ Alas, it was.

Procol’s seventeen Lisbon offerings spanned the band’s entire opus, first album to last. Everyone was in top form and having fun, picking up from where they’d left off in Boston after a three-week/thirteen-gig tour of the United States. The energy, verve, drive, and passion were palpable, as was manifest enjoyment while playing the music and beholding it so rapturously received.

In his setlist notes, Roland states: ‘Before the show Gary Brooker had amended his tour lanyard, deleting musician and substituting vocalist.’ Song after song he truly was in the finest of voice, reaching the highs called for when rendering A Salty Dog and languishing in the nostalgia evoked by Grand Hotel. Who would have suspected that Procol Harum was to play its final concert, with the Commander at the helm, only four months later?

Privileged I was to socialise with the band after the show: the revelry lasted into the wee small hours. A photo of Gary and me is a lasting memento, as is his musical legacy, for which we must all be grateful. Even in the gloom of having now gone Home, Gary Brooker still shines on.


Ian Hockley, UK: musician

As I write, Gary has been gone almost two weeks, and it’s two years to the day since his final concert: how appropriate that he bowed out at a packed O2, raising over £1,000,000 for charity. Procol Harum has been part of my life for over four decades; I came to them not through A Whiter Shade but through the Grand Hotel album (Gary told me latterly that was his favourite) and a decades-long association with my dear friend, organist Josh Phillips. In the early ’80s, when I wasn’t practising the pipe organ in the local church, I spent my teenage years at the piano working out the chords of the wonderful clutch of songs on that record (then deeply out of fashion); never did I imagine how in adulthood I should become such good friends with the band, playing on stage not just once but several times with Commander Brooker.

For well over 25 years many friends and I have created imperishable personal memories with Procol Harum, in concert halls, clubs, bars and hotels, often with the distinctive aroma of GB’s pipe seeming to mirror his smoky voice. Gary was a ‘musician’s musician’, respected by peers across the spectrum, with amiable intelligence, deep integrity, utter professionalism, and impeccable standards of behaviour to fans and colleagues alike. I cannot think of another musician who has influenced me so much – all I know about stagecraft, set-planning, handling an audience before and after shows, coping with nerves, came from Gary: just by watching, chatting to him, a quiet word sometimes. Above all, his philosophy of ‘the next concert must excel the last’ is the one I’ve really taken to heart.

Gary once said of Procol Harum that ‘our heart is in the blues, or the lungs of some giant organ’. That unlikely fusion of distinct musical ideas is what I find so beguiling. Gary’s pianistic style led to an approach to orchestration that could only have grown from those early, bluesy roots. His intelligent curiosity and lack of formal training in that world fostered beautifully idiosyncratic, muscular arrangements that enhanced his own writing as a whole. They might have been more formulaic from a classically-trained orchestrator.

That classical integrity, encompassing a respect for the substance of music, limiting yourself, to a degree, to ensure quality control on disc and onstage, and duty of care to an audience, is perhaps Gary’s greatest legacy.
 


Roland Marzuoli, France: Project Manager

My wife Pascale and I first met Gary Brooker in August 2013, in south-western France, at the house of close friends, François and Corianne Bréant, who were holding a musical evening. Among the performers was Judy Blair, the American singer/organist: she introduced a neighbour who joined her on some R’n’B songs, and some Procol numbers he’d written.

 

Congratulating Gary on his set, I explained that I loved this repertoire so much that I’d created a small cinema in our Paris home, where friends periodically gather to watch rock concerts on DVD. When I mentioned that Concert by the Lake was our next scheduled session, Gary unexpectedly said he’d be in Paris on 16 September: ‘If your evening happens to be on that day, I'll be happy to join you.’

 

He kept his promise, and a dozen music fans enjoyed a buffet supper, listening to Gary’s music, discussing it with him. Realising how much Gary admired Fats Domino and Ray Charles, I suddenly heard myself suggesting ‘I know a Paris jazz-club, New Morning, perfect for this music. I could organise a “Gary Brooker with Judy Blair and friends” concert there.’ Gary smiled.

 

We kept in touch via Judy, who succeeded in convincing Gary that this novice impresario could be trusted to get things right. The ‘green light’ he sent, in April 2014, turned my life upside-down for fifteen months. With my friend Loran, I created a non-profit association, Blue Page Music; I signed a contract with Gary; booked venue, rehearsal studio, hotels, train tickets and instruments; set up ticketing, and promoted the concert.

 

On 27 June 2015 I learned that, even when slightly out-of-pocket, an impresario is thrice rewarded: listening to a superb concert, observing 400 smiling faces leaving the venue, and realising how gratified Gary was by this rare opportunity to play a show under his own name, summarising his career: the R’n’B of his youth, Procol songs, and numbers from his solo albums.

 

And a similar marvel occurred on 12 November 2017 at Paris’s Le Trianon (see illustration!) when a thousand-strong standing ovation concluded Procol’s Fiftieth Anniversary tour, co-produced by Blue Page Music ... my friend Jean-Luc and me.

 

I am tremendously sad that this immense artist and beautiful person is no longer alive, but his voice, compositions, kindness and simplicity will never leave us. I’m extremely proud and thankful for Gary’s trust, and so happy to have known him.
 


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