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the Pale 

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From Gary Brooker's funeral, 23 March 2022

Josh Phillips offers his tribute to Gary

The funeral of Gary Brooker MBE was a private affair, taking place at Guildford Crematorium on 23 March 2022 at 12.45 pm. In addition to many friends and colleagues
from different spheres of Gary's life, Geoff Whitehorn and Josh Phillips paid tribute on behalf of Procol Harum, and Jens and Roland, who run 'Beyond the Pale',
spoke – at Franky Brooker's request – about Gary's remarkable relationship with the Procol fanbase.

Josh Phillips
Gary said a few years ago, on stage, ‘It’s all right for you lot, I’ve got chords to remember as well as words, about 59,000 of the buggers!’ Well, that might not be an accurate number, I always meant to ask him: though I guess – with the number of songs in the Procol catalogue – it is possible, it may have been one his many jokes on stage.

I first met Gary during the recording of The Prodigal Stranger, after Mark Brzezicki invited me down to Ripley where at Black Barn they were laying down drums and some vocals, about 1991. Though the first time I saw him was at the Rainbow Theatre, 18,063 days ago, on 22 September 1972 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Chorale. Grand Hotel era: he was wearing a naval jacket and T shirt. I went with my mum, sisters and brother. I was about to turn the ripe old age of ten. I was ‘Preliminary Grade’ on the piano, and on my exit from the gig I announced to my family, ‘I’m going to do that!’ I meant play in a rock band, not join the actual band … though little did I know …

As a young piano player, Gary had a very big influence on me, which has been with me ever since that night in Finsbury Park in 1972. The first thing I did with Gary was go for a pint in the pub opposite the studio in Ripley. You guessed it, we both liked Real Ale, so, two things in common, keyboards and beer: result. I was somewhat nervous in the pub; I had been playing for many years professionally with some great people, but I think it was meeting Gary, a real larger-than-life character, sublime piano-player, singer and composer, that maybe was a little daunting.

Sitting down with our beers, I started the conversation off. ‘So, you know Broken Barricades, side one track 4 …’ ‘Yeah. I know all of them. I wrote them.’ I felt such a berk, but then Gary’s true and generous personality shone through: seeing I was embarrassed and a little awkward, he said, ‘No don’t apologise, I once said to Fats Domino when I first met him, “Hello Fats, you still playing?”’ He chuckled and we laughed together, which was the beginning of a true friendship. We all know how Gary loved Fats: he loved to play and sing his songs of course.

Fast forward twenty-one years from the Rainbow gig, and I found myself in the chair as the organist with Procol Harum, something I would never have thought would happen in my wildest dreams. Having been a Procol fan for many, many years I had the added advantage of knowing the songs, well most them. A few shows in ’93 and ’95 I think, then I became a proud permanent member of the band in 2004. That goes back over thirty years when we first sipped some ale.

Many moons and many Junes have passed since that day: amazing experiences, many miles and many countries we have visited together as part of the wonderful band that is Procol Harum, which is unarguably Gary Brooker … we were merely an extension of his hands. He was without doubt a modern-day Mozart, in so many ways: his talent, his love of melody and harmony, his humour and above all the legacy he leaves behind for all to enjoy.

We both had the love of water, though his was under the surface too, with his knowledge of creatures that live there. He enjoyed a couple of trips on our boat, or ‘little ship’ as Gary described it. He looked so at ease behind the wheel: his silver hair, French beret and pipe confirmed his status as The Commander.

So, I have been talking about numbers a lot here – 59,000 words, 18,063 days, a couple of pints – what I haven’t mentioned is STARS. Gary was a Real Star, in so many ways: A Rock Star, sure, a shooting star (well, he liked to shoot); a member of Ringo’s All Starr band … he was a shining star, without doubt. Picture this, if you can: there are two hundred billion trillion stars in the universe, I learned recently; well, that number just became two hundred billion trillion and one.

Thank you, Gary, for your kindness and love, your generosity towards my own family over the years; thank you for the education you have given, and continue to give me, through your music. I have learnt so much, I have met many fabulous musicians, and made wonderful friends through you, many of whom are seated here today.

Off you go, you’ll be late for the soundcheck. They need you up there in heaven, enjoy it: you will undoubtedly have the best choir ever ...

Safe travels, my Dear Friend. Shine on Brightly, you Salty Old Dog.

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