Procol Harum

the Pale

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Keith Reid • Probably Melody Maker, 1973

'One of a kind'

Keith Reid doesn’t want to sound vain but as a lyricist he reckons he’s 'one of a kind'.

His partnership with Procol Harum’s pianist Gary Brooker stretches back some eight years. It has been prolifically creative.

The two first met when a mutual friend, who knew that Keith had words which needed music drove him to a gig Brooker was playing. Reid gave Gary the words. It didn’t take Brooker long to set them to music.

It is important, thinks Reid, that he always travels with the group.

“If I didn’t go to every gig I would not be part of the group. I think we have a definite, unique identity.”

This identity, says Reid, is built around the Reid-Brooker songs. The group has had to change so much because there is no room for other writers.

Reid has little trouble writing on tour. “In fact, I find it much easier to shut myself away in a hotel room for two hours that to work at home where there are far too many distractions.”

He always writes the lyrics first and presents them to Brooker, who’ll then set them to music. Sometimes Gary has a piece of music already written which will fit the words perfectly.

But, says Reid, “I have not found it possible to write words to suit a piece of Gary’s music." [Except Conquistador, for example]

Were his lyrics poetry? “Poetry….I always write them as poems.”

Films and TV plays, have been a fairly constant source of inspiration for Reid. The sea has also seemed to be a regular and strong influence, from Salty Dog [sic] up to A Rum Tale.

There’s no particular reason for this, says Keith, it’s just that the sea does offer many opportunities for extremely vivid images.

On tour Reid sees his role as “an agent provocateur. It’s always very difficult for a group to genuinely know how they’ve played on a show.”

“They may play something awful at the start of the set and by the end they’ll have forgotten it. I can remind them of their mistakes.”

It is an aspect that he enjoys. He describes the role as camera and tape recorder and critic.

The one thing that Reid regrets is that there have been so few cover versions of his songs. Sure, there were endless middle of the road muzak recordings of Whiter Shade Of Pale [sic] but that’s been the sum total.

“I tend to think that people believe that Procol Harum have done the definitive thing of our songs. I don’t think it’s true all the time. I think some of our songs could be given something new by other artists.”

Reid works on an idea for a song and gets it written “in one go.”

“I take four to five hours. If I haven’t got somewhere with it by then, I’ll scrap it.”

Being part of the group means, of course, that Reid goes to all Procol recording dates.

“You wouldn’t expect a playwright not to attend the rehearsal’s [sic] of his play. My songs are just as personal to me. They’re a part of my life. They are not gone from me.” 

Thanks once more to Per Wadd Hermansen in Norway for the scan and the transcription. He writes, 'I'm not 100% sure, but believe this is from Melody Maker and was printed around the release of Grand Hotel. There is a little fault in the article, all text not in the correct order. I've corrected this in the written version of the article.'.

BtP concurs, noting the close links – in typography, illustration and content – with
this piece from the Melody Maker's ill-starred 'band breakdown' from March 1973, which suffered from similarly sloppy paste-up or sub-editing.

Keith Reid's BtP page


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