Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum's first year in the NME

PH touring US: 28 October 1967

These excerpts from New Musical Express, kindly selected for 'Beyond the Pale' by Yan Friis, show Homburg peaking in the chart back home as Procol Harum undertake their North American tour of clubs and television studios, and as the press begin a serialisation on personalities in the band.

Front page: Full page advertisement for Dave Clark Five's Everybody Knows 45

NME Top 5:

1 (1) Massachusetts, Bee Gees
2 (2) The Last Waltz, Engelbert Humperdinck
3 (3) Hole In My Shoe, Traffic
4 (10) Baby Now That I've Found You, The Foundations
5 (7) Homburg, Procol Harum

Tipped for the charts by Derek Johnson:
Tremeloes, Be Mine (Mi Seguirai)
Gene Pitney, Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart
Bachelors, 3 o'Clock Flamingo Street

First of a new series PROCOL A WEEK
GARY BROOKER by Alan Smith

GARY BROOKER used to be the one in Procol Harum with the droopy moustache and all the Chinese clobber. he'd sit looking lost and mournful weaving a strange web of mystery and nostalgia as he told us of the 16 vestal virgins who were leaving for the coast. Then one day recently Gary got out of bed and decided he'd feel better without the moustache drooping round his cheeks. He shaved the lot off.

The repercussions have been many: he isn't chased in the streets any more, fans and the Press ask: 'Which one are you?', and well-wishers no longer come up and buy him drinks.

'Maybe I'll grow another moustache,' says Gary thoughtfully. 'Maybe.'

He smiles frequently, but his smiles consists usually of a mysterious twitch at the corners of the mouth. He gives a broad grin reluctantly. His face inclines to be round, and he has what he calls 'patchwork' eyes under a neat thatch of black hair.

Gary was aged five when his mother and musician father packed him off to piano lessons: 'I had a woman teacher who used to rap me over the knuckles with her pen,' he told me. 'I just couldn't get interested. She had the wrong attitude.

'My father was keen for me to get on because he was a full-time musician himself. In fact, he recorded for the same label as I now do with Procol - Regal Zonophone. His name was Harry Brooker and he was a member of Felix Mendelsohn's Hawaiian Serenaders.

'Sometimes dad and I used to duet together - you know, informal things like parties. I must have been about seven or eight at the time, and I was on a big classical piano Rawicz and Landauer kick.

'We moved house when I was about nine, so I gave the piano up. I started going for lessons again when I was about 12 - and I went to a teacher who was completely different from anyone I'd known before.

'He wasn't soft. He had discipline, but he didn't start me off on the Academy Beginners' Book like anyone else. His name is Ronald Meachem and he lives at Westcliff-on-Sea: I still go and visit him.

'Mr Meachem taught me why music was music. But told me about chord structures, how they were made up, and why the scale is like it is.

'He would write the music out in front of me, and after a while we went through a boogie phase together. We even used to do some simple 12-bar composing together. Mr Meachem gave me a different and interested outlook on music. I owe him a lot.

'Because I knew about chords I felt confident enough to start my own group at the age of 12 - how about that - 12! I was at Westcliff High School and the other lads were mates of mine.

'It was a touch of skiffle just before that - tea chests and banjos and things - but we only fooled around. I really got serious only when I formed my own group. We called ourselves The Electrics and gigged around at weddings for £1 each.

'Course, there was no such thing as a bass guitar then. It was me on piano with two guitars and drums.

'I remember after a while, we got a singer in. A quite old chap he was - he must have been about 20, while we were all about 13 or 14. he was a good-looking bloke... looked a bit like Billy Fury.

'The group broke up after a while, and I remember I got into a trio with two older blokes who played guitar.' He smiled a tight smile, bemused at the thought. 'It was strange - we played strange Les Paul music I didn't really like.'

From beginning a beat group prodigy at the age of 12 Gary progressed to playing at dances for 30s. a time, working until 1 am. He was still at school.

'When I left school,' he told me, 'I was waiting for my GCE [General Certificate of Education] results because I wanted a conventional nine-to-five job. At least, on the surface I did. Deep down I think I realized and expected I'd end up playing.

'I remember that at that time I had no other life than the beat group scene. I had no other interests. I lived and breathed music, records and rehearsals.

'I finally ended up with the Paramounts, as you may know, and we even had our own club in Southend. I think it was when I realized I could earn about £5 or £6 a night that I finally gave up the idea of a normal day-time job.'

He got up to have his photograph taken, smiling a gentle smile as he walked across the studio watched by the permanently miserable eyes of Procol's co-manager, Keith Reid.

When he came back he warmed to the subject of the Paramounts and the four years they spent getting nowhere in particular.

'At the end of it all we had nothing,' he told me. 'Nothing. Nobody cared. We did a show and then we all said goodbye and never bothered to ring each other or get in touch. There were no disagreements, anything. I was just that nobody cared.

'I've never lived away from home, so when I was out of work after that it wasn't as if I had to sleep on the streets. My mum was good to me. It didn't get as far as going down to the Labour Exchange and signing on and getting my dole. I wouldn't have been ashamed. I just didn't bother.

'I remember the first time I met Keith Reid was at a party, and a mutual friend of ours introduced him by saying: 'He writes words.' Keith Reid gave me the words of Whiter Shade Of Pale and I stuffed them in my pocket.

'I didn't read them. It was quite a party, and all I remember is that they got home with me and got put down somewhere. One day I found them again and thought: 'They're nice,' and I wrote some music and started to leap up and down because it worked out. I'd never written music seriously before: it's something you have to get down to, and I never had.

'One day after that I got a strange letter from Keith Reid in which he wrote: 'I am delirious
[should be 'desirous' perhaps?] to talk to you.' We arranged to meet and began to compose together every weekend.'

That, in fact, was the birth of the Procol story. The Brooker-Reid composing team worked long and hard hours, only to come to London and have music publishers smile and say: 'Yeah, nice.' Nobody really wanted to know.

Eventually as in a vision, they conceived the idea of a group the like of which had never been seen or heard before. Procol Harum was on its way.

Gary says he saw himself as a cross between Fu Man Chu and a Mexican at the time of his droopy moustache and Whiter Shade Of Pale.

Now, he sees himself as an uncomplicated person, with no worries to speak of and a 'beautiful, uninhibited Swiss girl friend' to keep him company. I asked him if in the past he hadn't tried to effect too much of a mysterious and moody image, and he told me: 'I don't think I'm like that, but when you talk about Procol Harum as an entity you get into deeper waters.'

He has no interest in politics - 'leave that to Secunda' (Tony, their other co-manager) - but he believes that something must happen to the human soul after death.

'All I know is that only a small part of the brain is used in life,' he says, 'and there must be something else. I know your body rots in the ground and I don't think you just go sailing up into the air. But there must be something.'

He describes himself as fairly conventional and says he prefers to live at Southend, where there's green grass and the air is pure.

We talked about one thing and another until finally I decided to call it a day and I thanked him for his time.

'That's OK,' said Gary, deadpan, 'but did you know I'm mad?' I said I didn't. 'It's true,' he said, with just the faintest of smiles hovering around his face. 'I am mad.

'I also put spells on people. I specialise in white magic. I put a spell on one million people and told them to buy Whiter Shade Of Pale.

'Now that Homburg is out, I've told people to cool things a bit. The spell says I don't want this one to be so big.'

'Yeah,' I grinned, 'great. And what else do you do?'

The quiet and humorous Mr Brooker looked up and tried to force back the laugh. 'I pull rabbits out of hats,' he told me, 'but that's just your routine stuff. I prefer putting spells on people.

'I hereby put a spell on you to say I am OK and a good bloke.'

Gary Brooker is OK. He's quiet and deadpan, and I think a lot of people don't get on his wavelength. But underneath it he is indeed, a good and most pleasant bloke.

News pages:


Procol Harum flew to America on Wednesday morning for a five-week visit taking in club dates in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They will also guest in three networked TV programmes - Hollywood Palace, Ed Sullivan Show and Smothers Brothers Show.

They open with a week's stay in New York, playing four days at the Café a-Gogo followed by one-nighters at the Cheetah Club, the Village Theatre and Long Island's Action House. They then fly to Chicago for two days at the Cheetah Club in that city.

Procol's West Coast engagements include two separate three-day bookings at San Francisco's famed Fillmore Auditorium (November 9 - 11 and 16 - 18) and five days at the Los Angeles Whisky a-Gogo (22nd - 26th). The group is due back in London on November 29.

Tailpieces by the Alley Cat:

...Tony Secunda (agent for Procol Harum and the Move) sued for divorce...

Read more from the first year of Procol press

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