Procol Harum (/ /) is an English rock band formed in 1967. Their best-known recording is the 1967 hit single "A Whiter Shade of Pale", one of the few singles to have sold over 10 million copies. Although noted for their baroque and classical influence, Procol Harum's music is described as psychedelic rock and proto-prog.
|Also known as||Liquorice John Death (1970)|
|Origin||Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England|
|Years active||1967–1977 , 1991 –present|
|Labels||Fly Records, Regal Zonophone, Reprise (US), A&M, Chrysalis, Deram|
|Associated acts||The Paramounts|
|Past members||Keith Reid|
B. J. Wilson
In 2018, the band was honoured by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was inducted into the brand-new Singles category.
Origins, The Paramounts, early years and formation (1964–67)
The Paramounts, based in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, led by Gary Brooker and Robin Trower and including Chris Copping and B. J. Wilson, scored a moderate British success in 1964 with their version of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's "Poison Ivy", which reached number 35 in the UK Singles Chart. Unable to generate any follow-up success, the group disbanded in 1966.
The Paramounts were signed to EMI UK for their releases; until one day before Procol Harum linked with EMI UK again, they were called The Pinewoods. A last-minute offer from Chris Blackwell's fledgling Island Records label was rejected by Brooker and band.
In April 1967, Brooker began working as a singer-songwriter and formed Procol Harum with non-Paramounts Keith Reid (poet), Hammond organist Matthew Fisher, guitarist Ray Royer and bassist David Knights. Guy Stevens, their original manager, named the band after a Burmese cat, which had been bred by Eleonore Vogt-Chapman and belonged to Liz Coombes. The cat's "cat fancy" name was Procul Harun, Procul being the breeder's prefix.
In the absence of a definitive origin, the band's name has attracted various interpretations, being said to be (incorrect) Latin for "beyond these things"; the correct Latin would be procul hīs. The name of the band is frequently misspelled; often with "Procul", "Harem", both, or other variations.
"A Whiter Shade of Pale", commercial success and debut album (1967)
At Olympic Studios, southwest London, with session drummer (and non-Paramount) Bill Eyden, producer Denny Cordell and sound engineer Keith Grant, the group recorded "A Whiter Shade of Pale", and it was released on 12 May 1967. With a structure reminiscent of Baroque music, a countermelody based on J. S. Bach's Orchestral Suite N° 3 in D Major played by Fisher's Hammond organ, Brooker's vocals and Reid's lyrics, the single reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart and the Canadian RPM Magazine chart. It did almost as well in the United States, reaching No. 5 on 29 July 1967. In Australia, it was No. 1 for many weeks, setting a record of 8 weeks in Melbourne.
After "A Whiter Shade of Pale" became a hit, the band set out to consolidate its studio success by touring, with new official drummer Bobby Harrison added to the line-up; its live debut was opening for Jimi Hendrix in 1967. The group's follow-up single, "Homburg", with a line-up change of former Paramounts B. J. Wilson on drums and Robin Trower on guitar (replacing Harrison and Royer, respectively, who exited to form the band Freedom), reached No. 6 in the UK, No. 15 in Canada, and No. 34 in the US.
The group's eponymous debut studio album was recorded between the two hit singles, and was released in early September in the US, but was held back until December 1967 in the UK. A series of singles charted poorly in the US and UK, though rarely both at the same time.
Follow-up albums and break-up (1968–77)
The band's follow-up album, Shine On Brightly was released the following year and saw a greater excursion into progressive rock stylings. Their third album, A Salty Dog (1969), was very popular among fans and their first album to sell well in the UK. The title track in particular gained a good deal of US FM radio airplay, and the album is now considered a rock classic, appealing to fans of The Beatles, The Moody Blues and Pink Floyd.
The group would have many subsequent personnel changes, the first being Fisher, who produced A Salty Dog, departing the band soon after its release. The line-up for the first three albums was Brooker (piano and lead vocals), Trower (guitar and lead vocals), Fisher (organ and lead vocals), Knights (bass), Wilson (drums), and Reid (lyricist). Former Paramount Chris Copping joined on organ and bass in 1970. The group appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970. By 1971, the disparities in style had become too great and, after the release of the fifth album Broken Barricades, Trower left to form his own power trio band and was replaced by Dave Ball. From late 1972 until 1977, the group's guitarist was Mick Grabham.
Procol Harum returned to success on the record charts in the following years with a symphonic rock sound, often backed by symphony orchestras. At this it was one of the first groups to achieve success; Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra was a No. 5 gold album in the US in 1972, as well as reaching No. 48 in Britain. "Conquistador" (a track from their first album, re-charted for accompaniment by the Edmonton Symphony in 1971) was a hit single in 1972, getting to No. 16 on 29 July 1972 in the US, five years to the date after "Whiter Shade of Pale" peaked at No. 5, and No. 7 in Canada, whilst reaching No. 22 in the UK. Their follow-up album, Grand Hotel, did fairly well, reaching No. 21 on the US Billboard 200 in 1973. The album also received a Silver Certification (over 60,000 copies sold) in the United Kingdom.
In 1975, Procol Harum played the final night at the Rainbow Theatre in London. More personnel changes contributed to declining sales in the later part of the 1970s, with "Pandora's Box" being the final UK Top 20 hit in 1975. Its parent album Procol's Ninth saw a reconnection with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who both produced and wrote with the band. The band broke up in 1977, after seeing Something Magic stall at No. 147 in the US Billboard 200 chart. It reunited for a single performance five months later, when "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was named joint winner (along with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody") of the Best British Pop Single 1952–1977 at the BRIT Awards, part of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. The group also had one album, billed as "Liquorice John Death" and had the title "Ain't Nothin' To Get Excited about" with the Paramounts' original lineup reuniting and doing covers of Rock Tunes as well
Reformation and the 1990s
The band reformed in 1991 with Brooker, Fisher, Trower and Reid (Wilson had died in 1990), and released The Prodigal Stranger, but sales were modest. After the album's release, a new incarnation of the band, with Brooker and Fisher but not Trower, toured the US and the world for a few years in the first half of the 1990s.
In August 1995, Procol Harum played at the Cropredy Music Festival, as guests of Fairport Convention. They also toured US and UK the same year, performing at several locations.
In late 1999, Brooker promised that "Procol will play in 2000", and in September the band played an open air gig with the New London Sinfonia in Guildford.
In 2000, Procol Harum received some attention after the song "In Held Twas in I" appeared on the band Transatlantic's debut album.
Since 2001 the band, comprising Brooker, Fisher, Geoff Whitehorn (guitar), Matt Pegg (bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums), has made several tours of mostly Europe, but also Japan and the US. A 2001 concert in Copenhagen, Denmark was released on DVD in 2002. In 2003 the band released a new studio album, The Well's on Fire, and appeared at the Progman Cometh festival in Seattle. Their concert in London on Friday 12 December 2003, with much of the material from that album, was released on DVD in 2004: Live at the Union Chapel. Fisher left Procol Harum in 2004.
The band resumed a limited touring schedule in 2005, with Josh Phillips replacing Fisher on Hammond, leaving Brooker as the only original performing member. In June 2006 they played at the Isle of Wight Festival. In August they played two outdoor concerts with the Danish Radio Orchestra at Ledreborg Castle in Denmark, which were tele-recorded. An hour-long edit of the show was broadcast on Christmas morning 2008 on Danish Channel DR2 and the full concert was issued on DVD on 11 May 2009 (with six extra tracks from a Danish television recording of the band from 1974).
Later in 2006 they played in Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, but with Geoff Dunn replacing Brzezicki on drums, because the latter's other band Casbah Club was touring with The Who. However, Dunn ended up replacing Brzezicki for the band's European tour in 2007. Recordings from the Italian concerts were later released as One Eye to the Future – Live in Italy 2007. Procol Harum also played an orchestral concert in Sweden on 30 June. They performed with the Gävle Symphony Orchestra at the outdoor opera venue Dalhalla, near Rättvik.
On 20 and 21 July 2007, fans arranged the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the success of "A Whiter Shade of Pale", and invited the band to play. This took the form of two concerts at St John's, Smith Square in London. 20 July saw Procol Harum play a mixture of songs from their early days through to the début of a couple of new songs, "Sister Mary" and "Missing Persons". The following night 'Gary Brooker and Guests' performed a fixture of obscure songs by Brooker–Reid that had either never been recorded, never been performed live before or were significantly different from the versions they recorded.
Although there was no Procol Harum activity in 2008, their manager Chris Cooke, on the web site Beyond the Pale, announced plans for a live DVD and a new album in 2009, as well as festival concerts in Norway on 17 July and Finland on 23 July. Just before the latter concert, Brooker fell off a pile of road-side logs in Finland and broke several ribs. The show went ahead but he was unable to sing properly, and many of the songs were performed either as instrumentals or sung by others in the band. In October 2009, with Brooker fully recovered, the band performed four concerts – in Hagen (Germany), Drammen (Norway), Moscow and St Petersburg. All This and More, a four disc retrospective (three CDs and a DVD with historical notes) was released in the autumn of 2009, and Salvo also issued all of the band's previous albums as remastered CDs with extra tracks, some never previously heard.
Procol played a string of US (and Toronto) concert dates in June 2010, mostly opening for Jethro Tull. On 22 July Procol again headlined at the Keitelejazz Festival in Äänekoski, Finland – the venue where the band performed with an injured Brooker in 2009. They described this loyal Finnish audience as "the best in the world" and played a unique three-verse version of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" with a guitar solo from Geoff Whitehorn. 48 hours later Procol were invited to give a free concert at the courtyard of the Palace of the Province of Bergamo in Italy. In August 2010 they appeared in Bad Krozingen in Germany and a Rock Legends event at the Dolina Charlotty Amphitheater in Poland. After a Halloween gig in Leamington Spa (their first in the UK for three years) the band returned to North America in November, including a return orchestral event with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra on 9 November. After playing in Tallinn, Estonia on 18 November, they returned to the US for an orchestral concert in Wilmington, Delaware on 4 December. Over 13,000 people saw eight New Year concerts with the Danish Radio Orchestra in Copenhagen and other Danish cities in January 2011.
On 29 May 2012, Gary Brooker was hospitalised after suffering a fall in his hotel room in Cape Town. He was due to have performed with his band at GrandWest Arena on the 30th, with fellow Brits 10cc and The Moody Blues, in a tour billed as the 'British Invasion' and then again in Johannesburg on Friday 1 June 2012. Brooker (whose birthday it was) had been in his room at the five-star Table Bay Hotel. He was admitted to the ICU of the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital with a serious skull fracture.
The band returned to Denmark for the Kløften Festival on 25 June before embarking on a 27-date U.S. tour supporting Yes. In 2012 the Japanese artist Yumi Matsutoya came to London to record "A Whiter Shade of Pale" with Procol Harum, a band she considered an inspiration for her work. She sang a duet with Gary Brooker on this new version of the 1967 classic, which featured three verses and a guitar solo by Geoff Whitehorn. Yumi and Procol Harum then played a series of December concerts in major Japanese cities, one of which was recorded for a later television showing (on 31 March 2013).
In 2012, Henry Scott-Irvine published a biography of the band, Procol Harum – The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale. Scott-Irvine also hosted a rare Procol Harum film evening at the BFI on the South Bank, which was attended by members of the group.
In March and April 2013, Procol Harum played a series of five orchestral concerts in Denmark and two such events in Wuppertal in Germany. Four band-only concerts in Sweden & Finland were held in early October.
In September 2012, Procol Harum was among fifteen final nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2013 (induction 18 April 2013). In the subsequent election that December, however, the band failed to gain enough votes for election.
In 2014, the band toured again in France, Switzerland, Germany, Canada (Ottawa with orchestra) and the Eastern U.S. The band also played a five-song set at Kenney Jones' Rock'n'Horsepower charity event at Ewhurst, Surrey in June, on a bill including Alvin Stardust, John Lodge, Nick Kershaw, Mike Rutherford, Judie Tzuke and The Who. A twin CD, Inside & Outside, was issued with studio tracks from the Chrysalis years and a live CD including new material and performances of tracks from their first four Zonophone albums. On Monday 24 November Procol Harum appeared at the Dominion Theatre in London with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus in an event recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 2's Friday Night is Music Night on 28 November. Guitarist Geoff Whitehorn was hospitalised during rehearsals and at short notice Rick Wakeman's guitarist Dave Colquhoun deputised (on crutches, after a broken ankle). He played a guitar solo in the first extended, orchestrated version of Keith Reid's 9/11 tribute song "Blink of an Eye", dedicated by Gary Brooker to the brave firefighters of the 8th Avenue station who the band often talked with after gigs in New York.
The band's 13th album, Novum, was released on 21 April 2017 and the band played 36 dates in the UK and Europe to promote it. However, the most significant concert of the year came in March when the band played with an orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Whilst leaving the stage at the end of the first half, Gary Brooker fell and was seriously hurt. He reappeared for the second half with his head bandaged and nursing "a broken hand". In 2018 the band again toured in Europe, including an orchestral show at the London Palladium on 9 October. They commenced 2019 with a Caribbean cruise hosted by Justin Hayward, with many well-known rock acts. A US tour was due to follow.
In July 2009, Matthew Fisher won a British court judgment awarding him 40% of the music royalties from 2005 onwards for 1967's "A Whiter Shade of Pale", which had previously gone 50% to Brooker for the music and 50% to Reid for the lyrics.
- Gary Brooker – lead vocals, piano (1967–1977, 1991–present)
- Geoff Whitehorn – guitar, backing vocals (1991–present)
- Josh Phillips – organ, synthesisers (1993, 2004–present)
- Matt Pegg – bass, backing vocals (1993–present)
- Geoff Dunn – drums (2006–present)
- Studio albums
- Procol Harum (1967)
- Shine on Brightly (1968)
- A Salty Dog (1969)
- Home (1970)
- Broken Barricades (1971)
- Grand Hotel (1973)
- Exotic Birds and Fruit (1974)
- Procol's Ninth (1975)
- Something Magic (1977)
- The Prodigal Stranger (1991)
- The Well's on Fire (2003)
- Novum (2017)
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