Procol Harum are a British rock band. Formed in 1967, they contributed to the development of progressive rock, and by extension, symphonic rock. Their best-known recording is their 1967 single "A Whiter Shade of Pale". Although noted for its baroque and classical influence, Procol Harum's music also embraces the blues, R&B and soul. In October 2012, the band were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but were unsuccessful on this occasion.
Based in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, The Paramounts, led by Gary Brooker and Robin Trower and including Chris Copping and B.J. Wilson, scored a moderate British success in 1964, with their cover 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 given the thumbs down 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 friend's Burmese cat. The cat's Cat Fancy name was Procul Harun, Procul being the breeder's prefix.
In the absence of a definitive origin, the name attracted various interpretations, being said to be Latin for "beyond these things" (but the correct Latin translation of "beyond these things" is Procul His), or translated as "of these far off things", the genitive plural harum perhaps agreeing with an understood rerum, "things". The name of the band is frequently misspelled; often with Procul, Harem, both, or other variations.
At Olympic Studios, 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 by Fisher's Hammond organ, Brooker's soulful vocals and Reid's mysterious lyrics, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" 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. 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 their studio success by touring; their 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, reached No. 6 in the UK, No. 15 in Canada, and No. 34 in the US. The album Procol Harum was recorded between the two hit singles, but was held back until early 1968. A series of singles charted lowly in the US and UK, though rarely both at the same time. A Salty Dog (1969) was popular among fans, and was their first album to sell well in the UK. The title track in particular gained a good deal of US FM radio airplay. However, one noted US writer previewed the LP and the story ran in print as 'A Salty Duck'. Fisher, who produced the album, departed the band soon after its release.
The group would have many personnel changes, but their line-up for their 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 their 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 they were 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 in the US 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.
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 their 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. They 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 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, guests of Fairport Convention.
In July 1997, fans arranged the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the success of "A Whiter Shade of Pale", and invited the then inactive band to play a concert at Redhill.
2000 and beyond
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 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 was released on DVD in 2002. In 2003, the band released the 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 2006 Procol Harum 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. Recording from the Italian concerts were later released as the One Eye to the Future – Live in Italy 2007 album. 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 version they recorded.
Although there was no Procol Harum activity in 2008, their manager, Chris Cooke, used the 'Beyond the Pale' web site to announce 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.
They 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 3 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 there for the Kløften Festival on 25 June before embarking on a 27-date U.S. tour supporting Yes. In 2012 Japanese artiste 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 an excellent biography of the band "Procol Harum - The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale". Martin Scorsese wrote the Foreword, Sir Alan Parker wrote an Introduction and Sebastian Faulks wrote an Afterword. He 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/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 have been announced for early October.
In September 2012 Procol Harum was among 15 final nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, Class Of 2013 (induction April 18, 2013). In the subsequent election that December, however, the band failed to gain enough votes for election.
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.
Influences in popular culture
The band's unusual name has inspired references in modern popular culture. The asteroid 14024 Procol Harum is named after the band, as is the orchid Procol Harum, a hybridisation of Cymbidium Mighty Sensation with Cymbidium Electric Ladyland. There are many corruptions of the phrase A Whiter Shade of Pale in the press. These are extensively listed here. There is a rose named after A Whiter Shade Of Pale. The second book in Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker Trilogy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, was inspired by the song "Grand Hotel", from Procol Harum's album of the same name.
- Current members
- Gary Brooker – piano, vocals (1967–1977, 1991–present)
- Keith Reid – lyrics (1967–1977, 1991–present)
- Geoff Whitehorn – guitars (1991–present)
- Matt Pegg – bass (1993–present)
- Josh Phillips – organ (1993, 2004–present)
- Geoff Dunn – drums (2006–present)
- Former members
- Dave Knights – bass (1967–1969)
- Matthew Fisher – organ (1967–1969, 1991–2003)
- Ray Royer guitars (1967)
- Bobby Harrison – drums (1967)
- B.J. Wilson – drums (1967–1977; died 1990)
- Robin Trower – guitars (1967–1971, 1991)
- Chris Copping – bass, organ (1969–1977)
- Dave Ball – guitars (1971–1972)
- Alan Cartwright – bass (1972–1976)
- Mick Grabham – guitars (1972–1977)
- Pete Solley – organ (1977)
- Dee Murray – bass (1977; died 1992)
- Mark Brzezicki – drums (1991–1992, 2000-2006)
- Dave Bronze – bass (1991–1993)
- Jerry Stevenson – guitars, mandolin (1991)
- Don Snow – organ (1992)
- Tim Renwick - Guitar (1977, 1991)
- Ian Wallace - Drums (1993)
- Graham Broad - Drums (1995, 1997)
- Henry Spinetti - Drums (1996)
- 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)
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Image from Discogs