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Procol Harum

"A Whiter Shade of Pale"

In 1961, Southend, Essex, UK, schoolmates Gary Brooker (piano/vocals), Bob Scott (vocals), Mick Brownlee (drums), Robin Trower (guitar) and Chris Copping (bass) formed a group called The Paramounts. Although none of their singles enjoyed successful sales, the Rolling Stones called The Paramounts the best R&B group in England. Brownlee and Copping left the group in August 1963 and were replaced by B. J. Wilson and Diz Derrick, respectively. This line-up did not fare any better than the previous one, and The Paramounts broke up in October of 1966.

After The Paramounts parted ways, Brooker teamed up with lyricist Keith Reid. The two co-wrote a number of songs but could find no one willing to record them, so in early 1967 they decided to hold auditions and form their own band, which they had already decided would be called Procol Harum. Both Brooker and Reid have consistently said that the name was suggested by their manager and that it is either Latin for "far from these things" or the name of someone's cat, but the Latin translation would be incorrect and no one seems to know who's cat was named "Procol Harum."

Procol Harum live in 1967
Procol Harum live in 1967

April 1967 to July 1967 -- Gary Brooker (piano/vocals), Keith Reid (lyricist), Ray Royer (guitar), Bobby Harrison (drums), Matthew Fisher (organ), David Knights (bass) -- The single "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was released on May 12, 1967, and shot to the top of the UK charts, where it stayed for six weeks; it made it to #5 in the U.S. Royer and Harrison left to form their own band after participating in a few live performances, and by the time the band was known in the United States it had a new line-up.

July 1967 to September 1969 -- Brooker, Reid, Robin Trower (guitar), B.J. Wilson (drums), Fisher, Knights -- This Procol Harum line-up released Procol Harum (1967), Shine On Brightly (1968), and A Salty Dog (1969) before Knights and Fisher left the band. The UK version of Procol Harum contained a re-worked version of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" that was not included on the US version. Although all three albums did well, their only hit single during this period was "Salty Dog," from the album of the same name.

Procol Harum's self-titled debut album
Procol Harum's self-titled debut album

September 1969 to July 1971 -- Brooker, Reid (lyrics/organ), Wilson, Chris Copping (bass/organ), Trower -- After recording Home (1970) the band left the Regal Zonophone label and signed with Chrysalis, which released Broken Barricades in 1971. The band did its first-ever British tour in 1971, in support of Jethro Tull, after which Trower left to form his own band. Former Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher subsequently produced three albums for Trower, two of which made it to the top ten in the U.S.

July 1971 to September 1972 -- Brooker, Reid (lyrics), Wilson, Copping (organ), Dave Ball (guitar), Alan Cartwright (bass) -- The band gave its first major London concert in September 1971. Live at Edmonton, recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in November 1971, reached #5 in the US and #48 in the UK, and the single "Conquistador" became their first hit since "Salty Dog."

September 1972 to June 1976 -- Brooker, Reid, Wilson, Copping, Cartwright, Mick Grabham (guitar) -- Grand Hotel (19730, Exotic Birds And Fruit (1974), Procol's Ninth (1975); the latter album produced the single "Pandor," which made it into the Top 20.

June 1976 to March 1977 -- Brooker, Reid, Wilson, Copping (bass), Grabham, Pete Solley (organ/synthesizer) -- Something Magic (1977).

April to May 1977 -- Brooker, Reid, Wilson, Grabham, Solley, Dee Murray (bass). Procol Harum did its last U.S. tour, after which Grabham announced he had left the band.

October 18, 1977 -- A Procol Harum line-up of Brooker, Reid, Wilson, Copping (organ), Alan Cartwright (bass) and Tim Renwick (guitar) played at London's Wembley Conference Centre for Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee celebration.

September 25, 1991 -- Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher began touring as Procol Harum, with musicians who had performed on Brooker's previous solo album. This incarnation released Prodigal Stranger in 1991, the liner notes of which contained a memorial to Barrie James "BJ" Wilson, who had died October 8, 1990. In 2005, Fisher filed a lawsuit seeking a share of royalties for his organ solo in "A Whiter Shade of Pale." A British court ruled in his favor in December 2006, citing the solo as "a distinctive and significant contribution" to the song's success. Fisher has retired from the music business, while Gary Brooker continues to tour with various musicians under the name Procol Harum.

Beyond the Pale

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This page was last updated on 06/26/2018.