24th February 2022
In Memory of Gary Brooker
Composer Musician Vocalist
29 May 1945 – 19 February 2022
There is sorrow in the chilly spring sunshine as news of the passing of Gary Brooker filters through the office as it journeys round the worldwide web.
Gary Brooker was the main man of Procol Harum, the group with the most misspelt name in the history of popular music. Ever since their 1967 debut single ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ thrust their words & sound into the consciousness – and subconsciousness – of millions of people around the entire globe. And even for those people who never liked this indubitable classic #1 single the moment the music starts playing they retain an unforgettable and instant recall of the music and lyric, regardless. That is how powerful an impact Procol Harum had. Everywhere.
Being one of the most loved recordings ever made brought with it an instant high that was impossible to replicate in terms of mass popularity, though the very elements that gave Procol Harum their unique identity never dipped in innovation and execution.
Our company’s association with Procol Harum began many months before the idea of the group was ever germinated. David Platz, the then MD of our publishing company, made an unusual decision to sign poet Keith Reid to our publishing company. Record producer Guy Stevens introduced Keith to Gary at a time when Gary’s group The Paramounts were reaching the end of their road having burst into prominence with a hit debut single (‘Poison Ivy’) only to struggle to maintain their profile, morphing into a touring backing group for Sandie Shaw. But with a zest for writing his own songs and Keith’s lyrics to inspire him, Gary started composing songs that took a new slant from the popular beat mode. One of those new songs was ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, written with an aim to let their publisher find an artist or group to perform this and other new Brooker/Reid works.
Hearing a demo of ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ David Platz signed Gary as a songwriter, writing to him that “Keith Reid came in yesterday (6th March 1967) and played me the demo of WHITER SHADE OF PALE, and I’d like you to know that we all consider it to be a certain hit.”
No sooner had the notion of finding an act to record the song faded than Gary and Keith assembled a group, which including Hammond organist Matthew Fisher, to perform their incomparable songs.
Just three weeks later ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was recorded by Keith Grant, the chief recording engineer at Olympic Studios, featuring Matthew’s haunting earworm organ intro. Six weeks later it was released and in mid May it topped the singles chart of almost every country it was released in, whether English speaking or not, becoming an astounding pre-internet global phenomenon.
But instant success was a double-edged sword. On the 26th of March 1968 – literally just one year after the hit single was recorded – at the 13th annual Ivor Novello Awards ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ won the Ivor award for ‘Britain’s Best International Song of the Year’.
‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was just one song in an ever increasing enviable folio of stellar original material and Procol Harum had to find a way to absorb the phenomenal unwavering adoration of their infamous ‘hit’ whilst fighting to seek due recognition for the breadth of their songs and recordings.
Five years after its release the group’s frustration at being unable to escape the shadow of their huge hit led to them removing the song from their live performances, just as Fly Records re-issued the single which charted in the UK Top 20 in 1972.
With the advent of ‘punk’ in 1977 the group decided to take a break but in the same year the Brit Awards was launched and ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was recognised as one of the most commercially-successful singles of all time, having sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, thus receiving a Brit Award for the “Best British Pop Single 1952-1977″ (alongside joint winner Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’) and once again it hit the UK singles chart which only served to bring the group back from their hiatus.
In 2009 ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ was named the most-played song of the last 75 years by UK radio stations, and on the 14th April 2018 when The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame introduced a new category: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Singles’ ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ was inducted. Meanwhile the band played on, touring the world annually.
But the flipside of a hit often is a writ, and from the time of the initial release of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ the group faced frequent law suits from managers and various ex-members of the group.
During the groups time with our production company they released four stellar albums, as varied as they were classic. The debut album ‘Procol Harum’ set a new benchmark for their contemporaries to take note of.
Jimmy Page: “I can tell you Procol Harum was a pretty happening album” *
But the album’s release had been delayed due in part because it had to be re-recorded in full when two original members were fired and sued their firers.
According to the band’s producer Denny Cordell “In my opinion the deficiencies of [the fired members] have cost the group very dear. The group should have had a long-playing record ready for the American market not later than 14th July in order to follow up the success their of their single ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’” **
Their debut album was eventually released around the world at different times with differing tracks, mixes and running orders. Only the American version of the album included their big hit and in November it peaked at #42 on the Cash Box chart, and #47 on the Billboard chart. Released in early 1968 in England the album failed to capitalise on the afterglow of their runaway singles success.
The album ‘Shine On Brightly’ followed, the second side of the disc presenting the world with probably the first rock suite with “In Held ‘Twas in I’.
Their third album ‘A Salty Dog’ featured an exhilarating title track, which charted as a single, and their fourth album ‘Home’ presented them in fresh more sparse setting with their riffin’ rockin’ blues-er ‘Whisky Train’ opening the set, a counterpoint to the common perception of the group as a ‘prog band’.
After changing labels Gary and Keith set up Bluebeard Music which is administered by our company and we continued to publishing their songs during the rest of their working partnership which spanned many albums as Procol Harum forged a progressive road that defied labelling as such.
In 2003 Gary received an MBE in recognition of his ceaseless charity fund raising work.
Such was the level of Procol Harum afficionados love for their music, one such aficionado, film maker Martin Scorsese requested writing the foreword to Henry Scott-Irvine’s authoritative biography of the group, saying “There was a richness and a mystery about Procol Harum’s music that echoed in on you, magisterial melodies and teasing , enigmatic lyrics you could invest with your own fantasies.”***
Indeed the influence of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ had no boundaries, and when the television drama series ‘Wu-Tang: An American Drama’ screened in 2019 ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was prominently featured as the inspiring influence that motivated Wu Tang Clan member Bobby Digga / RZA to make a new record.
Procol Harum remained a successful popular live act all the way up to the outbreak of the corona virus in 2020.
In recent times Gary was battling against aggressive cancer and died peacefully at home on the Saturday the 19th February 2022 aged just 76.
Bucks Music MD Simon Platz: “I grew up with Gary’s songs as there was always Procol Harum music in our home which my father would play, and when I took over from him Gary became a regular part of my working life, more so at certain times over the decades. I have always felt enormously proud to represent ‘…Pale’ but at the same time a little frustrated that even with the incredible demand for ‘..Pale’ – which never seems to dip – getting other gems from his catalogue out of the shadows and into the spotlight has always felt like a harder ask than hoped. And to this day it still disappoints me every time people who should know contact me and can’t even spell the bands’ name right! I hope he would be comforted that though ‘..Pale’ overshadowed his illustrious career it guarantees his memory will prevail as there’s no sign whatsoever that his most popular song is ever going to lose favour.”
LISTEN (Stream/Download inc. Hi Res)
* quote taken from Henry Scott-Irvine’s book ‘Procol Harum: The Ghosts Of A Whiter Shade of Pale’.
** quote taken from Denny Cordell Oath No2835-31-07-1967-9
*** Henry Scott-Irvine’s 2012 book was aptly titled ‘The Ghosts of a Whiter Shade of Pale’.