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 influences, Procol Harum's music also embraces the blues, R&B and soul. In October 2012, the band was 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 vocalist and pianist Gary Brooker and guitarist Robin Trower and including bassist and organist Chris Copping and drummer Barrie James 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 given the thumbs down by Brooker and band. In April 1967, Gary Brooker began working as a singer-songwriter and formed Procol Harum with non-Paramounts lyricist Keith Reid, 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.
At Olympic Studios, with session drummer (and non-Paramount) Bill Eyden, producer Denny Cordell, and sound engineer Keith Grant, the group recorded the album A Whiter Shade of Pale which was released in 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" 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. 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.
She Wandered through the Garden Fence
In Held Twas in I (part of)
A Salty Dog (1969) was popular among fans. The title track 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).
The Devil Came from Kansas
Former Paramount Chris Copping joined on organ and bass in 1970. The group appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970. By their fourth album Home (1970), their sound had evolved to almost hard-rock.
Still There'll be More
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 on the record charts in the following years with a symphonic rock sound, often backed by symphony orchestras. They were one of the first groups to achieve success at this; Procol Harum Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (1972) was a No.5 gold album in the US in 1972 and reached No.48 in Britain. "Conquistador" (a track from their first album) re-charted accompanied by the Edmonton Symphony in 1972, reaching No.16 in the US, No.7 in Canada and No.22 in the UK. Their follow-up album, Grand Hotel, did fairly well, reaching No.21 on the US Billboard 200 in 1973.
Bringing Home the Bacon
In 1974, the band released Exotic Birds and Fruit and in 1975 Procol Harum played their final concert 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 (1975) saw a reconnection with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who both produced and wrote for the band.
The Mark of the Claw
The band reformed in 1991 with Brooker, Fisher, Trower and Reid (Wilson 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. They released The Long Goodbye in 1995 and in August of the same year Procol Harum played at the Cropredy Music Festival, as 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, Surrey.
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 organ, leaving Brooker as the only original performing member. In June 2006 they played at the Isle of Wight Festival. Since then, they played several orchestral concerts in Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and Germany, as well as festival concerts in Norway and Finland, small tours in European countries and strings of US concert dates. 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 September 2012 Procol Harum was among 15 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.
Procol Harum (1967)
Shine on Brightly (1968)
A Salty Dog (1969)
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)