"We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels 'cross the floor... '
Forever changing the face of pop music when they burst onto the scene in 1967 with the mega-hit, A Whiter Shade of Pale, Procol Harum remains one of the more important - if least-recognized - forces in the evolution of rock and roll. The profound effect of their aforementioned iconic world-wide hit song not only served to propel the band into the public's consciousness but also became the albatross that would overshadow the rest of the band's fine work and lead to a bitter court case some 38 years later.
Author Henry Scott-Irvine's comprehensive history and homage to Procol Harum captures the flavor of the mid-sixties, tracing the beginnings of Procol Harum as far back as Gary Brooker's first group, The Paramounts - a local R&B cover band. Eventually landing a recording contract and gaining high praise from The Rolling Stones and other up-and-coming rock bands, The Paramounts nevertheless ended and Brooker focused on song writing. Brooker eventually partnered with lyricist Keith Reid - a pairing that would lead to the creation of Procol Harum as a vehicle for the unique songs that were emerging from their combined efforts. The Brooker/Reid formula still works to this day, as the book's author points out - but it's a story full of personnel changes, money problems, questionable management and seemingly frequent bad luck. Scott-Irvine also takes us behind the scenes as Procol Harum pioneers orchestral rock and hints at the the roots of progressive rock by introducing a 17 minute opus on their second album. By the book's end we're brought right up to the current incarnation of the band, a capable and congenial musical unit touring the world, dispelling ghosts as they go.
The book is highly readable, full of facts and well-illustrated with rare photos (in black & white and color) that cover the entire length of Procol Harum's career, right up to the present. Scott-Irvine assembles quotes and reminiscences culled from exclusive interviews with band members spanning Procol Harum's 40 year-plus career, including comments from Brooker, Reid and Matthew Fisher. Fisher, of course, was the man behind the Bach-inspired Hammond organ on A Whiter Shade of Pale and the initiator of the lawsuit disputing the authorship of that famous organ line and whether or not financial compensation was owed for more than three decades of royalties. This dilemma remains a point of contention that still stirs discussion throughout the band's sizable fan-base (partially represented by the impressive website, Beyond The Pale, found at www.procolharum.com ) and is treated fairly here, complete with the inclusion of court documents in the appendix section of the book. Like Monsieur R. Monde, spectral subject of the Procol Harum song of the same name, the ghost of A Whiter Shade of Pale persists to this day.
A key factor in the story of Procol Harum has much to do with the popular culture of the era into which the band was born. At a time when pop groups were supposed to be cheery mop-top lads that huddled together and produced bouncy hit singles, Procol Harum was a group that wouldn't compromise musical integrity, featured obscure, poetic lyrics over love songs, rejected the idea of corporate 'cuteness' and would end up replacing members fairly frequently before groups like Steely Dan did the same as a matter of course.
Procol Harum - The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale is a fine book for anyone interested in the music of the classic rock era, with 'cameo appearances' by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and other up-and-coming rockers of the day, quotes from the likes of Jimmy Page and a foreword by no less than Martin Scorsese! The legacy of stunning music by Procol Harum lives on to this day. Thankfully, we can read the book and also go see these masters of classic rock in concert, doing what they've always done best, and A Whiter Shade of Pale is only one small part of the package, as the author clearly shows. Recommended reading for fans, rock historians, and anyone interested in an inside look at how the music business isn't always as simple as it seems on the outside.
- Bert Saraco
A writer and photographer, Bert Saraco's concert photography is featured on several Album and CD covers and DVD projects, including an upcoming Neal Morse live concert DVD. The recent book, Fun and Dangerous - Untold Tales, Unseen Photos and Unearthed Music From My Father's Place features his work, as does the fine book reviewed aboveshow more
by Bert Saraco