[Around Prog #6] Procol Harum

Procol Harum was born from the ashes of Paramount, a Rhythm’n’Blues band from the 1960s, disbanded in 1966. The leader of that band was Gary Brooker and in 1967, after meeting with lyricist Keith Reid, they decided to start collaborating. Reid wrote a liryc on a melody composed by the keyboardist, inspired by “The Orchestra Suite No. 3” by Bach. Found a contract with the Regal Zonophone Records, the name Procol Harum was chosen and the song recorded, with the collaboration of some session-man. The track is “A Winter Shade Of Pale“, which soon reached the top of the English charts. The immediate success allows them to record another 45 “Homburg“, also at the top of the charts. The recordings of their first album begin, and Brooker involve some Paramount members, and the band was completed by guitarist Robin Trower and drummer James Wilson. The album does not contain the 4 songs recorded in the singles, only in the US version there is “A Winter Shade Of Pale“. The album is written by Brooker and Reid and the band’s formation in this work will remain stable for the following three years. In 1968, they recorded their 2nd album “Shine On Brightly“, which in addition to the song that gives the title to the album, contains a suite of five movements. Success is worldwide, and even in countries like Italy some tracks had been translated and recorded as covers. They published in 1969 “A Salty Dog“, one of their most famous albums, also acclaimed both in UK and all over world. At the end of the year, a formation change sees both Fisher and Knights leave the band, the bassist Chris Chopping join the band. With the surge of Progressive Rock that invades England, with bands such as Genesis, King Crimson, Yes and ELP, the band fails to maintain the success achieved. This is demonstrated both by “Home” from 1970, and the next “Broken Barricades” from 1971. Reducing the impact on the public as well as the commercial one. Worth noting in “Broken Barricades” is a dedication to the colleague Jimi Hendrix, in the song “Song For A Dreamer.” After the release of the album, Robin Trower leaves the group, he will enter in Jude, and the band decides to return to a 5-piece lineup. Alan Cartwright will enter on bass and Daved Ball on guitar, recording “Procol Harum Live With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.” Back with the album also the success in UK, with the release of a single extracted, “Conquistador“, and a reprint of their workhorse “A Winter Shade Of Pale“, with “A Salty Dog” in side B. In 1973 Ball left the group, replaced by Mick Grabham. In the same year they published “Grand Hotel“, one of the band’s most mature works. The musical orientation then takes an unexpected turn, especially for historical fans, given that the next “Exotic Birds And Fruit” offers a sound closer to Hard Rock. The cover is one of the beautifulest in the Rock panorama, and was painted by Jakob Bogdani, a famous Hungarian artist, focusing on exotic birds and fruits. With the following “Procol Harum Ninth” from 1975, success returned and the band also appeared in Hit-Parade with the 45th “Pandora’s Box“. Two years later, in 1977, they released “Something Magic“, which unfortunately marked the end of an era, not gaining the expected visibility. The band decides to end its activity, dedicating each one to other projects, without ever publishing an official statement. Brooker, started his solo career, doing the live sessions with Eric Clapton, who reciprocated by participating together with Phil Collins, George Harrison, Chris Stanton and Neil Collins in “Lead Me To The Tower“, solo album of 1981. In 1990 is given the sad news of the death of B. J. Wilson, drummer and co-founder of the band, news that convinced the other members to record a new album. “The Prodigal Stronger” will be released in 1991, marking the official reunion of Procol Harum, an album that does not get much success. For the whole decade they do not publish anything else, except for some compilations and collections of songs from the past. A particular is the reworking of some successes with the addition of the orchestra. After 12 years of silence, in 2003, they return with “The Well’s On Fire“, also a good job, but that does not get much feedback. Apart from the live activity and some other records with old hits, the band does not record new material until 2017. A year in which they publish “Novum”, which today is also the last. A curiosity about the song “A Winter Shade Of Pale“, which also to being talked about as one of the best tracks of modern music, has also been talked about in the courts. In fact the dispute between Brooker and Fisher has been heated, the second since 2005 has filed a lawsuit, claiming its percentage as co-author. In 2009 his right was sanctioned, starting from 2005, of 40% of the proceeds of the song, as composer of the famous initial organ melody. Procol Harum were among the pioneers of Progressive Music, with the marked presence of classical and baroque influences, mixed with Rock. Among the first to include instruments like the mellotron and the hammond organ as fixed instruments in their music, especially with the first albums they have climbed the peaks of the world charts. Their most famous track “A Winter Shade Of Pale” in fact, has sold over 10 million copies and has been played like cover countless times. Translated into various languages by famous artists, used in movie soundtracks and currently ranked 57th on the “500 Greatest Songs Of All Time” chart. It is thanks to groups like them, that in the end of the 1960s they already had a Progressive inspiration that the genre was born. Not particularly prolific, although in the initial period they published almost a record a year. Then, like many others, they embarked on a different path, while remaining a band that made the history of Progressive music and not only.


(1967) Procol Harum (Regal Zonophone Records)
(1968) Shine on Brightly (Regal Zonophone Records)
(1969) A Salty Dog (Regal Zonophone Records / A&M)
(1970) Home (Regal Zonophone Records / A&M)
(1971) Broken Barricades (Island Records)
(1973) Grand Hotel (Chrysalis)
(1974) Exotic Birds and Fruit (Chrysalis)
(1975) Procol’s Ninth (Chrysalis)
(1976) Rock roots (Cube Records)
(1977) Something Magic (Chrysalis)
(1991) The Prodigal Stranger (Sony BMG)
(2003) The Well’s on Fire (Eagle Records)
(2017) Novum (Eagle Records)

Current Lineup

Gary Brooker / Vocal, Piano (1967–1977, 1991–present)
Geoff Whitehorn / Guitar (1991–present)
Matt Pegg / Bass, Vocal (1993–present)
Josh Phillips / Organ, Synth, Vocal (1993, 2004–present)

Past Members

Keith Reid / Lyricist (1967–1977, 1991–2012)
Matthew Fisher / Organ, Vocal (1967–1969, 1991–2004)
Dave Knights / Bass (1967–1969)
Ray Royer / Guitar (1967)
Bobby Harrison / Drum (1967)
B. J. Wilson / Drum, Percussions (1967–1977; died 1990)
Robin Trower / Guitar, Vocal (1967–1971, 1991)
Chris Copping / Bass, Organ (1969–1977)
Dave Ball / Guitar (1971–1972; died 2015)
Alan Cartwright / Bass (1972–1976)
Mick Grabham / Guitar (1972–1977)
Pete Solley / Organ (1977)
Tim Renwick / Guitar (1977, 1991)
Dee Murray / Bass (1977; died 1992)
Dave Bronze / Bass (1991–1993)
Mark Brzezicki / Drum (1991–1992, 2000-2006)
Jerry Stevenson / Guitar, Mandolin (1991)
Don Snow / Organ (1992)
Laurence Cottle / Bass (1993)
Ian Wallace / Drum (1993; died 2007)
Graham Broad / Drum (1995, 1997)
Henry Spinetti / Drum (1996)
Dave Colquhoun / Guitar (2014)

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Author: Jacopo Vigezzi

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