The V.I.P. Room
an interview with
GARY BROOKER and GEOFF WHITEHORN
of PROCOL HARUM
interview written by Robert Silverstein
in 1967, Procol Harum turned the music world on to a bold new sound
with their classic A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Some of the
most musically significant albums of the 60s and 70s followed
including A Salty Dog, Home, Grand Hotel and Exotic Birds
And Fruit. Although its been 12 years since Procol Harum
reformed for their 1991 comeback effort, The Prodigal Stranger,
they more than live up to their legacy with the 2003 release of The
Wells On Fire.
Released on Eagle Records, the thirteen track CD spotlights the
original Procol songwriting team of Gary Brooker and Keith Reid in
prime form. Also in the 2003 lineup are Procols original keyboardist,
the great Matthew Fisher (organ), Geoff Whitehorn (guitars), Mark
Brzezicki (drums) and Matt Pegg (bass). Procol Harum are the masters
when it comes to melding symphonic rock with scorching blues-rock
licks and The Wells On Fire is a splendid return to form.
Brookers indelible melodies and piano work and Reids intricate
word play reemerge as if they hardly missed a beat. And filling the
shoes of one time Procol guitar icons Robin Trower and Mick Grabham,
Geoff Whitehorn brings a fresh and powerful rock dynamic to the table.
Read the CD booklet and youll see that theres still something
magic in play on The Wells On Fire. The following interview
with Geoff Whitehorn and Gary Brooker took place at the Bottom Line
in NYC before the bands performance there on Friday, May 9,
(editor's note) On May 9th, 2003 I had the rare opportunity to
see Procol Harum live at New York's Bottom Line, the famous downtown
theater that has sadly long since closed down. At that time, Procol
had just released their 2003 album The Well's On Fire and were in
prime form that night. Attending the show with me that night was photographer
Richard Cervone and May Pangboth long time fans of the great
Procol Harum. As expected the concert was outstanding and just before
the show I had a chance to meet and interview Procols legendary
singer / songwriter Gary Brooker and guitarist Geoff Whitehornthe
latest guitarist in a band that has featured guitar icons such as
Robin Trower and Mick Grabham. As you can see from some of the pictures
taken that night, Procols lyricist Keith Reid was there, along
with keyboardist Matthew Fisher, who also played brilliantly during
the show that night. This full length archive interviewfirst
featured in the July 2003 issue of 20th Century Guitarspotlights
interviews with both Gary Brooker and Geoff Whitehorn, who were eager
to discuss a range of vintage Procol Harum history.
MWE3: Gary its great to see you back in NYC. I think the last
time I saw you play was at the 20th Century Guitar Lily's show
with Roy Wood, Steve Howe and Ian McDonald. Do you remember that show?
GB: Annie Haslam... I remember Phoebe Snow! When was that?
MWE3: That was at Irving Plaza.
MWE3: In November, 1995.
MWE3: Its been about 12 years since the last Procol Harum album,
The Prodigal Stranger. How did you hook up with Eagle Rock
Records to make The Wells On Fire?
GB: Well the CEO of Eagle is one of my shooting partners...drinking
partners. And he lives quite close to me. But there was no pressure
from that end. Apparently, a couple of these guys from his office
probably knew that I knew him or knew that he knew me, vice versa...but
it came from, if you like, the a&r people, the marketing people.
They said, wed be interested in making a Procol Harum
album. Because sometimes, if you know the boss, it just doesnt
work. You know what Im saying? If he tells people, you
gotta put Procol Harum out and they go, what the hell
for?...that doesnt work. But when it comes from within,
I think that was a good way of doing it. So they just said, would
you?, and we said yeah. Read the lyric book.
MWE3: Its a cool company. Have they put it out in England?
GB: Theyve got it for the world, yeah.
MWE3: The Wells On Fire is a pretty cool name for an
album. Im curious how you came up with...
GB: An uncool one? (laughter) Well to tell you the truth, we usually
get our titles from one of the songs. I mean, theres a few exceptions,
like Exotic Birds And Fruit for example. That was the name
of the painting that was on the cover. It seemed to fit. Of course,
the worlds changed a bit and often, if youve got an album
out, the radio people might think that the one that you call it
is the main one to play. So that didnt seem to fit any of the
ones that we had. We didnt want to push one forward like that.
And anything we did want to push forward didnt have a good album
title, like...say Shadow Boxed would not have been a good
album title. And so we then look at all the lyrics to see if theres
a line somewhere that will fit. Didnt find one there. And then
Keith Reid suggested that we call it The Wells On Fire, which
is a line from another lyric...
MWE3: Yeah I heard there was another song with that lyric in there.
GB: We havent written it yet, hes written the lyrics.
And we just thought, will that fit?
MWE3: Procol Harum albums always start off with a killer cut like
Nothing But The Truth and Whiskey Train and
fittingly, the new album starts off with An Old English Dream
which is a brilliant rocker. How do you interpret the sentiment behind
GB: Doom and destruction, its all over now! (laughter)
MWE3: Its amazing that Keith lives so close to the old World
Trade Center site. The Wells On Fire song The Blink
Of An Eye is a haunting reminder of that cataclysm.
GB: Well its either that or its the first V-2 that dropped
on London in 1945. Could be either...
MWE3: Some of the Wells On Fire songs go back a bit to
the early days. So Far Behind another great song was first
played way back in the 70s. Sounds like it couldve been
on Shine On Brightly or something.
GB: It does...Chris Copping reminded us about it just as we went in
the studio. And I played it with him in Australia once. We made kind
of a demo of it. So he sent it over to remind us. I found the missing
third verse, which Id forgotten about. And so we ran it up the
flagpole, and it was alright. This band played it well. Played it
in the studio. Yeah, thats good, very Procol-y!
MWE3: Any special Procol rarities that youre bringing out for
this American tour? I heard you played Thin End of the Wedge
recently once in New York.
GB: That was the last time we played it. That was in 1991. That was
MWE3: Are there lots of unreleased or unfinished tracks in the Procol
MWE3: I heard that was an unreleased Procol song called Last
Train to Niagara?
GB: Well, thats the only one! (laughter) You had to pick that
one, didnt you? (laughter) It was a stage song where we incorporated
lots of our songs in it in some way, hidden. There was a big song
going on, but every now and again it went into a version of something
else or...variations, really. Its twelve minutes long. We cut
it down from 53 minutes! (laughter)
MWE3: I reviewed the CD reissue of Broken Barricades which
came out on the Gazza label. Is that your company?
GB: Gazza. Its nothing really. Its just that you put Gazza
on it and get it pressed up down the road! (laughter)
MWE3: Is that the best sounding version of Broken Barricades? Its
one of the great sounding Procol Harum albums.
GB: Its different. Its got great guitar on it. Great guitar
sound. Theres hardly any organ on that. Well, actually theres
a proper version thats come out now, with the original artwork,
etc. etc...Its a digi-pak CD on Repertoire. When we put that
out we didnt have anything coming out. People kept saying, when
are you going to make a new album? So the best we could do is
put out Broken Barricades. We couldnt find any artwork
so we thought wed just stick a cover on. In fact, nobody wanted
to buy it anyway so... (laughter).
MWE3: One of my favorite Procol Harum albums is Procols
9th. I was always interested in knowing how Procol Harum hooked
with Leiber and Stoller, who produced the Procols 9th album.
What was it like working with them?
GB: Awful! (laughter) Yeah, awful. They used to stop at seven in the
evening, go off for dinner and never come back. (laughter) We were
kind of 4 am people. And Jerry Leiber liked to light his cigarettes
with red swan vesters. He liked to inhale the sulfer from them. Actually,
he smoked a lot.
MWE3: You played at the George Harrison tribute concert last year.
Could you offer any reflections of that concert?
GB: Very moving event. I was moved. I was very moved by Ravi Shankars
daughter as well. Shes very beautiful and Ive never seen
an Indian conductor before. She conducted the Indian orchestra, yeah.
MWE3: What did you play there?
MWE3: Did you play your own song?
GB: No, no it was George Harrison...
MWE3: I thought you were going to sing your own...
GB: Except for Ringo! Who actually did Honey Dont!
MWE3: You have a new song called War Is Not Healthy. Is
that a Brooker - Reid song?
GB: Its a Brooker-Reid song. Its not finished. There was
a bit of a war? (laughter) There was a bit of a scrap going on somewhere
in the sand. Yes, its an improvisation of some sort. Managed
to sort of sing to the Germans a couple of times.
MWE3: So it was an anti-war song...
GB: War is not healthy!
MWE3: I totally agree. I was reading John Lennon gave you a lift on
New Years Eve in 1967.
MWE3: You were walking down the road with your wife and he was driving...
GB: No, he was parked for some reason, I dont know why.
MWE3: And he had A Whiter Shade Of Pale playing on a phonograph
in the car?
GB: Yeah. (laughter) (he said) Hey Gary!, come in! (laughter)
He had a bottle of champagne in there...it was midnight. We got so
fed up with the pub we were in or something that we said, oh,
we cant wait for midnight, well go walking home.
And old Johnny opened his door on his Roller and (he said) Hey
Gary!, come in! (laughter)
MWE3: Those were the days...
GB: A little champagne and a smoke, and we toddled off home again.
MWE3: So any future plans for the band?
GB: Not at all. Get through today.
MWE3: One day at a time.
GB: Well we know what were doing for the next two or three days.
Certainly. Well, Geoff Whitehorn needs a special mention in your guitar
magazine. He did a fine job.
MWE3: And I love the Matthew Fisher-composed instrumental track on
the new album.
GB: The Signature. Well, its his follow up to Repent
Walpurgis as far as hes concerned.
MWE3: Its also the 30th anniversary of Grand Hotel.
GB: I didnt realize its the 30th anniversary. Its
always going to be the anniversary of something. In fact, its
the anniversary of something else, this weekend. Well, in 1977 when
we decided wed stop, we actually decided after the concert.
We said, thats it, then. Just like that. And it
was actually in New York. And it was ten years to the day since A
Whiter Shade of Pale was released. That was May the 11th, 1967.
Here we are back in New York on that same weekend. Double anniversary.
Geoff Whitehorn interview
MWE3: Geoff I understand youre a major Procol Harum fan from
way back in the 60s.
GW: Yeah, I always was. I mean, I was at school doing exams when A
Whiter Shade Of Pale came out. It was so radically different
from anything else that wed heard before. There was a whole
kind of mystique associated with the band. I think I really got into
them severely round about the period when Home was released,
around 1970? Trower had sort of come of age at this point and I thought
he was great. I was a major fan.
MWE3: Making this new studio album, your first with the band must
be like a dream come true.
GW: Yeah, it kind of is. I suppose its been inevitable but its
because someone started the ball rolling which happened when we got
the offer from Eagle Records. Someone actually wanted us to make a
MWE3: How did the new album come about?
GW: We were ready. You know, weve had this lineup of the band
for ten years. Its been stable. Weve been perfectly happily
doing concerts around the world but obviously we havent had
anything particular to promote. So the interest had to be there, I
mean someone had to want us to do it, rather than us wanting to and
then kind of hawking it round, if you like. Yeah, the offer
came first, so Gary thought hed better write some songs! (laughter)
MWE3: Roland at ProcolHarum.com told me you're touring with 3 guitars
this time, and in the past on your Procol shows we've basically just
seen one instrument?
GW: Hes a good source of information.
MWE3: Can you mention which guitars are you using on the current tour?
GW: Yeah, sure. Im using a Paul Reed Smith McCarty. Paul is
a very good friend of mine. He kind of breathed on that one a little
for me. That green one you see out there. Its got the pickups
from the Singlecut, a few little refinements. Its a great guitar.
And the other one that Ive got with me is a kind of Strat type
guitar with with a P-90 in the bridge and two single coils. Its
a Fret-King Corona made by Trevor Wilkinson in England. I always found
the regular bridge Strat pickup to be a bit edgy.
MWE3: What about your current Marshall rig and have you had any feedback
from fans about it?
GW: Its just a stock Marshall DSL 100, the two channel thing.
I mean, thats completely straight. Im using it with just
a Dunlop wah-wah straight into the head. And I also use the Behringer
V-amp2 DIed into the PA...we used it for bits and pieces on
the album. I just switch between the two with a Roger Mayer Crossroads
MWE3: You also have an SG copy by the late Sid Poole ... he was a
friend of yours?
GW: Not an SG, a Les Paul copy. Ive got two of them. Theyre
replicas really. Ive got an old 57 Gold Top with PAFs.
He took that kind of as his template for his Les Pauls that he subsequently
made, yeah. Theyre as near as dammit to the real thing, in fact
he even got threatening letters from Gibson asking him to cease and
desist. (laughter) And yes Sid was a very good friend. I miss him.
MWE3: Any other favorite guitars?
GW: Oh lots!
MWE3: So youre a big collector?
GW: No, I wouldnt say that, but...well Ive got that old
57 which kind of stays under the bed, at home. And an old dot
mark 335. A 59 335 yeah...but no, Im not really a collector.
I seem to acquire these things. And then every ten years, have kind
of a big sale. And then start again. I think Ive roundabout
20 or so guitars. Ive had more. (laughter)
MWE3: What about acoustics?
GW: Havent got one. Dont own one. I borrow them. I used
Garys Takamine for the album.
MWE3: I heard that when you played with Paul McCartney he gave you
a Gibson acoustic?
GW: He didnt give it to me, he lent it to me. Well I turned
up with this kind of piece of shit, 30 dollar acoustic. That was literally
the only one Ive ever owned. It got broken. It was like an Aria
acoustic. He said, I dont think thats quite going
to make it. Do you want to use my J-200? (laughter)
MWE3: Your first Procol Harum gig was on the Johnny Carsons
Tonight show following the release of The Prodigal Stranger
back in 1991? Was Johnny there?
GW: He was! It was one of his very last shows in 91, just before
he retired. That was literally the first thing Id ever done
with Procol. (laughter) Just a small audience to get warmed up.
MWE3: How would you compare your style, tone and overall guitar sound
to earlier Procol Harum guitar greats Robin Trower and Mick Grabham?
GW: Well, I mean were all very much from that, obviously, British
blues tradition, really. As far as Im concerned, its just
a blues gig. Its just that we happen to use a lot more chords.
But if you kind of try and chase the chords too much, it doesnt
kind of sound like Procol anymore. It gets a bit white, dare I say
it. Yeah, Mick and Robin were huge influences. I mean, I love them
both as players. As I say, I have all the original albums on vinyl.
MWE3: Yeah I had the original Whiter Shade Of Pale single
in 1967, when I was like 13.
GW: I was like 15 or 14 or something when that came out.
MWE3: Are you playing a little less intensively on this album than
you do live?
GW: Well, its a different vibe, isnt it? I mean youre
just kind of effectively playing for yourselves. There is no audience
of course, its a different process. Although having said that,
we did play it pretty much live in the studio. We fixed what was wrong
and overdubbed what was necessary but it was done essentially as a
band in about two or three weeks of recording.
MWE3: I know you listed Hank Marvin as one of your big influences.
GW: Hank Marvin, absolutely! Hank Marvin is probably the reason that
Im playing guitar to be honest. Hank Marvin and Eric Clapton.
MWE3: Any other favorite guitar influences?
GW: Oh yeah, everybody! But I mean...Richie Blackmore, Jan Akkerman...all
sorts of people. Peter Green, of course, Jeff Beck. You name it. Larry
Carlton, Lukather. Everybody, really.
MWE3: In the spirit of the first Procol Harum album, The Wells
On Fire closes with that great Matthew Fisher-penned instrumental,
Weisselklenzenacht (The Signature). Would Procol consider
doing more instrumentals?
GW: I mean Gary will tell you a little of the story on stage later
about that, but obviously Matthew had Repent Walpurgis
on the first album, and after 35 years, he decided to write a follow
up. (laughter) But I mean obviously, Matthews written other
stuff for Procol since. I think each song is kind of a mini-instrumental
in a way.
MWE3: Do you have a favorite Procol album?
GW: I really like Home. As I said to you before, I think thats
the one where Trower kind of came of age as a player. I said, oh
right, Robs really getting it now. His progress from album
one to album four, which that was, was astonishing! In three years,
he just got so good. He really pursued it and he was really kind of
polished the most on Broken Barricades.
MWE3: Do you speak to Trower at all?
GW: I never met him! (laughter) But thats not actually quite
true. When I was with Crawler, we opened for Trower quite a bit in
the late 70s.
MWE3: Youve also recorded several solo albums. Are they imports?
GW: Yeah, theyre my little secret I think. (laughter) I mean,
I just sell them myself. You can get them through the Procol website,
MWE3: I know you are also a major George Harrison fan.
GW: He was kind of the guy who kept it really succinct, melodic. Never
did anything longer than kind of eight bars. I think he defined the
art of the guitar solo, really as a compliment to a song. Never, ever
more notes than was necessary and always something really original
melodically. Great player. And obviously his slide work. No ones
ever played slide, like, as completely original.
MWE3: You also played with Paul McCartney on Pipes Of Peace. What
was that like?
GW: It was great. He was actually playing bass on this particular
track. I think it was called Through Our Love or something.
Yeah, he was playing bass. I was just acoustic. George Martin, Sir
George Martin was playing electric piano and Dave Mattacks was playing
drums. It was just the four of us, just like a regular little rhythm
section. He was great. He was a nice guy. Linda was there. All the
little kids running around the studio.
MWE3: As an early Procol fan I was also greatly influenced by the
drumming of the late, great BJ Wilson.
GW: Fantastic drummer!
MWE3: At the 70s shows I would fixate on him.
GW: Hes great to watch, yeah.
MWE3: I guess everybody misses him.
GW: Well, yeah! Certainly. Obviously, Marks doing a great job.
Again, he was in the same sort of situation as me I think. He was
a big fan of the band anyway. And then you find yourself in the ranks.
MWE3: What would you like to see the band do next? A new album or
GW: Well we have a DVD in fact, which was done purely for a TV show
in Copenhagen, Denmark. And it became a DVD. Some extra footage was
shot in Garys rehearsal room that we use. And its us,
messing about basically, playing Hey Joe and things like
MWE3: How long is the tour going to be?
GW: We leave after Sunday. We sort of regroup and then weve
got a whole bunch of stuff to do in Europe. Well be back here
on the West Coast in July.
MWE3: Did the album come out in Europe?
GW: Yeah, it was worldwide on Eagle. Released on 03/03/03. 3rd of
MWE3: Youve said that Gary likes to dig out some sacred Procol
Harum nuggets from time to time are there any rarities that youll
be playing tonight or that youd like to see revived?
GW: I guess Procols repertoire probably consists of something
like 130, maybe, songs. I think we can probably play about 85 of them.
Or have done, in the past. Therell be more surprises next time
we go out, cause you dont want to be playing the same
set year in, year out. And of course now weve got a new album
anyway. The whole kind of texture of the thing has changed, you know?
We never know what were going to play. We do have a set list,
but I dont think weve ever stuck to one. It keeps it fresh.
It keeps it fun. Keeps us on our toes!
For a very special and memorable night, thanks to Gary Brooker
and Keith Reid, Geoff Whitehorn and Procol Harum @ www.procolharum.com,
Jon Paris and Eagle Records @ www.eaglerockent.com, Roland Clare,
Richard Hollywood Cervone and May Pang @