Gary Brooker, 76, frontman of rock band Procol Harum

The song’s accompaniment was derived from a classic composition by JS Bach and was played on what sounded like a pipe organ, giving it a baroque sound that was instantly memorable. Above this support, Brooker wrote a moving melody with elliptical and mysterious lyrics by Reid.

No one ever quite knew what the song was about – only that it conveyed a deep, brooding melancholy, with mentions of skipping a “light fandango”, “cart wheels on the ground”, and the face of a woman who was “just ghostly” at first. but then took on a “whiter shade of pale”. Repeated mentions of a miller telling his story were generally assumed to be a reference to Geoffrey Chaucer, but Reid said he had yet to read “The Canterbury Tales” when he wrote the words.

“I don’t think writers should have to explain every line,” Reid told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1991. “The whole song should create an image. . . . In fact, just this line, ‘A shade whiter pale,” had occurred to me. There’s an old theory about writing – if you’re given a line, you have to find out what the others are.

Apparently, whenever Brooker was asked what the opaque lyrics meant, he would jokingly respond, “They mean I’ll never have to work for a living again.”

Procol Harum was not a “one-hit wonder” band. A sequel titled “Homburg” was a solid hit in 1968, especially in Europe, and the band re-recorded one of their earliest songs, “Conquistador,” complete with bullfighting trumpets and castanets, with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in Alberta in the early 1970s.

The group was sometimes classified in what became known as progressive rock, along with Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Yet there was a distinct lack of ostentation in Procol records, and whatever virtuosity the musicians had, it was put to use in the service of the music, rather than the other way around.

What made his music so compelling was its abundant contradictions: the blend of unadorned sounding piano and organ (“ecclesiastical” or “classical”, as you like) with the refined blues styles of the voice of Brooker; Robin Trower’s aching, fierce, almost atonal guitar scream, BJ Wilson’s ferocious, immaculately precise drumming, and Reid’s highly romantic haunted castle imagery.

On often some of the most beautiful melodies in rock, Procol Harum’s vision was rich, dark, complicated, pessimistic, very “old world”. While some critics and audiences found the group pretentious, and they sometimes did, the work at its best was characterized by an earnestness of purpose that was anything but beyond the knowledge of most of its contemporaries.

Procol Harum’s early albums were particularly admired: ‘Procol Harum’, his 1967 debut, as well as ‘Shine on Brightly’ (1968), ‘A Salty Dog’ (1969), ‘Home’ (1970) and ‘Broken Barricades’. “. (1971). (Brooker took the pensive, unsteady chord that begins “A Salty Dog,” both song and album, from a train whistle he heard in Switzerland.) The band’s later records were more restless, although that Brooker boasted that none were much like the others.

Although the name Procol Harum has often been rumored to be Latin for “beyond these things”, the true origin was far less poetic. “It was the name of a cat,” Reid explained to the Toronto Star in 1991. “A pedigree name for a cat, a Burmese cat. But we actually misspelled the name; we should have spelled it “Prucul Harum”. By the time we found out we had misspelled it, they had already pressed the records and ‘Procol’ was on the charts, so we had to stick with it.

Gary Brooker was born in London on May 29, 1945 and grew up in Middlesex and the seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea, England. His father was a professional musician who played pedal steel guitar in the unlikely-named Felix Mendelssohn’s Hawaiian Serenaders, which played faux-luau arrangements of popular songs such as “In the Mood” and “Whispering.”

“My dad sent me to piano lessons when I was 5,” Brooker recalled in 2019 to the Long Island Press, “but I grew up thinking all music was Hawaiian.”

He was 11 when his father died and his mother found assembly-line work in Eastwood, then a prominent manufacturing center. As a teenager, Brooker played the piano, cornet and trombone and began to write his own songs.

After graduating from high school, Brooker took classes at Southend Municipal College but dropped out to form a band called the Paramounts; it eventually included three future members of Procol Harum – bassist and organist Chris Copping, Trower and Wilson.

The Paramounts didn’t go far – they had middling success with a 1964 cover of the Leiber-Stoller song “Poison Ivy” before breaking up in 1966. Brooker then began working with Reid and formed Procol Harum , with “A Whiter Shade of Pale” their first offering. Tensions arose – not only with their numerous record labels (two of which feuded so fiercely that several of their records were long unavailable) but within the band.

Organist Matthew Fisher left the band in 1969 after producing the gem “A Salty Dog” and even wrote a song about never wanting to sing “that song” again. (In 2006, he sued for partial ownership and eventually won a 40% royalty for his contributions to “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” a decision Brooker and Reid bitterly opposed.)

Trower left the band in 1971 and worked as a solo artist for the rest of his career. By the mid-1970s, Brooker was clearly the “leader” of Procol Harum, and he was ultimately the only original member. In 2020, he even broke up with Reid over ownership of the band’s name.

In 2012, Brooker was involved in an incident in South Africa which he initially reported as a fall in his hotel room, but later claimed he had been drugged, beaten and robbed by a group young women in Cape Town. In 2017, he fell off the stage at London’s Royal Festival Hall halfway through. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with cancer but continued playing until 2019.

In 2003, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Brooker a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her charitable services.

He is survived by his wife, Françoise “Franky” Riedo, whom he married in 1968. They had no children.

Solo, Brooker has performed with Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. In 1996, he played an Argentine government minister in the musical adaptation of the film “Evita”, starring Madonna. Brooker later said that he was paid more for this small appearance in a singing role than for all of his work with Procol Harum.

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