The fiftieth anniversary of Procol Harum’s biggest-selling album, Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, serves as both a landmark celebration as well as a tribute with the recent passing of Procol Harum beloved lead singer/ pianist Gary Brooker. Joining me In the Studio in an ultra-rare roundtable to discuss this iconoclastic Art Rock London band are organist Matthew Fisher, the reclusive lyricist Keith Reid, the fabulous guitarist Robin Trower,who recorded on the first three Procol Harum studio albums; and my archival interview with the late Gary Brooker himself. Like so much in rock history, the fact that Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra went on to become Procol Harum’s biggest seller was a total fluke, as you shall hear in this ultra-rare classic rock interview.The eclectic British band Procol Harum had the distinction of placing two of the most unlikely songs at the top of the singles chart, albeit five years apart, with “Whiter Shade of Pale” in 1967 and “Conquistador” in 1972. Yet these same guys put the capital “A” in “Art Rock”, no question about it. Over the many years, the number of musicians that have passed through London’s Procol Harum rivaled America’s Doobie Brothers, but like the latter, two key men had been carrying the creative torch for the duration. In Procol Harum’s case, it was two of my guests here, singer/pianist/composer Gary Brooker (died February 2022 at age 76 ) and lyricist Keith Reid.
One of the most exclusive categories in rock music is that of “non-performing lyricist”, and Reid shares it with Bernie Taupin (Elton John) and the Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter. When Reid’s cryptic psychedelic poetry populated by minotaurs and “sixteen vestal virgins leaving for the coast…” were first set to Brooker’s reworked arrangement of Bach in 1967, what resulted was “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, easily the most non-conventional song to ever achieve #1 until Queen’s operatic “Bohemian Rhapsody” almost a decade later. Both Gary Brooker and Keith Reid are joined In the Studio by former organist/producer Matthew Fisher and Procol Harum’s guitarist Robin Trower for the albums Home , A Salty Dog , Broken Barricades ( all which included Trower) and their biggest seller, Live With the Edmonton Symphony released in May 1972 featuring the equally unconventional “Conquistador”.
Early on organist Matthew Fisher got drafted into producing Procol Harum by their third album, the transitional brilliant A Salty Dog. “We were in the studio ( EMI at Abbey Road, London ) where we knew that the Beatles recorded. We got a bit of a buzz out of just knowing that. A Salty Dog for Procol Harum was like Citizen Kane was for Orson Welles: we’d reached that point where we were ready to do it on our own. And we did.” –Redbeard