Procol Harum - A band with an improbable name, whose debut single was a riff on Bach became one of the biggest selling records of 1967.

Procol Harum – A band with an improbable name, whose debut single was a riff on Bach became one of the biggest selling records of 1967.

Procol Harum – in session for The BBC Light Programme: Easy Beat – June 14, 1967 – BBC –

Procol Harum in what Procol has listed as their second session for the BBC, recorded on June 14, 1967 for The BBC Light Programme. This is the original lineup of the band, before Robin Trower and B.J. Wilson joined, some months later. It features the legendary Whiter Shade Of Pale (the song that started it all), followed by Morning Dew (which did not make it to an album) and ending with Mabel, also from the first album.

Procol Harum initially began life as The Paramounts, led by Gary Brooker and Robin Trower and including Chris Copping and B. J. Wilson. They scored a moderate British success in 1964 with their version of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s “Poison Ivy”, which reached number 35 in the UK Singles Chart. Unable to generate any follow-up success, the group disbanded in 1966.

The Paramounts were signed to EMI UK for their releases; until one day before Procol Harum linked with EMI UK again, they were called The Pinewoods. A last-minute offer from Chris Blackwell’s fledgling Island Records label was rejected by Brooker and band.

In April 1967, Brooker began working as a singer-songwriter and formed Procol Harum with non-Paramounts Keith Reid (poet), Hammond organist Matthew Fisher, guitarist Ray Royer and bassist David Knights. Guy Stevens, their original manager, named the band after Gus Dudgeon’s Burmese cat. The cat’s “cat fancy” name was Procul Harun, Procul being the breeder’s prefix.

In the absence of a definitive origin, the band’s name has attracted various interpretations, being said to be (incorrect) Latin for “beyond these things”; the correct Latin would be procul hīs. The name of the band is frequently misspelled; often with “Procul”, “Harem”, both, or other variations.

Their best-known recording is the 1967 hit single “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, one of the few singles to have sold over 10 million copies. Although noted for their baroque and classical influence, Procol Harum’s music also embraces the blues, R&B, and soul.

At Olympic Studios, southwest London, with session drummer (and non-Paramount) Bill Eyden, producer Denny Cordell and sound engineer Keith Grant, the group recorded “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, and it was released on 12 May 1967. With a structure reminiscent of Baroque music, a countermelody based on J. S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite N° 3 in D Major played by Fisher’s Hammond organ, Brooker’s vocals and Reid’s lyrics, the single reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart and the Canadian RPM Magazine chart. It did almost as well in the United States, reaching No. 5. In Australia, it was No. 1 for many weeks, setting a record of 8 weeks in Melbourne.

After “A Whiter Shade of Pale” became a hit, the band set out to consolidate its studio success by touring, with new official drummer Bobby Harrison added to the line-up; its live debut was opening for Jimi Hendrix in 1967. The group’s follow-up single, “Homburg”, with a line-up change of former Paramounts B. J. Wilson on drums and Robin Trower on guitar (replacing Harrison and Royer, respectively, who exited to form the band Freedom), reached No. 6 in the UK, No. 15 in Canada, and No. 34 in the US.

The group’s eponymous debut studio album was recorded between the two hit singles, and was released in early September in the US, but was held back until December 1967 in the UK. A series of singles charted poorly in the US and UK, though rarely both at the same time.

So to get an idea of what the initial fuss was all about, here is that second BBC session by Procol Harum from June 14, 1967.

You might want to crank this one up – just for old time’s sake.

Liked it? Take a second to support gordonskene on Patreon!