Procol Harum started off as a session group to record the Gary Brooker (ex-The Paramounts) and Keith Reid (an ex-legal clerk) composed song A Whiter Shade Of Pale.
Inspired by Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D major, the song was instantly acclaimed upon its Radio London airing and topped the UK chart – with a little help from Bach – and became one of the songs of the psychedelic summer of 1967.
Such was the success of Whiter Shade that permanent musicians were recruited through newspaper advertisements and the band was named Procol Harum, after a Burmese cat owned by a friend of Reid’s.
“The actual name of the group was Procul Harun, but it was all done over the telephone and got misspelt” Brooker explained.
Matthew Fisher and David Knights (on organ and bass respectively) became integral members.
Other original members Ray Royer and Bobby Harrison left before the completion of the first album and were replaced by guitarist Robin Trower and drummer BJ Wilson.
Over the next two years, the group released three excellent albums – Procol Harum (1967), Shine On Brightly (1968) and A Salty Dog (1969) – which showed a surprisingly tough sound, despite the fact that the band were irredeemably tagged as flower power prog-rockers.
Early in 1970, both Fisher and Knights left the group to be replaced by Chris Copping and BJ Wilson.
Despite never actually playing in the band, lyricist Keith Reid remained part of the creative fulcrum of the band. The band quickly built up a reputation in the US and gradually accumulated a following in the UK.
Five year’s later, the magic of Whiter Shade Of Pale had not dissipated and the single was re-issued – and charted all over again (this time reaching the UK Top 20).
Drummer Barrie Wilson died in October 1990 in a car accident.
In 1991, Gary Brooker decided to re-form the band, having in the interim become a champion fly-fisher and enjoyed some success in America with Prodigal Stranger, featuring once again both Matthew Fisher and Robin Trower.
Barrie “BJ” Wilson