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Procol Harum is a British rock band with a rich and influential history that spans several decades.
Formed in the 1960s, the band is best known for their 1967 hit single "A Whiter Shade of Pale," which has become a classic of the rock and pop music canon. The band's history is marked by numerous lineup changes, stylistic evolution, and a dedication to creating intricate and poetic music. Here is a detailed history of Procol Harum:
Formation and Early Years (1967-1970):
Procol Harum was formed in 1967 in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England. The band's name is derived from a combination of the Latin phrase "procul" (meaning "beyond") and the Old English word "harum" (meaning "pale"). The original lineup consisted of Gary Brooker (vocals and piano), Robin Trower (guitar), Matthew Fisher (organ), David Knights (bass), and B.J. Wilson (drums).
In the same year of their formation, Procol Harum released their iconic debut single, "A Whiter Shade of Pale." The song, with its Baroque-inspired organ and poetic lyrics, quickly became a massive international hit and remains one of the defining songs of the late 1960s. Their self-titled debut album, "Procol Harum," followed shortly after and included other notable tracks like "Homburg" and "Conquistador."
Their second album, "Shine On Brightly" (1968), continued to explore progressive and symphonic rock elements. This album included the epic title track and the notable "In Held 'Twas in I." By this time, Procol Harum had established themselves as a band that pushed the boundaries of rock music, blending elements of classical, blues, and psychedelia.
Lineup Changes and Continued Success (1970s):
The band experienced several lineup changes in the early 1970s. Robin Trower departed in 1971 and was replaced by Dave Ball. Matthew Fisher left in 1969 but returned briefly before leaving for good in 1970. Alan Cartwright replaced David Knights on bass in 1972.
Throughout the 1970s, Procol Harum continued to release albums, exploring a variety of musical styles. "A Salty Dog" (1969), "Home" (1970), and "Broken Barricades" (1971) featured a mix of rock, blues, and progressive elements. The band was known for Brooker's distinctive voice and Fisher's Hammond organ sound, which added a unique texture to their music.
In 1973, the band released the critically acclaimed album "Grand Hotel," featuring complex song structures and orchestral arrangements. This was followed by "Exotic Birds and Fruit" (1974) and "Procol's Ninth" (1975).
Later Years (1980s and Beyond):
The 1980s saw more lineup changes and a hiatus for the band. Notable members during this period included guitarist Mick Grabham and bassist Dave Bronze. They released albums like "The Prodigal Stranger" (1991) and "The Well's on Fire" (2003), which received mixed critical and commercial success.
Procol Harum's music, while not as commercially successful in later years, continued to be respected for its sophistication and unique blend of rock and classical elements. The band's enduring influence on progressive and art rock remained significant, with many artists citing them as an inspiration.
The band continued to tour and perform live, even as the lineup continued to evolve. Gary Brooker remained the driving force and the distinctive voice of Procol Harum.
Procol Harum's legacy in rock music is secure, primarily due to their groundbreaking early work, notably "A Whiter Shade of Pale." Their complex song structures, poetic lyrics, and innovative use of classical and rock elements influenced a wide range of musicians and bands in subsequent generations. Their music is often associated with the "progressive rock" and "art rock" movements.
In 2018, Procol Harum celebrated their 50th anniversary and continued to tour and perform. Their contributions to the world of rock and the enduring appeal of their classic songs ensure their place in the pantheon of rock music history.