Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker, currently in New York preparing for an upcoming Winter Solstice holiday concert with the Paul Winter Consort that will pay tribute to Sir George Martin, says the group is making plans to get back in the studio and on the concert circuit in 2017 for its 50th anniversary.
“We’ll have started 50 years ago next year, so we’re gearing up for that a bit. We have to have new product out, some new studio and new songs and we’ll be doing quite a few concerts,” he told Billboard in a phone interview this week. Procol Harum’s self-titled first album, which contained the landmark classic “Whiter Shade of Pale,” was released in 1967. The song was a No. 1 hit in the U.K. and hit No. 5 on the Billboard singles chart in the U.S.
Brooker will be special guest at the Paul Winter Consort’s 37th Annual Winter Solstice Dec. 15, 16 and 17 at Manhattan’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Brooker and Winter have known each other since Procol Harum and the Consort played a bill together at Fillmore East in 1971. “I was a big fan of Procol Harum in the ’60s,” Winter said in a statement. “It was the only rock band I liked besides the Beatles. I’ve long loved Gary’s bluesy voice since first hearing him sing ‘Whiter Shade of Pale.’”
The concert is dedicated to Sir George Martin, who produced albums by both Brooker and Winter. Brooker’s first solo album, 1979’s No More Fear of Flying, was produced by Martin, as was the Consort’s 1972 album Icarus which Martin later called “the finest record I ever made.”
Of the album sessions with Martin, Brooker said, “By then. he was already a good friend so it was like two pals working together there. But it was the first time I’d been in the studio on a solo project. I think we sort of semi-retired with Procol Harum a couple of years before that. So it was just quite interesting working with George particularly and being able to do things whichever way they needed to be done, not being trapped down, if you like, by having the other five musicians the same people all the time. And George was a great help with that.”
The two had a lengthy relationship and were good friends, working together additionally on charity events and on some Procol Harum recordings as well as spending holidays together. “The thing was he was a very good musician. He was a good interpreter of music and on top of all that he was a very nice man.”
Brooker became involved with the Winter Solstice concert after the memorial for Martin, who died last March. “I got involved because I invited Paul Winter, I told him that if he wanted to I could get him tickets to go to George’s memorial in London,” he said. “He was over there in a flash and we had a chat there. He told me about his Winter Solstice in this big cathedral in mind as well. And I said I’d love to be there and join in.”
“I came home resonating with the memories of what a catalytic experience it had been working with George and how much that era meant to me,” Winter said.
Besides performing “Whiter Shade of Pale,” Brooker says he’s looking to do several other Procol Harum songs. “I think we’re going to get some good songs of mine that sound good in that environment. [I] hope to do ‘Salty Dog.’ I think we’re going to do ‘Conquistador,’ but there’s going to be some dancers having a go as well.” Also performing at the Winter Solstice will be the Forces of Nature Dance Theatre and gospel singer Theresa Thomason.
He said the show will provide a unique evening. “Playing with the Winter Consort is very different. And playing in [the cathedral], perhaps using the cathedral organ as well, is going to be very different from playing with Procol Harum. We’re looking at different treatments of things and other people’s visions of what we’re singing and talking about.”
There will be four shows over the three days, at 8 p.m. Dec. 15 and 16 and 2:00 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17. General admission tickets are $35 and $55. Reserved seating is available for $95. For tickets, go to stjohndivine.org or call (866) 811-4111. The cathedral is located at 1047 Amsterdam Ave. in Manhattan.
Brooker says he is looking forward to the Procol Harum celebration” “We thought we’ll make a special effort to do something special. We’re all still alive and kicking. And after all that time there’s a lot of loyal people as well and there’s a lot of younger people that we’d like to reach that like what we’ve done. They’ll certainly like what we’re going to do.”