Procol Harum' s guitarist Robin Trower at the Constitution Hall in Washington DC USA in 1969. Photograph by William Hatfield
Excerpt from Omnibus Press biography
Procol Harum & The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade Of Pale
by Henry Scott-Irvine
On August 28 1970 Procol Harum performed to over half a million people at the five-day ‘Isle Of Wight Pop Festival’ along with Tony Joe White, Rory Gallagher’s Taste, Family, Chicago, and a host of others. This epic festival saw Procol Harum’s guitarist Robin Trower finally standing on the same stage as his hero Jimi Hendrix, who also starred at this festival, albeit on a different day.
Record Mirror’s Lon Goddard ran a piece dated September 19 featuring the headline: ‘Procol Smoked Out On Isle’, describing how “In the bitter chill of the night, with miserable audience conditions and the fatigue of many listeners, Procol Harum could do no wrong.”
Gary Brooker, “The thing that really bothered me was the great billows of smoke that kept blowing over from the camp fires directly onto the stage. Because of the conditions the fast numbers went over much better. The act was more or less planned up until the rock ‘n’ roll numbers at the end. Those we do if the time is right!”
Despite having been filmed by Murray Lerner for the duration of their set, none of Procol Harum’s eight songs made it to the final cut of Lerner’s ‘Isle Of Wight’ documentary Message To Love, which belatedly appeared in 1997 on Eagle DVD. Procol’s lyric writer Keith Reid remains perplexed. “I have no idea why our songs were not included. I even went to see Murray Lerner in New York, and he showed me the footage. I’ll have to look him up and ask!”
Procol’s next major festival appearance was scheduled for September 5 1970 at the massive Love & Peace event held on the Isle of Fehmarn. The headliner at the event was Jimi Hendrix who played through heavy rain to a miserable, unsettled crowd. Advance warning of heavy-handed policing by German biker gangs motivated Procol’s manager Doug D’Arcy to withdraw both Procol Harum and Ten Years After from the event. Neither band left their hotel until the gig was over. It was just as well as there was a near riot and the promoter’s offices were burned to the ground. So much for the promise of a Festival of ‘Love & Peace’.
Ironically the day before the Isle of Fehmarn debacle Procol had played with Jimi Hendrix at the huge indoor venue The Deutchlandhalle as a part of The Berlin Super Concert.
Robin Trower: “I remember we played on the bill directly after him in Berlin. Jimi’s set was really great. We had heard it whilst standing in the wings. But people were booing and throwing bottles and cans at him. We came on and I threw the bottles and beer cans back at the audience. How could they do that to Jimi? Anyway, that day, after all those gigs throughout all those years, I finally got to stand on the same stage on the very spot where Jimi had played live. Very soon after that he was dead. Reallyreally sad!”
Gary Brooker had also watched Hendrix from the wings that night. “Jimi played magnificently and the audience just booed him. Trower was bloody livid. He was totally enthralled with Hendrix’s playing, and was ready to punch out 6,000 Germans!”
Robin Trower: “I think it was above their heads, you know? I mean, I couldn't take in a lot of what he was doing. And I'm a musician. So you can imagine what it was like for them. Anyway, I was walking up and down outside the dressing room after he'd come off stage, and I was sort of saying, ‘Should I go in?’ Then I burst into his dressing room all of a sudden and said, ‘I've gotta tell you that was the best thing I've ever seen,’ which it was. And he said, ‘Uh, thank you, but uh naw.’ And I just went, ‘Whoops, that's it,’ and walked out again.”
The closing track to Procol’s 1971 album Broken Barricades ‘Song For A Dreamer’ attracted huge press attention upon the album’s release. It was designed as a way of paying respect to a recently departed legend.
Robin Trower, “We’d done that show in Berlin [September 1970] with Jimi Hendrix and I think more or less from there, straight away, we went out to tour in the States. We were in San Francisco when we heard that Hendrix had died. Keith Reid and I decided we’d do a little tribute to him. I played Keith something that I wrote on the guitar. He’d already got some words. So ‘Song For A Dreamer’ just gelled. It just came together really nicely. It turned into a special track.”
With all the press attention for Procol Harum’s Broken Barricades going in the direction of Robin Trower the writing was on the wall signifying his imminent departure from the band mid-way through 1971.
Robin Trower: “I always think about being in Procol Harum as like going to school and learning what the real thing was all about; playing in America and making albums. I always felt that it enabled me to go on and do what I did...”
The impact of Trower’s departure from Procol Harum was mainly felt in the USA. It hit like a bomb. A & M Records were tremendously worried that Procol Harum had lost their powerhouse guitar player and this was reflected in the American music press.
Robin Trower continued under the watchful gaze of Chrysalis Records’ Doug D’Arcy, firstly forming Jude, a short-lived four-piece consisting of himself on lead guitar, Glaswegian singer Frankie Miller (The Stoics) on acoustic guitar along with fellow Glaswegian legend Jimmy Dewar (Stone The Crows) on bass, and Clive Bunker (Jethro Tull) on drums. Dewar and Trower soon formed a strong alliance, paving the way the way for the beginning of Trower’s magnificent solo career. A year later drummer Reggie Isadore joined forces with the pair and international stardom beckoned!
Procol Harum's Keith Reid, BJ Wilson, Dave Knights and Gary Brooker chat after a sound check at the Constitution Hall in Washington DC, USA.
in 1969. Robin Trower and Matthew Fisher prefer to sit as the others chat about the upcoming concert. Photograph by William Hatfield
During the glory days of the Robin Trower trio, Procol Harum’s ‘Song For A Dreamer’ would be the final number to be played-out over every concert hall
P. A. When Trower’s audiences heard the final notes of that song, they knew that their guitar hero was about to appear on stage and everyone took to their feet.
The American and British music press would continually compare Trower to Hendrix throughout these heady times. Trower’s album sales went into the American Billboard Top Ten as a result and Trower moved Stateside.
Procol's drummer [the late] Barrie James Wilson relaxing in 1971.
Photograph by William Hatfield
Henry Scott-Irvine’s Omnibus Press biography Procol Harum & The Ghosts Of A Whiter Shade Of Pale is out now. It is available online and in all good book shops throughout Britain.