Band pays tribute to musician ‘notable for his individuality, integrity, and occasionally stubborn eccentricity’
Gary Brooker performs during Music For The Marsden at London’s O2 Arena in March 2020. Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty
The Guardian-Harriet Sherwood
Gary Brooker, the lead singer of the rock band Procol Harum, whose 1967 hit A Whiter Shade of Pale mesmerised baby boomer fans with its psychedelic melancholy, has died at the age of 76.
The pianist, composer and lyricist as well as frontman for the band had been treated for cancer. He died peacefully at home at the weekend.
A statement on Procol Harum’s website described Brooker as “a brightly shining, irreplaceable light in the music industry”.
It added: “Gary exhibited and developed a highly individual talent. His first single with Procol Harum, 1967’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, is widely regarded as defining the ‘summer of love’, yet it could scarcely have been more different from the characteristic records of that era ….
“Gary’s voice and piano were the single defining constant of Procol’s 50-year international concert career. Without any stage antics or other gimmicks he was invariably the most watchable musician in the show.”
But, the band said, Brooker’s “charisma was by no means confined to the stage. He lit up any room he entered, and his kindness to a multilingual family of fans was legendary. He was notable for his individuality, integrity, and occasionally stubborn eccentricity. His mordant wit, and appetite for the ridiculous, made him a priceless raconteur …
“He was above all a devoted and loyal husband to Franky, whom he met in 1965 and married in 1968.”
A Whiter Shade of Pale, written with Keith Reid, reached the top of the UK charts two weeks after it was released at the start of the “summer of love”, the hippy nirvana of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll that outraged and alarmed older generations.
The single also dominated the European and US charts, selling more than 10m copies. It has been covered by other artists – including Annie Lennox and Billy Joel – more than 1,000 times.
Its opening line, “We skipped the light fandango”, and other lyrics sparked debate among critics and fans over their meaning. Some believed it was the story of a doomed sexual encounter, others that it was an account of a hallucinogenic drugs trip. A few even believed it was a retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
In 2006, Matthew Fisher, another member of the band, won his claim in the high court that he co-wrote the music to A Whiter Shade of Pale. Brooker appealed the decision, and the case eventually reached the law lords in 2009, who unanimously found in Fisher’s favour and said he was entitled to 40% of the copyright.
Brooker said in 2014 that some of the inspiration for his composition came from Johann Sebastian Bach. “If you trace the chordal element, it does a bar or two of Bach’s Air on a G String before it veers off. That spark was all it took. I wasn’t consciously combining rock with classical, it’s just that Bach’s music was in me,” he told Uncut magazine.
According to Procol Harum’s statement, Brooker, who grew up in Southend, Essex, later added angling, painting, inventing and owning a pub to his other interests. He was awarded an OBE in 2003 in recognition of charitable services.