Atlanta now a nicer shade of pale, says Gary Brooker of Procol Harum

By Maria Saporta

It’s always helpful to see Atlanta from the eyes of outsiders.

Gary Brooker, the anchor musician, pianist and songwriter behind the symphonic British rock group Procol Harum, provided his perspective on Sunday night during a concert at Atlanta Symphony Hall.

Atlanta has developed into a beautiful city, a 21st Century city, Brooker told the not-sold-out, yet enthusiastic audience in the concert hall. Brooker went on to say that he remembered coming to Atlanta when it was a dump, and how impressed he was with the way it had evolved.

Brooker has been visiting Atlanta since the late 1960s. Procol Harum reached its peak 40 years ago after the release of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” – 1967 single; “A Salty Dog” – 1969; and “Conquistador” – 1972 single.

Waiting for Procol Harum to come play an encore at Atlanta's Symphony Hall

Waiting for Procol Harum to come play an encore at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Obviously Atlanta’s profile has become more sophisticated over the past four decades. But I also think Brooker’s impressions of Atlanta could have been implanted by where Procol Harum played when he came to town.

Brooker is the only original member of Procol Harum still playing with the band, which has always attracted top-level musicians to be part of the group.

From what I can tell from my research, Procol Harum played in several different spots when on tour, including the old Municipal Auditorium, which is now part of Georgia State University (a parking facility now stands where the auditorium once stood).

But I do know from personal experience that Brooker and the band played at the Atlanta Sports Arena in 1972. According to a Procol Harum fan-based website, there was a reference to Procol Harum playing at the Arena – located in an industrial section of town – on July 14, 1972.

The site said that the opening acts were the Eagles (that part I remembered) followed by the Booger Band, a local Atlanta group.

I was only 16 at the time, I remember the concert as if it were yesterday. We were able to get quite close to the stage, and I was captivated by Brooker deep, melodic voice and the classical music influences that infiltrated his songs.

But what I remember most is that we wouldn’t let him stop playing, or he wouldn’t let us let him stop playing. I believe Brooker and his Procol Harum band mates played six actual encores – meaning they left the stage and returned six times. It was the power of the people. The lights came on, but we wouldn’t stop clapping and stomping our feet, demanding a return.

Gary Brooker getting ready to play "Conquistador' as the encore

Gary Brooker getting ready to lead Procol Harum in playing “Conquistador’ as Sunday night’s encore

Perhaps Brooker preferred the environment inside the Atlanta Sports Arena than the relatively battered-looking area surrounding the venue.

Certainly the area around the Woodruff Arts Center and Atlanta Symphony Hall is much more polished and inviting to visitors and residents alike.

But Brooker did express a little disappointment that the band was not playing along with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In fact, the tickets made it sound like the symphony would be playing along with the band with the title saying: ASO Presents Procol Harum.

Of course, Procol Harum is quite used to playing with symphonies. One of its most popular albums was: Procol Harum Live In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

Brooker said he would love to return to play with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Now that would be a sensuous musical treat. It would be even better if the hall were filled with people – young and old – hearing the still strong and skilled voice from one of the true legends of our time.

And maybe Brooker would have even more to say about how Atlanta has changed over the years.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

7 replies
  1. Labdad says:

    It may not count as an Atlanta appearance, but Procol Harum  played the Second Atlanta International Pop Festival in Byron, Georgia on July 4, 1970, along with Ten Years After, Jimi Hendrix, the Allman Brothers Band, Mountain, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Jethro Tull, the Chambers Brothers, Spirit, B. B. King, It’s a Beautiful Day, and others.Report

  2. Peter says:

    Oh how I wish the ATL Symphony would take the opportunity to do a concert with Procol Harum. It would be a memorable and very special event and the orchestra would enjoy it. That I can guarantee.Report

  3. Johnny Boring says:

    I too was at that most memorable concert at the sports arena  and is etched in my mind forever ! I also attended the show Sunday night and was amazed how good Procol Harum sounded. Although, not surprised. The size of the crowd made me cringe more than once and I was thinking this is going to be short and sweet. I give Procol Harum a double thumbs up . It was like watching a rehearsal. With that said lets get them back to play with the Symphony. How do we make that happen?
    Johnny BoringReport

  4. mariasaporta says:

    @Johnny Boring I was touring YouTube last night and saw a rendition of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” that they played with the Danish National Concert Orchestra and choir at Ledreborg Castle, Denmark in August 2006. It was fabulous. 
    I would think ti would be great if the ASO really billed a Procol Harum concert as part of its regular series and co-promoted it with Peter Conlon to get a younger symphonic rock crowd to come. It would be a great way for the ASO to broaden its reach to new audiences and to introduce Procol Harum to the same. 
    We could start a “bring Procol Harum back to Atlanta to play with the ASO” campaign. Someone told me that they had heard that the ASO was supposed to play with Procol Harum, but because there were so few tickets sold, they backed out. I don’t know if that’s true. If it is, I would say that they did not properly promote the concert. 
    I also thought it would be good to have alternative radio stations, such as 105.7 to occasionally play some Procol Harum classics – their music is timeless – and younger listeners would probably really enjoy getting to know a new “old” band..Report

  5. pscordo says:

    Gary Brooker and band played a great set in Atlanta on Sunday night (7/20). My drive from S.C. was well worth the trip.  During intermission, I had spoken  with several fans in attendance  . Everyone had the same comment:  “Gary Brooker’s voice hasn’t changed”.  He passed with flying colors, when hitting those high notes in their classic song, Salty Dog. Whether or not they are accompanied by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on their next visit, won’t matter to me. I’ll make the drive again, because, they were THAT GOOD !!  Check out Salty Dog in Denmark 2006, on Youtube. Incredible version with an Orchestra.
    By the way, Robin Trower plays Atlanta on Nov 6th at the Variety Playhouse.Report

  6. buddycats says:

    Cannot fathom that the place was not packed. I so wanted to see them but am on the West Coast and did not think there would be availability. This group and especially the magnificent Brooker are the best.Report


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