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Gary Brooker, Procol Harum singer and pianist, dead at 76

A press shot of Gary Brooker
(Image credit: Press)

Procol Harum singer and pianist Gary Brooker has died aged 76, the band have confirmed, stating "With the deepest regret we must announce the death on 19 February 2022 of Gary Brooker MBE". Brooker had been receiving treatment for cancer, and passed away peacefully at home.

Brooker founded Procol Harum in 1966, and a year later the band's legacy was secured with their worldwide hit A Whiter Shade Of Pale, with Brooker's mournful vocals and haunting electric piano work very much to the fore.

Brooker, who was born in Hackney Hospital in East London on May 29, 1945, founded The Paramounts in 1962, aged 17, with his friend and guitar player Robin Trower. Despite being a noted outfit on the 60s UK R'n'B scene (The Rolling Stones were said to be big fans), Brooker went on to form Procol Harum, again with Trower and lyricist Keith Reid.

Despite the enormous success of A Whiter Shade Of Pale, the band only climbed the UK singles charts twice more, with Homburg, a No. 6 in 1968 and standalone single Conquistador, which reached No. 22 in 197. As an albums band, however – with releases like 1968's Shine On Brightly and its epic centrepiece In Held 'Twas In I, 1969's A Salty Dog and 1973's conceptual Grand Hotel – the band were a major part of the progressive rock boom of the late 60s and early 70s.

When Procol Harum split in 1977 Brooker released his first solo album, No More Fear Of Flying, and also worked with his then neighbour Eric Clapton on the latter's 1981 album Another Ticket. Brooker would also work with George Harrison (on 1968's All Things Must Pass, 1981's Somewhere In England and 1982's Gone Troppo) the Alan Parson Project (he notably sang Limelight on 1985's Stereotomy), Kate Bush (he played Hammond organ on her 1983 album The Red Shoes and 2005's Aerial) and also with the recently deceased Ian McDonald.

Brooker released two more solo albums, 1982's Lead Me To The Water and 1985's Echoes In The Night, and in 1986 appeared in the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita, alongside Madonna.

Procol Harum reformed in 1991 and were still a gong concern. They released their most recent album, Novum, in 2017, and released the Missing Persons (Alive Forever) EP last year. The band headlined the Prog stage at Ramblin' Man Fair in 2016 and the London Palladium in 2018.

Tributes began pouring in as the news broke, Van der Graaf Generator frontman Peter Hammill saying Brooker was "An inspirational figure".

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock, as well as sleevenotes for many major record labels. He lives in North London and happily indulges a passion for AC/DC, Chelsea Football Club and Sydney Roosters.