Gary Brooker didn’t want Procol Harum’s 50th anniversary album to be an exercise in nostalgia, so he brought as many new elements to bear on the project as he could – and the results surprised and delighted him.
Novum, which will be released on April 21, comes 14 years after the band’s last studio record, The Well’s on Fire, and it was created during one of the most settled periods of their five-decade career.
You can listen to “Don’t Get Caught,” an exclusive premiere, below.
“There were a few occasions when we thought we should be making a record,” Brooker tells Ultimate Classic Rock. “But different things were going on. Sometimes circumstances are like that. We’ve been playing live with this outfit as it stands for the last 10 years. So when we realized it was out 50th we thought, ‘Perhaps now’s the time for an album.’”
The veteran frontman changed up the entire creative process too. Unlike previous outings, he allowed the rest of the band full creative input this time. For the first time ever, the lyrics were written by Pete Brown – best known for his Cream collaborations – instead of former lyricist Keith Reid.
“It’s not songs we’ve had sitting around. They were all newly written when we got the idea,” Brooker says. “These boys are very talented – when we started work I realized they were extremely talented. It’s nice to involve everybody, if they’re capable.”
Procol Harum’s lineup now consists of guitarist Geoff Whitehorn (Paul Rodgers, Roger Daltrey, Roger Chapman), organist Josh Phillips (Pete Townshend, Midge Ure), bassist Matt Pegg (Jethro Tull) and drummer Geoff Dunn (Jimmy Page, Van Morrison). Novum was produced by Dennis Weinreich, who earned his stripes by producing two Procol Harum live albums, a process that included listening to almost 80 concert recordings. “I couldn’t do that!” Brooker admits.
Weinreich encouraged the band to record the music as a unit, simulating the onstage environment, allowing them the opportunity to rearrange songs as they went. Only the vocals were added separately. “Pete is a different sort of writer,” the singer says. “We’ve never done out-and-out political, although we’ve often had a dig at people who make too much money. We’ve done that again with ‘Businessman.’ We’re looking at humanity’s morals in some way – it’s all in there somewhere.”
When it came to summing up the album in one song, the record company chose “Sunday Morning” as the track that would pass for a single. But Brooker reveals it wouldn’t have been his selection. “There’s no such thing as singles anymore, unfortunately,” he notes. “There’s one that goes to the radio stations because some power, somewhere, thinks it’s the one that stands most chance of being played. ‘Sunday Morning’ is very Procol Harumy, whatever that is.
“We could’t do a traditional single anyway. Everything’s five minutes long – they just ended up that way. They don’t sound long; you don’t get bored. It would be hard to pick out something that would encapsulate the best of what’s there, but I think ‘Don’t Get Caught’ is the one.”
Five decades after their classic track “A Whiter Shade of Pale” made the band’s name, Brooker maintains he’s still the person he was back then – although his band continues to evolve. “’Novum’ means something like ‘new idea.’ It’s not a nostalgic look at what has been. It’s, ‘Here we are today,’” he explains.
“We’re happy as a band; it’s a good period for us. When we started out, we probably didn’t see much beyond a year. With ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale,’ we didn’t even see beyond the next week! After 10 years you think, ‘It would be nice if this lasted, but how could it?’ You don’t think, ‘We’ll be doing this in 2017. I think it’s fantastic, actually.