Obituary: Keith Reid – Lyricist- Procol Harum (76)(2023)

Now many moons and many Junes / Have passed since we made land / A salty dog, the seaman’s log /Your witness, my own hand

29 March 2023 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

I have put together a small sampling of information about the wonderful lyricist Keith Reid. (For more information on Keith Reid and Procol Harum, please see the excellent website Beyond the Pale.)

You will notice a common theme in some of these reviews and obituaries, with many suggesting Keith Reid was a ‘lyricist’ and therefore not a ‘member of the band.’

Part of this is due to the fact that, while Mr Reid attended the concerts in the early days, he likely tended to remain behind the scenes to a large extent and therefore might not have been keen to take part in the media circus that travels alongside music groups.

Still, the fact that he did not use an instrument, aside from a typewriter, means very little when talking about the contributions of true poets.

Indeed fans of popular music have always understood that Keith Reid and Gary Brooker, Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia and Elton John and Bernie Taupin have always been considered modern-day versions of songwriters like Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin.

And so we will find some solace in the notion that, much like their forebearers, these contributions will continue to shine on brightly.

James Porteous | Clipper Media News

Keith Reid, Who Brought Poetry to Procol Harum, Dies at 76

His impressionistic lyrics, as in the hit song “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” helped make the band one of the leading acts of the progressive-rock era.

31 March 2023 | Alex Williams | The New York Times

Keith Reid, whose impressionistic lyrics for the early progressive rock band Procol Harum helped to fuel emblematic songs of the 1960s, most notably “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” has died. He was 76.

His death was announced in a Facebook post from the band. The announcement did not say where or when he died or cite a cause, but according to news media reports, he died in a hospital in London on March 23 after having been treated for cancer for two years.

During its heyday in the late 1960s and ’70s, Procol Harum stood out as musically ambitious, even by prog-rock standards — as demonstrated by its 1972 album, “Procol Harum Live: In Concert With the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.”

The band’s music, which at times bordered on the sepulchral, required lyrics that soared along with it. Mr. Reid was happy to oblige. “I always write them as poems,” he said of his lyrics in a 1973 interview with Melody Maker, the British music magazine. Indeed, with Procol Harum, the words tended to come first.

As the lyricist Bernie Taupin has long done for Elton John, Mr. Reid generally submitted his lyrics to the band’s singer, pianist and primary songwriter, Gary Brooker, or sometimes the band’s guitarist, Robin Trower, or organist, Matthew Fisher, who also wrote songs.

While Mr. Reid was a founding member of the group, he was more a rock star by association, since he did not sing or play an instrument and thus did not record or perform with Procol Harum. Still, he rarely missed a gig.

“If I didn’t go to every gig, I would not be part of the group,” he told Melody Maker. Touring, he said, helped him write: “I find it much easier to shut myself away in a hotel room for two hours than to work at home, where there are far too many distractions.”

Procol Harum showcased its musical ambitions on the 1972 album “Procol Harum Live: In Concert With the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.”

The results of such focus were apparent with “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” the first single off the band’s debut album, released in 1967. The song, which hit No. 1 on the British charts and No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, sold around 10 million copies worldwide. And it endured long after the ’60s drew to a close.

By the ’80s, it had achieved canonical status. It was often used to underscore the wistful memories of veterans of the flower-power era in films like Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 hippies-to-yuppies midlife crisis tale, “The Big Chill,” and Martin Scorsese’s May-December romance installment in the 1989 film “New York Stories,” which also included short films by Woody Allen and Francis Ford Coppola.

The song’s famous opening lines (“We skipped the light fandango/Turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor”) conjure bawdy images of drunken debauchery at a party, illuminating a failing romantic relationship. They are set to a haunting chord progression with echoes of Bach, rendered in ecclesiastical fashion by Mr. Fisher’s organ, and sung by Mr. Brooker in a raspy voice, soaked with longing and regret.

She said “There is no reason
And the truth is plain to see.”
But I wandered through my playing cards
Would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well’ve been closed.

“I had the phrase ‘a whiter shade of pale,’ that was the start, and I knew it was a song,” Mr. Reid said in a 2008 interview with the British music magazine Uncut.

“I was trying to conjure a mood as much as tell a straightforward, girl-leaves-boy story,” he continued. “With the ceiling flying away and room humming harder, I wanted to paint an image of a scene.”

Keith Stuart Brian Reid was born on Oct. 19, 1946, in Welwyn Garden City, north of London, one of two sons of a father from Austria and a mother who had been born in England to Polish parents. His father, who was fluent in six languages, had been a lawyer in Vienna but was among more than 6,000 Jews arrested there in November 1938. He fled to England upon his release.

His father’s experiences at the hands of the Nazis left emotional scars that Mr. Reid said influenced his worldview, and his writing.

“The tone of my work is very dark, and I think it’s probably from my background in some subconscious way,” Mr. Reid said in an interview with Scott R. Benarde, the author of “Stars of David: Rock ’n’ Roll’s Jewish Stories” (2003).

In 1966, Mr. Reid was introduced by a mutual friend to Mr. Brooker, who was with a band called the Paramounts, whose members also included Mr. Trower and the drummer B.J. Wilson. Mr. Reid and Mr. Brooker became friends and started writing together; they, Mr. Trower, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Fisher would all eventually form Procol Harum.

Procol Harum never again scaled the heights it achieved with its first single, but it continued to be a major act through the mid-1970s, regularly releasing albums and scoring the occasional hit single; a live orchestral version of “Conquistador,” a song from the band’s first album, reached the Top 20 in 1972.

Mr. Reid said he felt lost after the band broke up in 1977 (it would reform, in various incarnations, over the years). In 1986 he moved to New York, where he started a management company and composed songs (music as well as lyrics) for other artists.

That year, he collaborated with the songwriters Andy Qunta, Maggie Ryder and Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band on “You’re the Voice,” which was recorded by the Australian singer John Farnham, and topped the charts in several countries, although it made little impact in the United States.

During the 1990s, Mr. Reid wrote songs for Annie Lennox, Willie Nelson, Heart and many others. He would eventually turn the focus on his own talents, releasing two albums by what he called The Keith Reid Project, “The Common Thread” (2008) and “In My Head” (2018), which included artists like Southside Johnny, John Waite and Mr. Thompson.

Mr. Reid’s survivors include his wife, Pinkey, whom he married in 2004.

Unlike the rock luminaries he came of age alongside, Mr. Reid did not bask in the lights of the stage. Even so, he experienced his own form of glory, gazing on as the members of Procol Harum brought life to his words at shows he refused to miss.

“You wouldn’t expect a playwright not to attend the rehearsals of his play,” he told Melody Maker in 1973. “My songs are just as personal to me. They’re a part of my life. They are not gone from me.”

Alex Williams is a reporter in the Obituaries department. @AlexwilliamsNYC

Keith Reid, Procol Harum Lyricist and ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ Co-Writer, Dies at 76

Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns

29 March 2023 | A.D. AmorosiJem Aswad | Variety

Keith Reid, lyricist for the British group Procol Harum and co-writer of the iconic 1960s hit “Whiter Shade of Pale,” died on March 23 after a battle with cancer, according to a post on the band’s website. He was 76.

Reid’s acclaim with Procol Harum — from its eponymously-titled 1967 debut album until 2003’s “The Well’s on Fire” — came from his unusual turns of phrase and influences from classical literature on songs such as “A Salty Dog,” “Conquistador,” and most famously “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” an unusually lengthy and unlikely hit that has gone on to become one of the most commercially successful songs in history.

Combining a funereal organ hook borrowed from Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D Major, swinging jazz drums, singer Gary Brooker’s soulful yet maudlin vocal and Reid’s surreal lyrics about a breakup, the song topped the U.K. singles chart and reached No. 5 in the U.S. in the summer of 1967, sold more than six million copies globally, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and, with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” was jointly recognized as the “Best British Pop Single 1952–1977″ at the BRIT Awards as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee.

It also came to symbolize the loss of youthful ideals when used as the centerpiece of writer-director Lawrence Kasden’s 1983 film, “The Big Chill,” although presumably more for its cultural associations than its lyrics (“And so it was that later, as the miller told his tale/ That her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale”).

While initially credited to Brooker and Reid, organist Fisher successfully sued to have his name added to the credits and publishing in 2009, more than 40 years after the song was originally released, after a long legal battle.

The son of Jewish Holocuast survivors, Reid was born on October 19, 1946, in London. He left formal schooling at the age of 15 to follow a literary path as a natural born lyricist. Inspired the sorrows of the Holocaust (“The tone of my work is very dark and I think it’s probably from my background in some subconscious way,” he once said), and the songs of Bob Dylan, Reid met R&B disc jockey-turned-A&R/producer Guy Stevens (Mott the Hoople, The Clash) through Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who in turn introduced him to composer-pianist Brooker in 1966.

While Blackwell initially passed on signing the group to Island — he recalls in his autobiography that the initial demo was dirgelike, but the drums added the crucial element that made it a hit and led him to rue his decision — the single was recorded with session musicians and a group was hastily assembled to tour and record an album.

Via albums like “A Salty Dog” and another unlikely hit single, the orchestra-featuring “Conquistador,” the group remained a major act throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. While he did not play an instrument, Reid was a full-time member of Procol Harum until its first break-up in 1977; only the group’s final album, 2017’s “Novum,” lacks lyrical input from him.

In the mid-1980s, Keith Reid set up his own management firm, Full House, moved to New York City, and began working on stage plays. Brooker reunited Procol Harum in 1991 for a comeback album, “The Prodigal Stranger,” and 2003’s “The Well’s on Fire.” And though Reid was never a vocalist, he released a 2008 album, “The Common Thread,” under The Keith Reid Project banner, with lyrics sung such by vocalists such as John Waite and Southside Johnny. Keith Reid’s Project additionally released “In My Head” in 2018.

Procol Harum: first write the songs, then form the band

Chris Heim in Chicago Tribune, 27 September 1991

In the normal sequence of rock events, some folks who play instruments get together and form a band and eventually, if things go well and they have a bit of talent, begin writing their own material. In other words, first the band, then the songs. It’s a simple enough formula, but Procol Harum got it backwards not once but twice.

The first time was in 1966 when Gary Brooker, who had been playing in an R&B cover band called the Paramounts, was introduced to a budding lyricist named Keith Reid. The two started writing songs together and then, with a loose group of players, Brooker wandered into the studio the next year to cut a few songs.

Much to everyone’s surprise, a single released from that session, A Whiter Shade of Pale, sold more than 2.5 million copies in just a few weeks, and suddenly there was enormous interest in a “band” that didn’t really quite exist. A quick bit of musical chairs followed, as guitarist Robin Trower and drummer BJ Wilson (both from the Paramounts) were brought in to assist the lineup of Brooker, organist Matthew Fisher and bassist David Knights from that first session. The new crew then went in and recorded, mixed and released an entire début album in all of about a week and a half.

“Yes,” says Keith Reid with a faint chuckle. “That sounds about right. That wasn’t intentional. A Whiter Shade of Pale was a hit so quickly that suddenly there was this great demand for an album. I think that I can remember we cut five tracks in one day. I just don’t think there was any overdubbing at all; I think it was virtually totally live. In retrospect, perhaps we should have spent more time. The songs were all written, so that wasn’t a problem. But I think perhaps we should have spent more time on actually making the record. But there you are. When everybody’s shouting for a record, you get on with it.”

For a time, the story then follows a more conventional pattern. Procol Harum released nine more albums (including the Fisher-produced A Salty DogLive in Concert With the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the band’s most successful release; Grand HotelProcol’s Ninth; and finally, Something Magic). On 15 May 1977 — ten years to the day after A Whiter Shade of Pale was released — Procol Harum called it quits after a performance in New York City. That is, until Brooker and Reid decided to do it all again — backwards — more than a decade later.

“I’ve been living in New York for about five years, and a couple of years ago I got a ‘phone call from Gary,” Reid explains. “He said, ‘What about getting together and writing some songs and making a Procol Harum album?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what. Get on a ‘plane and come to New York and let’s see if we can write some worthwhile songs.’

So he got on a ‘plane and came to New York a few days later and we spent about ten days woodshedding and working on tunes. We had a lot of fun, and we came up with some good stuff. Then I went over to England, and we called up Matthew Fisher, our old organ player, and got together with him and wrote some songs and they turned out well. Eventually we started to feel we really had some worthwhile stuff, so let’s maybe go ahead and make a record.”

Trower, who left the band in 1971 (first to join the group Jude and then to score solo successes with moody, Hendrixian albums like Bridge of SighsFor Earth Below and Long Misty Days) was recruited again, along with bassist Dave Bronze and former Big Country drummer Mark Brzezicki (original drummer BJ Wilson, to whom the band’s new album is dedicated, died in 1989). Reid continues in his usual / unusual role — a key member who does not play an instrument, record (though he does help produce) or tour with the band.

“It doesn’t seem so strange insomuch as Gary and I originally worked together as songwriters and formed the band as an extension of our writing,” Reid remarks. “When we decided to make this new record, we didn’t re-form the band. We got together and wrote a bunch of songs. We started to seriously think about re-forming the band and doing a record after we’d written a load of songs. It’s always been the songs first.

“And I write the words first and then they get set to music. In fact, really, the starting point of a lot of all this stuff is me anyway. I get together a bunch of words and song ideas and usually pretty much fully written lyrics and then hand them over to Gary. And usually I get together with him while he’s working on the music for the songs. It’s fairly rare that he would have the thing totally written. So I’m kind of in there all the time.”

Procol Harum recently released its new album, The Prodigal Stranger, and is now on a short North American tour. (The band plays the Vic [Theater] Tuesday.) The new Procol Harum is a straighter, sleeker outfit. Much of the material on Stranger is in a pop / R&B vein, something closer to, say, a recent Steve Winwood album than the surreal, cerebral, classically influenced old Procol Harum sound.

“I think the stuff on this new album is a bit simpler than some of the stuff in the past,” says Reid. “Personally, I feel I’m a much better songwriter now than I ever used to be. I think I only learned to be a songwriter, a proper songwriter, in the last five years or so, really, because I took a break from it for a while and then I also got involved in working with other people. I don’t think I used to feel that I was a songwriter before.

“I felt that I wrote for Procol Harum and that was it. Now I’m a real songwriter. I think [the new songs] are better. I think I’ve managed to make the stuff more accessible without losing the depth and the content. I think I’m better at making myself understood. Some of the old stuff was quite obscure, really.”

LYRICS: A Salty Dog

Songwriters: Keith Reid / Gary Brooker

All hands on deck, we’ve run afloat
I heard the captain cry
“Explore the ship, replace the cook”
“Let no one leave alive!”

Across the straits, around the horn
How far can sailors fly?
A twisted path, our tortured course
And no one left alive

We sailed for parts unknown to man
Where ships come home to die
No lofty peak, nor fortress bold
Could match our captain’s eye

Upon the seventh seasick day
We made our port of call
A sand so white, and sea so blue
No mortal place at all

We fired the guns, and burned the mast
And rowed from ship to shore
The captain cried, we sailors wept
Our tears were tears of joy

Now many moons and many Junes
Have passed since we made land
A salty dog, the seaman’s log
Your witness, my own hand

Oh, keep-, oh, come on, it’s still good
It’s got to come in a bit sooner than that

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Keith Reid / Gary Brooker

A Salty Dog lyrics © Onward Music/essex Retentions C/o Bucks Music

The Keith Reid Project

Keith Reid of Procol Harum

Carl Wiser | Songfacts

Keith Reid wrote the lyrics to “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” which is the most-played song in England for the last 75 years, according to a survey by BBC Radio 2. He formed Procol Harum with Gary Brooker in 1967, but Keith doesn’t play an instrument or sing – he writes lyrics.

Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Are there any other lyricists out there who are official band members?

Keith: At the beginning of King Crimson, I think Pete Sinfield was thought of as being a band member. But that’s the only one that really comes to mind. With Procol Harum, it was myself and Gary that formed the band in the first place. That’s a fairly unusual situation – in my case the lyricist is sort of responsible for the band’s formation.

Songfacts: How do you typically write a song?

Keith: I wish there was a typical way. They can just happen so many ways. When I first started writing, I had absolutely no control over the situation. For my first couple of years as a songwriter, I wasn’t confident from one song to the next that I’d ever write another song again. I thought it was just inspiration and I had absolutely no control over it… you know, if might never happen again.

After that I started to realize that I do have some control over this. Of course, you’re inspired, but in some ways you have to work at it, you have to keep your eyes open, you have to keep your ears open. You can wait for it to hit you, but you can exercise some element of direction over it. I also realized that you go through periods; people talk about writer’s block, but for myself, there are just periods, you go through periods where songs seem to happen almost every day.

You just get an idea or something works out. And then you’ll go for a period of time and nothing seems to strike a spark. I also learned not to worry about that, you go through very creative periods, and you go through periods where you’re not so bubbling over. Probably every writer learns that if you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, boy, you’d better write it down, because you won’t remember it in the morning. (laughs)

And like many writers, I feel that somehow when you write, that the songs are around you. It’s kind of like a radio, you tune into it. You find it somewhere.

Songfacts: Was “Whiter Shade of Pale” the first song you wrote?

Keith: No. It was amongst the first twelve or fifteen songs. The songs on the first Procol Harum album, they also came from that first period of writing.

Songfacts: Did you know “Whiter Shade of Pale” was going to be the one?

Keith: No. We were really excited about it and liked it a lot. And when we were rehearsing and routine-ing our first dozen songs or so, it was one that sounded really good. But there were a few others that we liked I would say equally – we have a song on our first album called “Salad Days (Are Here Again)” that was a strong contender. At our first session, we cut four tracks, and “Whiter Shade of Pale” was the one that recorded best. In those days it wasn’t just a question of how good is your song? It was how good of a recording can you make? Because it was essentially live recording, and if you didn’t have a great sound engineer or the studio wasn’t so good, you might not get a very good-sounding record. And for some reason everything at our first studio session came out sounding really good.

Songfacts: How did you feel about losing the extra verses that you wrote for that song?

Keith: Originally it was twice as long, and that was partly because at that time there was somewhat of a vogue for really long songs, whether it be Dylan or The Beatles “Hey Jude.” So I was trying to write a really long song. But as we started routine-ing it and getting it ready to record, one of the verses just fell away pretty naturally – we dropped it pretty early on in the process. We felt it was just a bit too long, because, the song was like nearly 10 minutes. We were rehearsing it with three verses, so it was running about 7 minutes or so, and our producer said, “Look, if you want to get airplay, if you want this record to be viable, you probably should think about taking out a verse.” And we did. I didn’t feel badly about it because it seemed to work fine. It didn’t really bother me.

Songfacts: I’ve read you describe the song as kind of a jigsaw puzzle, you’re putting the pieces together.

Keith: Yeah, that goes with what we were talking about earlier, the songwriting. I feel with songs that you’re given a piece of the puzzle, the inspiration or whatever. In this case, I had that title, “Whiter Shade of Pale,” and I thought, There’s a song here. And it’s making up the puzzle that fits the piece you’ve got. You fill out the picture, you find the rest of the picture that that piece fits into.

near, meaning the next thing you write is, “We skipped the light fandango”? Or do you just kind of bounce around with the ideas?

Keith: Well, it can vary. In this instance I started with “We skipped the light fandango.” if I have a title line, usually I’ll go to the first line: I know how this story ends, now how does it begin?

Songfacts: Do you think of this as a story in the sense that it has a beginning and an end?

Keith: Oh, absolutely. It’s sort of a film, really, trying to conjure up mood and tell a story. It’s about a relationship. There’s characters and there’s a location, and there’s a journey. You get the sound of the room and the feel of the room and the smell of the room. But certainly there’s a journey going on, it’s not a collection of lines just stuck together. It’s got a thread running through it.

Songfacts: You know, I always heard the line “the Miller told his tale” as “the mirror told his tale.” I was thinking she was looking in the mirror, something was happening.

Keith: Yes. That might have been a good idea. (laughs)

Songfacts: So you were probably reading Chaucer or something.

Keith: Well, no, I wasn’t. This is what people asked me right off, you know, they all started saying, “Oh, Chaucer, The Miller’s Tale.” And I’d never read The Miller’s Tale in my life. Maybe that’s something that I knew subconsciously, but it certainly wasn’t a conscious idea for me to quote from Chaucer, no way.

In 2008, Reid released the album The Common Thread as “The Keith Reid Project.” Since he’s not a musician, Reid had to find the perfect people to perform his songs. Eight different lead singers appear on the album, including John Waite and Chris Thompson, formerly of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.
You can listen to and download the tracks at this Amazon link.

Songfacts: How did the Keith Reid Project come together?

Keith: It begins with me moving to America, living in Manhattan back in ’86. I’d only really worked with Gary, and I’d only really written songs for Procol Harum, and I hadn’t really done anything outside of that. And so I moved to New York and I started to write with other people and work with different musicians. It was very different for me, I’d gone from this quite closed environ with Procol Harum, to The world is my oyster. I can write with whomever, whenever, wherever. I enjoyed it as well. I was hitting off other people and getting other kinds of inspirations, plus being in New York and being in America turned me around a bit, as well. Suddenly you’re not living on a little island and looking inwards.

You’re on the continent of the USA, and it’s expansive – your horizons expand somewhat. So I started to develop as a writer, and I started to write in a different fashion. I started to write more directly, using less imagery and trying to write more simply. This is a process which took years – It wasn’t something that happened over night. I started to build up some good relationships with different writers and singers, and I started to build up a body of work. And I started to feel like these were songs that I’m not going to be able to get other people to record. I better do something with them. And I thought, Why don’t I make my own movie? Kind of like a filmmaker, really. I’ll write the songs and I’ll cast the singers who suit the different songs, and I’ll see if I can put this together on a record and see how it sounds.

Songfacts: So these songs were written over the course of several years?

Keith: Yes. They were written over a 5-7 year period.

Songfacts: How did you match the singers to the songs?

Keith: Well, the first on the record, “In God’s Shadow,” I wrote that with John Waite and a couple of other guys. And clearly he was the best guy to do it. (laughs) No question. There’s a song on the record called “Potters Field,” and I wrote that with a Swedish friend of mine named Michael Saxell. But I had this very good friend in New York named Bernie Shanahan, who’s a great singer, and I thought his voice would really suit this.

With Southside Johnny, we had just written “A Common Thread.” I was writing with a guy called Matt Noble, and John came by the studio. He was listening to the song, and he said, “I’ll sing that for you if you like.” We just set the mike up in the control room and he sang it. It was amazing. It was just happenstance. So it came together in a variety of ways.

Songfacts: It’s a uniquely American album, and I can see how having a little bit of perspective on this gave you the ability to really dig into this country.

Keith: That’s a realization I came to when I was putting it together. I started to realize I wouldn’t have written these songs if I’d stayed in England. A song like “Silver Town” or “A Common Thread” – I wouldn’t have felt like that. It wasn’t something I was conscious of when I was doing it, but I realized that living in the country had sort of got into me in a way. I started to feel involved in the experience.

Songfacts: How did some of your experiences in America relate to some of the songs you wrote?

Keith: On “Silver Town,” I was thinking back to “greed is good” and Gordon Gekko, a guy who would go to some town, buy out the local business and put everybody out of work. It doesn’t just happen in America, but somehow it seems to happen a lot in America where a town and a community depends on a business and it closes down. It’s amazing how quickly the whole thing can just fall apart. It’s all very tenuous: you’ve got communities which have been there for a long time, often thriving, and suddenly the factory closes down and everybody’s lives fall apart.

The song “Potters Field” is written literally about a place called Hart Island which is, as it says in the song, just off of Long Island Sound. I just read about it. And, I could have read that book anywhere, but because I was living in New York, it made more of a connection with me. It felt real to me, the idea of immigrants who had come over ending up in a pauper’s grave.

Songfacts: What about a song like “Heartbreak House”?

Keith: That song I wrote in Sweden, but it felt American to me. The military guy, to me it was an American. I think the characters, although I actually wrote it somewhere else, it felt like an American situation. The idea for that was, “even the floorboards ache in the Heartbreak House.” I got that idea, and it seemed to me very powerful, you know, even the floorboards ache. That was an example of knowing how this song ended up, but how did it start? And looking for a way to begin it.

Songfacts: Is the title track kind of similar to that?

Keith: “Common Thread”? No, that was just thinking about the working guys, the people that hold the place together, the ones that build the roads. Now we’re going through this whole thing with the banking crisis, well we had a thing in England when we had this prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. And her famous saying was, “There’s no such thing as society.” And to me, the common thread was saying, No, actually, the truth, the reality, is the opposite of that. There is a fabric of society, and we forget that at our peril.

Songfacts: So she just meant that we were all just a group of individuals?

Keith: Yeah, you don’t think about your fellow man, it’s sort of dog eat dog. I suppose she was trying to say we’re not all connected. And I was trying to say absolutely no, the opposite – we are all connected. And when we forget that connection, when people act with impunity and forget that we’re all connected, that’s when you get trouble. And it happened in a big way, people thinking they can do what they like, and everyone ends up paying the bill. Now the common folk are bailing everybody out, society is looking after everyone.

Songfacts: You included “You’re The Voice” on this album. What’s the story behind that song?

Keith: That was the one song that was written earlier. It came together because Chris Thompson, who sings it, called me and said, “I’ve got something and I don’t know what to do with it lyrically. It feels as though it should be slightly political, but I don’t know. Have a listen.” And we sat down, he played me the tune, and I got the title idea, “You’re The Voice.” It’s an anti-war song in a way, but it was more of a “make your voice heard” kind of thing. Wake up to your own power.

Songfacts: Do you make changes to the songs when they’re being recorded?

Keith: I always think of it as sort of tailoring. You know, you kind of take in the trousers a little, a bit of length in the cuff. That sort of happens when you’re working the song out, and sometimes something which seemed just okay when you wrote it, when you hear it actually being sung you can see that you could slightly improve it, a word which looks good on paper doesn’t sound so good when it’s sung. But there’s very little of that.

For example, “The Heartbreak House” was physically written in Sweden – we did it there just with acoustic guitar. Then I took it to upstate New York and put some guitars and bass and drums on it. You know, I had a real idea in my mind how it should sound. Quite a few of these songs, there was a lot of traveling.

Songfacts: So you didn’t just come to Manhattan, you decided to see the country a bit.

Keith: Oh yeah. The record has been in California, Nashville, New York, London, and Sweden. We’ve taken in a bit of territory there.

Songfacts: Can you tell me about your Procol Harum song “Conquistador”?

Keith: Gary and I, before we formed Procol Harum, when we were just working together as songwriters and getting into it, we had this regular deal where he lived about 40 miles from London near the ocean, and I’d jump on a train once a week and go visit him. He’d have a bunch of my lyrics and he’d play me whatever he had been working on. This particular time, though, I’d got down there and he’d been working on a tune. He said, “What does this sound like to you?” And I said, “Oh, conquistador.” It had a little bit of a Spanish flavor to it. I went into another room and started writing the words there and then. 99 out of 100 of those Procol Harum songs were written the words first, and then were set to music. But that particular one, the words hadn’t existed before he had the musical idea.

Songfacts: What are some of your favorite Procol Harum songs that aren’t “Conquistador” or “Whiter Shade of Pale”?

Keith: There’s a song called “A Rum Tale” on the Grand Hotel which I really like. It’s got a real nice melody and it’s quite a gentle song. I like “The Salty Dog” a lot too. I think that two lines from “Grand Hotel,” “Dover sole and oeufs mornay, profiteroles and peach flambé,” was some pretty tidy writing.

Songfacts: Have you had any other jobs besides working in the music industry?

Keith: Well, I have, but they were when I was a much younger person. Gosh, I had a ton of jobs. I was a construction worker, over here we call them laborers. I worked in a bakery, worked in a book shop, I worked for a solicitor, I worked in a garment factory packing dresses, can you believe? I had quite a varied career before I managed to become a full-time songwriter.

We spoke with Keith on April 2, 2009.

Pilgrim’s Progress

Procol Harum

Written By

Keith Reid & Matthew Fisher

[Verse 1]
I sat me down to write a simple story
Which maybe in the end became a song
In trying to find the words which might begin it
I found these were the thoughts I brought along

[Verse 2]
At first I took my weight to be an anchor
And gathered up my fears to guide me round
But then I clearly saw my own delusion
And found my struggles further bogged me down

[Verse 3]
In starting out I thought to go exploring
And set my foot upon the nearest road
In vain I looked to find the promised turning
But only saw how far I was from home

In searching I forsook the paths of learning
And sought instead to find some pirate’s gold
In fighting I did hurt those dearest to me
And still no hidden truths could I unfold

[Organ solo]

[Verse 4]
I sat me down to write a simple story
Which maybe in the end became a song
The words have all been writ by one before me
We’re taking turns in trying to pass them on
Oh, we’re taking turns in trying to pass them on

Keith Reid

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Keith Reid
Birth nameKeith Stuart Brian Reid
Born19 October 1946 (age 76)
OriginWelwyn Garden CityHertfordshire, England[1]
DiedError: Need valid birth date (second date): year, month, day
GenresPsychedelic rockprogressive rock
Years active1966–present

Keith Stuart Brian Reid (born 19 October 1946)[2] was an English lyricist and songwriter who wrote the lyrics of every song released by Procol Harum that was not previously recorded by someone else, with the exception of the songs on their 2017 album Novum.


Reid grew up in London and is Jewish, the son of a Holocaust survivor.[3] He left school at an early age to pursue a songwriting career. He met Gary Brooker, lead singer with Procol Harum, with whom he co-wrote most of the band’s songs (some music was written by organist Matthew Fisher and by guitarist Robin Trower), in 1966. They began collaborating, and their composition “A Whiter Shade of Pale“, Procol Harum’s first single, was released in 1967. It reached the top of the UK Singles Chart and sold over six million copies worldwide. Keith Reid was an official member of Procol Harum and attended all their recording sessions and most of their concert performances, despite having no performance role in the band.[4] Reid continued to write lyrics for the band until they disbanded in 1977.[2] Reid has said that the dark tone of his lyric writing derives from his familial experience of the Holocaust.[3]

He also wrote the lyrics for two songs by the French singer Michel Polnareff in 1966 (“You’ll Be On My Mind” and “Time Will Tell”), and was co-writer for the John Farnham hit “You’re the Voice” (1986).

Reid moved to New York and founded a management company in 1986. He reunited with Brooker and Procol Harum for the albums The Prodigal Stranger (1991) and The Well’s on Fire (2003).

In August 2008, a new album, The Common Thread, was issued under The Keith Reid Project banner. Reid wrote the lyrics for the songs, which were performed by a variety of musicians, including Southside JohnnyChris ThompsonJohn Waite and Michael Saxell. The album was produced by Keith Reid and Matt Noble.

A new album from the Keith Reid Project, In My Head, was released in December 2018.[5]


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