There’s at least one intriguing side note that I, for one, would have thought was worth checking out. Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles has Procol lyricist Keith Reid turning up on the doorstep of Elektra Records’ London office (Boyd was the label’s British rep) looking for a deal based solely on some typewritten verses. I found him amiable but crazy. Who ever signed someone on the basis of a few stanzas of doggerel? (White Bicycles Kindle edition, Location 2116) and Boyd booked the band to play London’s UFO Club the evening ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ was released, which rates a mention here as the band’s live debut and has Reid mentioning the visit at the time, though there’s no earlier reference to the incident.

Trainspotting, perhaps, but it’s an intriguing incidental that I thought was worth a wry paragraph.

Equally interesting, on a similar maybe over the top but definitely intriguing note was the similarity between The Paramounts’ origins (Southend is right on the Thames estuary, and merchant seamen brought in obscure rock, R&B and blues titles unavailable in England through standard record shops) and the likes of The Beatles (Liverpool) and The Animals (Newcastle-on-Tyne). There’s a brief mention of groups of their ilk playing songs they’d discovered on imported records here, but it’s an intriguing point that might have been worth exploring further.

I’m also intrigued by a couple of passing references to the late, great Vivian Stanshall, also a native of Southend, who must have had some link with the Paramount/Procol scene apart from a co-write with Keith Reid referred to here

But that’s nit-picking. As a reasonably detailed biography Procol Harum - The Ghosts of A Whiter Shade of Pale does everything you’d expect it to do if you’ve read a number of similar volumes, it’s reasonably detailed but with a lot skimmed over, covers all the major points but could do with a bit more depth.

There’s no doubting the depth of Scott-Irvine’s research, and the extensive list of interviewees include practically everyone who has ever been involved with Procol Harum (the notable exception being the late BJ Wilson, who died before the project started), producer Chris Thomas, Cream lyricist Pete Brown and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. He doesn’t skirt around the Matthew Fisher lawsuit, though it’s subject matter that’s always going to be a little more than merely contentious and the inclusion of court documents in the appendix section of the book gives the reader the opportunity to explore the matter if you’re so inclined and find the content in the book itself lacking in detail. 

There’s a fairly thorough discussion of the band’s groundbreaking orchestral concerts,  Gary Brooker's solo ventures and side excursions with the likes of Eric Clapton and Bill Wyman, you get to read the long lost third verse of A Whiter Shade of Pale (not that I was much the wiser after I’d done so) and the volume sports the regulation big name contributions (Foreword by Martin Scorsese, Introduction by Sir Alan Parker and Afterword by Sebastian Faulks). 

All in all, one of the better examples of in-depth rock biography for the general fan, though the old anorak may find the mileage varying.

© Ian Hughes 2012