Born in Hackney Hospital, East London on 29 May 1945, Gary Brooker grew up in Hackney until the family moved out to Middlesex. His father Harry Brooker was a professional musician, playing pedal steel guitar with Felix Mendelssohn’s Hawaiian Serenaders, and as a child Brooker learned to play piano, cornet and trombone. In 1954 the family moved to the seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea, Essex. His father died of a heart attack when he was 11 years old, forcing his mother to work in order to make ends meet, while Brooker himself took on a paper-round. After leaving school, he went on to Southend Municipal College to study zoology and botany but dropped out to become a professional musician.
Brooker founded The Paramounts in 1962 with his guitarist friend Robin Trower. They opened for the Rolling Stones in the early Sixties. In 1966, Brooker founded Procol Harum with his friend Keith Reid. They are best remembered for their classic hit ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’, but between 1967 and 1977 they released nine albums twenty singles.
After the breakup of Procol Harum, Gary Brooker released three solo albums between 1979 and 1985. He also contributed to other artists’ work, including Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings and the Alan Parsons Project. Brooker played keyboards when Kate performed the song The Wedding List at the Prince’s Trust Rock Gala on 12 July 1982. In 1993, he played the Hammond Organ on Kate’s songs And So Is Love, Constellation Of The Heart and You’re The One.
In 1996, Brooker appeared in the Alan Parker film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webbers’ Evita starring Madonna, Jonathan Pryce and Antonio Banderas. Playing the part of Juan Atilio Bramuglia, he sang the song ‘Rainbow Tour’ with Peter Polycarpou and Antonio Banderas. Brooker said that his greatest single earning in his career was from his appearance in the film.
Brooker died from cancer at his home on 19 February 2022, at the age of 76.
Gary Brooker about Kate Bush
I’ve always enjoyed playing on her records. She expects a lot of the musicians she gets in, and I did things I’d never done before. On The Red Shoes, there were the bare bones of a track, and you had to make up what you thought would fit. She didn’t have a perfectionist’s iron grip in the sense of: ‘These are the notes you will play’. She drew you in the direction she wanted to go. (Uncut Magazine, 2010)