Behind the Band Name: How a Mysterious Cat Inspired the Name Procol Harum

Psych-rock outfit Procol Harum breathed life into an artful progressive sound that featured hints of blues and soul. Since their start in the mid-1960s, their delightfully bizarre style, in which lush and surreal soundscapes became their trademark, has baffled and wowed the masses.

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The band itself is just as mystifying as the music they created. Just look at their name.

[RELATED: Behind the Song: Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”]

Behind the Name

After their initial formation, Procol Harum was apparently considering calling themselves the Pinewoods until a fated phone call, a mysterious cat, and jumbled words gave life to Procol Harum.

When the band’s self-titled debut album was reissued in 1997, frontman Gary Brooker recalled in the liner notes, “At some point during rehearsals [promoter] Guy Stevens phoned and said, ‘I’ve found a name for the band.’ Guy explained it came from a friend’s cat whose pedigree name was Procol Harum.

“It was kind of an ambiguous name and we were writing ambiguous music,” Brooker added of the moniker. “This name seemed to fit and had a sound and a meaning.”

The biggest hit from their debut, “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” became an instant success and put the band on everyone’s radar. “As soon as it was in the charts,” Brooker continued, “everyone wanted to know where our name came from and I told everybody about the cat. But they wanted to know more than that, so we got hold of the cat’s birth certificate and found we’d actually spelled it wrong!”

[RELATED: Billy Joel Pays Tribute to Gary Brooker with Cover of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”]

The feline’s pedigree name, belonging to a male blue Burmese cat, was actually spelled “Procul Harun.” It had apparently been misheard over the phone. “But we weren’t going to change our name,” Brooker continued. “We were Procol Harum. Latin scholars got involved and it turned out to mean ‘beyond these things,’ which added a bit of mystery.”

In a radio interview, Brooker called the Latin translation a “nice coincidence,” adding, “At least it didn’t mean, ‘I’m going to town to buy a cow’ or something.”

Photo by Monitor Picture Library/Avalon/Getty Images

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