Interview: Robin Trower, formerly of Procol Harum

The former Procol Harum guitarist on 50s Strats, taking it slow, 1930s jazz singers – and avoiding fire extinguisher-toting stage hands…

robin trower procul harum
Image: Rob Blackham

The moment it all started…

“Well, I wanted to play guitar because I was a big fan of Scotty Moore who played for Elvis, so he was the impetus. Then I asked my dad for a guitar, and he bought me a guitar for Christmas – I think I was about 14 at the time, so that’s when it started!”

I couldn’t live without my…

“I really don’t have one of those sort of guitars. I have a few of my signature-model Strats – I switch among three of those as to which of them is my favourite, so one of them!”

In another life, I’d have been…

“I think I would have been an unemployed wastrel. I can’t think of anything else I would have done – I’m not good in any other avenue!”

The one that got away…

“I did have a ’56 Strat with a maple neck that was stolen, and that was a wonderful instrument. But I don’t know if I’d still be playing it today, that’s the thing – but still, it was a truly beautiful guitar.”

If I could be in any band, it would be…

“I think probably the band that James Brown had for his Live At The Apollo album. That is some of my all-time favourite music. I don’t think I would have been good enough to play in that band, but it would have been a lovely experience!”

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The best advice I’ve ever been given…

“I can’t remember any advice, really… I’m self-taught. But when people ask me for advice, I always say if you’re a young player just starting out, what I found in my own beginnings was not to try to copy other guitar players. By copying you can seem to get further forward more quickly, but it’s better if you take a slower route and develop more organically. And that’s not to say you don’t have influences – all my influences are still with me, but by not sitting down and working out what other players are doing and enjoying playing music for yourself, you’re more likely to come up with something that’s a bit more original.”

The first thing I play when I pick up a guitar…

“More often than not, I’ll play one of my slower songs. I tend to prefer the slower things. There’s a track off the new album called Ghosts, and even though I’m just practising at home, I just really like playing that – it gets me warmed up.”

The most important thing on my rider…

“I think probably just tea and honey!”

If I could just play one thing…

“I do enjoy listening to other artists, but to be honest about it, I only really enjoy playing my own music. There’s artists that I listen to over and over again – I still play early Howlin’ Wolf all the time. The mystique of it just blows me away, but I have no impulse at all to do one of his songs or anything, there doesn’t seem to be any point! The only covers I’ve done of songs is when I’ve rearranged them and put my own spin on it. It has to be my own thing, really.”

My guilty pleasure…

“I really like Al Bowlly music from the 30s, in particular, and that period of popular music. I think it appeals to the romantic side of my character, y’know? And a variety of artists from that period – it’s not just the singers, but the musicianship is so good, and the arrangements. It’s very rich music.”

My Spinal Tap moment…

“I think it was probably when I was playing with Jack Bruce up in Scotland, and my amp caught fire. And then someone from the crew in the theatre rushed on with a fire extinguisher to try to put it out! Luckily, my guitar tech grabbed him and said: ‘No! No! We don’t want that!’ [laughs] That was a very surreal moment, but I always ran two heads anyway, so I still finished the gig.”

Robin Trower’s new album, Coming Closer To The Day, is out 22 March on Provogue.

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