Procul Harum

the Pale 

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Air of unreality

Croydon Advertiser, 23 February 2001

Photo caption:

Matthew Fisher: the former Procul [sic] Harum guitarist [sic] is now a computer programmer

The front room of a quiet Croydon house provided the artistic base for one of pop's most enduring jukebox classics. Addiscombe-born Matthew Fisher, keyboard player for Procul Harum and now living in Croydon, was the brains behind the opening bars of the 1967 hit, A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Fisher helped explained the story behind the 250 seconds of pure pop psychedelia. 'By the time I had the idea for the intro, we had been rehearsing a song for quite a while.

'Originally this song was going to be ten minutes long with various piano and organ solos. We realised that we had to cut the song so I just put all the best bits together in my front room one day.'

Pop completists may be intrigued to know that classical music played a key part in forming one of the most distinctive intros in pop.

He said, 'I've always loved Bach's B Minor Mass. I never get tired of it. I first heard it when I was 13 and I'm still listening to it now. The intro came really from that and a few other scraps of music that I liked.

'We did all know that it sounded like Air on a G-string by that point.'

The song, which topped the charts for six weeks and was eventually knocked off the top spot by the Beatles' All You Need Is Love, has become an enduring if bewildering pop legend.

Fisher said: 'It's still on most pub jukeboxes which isn't bad for a song which is 33 years old. It's all the more surprising considering that it's hardly a karaoke classic!

'It was a magic, fluke record. You could never equal it or improve on it.'

He couldn't unfortunately shed any clues on the song's lyrics which have baffled pop pickers for over 30 years.

'I have no idea at all. It never bothered me what the lyrics meant. It's a great record but not a great song. By that I mean, it hasn't really been improved on by a big artist in the same way that Aretha Franklin took Otis Redding's Respect and did a better version.

'I've heard Joe Cocker do a version of A Whiter Shade of Pale which was OK. But even Tom Jones sung [sic] a version! Don't get me wrong, I love Tom Jones, but his version just didn't work at all.'

Fisher also laughed off any higher meaning behind the song's lyrics. 'There are a lot of things you can get from the song. You could look at the mood of the piece while some people try to make sense of the words. Others try to look on it at an emotional level while some people think they can dance to it.'

But after tripping the light fandango all way to number one with Procul Harum back in June 1967, Fisher, 54, has now hung up his mixing desks to concentrate on his new career as a computer programmer.

After gaining a degree in computer science from Cambridge University in 1995, Fisher is now a full-time computer programmer writing databases.

He said, ' I was always interested in computers and had also regretted not going to university.

'To be honest, though, I got a bit sick with the music business as a whole. It's run too much now by marketing people who are more concerned with how the band looks than what it sounds like.

'If I was 18 years old again, I wouldn't want to go into the music business now.'

Fisher was born in Moreland Avenue, Addiscombe, next to the Sir Philip Game Boys' Club, and has fond memories of his early visits there: 'I remember going to see Roy Hudd in there. It seemed amazing to me how it took him so long to make it to the big time because he was the only reason our family went there!

'I first saw him on TV in about 1962 and I realised that he was doing the same act we saw at the Boys' Club.'

After playing for various groups in the south London area, Fisher joined Procul Harum in October 1966, eventually leaving in 1969 to pursue various solo projects.

The band reformed again in 1989, and still play occasional gigs across Europe.

'Sometimes I get a phone call for example to play a gig in Antwerp for example, but to be honest, I'm not interested any more in doing music for money, it's just for fun now.'

Though Fisher is now more interest in programmes than pop, the Procul legend still lives on.

He said: 'It still amuses me when I get asked to play A Whiter Shade of Pale at weddings. It really is a record where you can make your own interpretation.'

 (Thanks, Chris Groom, for letting BtP have material from your 'Local Procol' Croydon exhibition)

More Procol History in print at BtP 




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