Courtroom clash over 60s classic
Adelaide Now, 14 November 2006
A CLASSIC of 1960s hippydom, Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale,
was at the centre of a less-than-peace-and-love tussle as former band
members fought over the rights in a London court.
The swirling chords of the semi-psychedelic tune echoed through the High
Court as the band's organist Matthew Fisher made his case for his fair share
of the income generated by the 1967 hit.
Fisher, 60, brought the action against Gary Brooker, Procol Harum's singer,
who is defending his claim to being the sole writer of the tune. Fisher
wants half the copyright and earnings.
“We are dealing with one of the most successful pop songs ever written by
British artists. In the minds of many it defines the summer of love of
1967,” said lawyer Iain Purvis, representing the organist.
Brooker originally based his tune on Johann Sebastian Bach's Air on a G
String, which he is said to have heard on an advertisement for Hamlet
cigars, and Bach's Sleepers Awake.
But Fisher, a classically-trained musician who is now a computer programmer,
claims he wrote the organ solo at the start of the song and made changes to
Brooker's chord sequence.
“Mr Fisher now seeks a declaration that he is entitled to a share - an equal
share in the musical copyright for the song as originally recorded,” said
Brooker contests the claim, arguing that it is “extraordinary” that Fisher -
who left the band in 1969 - is bringing the case after nearly 40 years.
A keyboard was installed in the courtroom for Fisher to illustrate his
contribution to the song, while the judge said he would be playing the tune
from sheet music, but in the privacy of his own chambers during an
Purvis dismissed questions over why the organist had waited four decades
before making his claim.
He cited evidence showing that Fisher had pointed out in newspaper
interviews as early as 1973 that he had never been credited for his organ
part contribution to the song.
“He has consistently maintained that he wrote the organ solo,” said Purvis.
“What he hasn't done until now is come to court to seek a declaration as to
his legal status as a result of making that contribution.
Asked by the judge why Fisher had waited to long to make the claim, he said
the musician was “not an expert on the law of copyright”, the implications
of which did not become generally known until comparatively recently.