Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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I turned pale effort into a cult classic, says organist

Lucy Bannerman in the Times 15 November 2006


A FORMER drummer from Procol Harum told the High Court yesterday of the “before” and “after” versions of A Whiter Shade of Pale in which it was transformed from an unknown demo into a worldwide hit.

Robert Harrison, 67, who had been with the band at its peak, spoke of how the original material sounded significantly different after the addition of the Hammond organ.

The song, released in 1967, is the subject of a legal battle between Gary Brooker, the vocalist and co-writer, and Matthew Fisher, a computer programmer, who claims that he deserves an authorship credit for providing the single’s organ instrumental.

Mr Harrison was himself engaged in a legal battle with Mr Brooker for royalty rights before a confidential settlement in 1969. Yesterday in court he recalled visiting Mr Brooker in 1967, when the musician played him material recorded before Mr Fisher’s arrival. Mr Harrison said: “There was bass, drums and piano, but I don’t remember a Hammond. I think it is significant because it didn’t have the organ on it.” When he heard the song later at his audition, it had been transformed by the organ. “That’s when I heard the difference,” he said.

Mr Brooker and Keith Reid, who share the authorship rights, approached Mr Fisher, an organist, because they believed the Hammond would give them a unique sound.

Mr Harrison saw the vocalist as the leader of Procol Harum, but the organ player as a key member, the court was told: “I was always under the impression that Matthew was one of the main writers of the band.”

Picture by Ben GurrEarlier, Mr Fisher told the court that he felt aggrieved not only because of alleged unpaid royalties, estimated at 1 million but also because he had has lost his place in British musical history. He said: “It was not until the mid-1980s that the song began to acquire its cult classic status. Here we have a song which is going to go down in history which ought to have my name on it, and it doesn’t.”

Asked under cross-examination whether he made the claim only after nearly four decades of reaping the benefits as a member of Procol Harum, Mr Fisher replied: “That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard. If I could go back in time, I would not have joined Procol Harum, I would have joined another band.”

When Andrew Sutcliffe, QC, representing Mr Brooker, put it to Mr Fisher that when the song was first presented at rehearsal, it was complete, and featured the distinctive Bach-inspired introduction, he replied: “The writing Keith and Gary were doing needed fleshing up. I reject any suggestion that there was any memorable tune.”

Mr Fisher did not deny that it had been Mr Brooker’s original idea to compose a song based on Bach’s compositions Air on a G-String and Sleepers Awake. He said: “I thought that was brilliant, but he didn’t really have the background to carry it through to its conclusion. I came in to finish the job.

“If you take out my contributions, you would have had a song that would never have been released. We’re getting into this fiction that he wrote this tune and I just adapted it. That is completely false.”

The hearing continues.
 


More about the AWSoP lawsuit

 

 

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