Procol Harum

Beyond
the Pale

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He turned A Whiter Shade of Pale

Captain Sensible • April 2008


It is with dismay that I read the other day that my old chum Matthew Fisher, former organist of prog rockers Procol Harum has lost his claim to a share of the royalties on A Whiter Shade of Pale from the band’s singer Gary Brooker at the Court of Appeal in London.

Yes, there is a locomotive named after him!When I started my solo “pop” career in the ’80s it was in Matthew’s studio just up the road from my humble abode in Croydon that I commenced recording in, striking up a great working relationship with the virtuoso from the word go. I found we had two important things in common: first, he was a bit…well…weird and wonderful I suppose sums him up. Second, and more importantly, we both liked a beer…or twelve.

And it would be during the odd recreational break in the proceedings that his discontent with that song’s publishing situation would occasionally rear its ugly head. I wouldn’t exactly say he was bitter – more hurt, really – that his former colleague would not consent to his name being added to the song-writing credits. Anybody who has heard A Whiter Shade of Pale (is there anyone who hasn’t, I wonder?) would have to agree that it is Fisher’s beautiful flowing Hammond organ lines that have made the tune so phenomenally successful over the years…and not the somewhat forgettable original song with its mumbo jumbo, druggy sounding lyrics about nothing much in particular.

Everyone who has ever been in a band knows how thorny a subject publishing credits can become, and indeed Brooker fought tooth and nail throughout the long and costly trial (500,000…kaching, another nice fat payday for the bloke in the wig) to persuade the court that it was solely his genius as a tunesmith that had propelled the hit single into music history – but I have to say I don’t have the titles of any of his other pop sensations on the tip of my tongue…do you?

A popular locomotive with the ladies, evidentlyNo, for me the swirling Hammond is the song; in fact if you ask the man in the street how the tune goes, they will instantly sing you the organ line, and not the old waffle about dancing “fandangos” with “vestal virgins”. Unfortunately, Lord Justice Mummery (a right groover no doubt) decided that even though Matthew’s name would now be rightfully included as a songwriter, he would leave the royalty situation as it was when the record was released in 1967 – a bizarre anomaly, I think you’ll agree. And with the record having been a staple of classic hits radio the World over ever since then, you can imagine that the sums of money we are talking about here are pretty colossal.

But lawyers say some funny stuff to back up their cases don’t they? Brooker’s were coming out with stuff like, “well, if you judge in favour of Mr Fisher in this case then every session musician who ever played on a bestseller would be thumbing through the Yellow Pages to find a legal team to sue for a share of the publishing of that record”…a scenario that would of course cause chaos in “showbiz” circles – and commence the popping of champagne corks over at the chambers of Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Runne.

Although I’m not sure it’s too likely that all those former school-kid singers on Another Brick in the Wall will be demanding their share of Roger Water’s earnings because – going back to the song in question – A Whiter Shade of Pale is an utterly unique case. The organ melody does more than embellish the piece; it transcends and enhances the song out of all recognition, and I reckon my mate Matthew should be given his long overdue slice of the not inconsiderable cake forthwith!

The fact that the fabulously melodic organ lines in question also owe more than the odd nod to the works of Johan Sebastian Bach is neither here or there as he is no longer around these days to stake a claim for his cut of the proceeds…ahem.

Pip pip,
Captain S

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