Matthew Fisher ... singing with Procol ... recording the Black Album ... this is part three of this article: for the rest, see here
JV: When did you find the Stratocaster? Now that's all you play.
When I was on tour with Procol, we were opening for Jethro Tull and Martin (Barre), the guitar player from Jethro, had one as a spare. I just picked it up one day at sound check and plugged it in to my amp and was like "Ooohhh." It was very sort of vocal, voicey kind of sound, the Strat had that and it immediately appealed to me.
JV: Not as spread as the Les Paul would be, it's really pointed more. Were Marshalls what you were playing at the time?
I was playing Hi-Watt at the time.
JV: What are you playing through now?
Marshalls. At the moment I'm using two 800s and one 900.
JV: And your Fenders?
They're made for me at Fender, the Custom Shop, but some of them are really getting on quite a lot there. Some of them are ten, twelve, fifteen years old. I've got one they made for me about four or five years ago that I use a lot.
JV: You played the 3-bolt jobs for years and got a great sound out of it.
What I used to do originally, this was in the seventies, before they would make stuff for you, I would go to Manny's and try a dozen out and pick one or two. You really had to look to find one that really worked well.
JV: Before people weren't getting into "I'll just load it with new pick-ups or I'll just have my guy do this or that." There was no such thing.
I would make sure they sounded good acoustically first and then go from there.
JV: And if they feel right. Was the weight ever a problem for you?
You usually find the ones that sound nice acoustically are just a bit lighter, but that was the way I used to go. I wasn't so into what the neck felt like, to be honest, it was more the sound.
ML: How did Matthew Fisher end up being your producer?
Because he did such a great job on Salty Dog, and I wanted to work with someone I was comfortable with. I didn't want some stranger coming in.
ML: Is that him intoning that poem on Bridge of Sighs?
No, that's me. I was actually reading something out of a magazine backwards (laughs).
JV: A lot of artists aren't aware of everything that is out on them. Are you aware of a record called This Was Now '74 - 98?
Oh yeah, I put that together.
JV: I think it's really great. It's funny on The Bridge of Sighs where there's no vocal because the PA wasn't on or something.
Something didn't get recorded there but we thought it's worth putting in. I wanted to put that on because it was a good solo at the end of it, but mostly I wanted that '74 show to come out cause Jimmy's singing is so spectacular. He was at his absolute peak there live, fantastic.
JV: Is he ill now?
Yes, he had a stroke. He doesn't do anything any more.
JV: I want to ask you about Paul Page and how you guys got together cause it seems like you guys work really well together.
Yeah, we were fantastic together.
JV: Now is he a drummer, and a bass player and keyboard player? Was he one of those multi-instrumentalists?
No he didn't play drums but he is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays very good guitar, great bass, and he can find his way around a keyboard.
JV: Who shares vocals on that with you, on the new album?
That's Richard Watts. He does three tracks on that.
JV: But you're doing most of the singing which I really like.
Well thank you very much.
JV: I don't want a phone call from Mark Knopfler but if he can do it, you certainly can. And Bob Dylan has made it OK for all of us.
ML: The first song you sang would be on Shine on Brightly when you do the vocal with Brooker on Wishing Well.
Yes, that's the first bit of singing I did on record.
ML: And then on Crucifiction Lane.
Yeah, I think there's something about a guy singing his own songs. I actually started singing on the previous album called Someday Blues. The blues should be a very personal statement and I thought I'd have a go at the vocals and no one seemed to sort of cringe too much.
ML: Let's talk about 20th Century Blues.
What we did with that album was we worked on the material on the road, worked it all into the set, and then we just went into the studio and banged it all down in a couple of days.
ML: I like the singer. What's his name?
Livingston Brown, he's a bass player.
JV: On the new album, Into Dust, the playing is beautiful. People should buy this record. It's so rare we can talk to someone and really like their new material, and not have to lie about it. It's hard to say what the best album is, although we know Bridge of Sighs was probably the most popular album at the time it came out. Maybe because there was radio for good records at the time. I know you mentioned something on the King Biscuit record how that really makes the difference in how artists can't really be heard today as easily.
No. But maybe now with the internet we can reach people a bit better. Radio has become so corporate now. It isn't personalized, people playing the music they like.
JV: Do you have a stand on this Napster thing going on with people downloading records for free? Is it promotional, or is it a rip-off?
I think it's probably promotional, it's just sort of what the radio used to do. You used to tape off the radio anyway. The point being if you could reach people you normally wouldn't reach, then it's a good thing. I need to be able to have an outlet somewhere. Radio is quite difficult for me and what I do.
JV: How big was coming to America for Procol Harum? Whiter Shade of Pale was released in England first, of course.
It was a huge thing. I think it was released in '67.
JV: It was a hard album to find. The album that I had didn't have the single on it.
I don't think any album ever had that single on it.
JV: Until later, they stuck it on there in the second pressing.
ML: You must've enjoyed playing on Repent Walpurgis.
Yeah, it was a lot of fun to cut that album.
JV: It always seemed like it was an organ the first half, and then guitar the second half. It seemed like a formula that was happening with Procol Harum. Even on Kaleidoscope. It was like the guitar player could step out and do the cool Robin Trower thing. That was the hip part about the solos with Procol Harum.
ML: A few years ago there was a benefit in New York and Gary Brooker was one of the people performing and Jimmy (Vivino) played your guitar parts.
JV: I got my gold top out and I ordered up a Marshall for the gig. I couldn't find a red one. That night at the Fillmore mesmerized me (I think you played a show with the Byrds). I was there to see Al Kooper and Procol Harum and I couldn't keep my eyes off of that gold top, and your sound was giant. It was never that big on records.
It's quite hard to capture it. Even when you play loudish, it's hard to capture. In fact on the new record, I cheat, and I don't play particularly loud.
JV: So your ears are pretty good now still?
I wouldn't say that. I think I'm starting to lose a little bit. But it's very hard to capture the sounds. Bridge Of Sighs, for instance, was done in a very big room. And the engineer would have mics spaced all the way down the room to capture it.
JV: Would the whole Procol Harum band play the track.
JV: As big as Procol Harum was in the States when you came over as a solo act, about the time of Bridge Of Sighs, it was huge. Bigger that Procol Harum ever was. Am I right?
Yeah, it was very successful. I think we got off into stadiums too early and there were enough people to come and see us, but I just don't think we were ready. I actually think it was playing stadiums that actually killed me off creatively.
JV: You feel you couldn't connect with the people at all?
It's the sound that you get in those huge places; it's not conducive to creating music. It becomes a job or work.