Procol Harum

the Pale

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A Whiter Shade of Pale

Gary Brooker and Denny Cordell comment

On 27 March 2002 BBC Radio 4 in the UK broadcast the penultimate programme in their series, Repeat 'Till Fade, concerning the enduring appeal of A Whiter Shade of Pale.

It was an interesting programme, assembled collage-style with no editorial comment, including comments from musicians, lighting-men, and DJs. BtP has extracted the bits featuring Gary Brooker and Denny Cordell, which you can hear compiled on an mp3 by clicking here. If you want to hear the entire fifteen-minute programme, and can endure the download, then click here.

BtP asked: "If anyone 'out there' would like to transcribe the Brooker and Cordell bits, for the common good, that would be very welcome indeed!" The response came not from a BtP regular but from the very kind Jeandrι in South Africa ... welcome aboard! ... whose website you can visit here.

[Background music: A Whiter Shade of Pale]

Voice of DJ Dave Jansen talking all over the intro
I've written a little clue on here, it says "Instant instrumental start." That – I mean, as if I didn't know! – is to shut me up – we don't want somebody talking all over the intro, do we, really?

[Background music: Air on a G String]

Gary Brooker
I like the big stuff, you know ... 1812 [The Tchaikovsky overture], maximum volume, [background music: AWSoP] out of huge speakers, and Bach I found one of the most fascinating composers. Whenever I heard something by him it just seemed to, ring in my ears very nicely. [Background music: Air on a G String] About that time, late '66, I'd started to write songs, and I started off by trying to play, I think, Air on a G string, and got it a bit wrong I think, I mean and I sort of remembered how the bass line went a bit, and I was stabbing [Background music: GB plays piano] around on the top. The bass line I had just kept going down, suddenly I found I got to the beginning of the bass run again, so I just kept it going [Background music: Air on a G string]. At the same time almost, as I'd started that, Keith Reid had sent me a couple of new sets of lyrics – massively long: four very, very large verses. I just sung it over the top of what I was playing on the piano in a kind of a bluesy way, putting in little bits of Bach on the piano here and there, in the in-betweens. [Background music: piano AWSoP, then a version with some rather blowsy trumpets]

Then after a while I thought we can't do this all the way through, [Background music: PH AWSoP] so I just actually just stuck that little triplet in, which leads in to what is – probably would be – known as the chorus, but in fact the chords were still exactly the same. And Matthew Fisher, the Hammond organist, joined Procol Harum at that point, and Matthew of course, he'd been at Guildhall School of Music, he felt immediately what I was trying to get at here as well, and when he played the organ, we kind of refined it between the whole band over the course of a few weeks.

[Background music: an easy-listening version of AWSoP] That's the strange thing about Hammond, that you have exactly the same sound setting, and yet it still somehow sounds different, so it's the way people play – the way they move from one note to the other, the little flicks you can get with the action of a Hammond organ. They kind of add an extra colour to it. Normally in A Whiter Shade of Pale, normally with the Hammond organ, the Leslie – which is a rotating speaker, it goes around quite slowly, that creates almost a Doppler effect as it goes round. The glissandos, which are the bits that lead into the chorus where you sweep your hands up and down all of the keys very quickly, two or three times, and at the same time you switch the fast Leslie on, like a fast tremolo. [Background: PH AWSoP chorus]. That's what Matthew did with that, he switched it on, then switched it off, near the end of the chorus, and it kind of makes you relax back down again.

Diana Mosely, voice-over
"That her face at first just ghostly / turned a whiter shade of pale"

Gary Brooker
Denny Cordell produced A Whiter Shade of Pale, as record producer. I know he did Go Now for the Moody Blues.

Denny Cordell
They brought me the demo, and the only thing that was wrong with the demo was the time. You know the arrangement was already there, and Matthew Fisher had done his organ bit perfectly, and there was a middle verse as well which kind of made the thing about seven minutes long. [Background music: several bits from covers including Annie Lennox's] And so, my contribution, outside of getting the sounds together, was suggesting that Bill Eyden, who was Georgie Fame's drummer at the time, should play drums on it. We used to try and crib the Stax sound, but at the time, on Whiter Shade of Pale – was that I was trying to copy When a Man Loves a Woman by Percy Sledge [Background music: GB plays, When a Man Loves a Woman, segue into the P Sledge version.]

Gary Brooker
It was – if you like from one aspect – it was a soul ballad. [Background music: AWSoP, perhaps Bonnie Tyler?] I think that each couplet, that a little image is drawn. Really you can make that what it wants to be in your own head. I mean I liked them from the moment I set eyes on them. It was interesting because it was so long, in fact we only used two verses out of four, we missed a bit of the story there [laughs].

So it was that later "as the miller told his tale", I don't really know what that means, whoever's telling the story suddenly stands back, almost a third person, but then suddenly for that chorus bit, it's as if somebody else's looked in and said "and so it was / that later / as the miller told his tale / that her face at first just ghostly / turned a whiter shade of pale".

I don't know is there any Chaucer in it, I doubt it.

I was almost there, you know. 'How do I feel about it now?' ... I was almost there talking about it then [laughs].

We were blessed with a lucky recording there.

Voice of DJ Dave Jansen
And a record that will never fade away, actually.


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