Procol Harum

the Pale

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Gary Brooker's remarks re AWSoP

Nick Hasted in Uncut • February 2008

I’d been listening to a lot of classical music, and jazz. Having played rock and R’n’B for years, my vistas had opened up. When I met Keith, seeing his words, I thought, ‘I’d like to write something to that’. They weren’t obvious, but that doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know what he means, as long as you communicate an atmosphere. A Whiter Shade of Pale seemed to be about two people, a relationship even. It’s a memory. There was a leaving, and a sadness about it. To get the soul of those lyrics across vocally, to make people feel that, was quite an accomplishment.

I remember the day it arrived; four very long stanzas. I thought, ‘Here’s something.’ I happened to be at the piano when I read them, already playing a musical idea. It fitted the lyrics within a couple of hours. Things can be gifted. If you trace the chordal element, it does a bar or two of Bach’s Air on a G String before it veers off. That spark was all it took. I wasn’t consciously combining rock with classical, it’s just that Bach’s music was in me.

Many things made it a hit. We were lucky in the studio. It was only a four-track recording: drums and bass, guitar and piano, organ, then the vocal. When I sing the chorus, because it’s loud, it comes through one of the other mics too, so the sound changes at that moment. We tried to re-record it, but we couldn’t get that sound – that atmosphere.

Perhaps there wouldn’t have been a Summer of Love without A Whiter Shade of Pale. It was all a bit of a mish-mash until then. But in May ’67, the world came together. That’s one way of looking at it. There’s no doubt it was off-the-wall, it didn’t come from a trend of any sort. A lot of other musicians were impressed by it, because it was so unexpected. – the song and the sound and the lyrics. You could go to another DJ somewhere and hear [Scott McKenzie’s] ‘If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair’. Well, A Whiter Shade of Pale is not that. We weren’t prepared for its success. It was so quick, so immediate, all over the world. The song and its success was not a simple thing. People wanted to know so much from us. ‘What’s it about?’ Even our name raised a question.

If there was ever any question over credits, that should have been sorted out on the day. Of course A Whiter Shade of Pale has improvisation on it, from the rehearsals. But it was based on my ideas, music and playing. A lot of things came out in the court case about Matthew Fisher. I couldn’t imagine how I managed to work with him at any time. Whenever we went on the road he was so miserable, we were glad to see the back of him when he left in ’69. And when he came back over the years, it came out in court that he did so for entirely mercenary reasons. And still harbouring a discontent, which was never, ever voiced. How can anybody be like that? How can anybody have lived that long, and not said something?

More participants' statements from the 2008 Uncut article | More about the AWSoP lawsuit | Subscribe to the excellent Uncut magazine here



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