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the Pale 

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 A Whiter Shade of Pale • The Professor Speaks his Mind

Chris Copping writes to BtP


I have no financial interest in the A Whiter Shade of Pale ruling.

Neither was I around when Brooker met Reid.

Somewhere between 1966 and 1967 I bumped into Robin Trower, who was rehearsing a three piece blues band called The Jam (long before the other one) at the London Hotel, Southend. I asked him what Gary (Brooker) was doing and he said something about Guy Stevens.

I heard a tune about half-way through, on a transistor radio, in mid-1967. It had a great lead vocal and a great organ sound – I thought it was Steve Winwood's new group (so did a few others). Then I heard Traffic's first single then heard the first number again on Top of the Pops, and saw that it was my old friend.

Then I heard the First Album.

But it was the second album, Shine on Brightly, that bowled me over: I could not stop playing it. Likewise with the third album, A Salty Dog. The band were then about to do their first gig in England for a long time. It was in Parliament Hill Fields, not far from where I was living (Waltham Abbey, where I met up with Gary Brooker, whom I had not seen for two or three years. We kept in touch after that.)

Around August/September 1969 I received a phone call from Robin, a phone call that was to change my life. He asked me to join the band. When he said to play organ and bass I almost fell off my seat. It was explained that Matthew did not particularly enjoy touring and had made a superb start to his producing career with A Salty Dog. He wished to continue producing the band. So it was hoped that I could keep the organ seat warm whilst adding a bit of blues and improvisation in the bass department.

By 1971 Robin had left and we were back to a five-piece on stage with me playing organ. AWSoP was invariably played in one of the encores and I estimate I would have played it over 100 times a year for around five years. So I am rather familiar with it.

I have written down on music paper the notes that Matthew played, the notes from the Bach Air and from his Cantata BMV 140. The first two-and-a-half bars in AWSoP (and for that matter in When a Man Loves a Woman) share the same chords as the Air from Bach's Orchestral Suite #3. And the first melody note is the major third lasting four beats in AWSoP and eight beats in the Air. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth bars share the same harmonic structure as bars 9, 10, 11 and 12 of the Cantata. They also share the same notes (admittedly with altered time values).

So we are talking about re-composing and decomposing. I guess Matthew can claim responsibility for the seven notes of bar two connecting basically the two Bach themes. He can also claim responsibility for bars 7 and 8 and a change of chord for the first half of the eighth bar (from a C to a G).

And that sort of stuck as the famous intro. And let me be the first to say that Fisher was a fantastic organist – a great musician altogether – but he did not compose all of that melody. He did play it beautifully with a unique registration and a good recording – my favourite part of the organ is when it switches from gothic to gospel and back on the choruses.

However having to play this a hundred times a year I often enjoyed having 'a bit of a blow' particularly on the second organ break. I could not match Fisher's brilliance but it was fun trying. And I did smile sometimes.

Last but not least – I recently recorded an 'unplugged' version of AWSoP (no drums or organ – just acoustic instruments.) There was none of the organ melody. And the intro was half the length of that on 'The Work'. There was no gap between the first and second verses. After the second verse there is a dobro and harmonica instrumental section which does in fact borrow from an entirely different piece of music. But the important point is that there was now a space to put the magic third verse in – the one that ties the lyrics together (ie a relationship being at sea – the only reference before to anything nautical before that is 'I was feeling kind of seasick' in verse 1)

If anyone then still fails to make any sense of the lyrics I would advise they avoid the works of Keats, Shelley etc.

I think, in a fair world, a redistribution of playing royalties would be more appropriate. The guitar is inaudible but for the seventh and eighth bars of the chorus. The guitar, piano and maybe left-hand organ sort of mix into chordal mush.

I would say 10% for the guitarist would be generous.

The drums were a huge part of the record but it is and was up to a session player to state his terms (Bernard Purdy would not have done it for scale – that's for sure). So that's that.

As for the band's drummer – he's not on it – or the first album; he's only on the AWSoP 'B' side. So some sort of pay-out but no royalties for the 'A' side.

The bass really just follows Brooker's left hand, nothing flash but it is in tune, in time and audible: 20% for that man.

I would suggest that the remaining playing royalties of 70% be split equally between Fisher and Brooker.

And finally because of Fisher's improvisation on bars 2, 7 and 8: let him have the ring tones.

(thanks, Chris)

More about the AWSoP lawsuit




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