Conquistador Films is a small independent company writing and making film projects for Canadian TV; it is run by Hammond aficionado Will Fraser who – since encountering a certain teacher of English Literature in Bristol, UK, during the early 1990s – has been an ardent Procol Harum enthusiast : hence the name of his company, which also reflects the Colonial feel and the inherent violence of many of the projects dearest to his heart.
Having met Matthew Fisher at Shepherds Bush, Will began the transition from cathedral music (he was organist at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge) to rock; he consulted Matthew before he bought his first Hammond (a battered L100); following this he recorded half-a-dozen pieces of Bach on the organ at St Catharine's College – arguably the best of many at Cambridge University – with Fisher's mobile DAT service, giving up his bed to the maestro during these sessions! Fisher was later to join Will in the organ-loft at Westminster Abbey when the latter played the Bach and Reger passacaglias for the Epiphany Service in 1998.
Following the Redhill concert, and seduced by the glorious profile of the B3 onstage at the Harlequin, Will acquired a venerable AB Hammond, serial No 0003, dating from 1938: this burst into flames when he plugged it into his slightly less venerable Leslie 145. Shortly after 'this galling moment' as he recalls it, Fraser left the UK to work at the Toronto Film Festival, since when his career has taken more of a filmic than a musical direction.
But the organ enthusiasm has welled up inexorably in his first released work: a short film entitled Tonewheel (its working title was The Red Hammond) deals with a recording-studio owner who wants to sell his Hammond and buy a digital keyboard, and whose roadie rebels and refuses to shift it. In the course of the film's fourteen minutes and 22 seconds the instrument is played in three different bands: this film has been bought by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and will be shown twice before the end of 2001: more news when we have it.
A second project is called Soul Searching for the Blues, pre-bought and developed by Vision TV, and also pre-bought by Bravo! and Saskatchewan Cable Network. This is a documentary focussing on the absurdly accomplished Hammond player Bruce Katz (lately piano player with Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, and also organist with Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters) and his quartet (bass, drums, and guitar). Will was delighted (but not surprised!) to discover that Katz – also a music professor at Berkeley – was an enormous Procol Harum fan: Fisher's name came up initially in a discussion of the expressive potential of the Leslie half-moon switch, in a consideration of classical v Romantic playing.
In order to raise interest in this project Will staged a Katz concert in Halifax, at the Marquee Club – for which a B3 was flown up courtesy of Goff Professional in Connecticut, the best-respected Hammond restorers in the United States, whose customers include Greg Allmann and Keith Emerson.
'There were plenty of B3s locally,' said Will, 'but I couldn't ask Bruce Katz to use an instrument with transistor Leslie; Goff flew up a 122, with the classic 60s valve sound, and it blew everyone away. Halifax had never heard anything like it: he played until 2.30 am, and I have 140 minutes'-worth of musical dynamite ready to release. It's not just a Hammond album, though: he plays pretty astonishing Professor Longhair piano too, as well as writing his own material.'
'Katz and his band rated this concert as one of the high points of their career,' Will reports, 'having started with a Blues Club full of people who had no idea what to expect, and totally winning them over.' As well as being filmed with some five cameras, the entire concert was captured on tape by the CBC Mobile Unit, and should become available during the year 2000.
BtP rates this recording very highly and will make every effort to keep Palers informed of its progress towards release ... as we shall with the two film-projects detailed above.
Twenty years on, at the helm of Fugue State Films, Will has become the undisputed king of organ documentary film-making: check his amazing catalogue here
'We have won best DVD in the BBC Music Magazine Awards twice, the Deutschen Schallplattenkritikpreis three times; and we even made the six o’clock news in New Zealand'