Procol Harum

the Pale

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Brooker and Fisher interviewed by Eddie Mair

BBC Radio 4's 'PM' programme • 4 April 2008

These are two very revealing and significant interviews with Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher; be sure to listen to the mp3 files as well as following the transcript, as there is much interest and information in the rhythms and nuances of all three voices.

Mp3 file part one

Eddie Mair, respected Radio 4 anchor-man

Now, a little sooner than we’d hoped, a legal battle over one of the biggest songs of the 1967 'Summer of Love' finally came to a dead-end today. The lead singer of Procol Harum, Gary Brooker, won his court battle to reclaim full royalty rights to A Whiter Shade of Pale. Two years ago the High Court granted forty percent of the musical copyright to Mathew Fisher, who contributed the organ theme to the song. But today, as I say, the Appeal Court overturned that, saying he was entitled to co-authorship, but not to royalties. Well this afternoon I heard from both men: first, Gary Brooker.

Gary Brooker, appellant in the recent Appeal Court case
A Whiter Shade of Pale
was written by Keith Reid and myself in, um, early 1967. When we came to form our group and find all the members in it, for Procol Harum, we rehearsed that song and the people that were involved in the band at the time, that were part of the group, all played the bits that the song required – and off we went, recorded it, and lo and behold had a big hit a few weeks later.

And did you ... know it was good when you wrote it?

Yeah, I was um old enough, 'cos I was about 19 or 20, to think that everything I did was great. So you were (chuckles) the idea then was to be successful with something, and you wrote songs because you thought they were good. Yes.

What does it mean to you, the actual song (we’re going to come on to talk about everything else in just a second). But if it appears on the radio now, do you turn the radio up or do you turn it off?

No, it um, I mean I don’t hear it that often but, um, when it comes on I think ‘What a good sound that still is,’ and it still does sound remarkable.

And so we have this question about royalties; you told us a little bit about the writing of the song. When did you first realise that Matthew Fisher had a problem with this?

In two thousand and … and five, really, is when I got a letter … I think there had been a mooting of it the year before, or six months before … in oh-four … but two thousand and five I got a writ … having always thought that I’d written it, and that never having been challenged in any different form … although I’d worked with Matthew, of course, over forty years. It was a big surprise, and one which I absolutely wanted to defend. When somebody writes a song, and then people go in and interpret it, and play it in their way, you know, because that’s what they’re paid to do, it doesn’t mean that you have composed it. I mean I don’t think the trumpet-player on Penny Lane went and asked Lennon and McCartney for part of their royalties.

What do you think his motivation has been?

Well that’s very hard to say. I’m not in his head, and he’s never discussed it with me personally. I would think – from what I can gather of what he’s said, and what he’s said in court – he’s always had – I wouldn't call it a grudge – but he’s always felt that he should have been recognised for playing the organ on A Whiter Shade of Pale. I always thought he had been recognised for playing the organ. Nobody else played it. Matthew played it.

I’m guessing that one-to-one conversation … is is … the possibility of that is past. Do wish you’d been able to, the two of you, speak about this a long time ago?

Of course I would have liked to do that. I tried that even before it got to court this time … but it didn’t happen … he ... I was the only one that turned up.

You arranged a meeting?

Yes, yes.

What effect is all of this having on you?

I mean at my age … I won’t beat around the bush, I’m 62, and I was rather hoping that I’d dedicated myself to music for long enough to be able to sort of start to wind down a bit. And as you can imagine a case like this is the complete opposite of that.

How draining has it been?

I’m not too worried about myself … it’s hard playing on stage and it’s hard bearing up with this stuff. It’s sometimes people around me I get worried about.

Your family?

Yes. Yessir.

This song … it’s obviously what this court case is about … but it’s much more than the sum of its parts for you now, isn’t it?

Yes; I won’t say I’ve 'dedicated my life to Whiter Shade of Pale’ but it’s always been a part of it and I’ve sung it and played it, not just with Procol Harum, but with many, many other big-star bands, and different artists, and it’s always had a place in my heart and soul. And I hope that it can stay there, because it's ... er ... it seems to be in heart and soul of people not just in Britain but all over the world as well.

But could any of that be taken away by Matthew Fisher being successful in court?

Not really, because the truth is the truth. The truth is what you believe, and I know what’s true.

Well that’s how things look from Gary Brooker’s point of view; shortly after we recorded that interview Matthew Fisher agreed to talk to PM.

Mp3 file part two

Matthew Fisher, defendant in the recent Appeal Court case
My motivation never was financial … now let’s be clear about this … it’s not that I don’t think I deserve any money, but I wouldn’t have done it just for the money. What really spurred me on was that I … you know … I was fed up with my name not being on the song that I wrote. And … er … there was no other way I could have got this. I mean Gary Brooker would never ever have agreed or even, even owned up that I (guffaw) any part of that until he was actually put into the witness box and cross-examined by a QC and that’s when, finally, the truth came out of his own lips. And that ... that just wouldn’t have happened any other way.

What is the truth?

Well the truth is that I wrote the entire organ part, from beginning to end.

As he tells it, it’s a bit like the trumpet player on Penny Lane saying that he wrote that song.

I’m sorry, but I don’t think anyone bought Penny Lane just for the trumpet part, did they?

How significant was your role?

I would say it’s absolutely essential. I mean – basically when I joined the band they had this song that was really a bit of a white elephant and no one was quite sure what to do with it. It was very slow, it was very long, it was very rambling; there were four verses, and it … sort of … nobody really thought it had any potential at all. But I had this kind of particular style of organ-playing which is now … if you … people hear it ‘Oh yes,’ they say. ‘Procol Harum organ’. Well it wasn’t Procol Harum organ, it was Matthew Fisher organ. And I introduced that sound to that song, and all of a sudden everyone started saying ‘Oh, that Whiter Shade of Pale, it’s sounding rather good now, isn’t it?’ And when we decided to make a single, I went one step further, and said ‘Well I’m … think I will construct a definitive solo, because that’ll make it more ... commercial; you know. And um … er … it wasn’t … I was very slow to kind of cotton on to what had happened. It was only, afterwards, when I was, after the record was Number One, and we were in the music publisher’s, and I suddenly saw a copy of the sheet music, they said ‘Well we’ve got the sheet music proof, would you like to see it?’ You know, and I see this … and there’s my organ written out, note-for-note, and at the top it says ‘music by Gary Brooker’ and I though well … but I wrote that tune!

But if that anomaly as you saw it occurred to you in 1967, why wait until … what was it … 2005 until the writ?

Well – I didn’t exactly wait, I did have … I … I … I spoke to all kind of lawyers and got all sorts of bad advice. It does rather annoy me that judges all seem to have this idea that bringing a High Court action which is going to be vigorously defended … ah … is really no more than going down the road and buying a packet of fags … and it isn’t … you need a very, very good lawyer and you need funding.

Was there ever a prospect that the pair of you could sit down and talk about this?

(Plosive exhalation) From my point of view, yes; I mean …

He says that there was a meeting planned and you didn’t show up.

(Pause) I don’t know what he’s talking about.

What does the song mean to you?

(Pause; exhalation). In what sense? You mean, what does it mean to my life?

However you want to interpret that. I mean it, it strikes … I mean if I had been involved in a song which … which, er, was first of all a huge hit, and which resonates decades after it ... it was first played, I’d be pretty proud of that, I think. I just wonder how you feel about the song …

(Interrupting) Even if you’d got shafted?

(Pause) So you’re not proud of it?

(Sigh) Um … I’d like to be. But I mean, all the while, I’m in a situation where … er … I was forced to go to court, and risk bankruptcy which is now, is a very good chance will come to me.


All ... yes, just to get my name on the song that I wrote. Er, no I have to tell you I really wish I had never met Gary Brooker, Keith Reid, never been involved in Procol Harum, never … wrote that organ solo … [oab] … I would have had so much a happier life if I had never been involved in that whole thing.

Is the legal business over? You can go the House of Lords …

Frankly, if I could … er … if I could just walk away from this without being bankrupted, but just keep my name on the song, and that’s the end of it, I would find that a very tempting offer, as like, you know, um, just to draw a line and move on. But (confidential) I can’t see that happening. So I don’t think we’ve got much ... um ... alternative … I think we have to appeal.

Matthew Fisher. And just as we finish this, Charlotte Booth e-mails to say, ‘If you hadn’t written that organ solo, and been part of Procol Harum, then my parents may [sic] not have got together at the party, got married, and as a result me and my sister would not be here today, not to mention their two grand-daughters either. Thank you,’ she says.

More about the AWSoP lawsuit



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