Procol Harum

the Pale

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Procol Harum’s Manager, Chris Cooke, writes ...

Sent to BtP 6 April 2008

When Matthew Fisher’s representative first raised the question of copyright share in AWSoP to me, the band’s manager, it was all about wanting a financial share. Now according to his legal team and his statement at, it is only about having a writing credit. So according to Matthew, he thinks he has won. [AWSuit appeal judgment is here]

I believe that from the band’s point of view, we are content to move on. So why then is Fisher trying to go to the House of Lords?

He claims in the Radio 4 ‘PM’ interview (4 April 2008) that there is ‘a very good chance’ he will have to go bankrupt. What he doesn’t explain is that it will probably be his own lawyers who will do that to him, if he can’t pay their fees. That’s what is often misunderstood about “Conditional Fee Arrangements”: no-win-no-fee comes with small print. You have to be cognisant of what will happen if you win without costs being awarded.

The law is there for the benefit of lawyers: it’s how they make their money. In October 2007 we were in the appeal court to challenge the law under which J.Blackburne made his decision in Matthew’s favour.

Blackburne’s final view was that though Matthew’s “contribution to the overall work was a substantive one, it was not as substantial as that of Gary Brooker”. So for Matthew now to claim “I contributed the most commercial and essential feature” suggests a selective memory about J.Blackburne’s ruling. On the basis of forty years in the music industry, having produced records and selected hit tracks, I can identify a hook: and it’s my view that the organ solo is not the hook of the song, otherwise it would be in all 700 cover versions. I watch the audience on a regular basis: the excitement caused by the organ beginning is based on the anticipation of all that is to come.

Whether or not the law understands the music industry is a big question, but I think LJ Mummery comes closest. For Matthew to claim of LJ Mummery that “he produced an argument of his own … so obscure and oblique to defy comprehension” is a wonderful comment from someone whose expertise lies in computer programming and organ-playing; someone who doesn’t share the general sensibility of 99% of musicians – and I refer to the BBC Radio 4’s ‘Playing Second Fiddle’ (16 January 2007) documentary – who are quite content to have been paid for performing when they have made a memorable contribution to a record, and never contemplate looking for a publishing share just for playing their instrument.

The public should understand that A Whiter Shade of Pale would never have been made without the financial investment of a publisher and record company. To protect their interests, various rights had to be assigned (in 1967 it was the norm, and it still is) and that was understood.  Gary Brooker and Keith Reid didn’t have any choice. By assigning their rights in the song they had written (before even meeting Fisher), the recording of A Whiter Shade of Pale went ahead and was released: to the benefit of the other members of the band,  and the public at large.

By remaining silent for some 38 years, Matthew hoped to take advantage of this situation. But what J.Blackburne failed to understand is that Matthew was never given a blank sheet of paper on which to present a commercial organ solo. The song was already pronounced to be a hit – by the publishers – before he joined the band.

Everyone, including Matthew, agrees that he can’t remember exactly what he did. His evidence is derived from a reconstruction of what he most probably did. But his memory of much more recent events is demonstrably faulty.

In his ‘PM programme’ interview on 4 April he claims he cannot even recall failing to turn up to the proposed face-to-face meeting, to sort out his claims. I remember, because I was there with Gary, on 15 July 2004, at Fisher’s  lawyer’s office for that meeting. I would suggest Matthew would be happier now if he had bothered to go. He also abandoned the mediation process preceding the original High Court hearing, before all possibilities had been explored.

Memory is a wonderful thing: it evens out the bad times, and glosses up the good, but as any good psychiatrist will tell you, recollection is seldom exact. I ask you how reliable can the truth be according to Matthew Fisher?

That Matthew was able to conceal his claim – from those he felt aggrieved by – for that long period of time, is extraordinary in itself; to constantly ruminate on it and occasionally boil over and leave the band in a vengeful manner, especially at a point in time (with band commitments already in place) that might make the most impact. But still he waited and kept quiet. Was he waiting for key witnesses to die?

This is not an argument about the musician downtrodden by the music industry. It is one musician attacking another musician, and in this case the musician under attack has already made sacrifices – assigning 50 percent to the publishers – in order to establish the band initially . But Gary and Keith have constantly proved their talent beyond doubt, by continuing to write seminal songs. Where are the hits of Matthew Fisher?

This matter should have been properly dealt with in 1967, and would have been, if Fisher had had enough backbone to raise the question at the right time.

Chris Cooke

More about the AWSoP lawsuit



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