Matthew Fisher on stage with Procol Harum in 2001
|Birth name||Matthew Charles Fisher|
7 March 1946 |
Addiscombe, Croydon, England
|Genres||Progressive rock, psychedelic rock, blues rock|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, producer|
|Associated acts||Procol Harum, Robin Trower|
Matthew Charles Fisher (born 7 March 1946) is an English musician, songwriter and producer. He is best known for playing the Hammond organ on the 1967 single, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum, for which he subsequently won a songwriting credit.
Fisher was born and grew up in Addiscombe, Croydon. He attended Selhurst Grammar School, playing the organ at morning assemblies. He started playing in bands in his teens, initially playing bass guitar, but around 1964, after hearing The Animals and Georgie Fame, he decided that he would prefer to be an organist instead. After briefly considering a career as a music teacher, enrolling in the Guildhall School of Music for a year, he dropped out, obtained two Vox Continental organs, and used them on tour with The Gamblers, backing band to Billy Fury. After The Gamblers, he played with various local groups before joining Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers in 1966.
While on tour with the Jaywalkers, he met Ian McLagan, organist with the Small Faces, and became fascinated with the sound of the Hammond M102 organ and Leslie speaker that McLagan used. After borrowing money from his grandmother, he bought the same model of Hammond and started advertising for gigs in the Melody Maker. He quickly discovered that owning a Hammond made him in great demand as a musician, saying "Having a Hammond was like having a licence to print money", and by the end of the year found regular work with Screaming Lord Sutch's backing group The Savages, playing alongside Ritchie Blackmore. Consequently, Gary Brooker and Keith Reid were keen to recruit him for their new group, Procol Harum, and decided to visit him at his Croydon home to discuss the formation of the band.
Fisher joined Procol Harum at the start of 1967 though he kept touring with Sutch for a brief while. While all the band had experience in other groups, Fisher was the only one with formal music training. He recalls that "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was originally four verses and ten minutes long, with solos improvised in between by Fisher and Booker. When it came to recording the song it was cut to two verses and it was decided that Fisher should do all the solos.
Furthermore, he felt, after seeing the sheet music to "A Whiter Shade of Pale", that he deserved a co-composition credit for coming up with the well-known introduction and solo passages throughout the song. Brooker and Reid, who had composed the basic structure of the song before recruiting Fisher, refused.
While "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was an immediate success, reaching number 1 in the UK charts for several weeks, Fisher doesn't recall the time as being a happy one for the band. Intending to be an underground band they were not accustomed to having a hit single, and he was unimpressed with the band's early gigs.
The arrival of guitarist Robin Trower and drummer B.J. Wilson to Procol Harum in mid-1967 seemed to bring some stability to the band. Fisher's first official songwriting credit was for the instrumental "Repent Walpurgis" on the band's debut album, which was transformed by Trower playing a blues-influenced solo over the top of Fisher's classically influenced organ lines. Nevertheless, in response to his lack of co-writing credits (particularly over "A Whiter Shade of Pale"), being at odds with Brooker, Trower and Wilson (who had all grown up together in Southend on Sea and previously played in The Paramounts), and still suffering from the death of his father in 1965, Fisher wanted to leave Procol Harum. Despite being talked out of it, he would continue to attempt to leave the band on several occasions over the next two and a half years until finally departing at the end of 1969.
Although no longer involved directly in recording and touring, Fisher continued as a producer for the group. After Trower left in 1971 for a solo career, he briefly rejoined the band, with bandmate Chris Copping moving full-time onto bass. He was unhappy with the financial situation of the band, and with Trower's replacement, Dave Ball, and so left again, this time acrimoniously, to become a full-time producer for CBS.
In addition to his work with Procol Harum, he was producer to Robin Trower, James Dewar and Tir Na Nog (among others); and enjoyed a solo career, being especially popular in Greece, where his 1980 song "Why'd I Have To Fall In Love With You" is considered a classic. His solo albums include Journey's End (1973), I'll Be There (1974), Matthew Fisher (1980), and Strange Days (1981).
Two of the albums he produced for Trower, Bridge of Sighs (1974) and For Earth Below (1975), have been certified gold by the RIAA, whilst "A Whiter Shade of Pale" has enjoyed multi-platinum status. Fisher's Hammond organ playing on pianist David Lanz's instrumental version of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" from his 1988 CD, Cristofori's Dream, helped that album go gold as well. The year before, Fisher produced (for Primitive Records)and performed on the 12" single "All Washed Up" by Northampton Band 'Magnolia Siege' (singer Richard Jones or Rik Ramjet), playing honky-tonk piano on the B-side end of record reprise.
Fisher co-wrote and performed on the soundtrack of the 1968 avant-garde film, Separation, which was released on DVD in the UK in July, 2009 and in the USA in March, 2010. Fisher's instrumental "Theme From Separation" on his album Journey's End is from that film, and the soundtrack also included an alternate arrangement of the piece for Hammond, bass and harpsichord.
Fisher co-produced an album by the group Prairie Madness in 1972, on which he also played organ and harpsichord. This was a piano-guitar duo with an accompanying band, but it achieved limited success. He has also played keyboards for Screaming Lord Sutch on his 1972 album, Hands of Jack the Ripper and played piano on David Bowie's tour in June and July 1972, with The Spiders from Mars.
Fisher quit Procol Harum in 1969 after the release of their third album, A Salty Dog, which he also produced. He rejoined the band in 1991 for the album The Prodigal Stranger and released two more albums with them, One More Time - Live in Utrecht 1992 and The Well's on Fire. In addition he appeared on two concert DVDs, Live in Copenhagen and Live at the Union Chapel, but quit the band again in 2004. He is currently a computer programmer in Croydon, London.
In 2009, the House of Lords found Fisher to be joint-author and co-owner of Procol Harum's iconic song 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' by virtue of his contribution to the song in the form of his organ solo, despite waiting nearly 40 years since its release to make a claim. Fisher won the case on 20 December 2006 but was awarded 40% of the composers' share of the music copyright, rather than the 50% he was seeking and was not granted royalties prior to 2005.
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- "Index to Fisher solo albums". procolharum.com. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
- Procolharum.com. Procolharum.com. Retrieved on 26 August 2011.
- RIAA.com Archived 29 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine.
- Procolharum.com. Procolharum.com. Retrieved on 26 August 2011.
- BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Organist wins Procol Harum battle.