Woolly Wolstenholme and Maestoso

Grilled Wolstenholme (What's the Wurst that could happen?)

Part One

Many thanks to members of the BJH web site forum (http://www.bjharvest.co.uk/forum) for the questions below:

It's now been ten years since you re-emerged as a writer & performer. You've put out four Maestoso CDs & also worked with John Lees. Looking back on what you've done this past decade, how do you feel about it?

Well it should have been more action-packed! The Maestoso albums are a rough-and-ready view of where I am now musically. In an ideal world the live aspect would have been a little more than two gigs but that's just the way it is. Similarly, I think the Nexus thing should be seen as a flexing of unused muscles and you would have expected one 'proper' album to have followed it. If, for the moment, it's remasters and archive, we have to be happy with that, but then again, you never know what's coming.

You are preparing to release a new CD drawn from these Maestoso releases. How do you go about choosing the material to include? What songs seem essential to you?

I wasn't picking the tracks, preferring to leave that to others. As you would expect from me, my interest lies with the bizarre and unusual. If it was left to me, I would have included "Camelherd Hit By Falling Building" and other such novelties. So perhaps it's better that I didn't choose the tracks.

This new CD will include some unreleased music. Can you at this stage supply any more information?

As the release is best described as a 'summation' of my work out of BJH it isn't really a vehicle for completely new material- the extra tracks will be more a 'sweeping-up' operation.

You have certainly been very prolific in the last few years - more so probably than even during the early years of Barclay James Harvest. Where are all these songs coming from?

God knows. Probably in the early years of BJH I was equally prolific, but given the situation of three writers in the band and the brevity of the LP, I was not as evident as I am at the moment.

"It's You" can be read as an exhortation to yourself to get on & do something. Would you say that for you writing & performing is 'the truth you've always known'?

"It's U, along with 'A Stolen Life", "First Night Nerves" and others were written for Channel 4's "SWALK" teen drama, so it's not about me at all!

You seem to really want the members of Maestoso to work closely together. Can you tell us something about how you discuss & record these songs as a band?

Not that well organized I'm afraid. It usually goes - "Have you got anything?" and goes on from there. Some of the tracks on Maestoso albums are co-written. That can mean either someone comes up with a complete piece and I add lyrics (e.g. "Souk"), or certain sections exist which become "joined up" to form a bigger picture, as in "Soldier Of Fortune".

Steve Broomhead & Kim Turner are no mean songwriters themselves. Have they got anything else as lovely as 'Matilda Yarrow' or 'That's The Price You Pay' up their sleeves?

See previous answer above.

Steve Broomhead seems as good a foil for you as John Lees. Can you tell us about your reunion & how Maestoso came to be reborn.

Whilst relaxing (!?) in the loony bin I received a call from Steve and he sent me a few CDs of stuff he had on the files and upon my release I wrote like a madman and "One Drop..." was born.

There clearly isn't a big budget behind these endeavours. Can you explain how your relationship with Esoteric works?

Someone pays for it - they put it out. or Keith pays for it and sells to them. or no-one pays- and it escapes. or, a combination of the above.

You left behind, in 1982, several very promising, but unfinished, songs. Will you ever return to something like "Why Remain?" or the lovely "Sunday Bells"?

Well, seeing as you know about them they must be out! Whilst I have dipped into the archive for some songs/themes over the years ( Harp + Carp, It's U, "Yearning" and a section of "Streets" ), it's a matter of suitability and what else there is available at the time. It seems at the moment with the current revival in the JLBJH canon, I'm having a field day looking at possibilities for songs for the stage act. The future dalliance with the National Symphony Orchestra may open a Pandora's Box.

'Sunday Bells', 'Gates of Heaven', 'The Road To Nowhere' etc. You are drawn towards melancholic subjects, but why does the First World War in particular have such resonance for you?

In 40 years, two songs about the "First Big One" hardly seems obsessive! The subject raises a lot of issues, but the music dictates the subject and therefore not many songs apply here. Wilfred Owen and Britten's War Requiem rather nailed it.

'Shoes' is an exceptional song inspired by a very difficult subject. How did that song come about?

The enduring image I have re; 'The Final Solution' was not the gas chambers or crematoria, but the piles of personal belongings. In every mass extinction it's easy to remember the numbers and not the individual.

'2am' is one of the most indignant and despairing lyrics you have ever penned. What motivated you to make such an explicit attack on a political leader?

For most of us, insomnia has a small petty core to it ( " Over something that I said [ or did not say ] " ). Yet, it seems for the war-mongering, duplicitous heads-of-state, nothing stops their sleep, nor their feelings of a good job, well done.

'A Lark' is very reminiscent of the verses of the nineteenth century working class Lancashire poets such as J.C. Prince & Ben Brierley. Are you in any way familiar with this tradition?

Am Northern, me. And as such, I grew up where the siren call of the Factory Gate was an everyday summons. The poetry stems from that. Not that I ever worked In't mill- I joined a pop group and avoided the draft.

'Anss', 'Location, Location, Location'. You're just a grumpy old man, aren't you?

Yes. ( Bugger.)

You clearly work carefully on your lyrics. Is song writing really hard work for you or do these songs sometimes come to you almost fully formed?

Give me a million pounds for the definitive answer to that one. All ways get you to the end- and so it is with the start. Easy, hard, quick, slow and all stations between.

You live in London, but your songs & your world view are deeply rooted in the north. Do you eventually plan to return to live there?

Wherever I lay my head- that's my head. Someday or, perhaps, never.

Your sense of humour endears you to many people. Who are your comic heroes?

Milligan, Hancock, WC Fields and the Marx Brothers.

I saw you with Judie Tzuke in 1981. You clearly enjoy performing. Is there any chance of getting Maestoso onto a support slot with someone who is, er, a little bigger?

The Maestoso 'problem' , as it is known amongst mathematicians, is one of finance. All live work (ever!) involved my shelling-out dosh. Nett result was a resounding minus and is therefore UNSUSTAINABLE!

After your return in 1998 you compared yourself to a sailor who knows he will need to go back to sea. There will always be an audience for you - with or without John Lees, do you think you will continue to write & perform in ensuing years?

As long as there's breath in my body ( Oh no!-Ed. ).

Predictability, Part Two may well be along soon. Or possibly Part Four ...

Part Three

I'd like to ask Woolly how easy he finds it to write his music and if there's a particular stimulus for his sometimes startling lyrics.

How does he go about writing his material? Does he start with the music, on the piano or acoustic guitar and at what point does he add the lyrics?

Has Woolly ever considered writing a sustained piece of classical music (a la Mike Oldfield) as he seems more than capable of producing such an opus?

Why does Matilda Yarrow remind me of Vanessa Simmons? Are they by any chance related?

To the above questions, one answer!

Without referring to the previous answers, the Muse strikes in many ways.

Sometimes, a new piece of kit (Guit., Keyboard or Sound-source) pushes the button and stuff happens, e.g. when I got the Fender Electric 12 in 2003 'Explorers' just fell out of it. Likewise, the J185 provided "Winter", and my latest banjo, a Martin D12 35, has dumped another tune.

If you could hear my rough ideas ( sometimes dead rough! ) on the demo tapes, you will see most songs are practically 'there', and the lyrics only require a little tweaking. Song first, lyrics first, riff first and a combination of any of the aforementioned sets the scene. The miserable "Valhalla" that (sometimes) opens the JLBJH show is lifted from Falschbier's 1st Symphony ( 'The Great Unstarted'), so I do have a bigger idea or two. Although these things free-stand in their own way, they usually end up being a source of themes and fragments for other pieces.

Matilda Yarrow and Vanessa Simmons? Well, one's the Tooth-Fairy - and the other... isn't!

Would you love to work as a producer or arranger for "name" bands? If yes, who would you want to work with?

I don't think out-and-out production is my bag. The thing about that job is that all you should be doing is giving the produced a way of expressing themselves. I doubt whether having me there shouting "Change that chord" or "Gong!!" would be in the spirit.

Future plans with BJH, Maestoso?

Work, work, work is the current mantra, thank God!

Should music be free? Will music be free? Your views on downloading, filesharing etc.

When food, fuel, housing, services and call-girls are free, the music is all yours. If I had to pay to make it, then you must pay too!

Would you view 'Caterwauling' as your finest solo achievement thus far?

I firmly believe that there is no line between one album and the next. Admittedly, the sound may be different, and naturally the songs are not the same, but as the Uneasy Listening set shows, it's the context that defines. "Carpet", being the One Drop... closer, ends with lines from other songs on that album. On the compilation it makes no sense at all as the link is severed. So, M, BB, ODIADW, G, and Cat are completely fabulous!! Buy them all at once.

Are there any songs on your solo albums you feel you could have perhaps done better?

When one finally puts an Album together ( mixes, running order, levels, artwork et al ) you are rather sick of it and just want it out. Bands who take years to produce something must find it difficult resisting the urge to do it all again. They may not be the same people who began it- so what hope for the music? Let them be.

Which song on all of your solo albums would you view as being your favourite?

"Strange Worlds" is a current favourite. It's fast, short and amusing - and a bit daft.

What direction do you currently perceive your next solo project going in?

The plot is already hatched; therefore, for security reasons, I'm saying nothing.

Is there a possibility of a new JLBJH album, or are your creative impulses fully satisfied by your ongoing solo projects anyway?

Who knows the secret of the Black Magic box? At the moment I wait to decide which songs are going where. As the live work precludes my involvement in ANY recording, the issue is not pressing. Watch this space...

Here endeth part the threeth.

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