International Songwriters Association (ISA) Songs And Songwriting ē Eric Woolfson Interview

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Eric Woolfson Interview

Introduction by Jim Liddane
Eric Woolfson is a rare talent. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he displayed an amazing musical ability from a young age, learning to play the piano and several other instruments before moving to London in 1963, hoping to get involved in the music business.

There he found work, initially as a session pianist, but soon emerged as a talented songwriter whose songs would be recorded by such stars as Marianne Faithfull, Frank Ifield, Joe Dassin, The Tremeloes, Marie, Marmalade, Dave Berry, Peter Noone, and The Poets.

He also ventured into the field of artist management (his roster included engineer-record producer Alan Parsons, and Carl Douglas whose record "Kung Fu Fighting" was one of the biggest selling hits of the seventies), he and Parsons began collaborating on various projects, the most significant of which was the formation of the Alan Parsons Project in 1975.

The Alan Parsons Project became known for their progressive rock sound, blending elements of rock, pop, and electronic music. They often explored conceptual themes in their albums. Woolfson's role in the project was primarily as a songwriter, pianist, and vocalist but he also contributed to the concept development of the albums.

The debut release, "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" (1976), was based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and gained critical acclaim. They went on to release a series of successful albums, including "I Robot" (1977), "Pyramid" (1978), "The Turn of a Friendly Card" (1980), and "Eye in the Sky" (1982), which featured hit songs like "Games People Play" and the title track.

Woolfson's compositions often feature introspective lyrics and layered musical arrangements, reflecting his interest in composition and classical music.

Woolfson himself has released several acclaimed solo albums, including "Freudiana" (1990), a rock opera concept album based on the life and theories of Sigmund Freud.

In addition to his music career, he has also ventured into theatre and musical production, working on projects like the musical "Gaudi" (1990) and "Edgar Allan Poe Ė More Than a Dream" (2003).

Eric Woolfson's contributions to the Alan Parsons Project and his unique approach to music and storytelling have had a lasting impact on the world of progressive rock and conceptual music albums.

Jim Birmingham interviewed Eric for the International Songwriters Association's publication "Songwriter Magazine".

Eric Woolfson is best known for his work with the Alan Parsons project, to date having sold over 45 million records worldwide.

In the sixties, he was signed as an in-house songwriter for Andrew Oldham's Immediate label, writing material to order for the likes of Marianne Faithful, Chris Farlowe and Frank Ifield. Heís had songs covered by over 100 artistes throughout Europe and America.

He concentrates these days on musicals, his last performed work being the superb show based on a story of Edgar Allan Poe, which premiered to much acclaim last year at EMIís Abbey Road studios.

Do you come from a musical family?
No, but it was the only thing I ever wanted to do. I never wanted to study, I never wanted to go to university - I just sort of gravitated towards music.

How old were you when you realised music was very important to you?
Very early on. To me and all my friends it meant a great deal - and this was the late fifties early sixties so there was a lot going on. Being at a boyís school and involved in music, it made you stand out and I think that was an attraction. I found when I played the piano at a party, where I might be too shy to speak to the girls, they would come to you.

So when you sat down at the piano in those days - what sort of tunes would you bang out?
Well I had a very good ear so I could play almost anything. I donít read music so I had to develop that skill.

Itís fair to say that your major success has been with the Alan Parson project. How did you hook up initially?
We met in Abbey Road studios. He was an engineer there working with everyone including the Beatles, and I was in another studio as a session musician and we just got talking in the cafeteria at lunchtime. We are both quite tall so we had a natural affinity straight away. I am six foot six, and itís actually quite difficult to have a conversation with someone who is a foot shorter than you are so when I met Alan, it was nice to be able to chat with someone without bending down!

So a force in the music industry was born because you were both a similar height?
Yes, thatís about right!

There was talk of a re-union tour a year or so ago what happened there?
That was rubbish. one of our singers who wasnít even on the original album sold the idea of a re-union tour to a promoter. The Alan Parsons Project was two people, Alan Parsons and myself, and neither of us knew anything about it, so it was never going to happen.

Would it be something you would be interested in if it was done properly?
No, for many years there were possibilities of doing live work which werenít pursued because Alanís main role was as engineer/producer, so what would he do onstage.

You said you didnít read music. Iím assuming you do now?

I am surprised, I saw the premiere for "Poe" at Abbey Road and some of the material is quite complex. How do you present that?
I play it and I work with a transcriber and of course these days you can have a computer which will spew out music parts. I will do chord sheets for people and they can add their own take on the piece. Of course what you saw at Abbey Road was fully arranged and had some top musicians playing it.

So when you have a new piece of music to present - how much is in the demo?
Iíve done it every way and this is probably a lesson for a lot of songwriters. When you really go to town and spend a fortune to get the thing done to the highest quality possible, it often does not have the same impact as if you just sit down and play it and sing it yourself. Itís the thing that where you leave a little to peopleís imagination - thatís what they prefer. So cheaper and simpler is better. Thereís always a bit of magic about a composer performing his own song no matter how basic the demo is.

Of the material youíve done is there a particular piece that you are proud of and think "thatís where all the elements came together and I am really happy with the way it has worked out?"
That would have to be Steve Balsamo singing "Immortal" (from the "Poe" album). Every bit of that recording stays with me. There are many highlights but if I have to choose one where everything comes together - that is it.

You are a piano player. Do you like being onstage?
No Iíd much rather be in the shadows listening to someone playing my music and watching the reaction of the audience.

Youíve been involved with music for a long time. What song do you wish youíd written?
"God Only Knows" - probably the best pop song of all time. The lyrics, the melody and chord structure - all the elements work perfectly.

When can we expect to see the full-blown musical of "Poe"?
Thatís going to take some time. Part of the reason for the Abbey Road show was to film the performance as a promotional video. that is only just being edited now because of some delays with a production company who were originally interested but had some problems, so we are back to square one with it.

Finally, what are you up to right now?
Iím right in the middle of a very exciting project. One of the companies that puts on my work has commissioned a "Peace" musical and there are various moves afoot to have a joint production with North and South Korea. They are trying to take political steps as well as artistic steps to find common ground.

The idea of being involved in a small way with the peace process is a high prize for a writer, especially as Iím working with an amazing American author called Ariel Dorfman, ("Death And The Maiden" filmed by Roman Polanski). Heís a substantial master of theatre and literature and right now Iím sorting out my lyrics for that piece. Itís based on an original Korean play but thanks to Ariel it has been internationalised.
Copyright Songwriter Magazine, International Songwriters Association & Jim Birmingham: All Rights Reserved


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