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Woolly Wolstenholme Biography


Stuart John Wolstenholme was born in Chadderton, Oldham on April 15th, 1947, and went to school at North Chadderton Secondary Modern. His first instrument was a tenor banjo, which he took up at the age of twelve, and he also played tenor horn for the Delph band. He met John Lees at Oldham School Of Art and Woolly played tambourine and sang with John in The Sorcerers, then The Keepers, where Woolly played whatever instrument was required, such as harmonica and twelve-string guitar. The pair then founded Barclay James Harvest, together with Les Holroyd and Mel Pritchard, in 1967. Woolly taught himself keyboards, first the Mellotron and then adapting to organ, piano and synthesisers. His musical influences range from Love and Vanilla Fudge through Mahler to UK and Radiohead. Woolly remained with Barclay James Harvest until 1979, when he became frustrated and unhappy at the direction their music was taking. He recorded a solo album, Mæstoso, in 1980, and toured as support to Judie Tzuke and Saga, as well as writing film and TV music. A projected second album, Black Box, was shelved and Woolly lost interest in the music business, preferring instead to farm, initially in Lancashire and later in west Wales. Tapes from the sessions for his second album were finally issued in 1994, along with the complete Mæstoso album, as Songs From The Black Box.

Woolly returned to the music business in 1998 after meeting John Lees again, and this resulted in the Eagle Records album Nexus - Barclay James Harvest Through The Eyes Of John Lees. The album was followed by live shows in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Greece and the UK, the first English concerts by any members of Barclay James Harvest for nine years, and Eagle released a live album called Revival. A studio follow-up with the working title North was planned and recording began at John's Friarmere Studios, but after only a few days the project was shelved because John felt that due to a number of factors, the timing was not right to do justice to a new album.

A new CD of the Black Box sessions with previously unreleased material (including a brand new demo) was released in February 2004 as Black Box Recovered, and a new studio set, One Drop In A Dry World, followed in May 2004. A short UK tour was planned to promote the CD, but in the event only one concert, at London's Mean Fiddler, went ahead, on May 12th. The live set, including rarely heard BJH classics as well as Mæstoso material, was captured for posterity and released on a limited, warts and all live CD, Fiddling Meanly, released in February 2005. On 27th November 2004 Mæstoso played again in London, this time as support to Caravan at the Bloomsbury Theatre. At this show John Lees also made a surprise guest appearance for two songs.

This proved to be one of Woolly's most creative periods, with another Mæstoso studio album, Grim, appearing in October 2005.

In 2006 Woolly not only toured with John Lees' Barclay James Harvest, including the first full-scale UK tour by any members of Barclay James Harvest since 1992, but also found time to begin recording another new studio album with Mæstoso. The album Caterwauling was completed by the following spring, but held up in the transition of Eclectic Discs into their new identity as Esoteric Recordings as part of the Cherry Red group of labels, and was finally released on 19th November, 2007.

A 2CD compilation of Woolly and Maestoso's best material, Uneasy Listening, appeared in April 2009, and Woolly was also busy writing new songs, both for Maestoso and John Lees' Barclay James Harvest. Woolly also performed with JLBJH at numerous concerts in 2009, including shows in the U.S.A., Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium, plus another UK tour, and the activity continued into 2010 with a summer festival appearance in Portugal at the Douro Rock and Blues Festival. It would prove to be Woolly's final live appearance.

For many years Woolly had fought against a severely debilitating form of depression, which had led to him being hospitalised for a period in 2003. A recurrence of the illness meant that he was unable to participate in a series of concerts with John Lees' Barclay James Harvest in November and December 2010, and on 13th December he was found dead at his home, having lost the final battle. The world had lost a prodigiously talented writer and musician.

Keith and Monika Domone, December 2010

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