Eric Woolfson (The Alan Parsons Project)
'A Tale of Mystery and Imagination'
Between 1976 and 1987, The Alan Parsons Project released ten highly acclaimed albums. The restoration campaign was inaugurated late-2006 in the UK and March 2007 in the U.S., with special anniversary expanded editions of the Alan Parsons Project’s two highest-charting U.S. titles: the 30th anniversary edition of I Robot (which included Top 40 single, “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You”) and 25th anniversary edition of Eye In The Sky (which includes the US #3 single “Eye In The Sky”).
The restoration of the original Alan Parsons Project album catalogue, personally overseen by Parsons and Eric Woolfson, continues with six new expanded editions: PYRAMID (1978); EVE (1979); THE TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD (1980); AMMONIA AVENUE (1984); STEREOTOMY (1986); and GAUDI (1987). The six expanded editions will be released, starting January 27th, through Arista/Legacy, a division of Sony Music Entertainment.
The six new expanded editions offer a cumulative total of 40 previously unreleased bonus tracks. All of these tracks are discussed in detailed liner notes by Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson. In addition, each CD is accompanied by a brand new full-length liner notes essay of more than a thousand words, written by Jerry Ewing of London’s Classic Rock magazine.
For the last twenty years Eric Woolfson has concentrated his energies into writing musical theatre; having staged successful productions of his work in Germany and Korea. I caught up with him at his North London home.
Perhaps you could tell me about the six Alan Parsons Project’s expanded editions that have been issued "It is extremely exciting and interesting for me. They represent a step forward in technology which is really quite dramatic in the mastering process. What that means is that, in the old days, when you used to finish a record after months or even years in the studio, the finished album never sounded as good as it did in the studio. This was due to the manufacturing process that was available at the time."
"Sometimes it was simply down to the record company not understanding digital and first copying our masters onto analogue tapes. But that has all changed, when you now listen to the new re-mastering process they re-capture the feel that you could only get in the studio control room. Also, what makes these re-issues more interesting is that we have included bonus tracks and annotated notes on the tracks, as well as each CD having a dedicated liner note essay."
The musical progression between those ten albums saw you become more radio friendly, was this part of your plan? "If you mean, did we go commercial? Well, we weren’t trying to make hit singles. We were trying to make quality concept albums and those albums had always done very well. We had two hit singles on the album ‘Turn of a Friendly Card’ (‘Games People Play’ and ‘Time’), however, on ‘Eye in the Sky’ everything came together. The musicians we picked were really on song, and things really worked on that album.
"Although, from the beginning, there was a difference of opinion between myself and Alan about the merits of the song ‘Eye in the Sky’. He bet our guitar player double his session fees that it would never be a hit. It took me four days in the studio, just slogging away and saying “no, Alan, work with this, go with this, this is really an important, potential track for us”."
"And it did work out in that it made the top three on the Billboard top hundred, and to this day is a staple of AOR radio station playlists. I sang lead on the track and when a writer sings his own work it can very often lend a meaning and excitement that guest singers can’t quite bring to their interpretation."
‘Eye in the Sky’ was fantastically successful in the USA. Do you ever think about how prophetic that song has become? "I remember exactly why I wrote it. I was in America on a promotional tour and three times in the one day I heard the same phrase: I was watching the news and they said “…and now, over to our eye in the sky for a weather report”."
"Then, I was in Las Vegas, in a casino, and the manager showed me the surveillance system, which was called ‘the eye in the sky’, and it followed so closely the players and looking even more closely at the croupiers. And then there was another news item later that night said that an eye in the sky satellite had been launched."
"The phrase just stuck with me, with its shades of big brother, and how we are becoming inundated with personal surveillance, especially in the big cities."
Was it a source of frustration that The Alan Parsons Project was better received in the USA and Europe than in the UK? "There were huge benefits to not being that well known in the UK. We didn’t have the curse of celebrity where we lived, so our families grew up completely outside anything that goes on these days with successful artists. It appealed to me as a writer because I prefer to keep in the background anyway."
Do you regret not taking such a starring role in APP? "I described the decision to call it The Alan Parsons Project as both the best and worst decision of my career. The best for the aforementioned reason that my family were not troubled by the media; but also the worst as I am constantly having to remind people of my past body of work when promoting my career post-Alan Parsons Project."
Alan Parsons is still touring the world; do you miss touring? "Not in the least. I’m a writer; I’m also a studio musician. The idea of presenting myself as some sort of rock star does not appeal to me whatsoever. Some people love it, but it’s not what I would like to do. I sometimes play live for promotion purposes but it’s not something I long for or miss."
You might interested to know that Colin Bluntstone still sings your song ‘Old and Wise’ as part of The Zombies live set. His voice is as good these days as it ever been; how was working with Colin? "He was an absolute delight to work with; a magic, magic voice. That song and his performance of it for nearly 30 years has been in the all-time top ten in Holland. He made a real impact with that song; although sadly I’ve never seen him perform that song live. He did several tracks for us on different projects, although the two stand outs were ‘Old and Wise’ and ‘The Eagle Will Rise Again’ from the Pyramid album."
Your song writing credits go back to the sixties; how much do you remember being in swinging London around the likes of the Stones, Marianne Faithfull and The Tremeloes? "I remember all of it for one very good reason – I was probably the only one who wasn’t actually stoned! I never touched drugs in my life. I have some very fond memories and some not very fond memories of some of the people and situations back then. It was a phenomenal time to be around and to have the privilege to be involved with so many creative people."
"I often thought about writing a book about it all. It’s interesting that you should mention The Tremeloes; it was when I was working with them that I started working on my Edgar Allen Poe recordings, but I just didn’t have the engineering production talent to bring it together. It was a few years later, when Alan and I teamed up, that he had the ability that I lacked."
"As a writer I was confident, but this combination of the writer and engineer/producer making quality product without there being a performing act or lead singer. It was something quite new at that stage and it came from all my experiences of the sixties."
Are you still fascinated by Edgar Alan Poe? "Utterly. He’s the greatest source of inspiration of all the great minds that I’m inspired by. The reason is quite simple. Most of the people that have inspired me, such as Freud, Gaudi, their work was phenomenal, but their lives were quite drab by comparison. Poe’s work was phenomenal and his life was even more phenomenal."
"Our first album was titled ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ which retold stories and poetry from Poe. Most people would be familiar with Poe’s work through the British Hammer Horror films of the sixties that often featured Vincent Price. Poe’s influence is enormous in popular culture but he doesn’t always get the recognition and credit that he deserves."
"In fact, it is his 200th birthday and no doubt the Poe fan club ‘The Friends of Eddie’ will be celebrating in some suitable way."
What are you currently working on? "I’ve been working on the Project archives and discovering some unfinished songs. Often they are songs that Alan and I couldn’t agree on and so got shelved. I’ve now completed some of these songs and I’m about to release my own CD of The Alan Parsons Project that never was. They are generally songs that Alan didn’t like or wouldn’t have liked if he’d had the opportunity."
Is it still as exciting to record in Abbey Road studios as it was when you first went there? "Yes, more than ever. The place is absolutely magic. I bumped into George Martin there a couple of years ago and he said the same thing. Abbey Road is something very special for me."
Lastly, is it true that you had an imposter…and was he caught? "Yes, it is true. I think it is by virtue that I kept so anonymous and in the background and so was an easy target. This guy in America passed himself off as me and used it as a cover for a financial scam. In the days before the internet it was easier to do and because my photos were not on the album covers there was no way of checking."
"This guy has made a career of this for the last 30 odd years and goodness knows how many times he has been in jail. At one point he was living as me on Catalina Island. This guy went to jail last year let’s hope that’s the last we ever hear of him."
Interviewed by: Peter 'taB' Walker
Back To Archives