Eric Woolfson


Born: 18 March, 1945, in Glasgow.

Died: 1 November, 2009, in London, aged 64.

ERIC Woolfson was co-founder, main lyricist and often vocalist of the Alan Parsons Project, a progressive rock band that had huge success from the mid-1970s until they broke up in the late 1980s. After the Glaswegian Woolfson bumped into Londoner Alan Parsons, a top recording engineer at the Beatles' Abbey Road studios, the two decided to form a group that would not be about haircuts or image but would blend their multiple skills in writing, engineering and producing.

Using the word "Project" was their way of saying they were avant-garde artists rather than pop stars and their priority was to create rather than to perform. Woolfson sang lead vocals on many of their tracks, notably Eye in the Sky, Time and Don't Answer Me, but often provided a "demo" vocal for other invited singers to record.

As a writer rather than an extrovert or publicity-seeker, it was, odd though it may seem nowadays, Woolfson who proposed the group be named after his partner, Parsons. After they split up, equally unusually these days, he agreed to let California-based Parsons tour under the name the Alan Parsons Live Project, which the Londoner still does.

In addition to his work on the ten Alan Parsons Project albums, said to have sold no less than 40 million copies, Woolfson wrote five highly successful stage musicals – Freudiana, Gaudi, Gambler, Dancing Shadows and, most recently, POE, based on the works of one of his lifelong heroes, American mystery writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe.

Woolfson also penned songs for artists including Marianne Faithfull, Chris Farlowe, Frank Ifield, the Swinging Blue Jeans and Glasgow's Marmalade. His song Baby Make It Soon was the B-side of Farlowe's biggest hit, Out of Time, both sides produced by Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

Woolfson was also producer for groups including Dave Berry, the Tremeloes and the Equals and managed such artists as Carl Douglas, chart-topper with Kung Fu Fighting in 1974. He helped Parsons produce classic Number One hits by Cockney Rebel (Make Me Smile) and by Edinburgh's own band Pilot (Magic and January), who also, especially Shetlander Ian Bairnson, became major contributors to the Alan Parsons Project recordings.

Eric Norman Woolfson was born to a Jewish family, close to Charing Cross Station in Glasgow a few months before the end of war in 1945, and brought up in the Pollokshields district of the city. Inspired by a favourite uncle who was a classical pianist, he took up the instrument, soon gave up lessons after getting confused by sharps and flats, but continued to practise himself, by ear. He never learned to read music.

After training as a chartered account, where a boss told him: "You'd be better off as an apprentice in a circus," he headed for the bright lights of London, specifically hanging out on Denmark Street – aka Tin Pan Alley – in the hope of bumping into people in the record business. It worked. He first got work as a session pianist with musicians including Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, who would go on to greatness with Led Zeppelin. Those gigs brought him to the attention of the Rolling Stones manager and producer Andrew Loog Oldham.

Woolfson recalled being kept waiting for four hours at a scheduled meeting with Oldham, who finally showed up and asked the Scot to play something he'd written himself. After one song, Oldham stood up and said: "You're a f****** genius!" and offered him a publishing contract to write songs for some of the artists mentioned above.

When Woolfson met Parsons in the mid-1970s, the latter was a prodigy in the recording industry. He had worked in the Abbey Road studios as an assistant engineer when he was only 18, had helped put together the Abbey Road album and later engineered Pink Floyd's classic album Dark Side of the Moon. The Londoner and the Glaswegian realised they could combine their talents.

Although a recording engineer, Parsons was known for influencing the content, the music and even the lyrics of some of the artists he was working for. "I remember Alan saying to me, 'If only I didn't have to take the artists' views into account, I could make much better records'," Woolfson recalled.

"This prompted a thought that there was an opportunity here to make records the way Stanley Kubrick or Hitchcock made movies, where the people behind the camera were the important factor, or in this case, the person behind the control desk." And so the Alan Parsons Project was born.

Woolfson's greatest influences had long been not musicians but psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (Woolfson's wife, Hazel, had studied psychology and left Freud's books around their flat), Catalan architect Gaud and, most of all, the American writer Poe. He had become fascinated by Poe after passing his local cinema in Glasgow on his way to school, seeing posters of Poe horror films billed not just as X-certificate for adults but H-certificate for horrific – a marketing ploy.

That fascination led to the subject of the Alan Parsons Project's breakthrough first album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, in 1976, its lyrics and themes based on Poe's works. It was perhaps too avant-garde to be a massive hit, but it gave the Project cult status that would last for more than a decade.

Woolfson, who concentrated on musicals after splitting with Parsons, returned to the theme with POE, which had its world premire at the Halle Opera House in Germany in August this year to great acclaim. Also this year, Woolfson completed an album of tracks that were never completed by the Alan Parsons Project. It is titled Eric Woolfson sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was.

Eric Woolfson, who died of cancer, is survived by his wife, daughters Sally and Loma and three grandchildren.