Eric Woolfson: Singer and songwriter with the Alan Parsons Project

Even if the name the Alan Parsons Project put the emphasis on the Beatles and Pink Floyd engineer, it was very much a partnership between Parsons, the producer, and Eric Woolfson, the songwriter, lyricist, occasional singer and manager. Blurring the lines between progressive and soft rock, the Alan Parsons Project captured the imagination of music fans the world over with high-concept albums inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe (their 1976 debut Tales of Mystery and Imagination) Isaac Asimov (their 1977 follow-up I Robot) and Philip K Dick (Eye in the Sky, the sixth of their 10 studio recordings, issued in 1982).

While in Britain they enjoyed a cult following and turntable hits with "Old and Wise" – sung by Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, one of several recurrent guest vocalists they employed – and "Don't Answer Me", with lead vocals by Woolfson. Chart regulars in the US and throughout most of continental Europe, they sold over 45 million albums worldwide. As Woolfson, who was credited as executive producer, explained, "the Alan Parsons Project was never a 'band' in the conventional sense. The idea was to make recordings much as Kubrick or Hitchcock made movies, where the production values are the key rather than star actors. I thought at the time many others would follow in our footsteps, but this didn't happen."

The partnership dissolved in the late 1980s and Woolfson went into stage musicals, often returning to themes he had already explored with the Alan Parsons Project. He was a supporter of the Social Democratic Party and became a personal friend of Lord Owen, one of the "Gang of Four" founders of the centre party which sought to break the mould of British politics in the 1980s.

Woolfson was born in 1945 in Glasgow, where his family owned a furniture shop, and became fascinated by the piano-playing of an uncle. He took up the instrument and, after a few lessons, played it by ear throughout his career and never learned to read music. Having been told he would never make it as a chartered accountant, he moved to London in the mid-'60s and gravitated towards Denmark Street, the capital's equivalent of Tin Pan Alley. He fell in with session musicians Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones – later of Led Zeppelin – and met Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones manager, then about to start his label, Immediate Records. Woolfson waited for four hours to meet Oldham, but his patience was rewarded when, after hearing just one of his compositions, the Stones svengali pronounced him "a fucking genius" and signed him up as a songwriter.

He served as a session pianist on several Immediate releases and also managed to place his own compositions with the label's acts, including "Tomorrow's Calling" with Marianne Faithfull and "Baby Make It Soon", which became the B-side of Chris Farlowe's chart-topping version of the Stones' "Out of Time", produced by Mick Jagger in 1966. Woolfson didn't sign an exclusive deal and also freelanced for Southern Music, where he met Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who instilled in him the belief that the stage musical could be the right medium for him.

A jobbing musician, songwriter and occasional producer, over the next few years Woolfson also worked with Dave Berry, the Equals, Herman's Hermits, Frank Ifield, Marmalade, the Swinging Blue Jeans and the Tremeloes and had his material adapted into French by Joe Dassin and Marie. In 1971 he recorded a single under the name Eric Elder with the future members of 10CC, but branched out into management, first with Carl Douglas of "Kung Fu Fighting" fame, and then with Parsons, whom he met in the Abbey Road Studios canteen in 1974.

Over the next 18 months, as Parsons produced hit singles and albums for Pilot, Cockney Rebel, John Miles and Al Stewart, he became interested in recording the "Poe" material Woolfson had already composed. Credited to the Alan Parsons Project, and featuring members of Pilot, guest singers such as Miles and Arthur Brown, as well as Woolfson on keyboard and vocals, Tales of Mystery and Imagination was issued on the Charisma label in Europe and 20th Century Records in the States, where it made the Top 40 in 1976.

The partners were offered a long-term deal by the Arista supremo Clive Davis and recorded a further nine albums at the state-of-the-art Abbey Road Studios. Indeed, their ambitious soundscapes became a staple of hi-fi shops well into the compact disc era. The modest and unassuming Woolfson always said he preferred "the shadows to the limelight", but he grew in confidence as a vocalist and graduated from guide vocals on demos to taking the lead on "Time" from The Turn of a Friendly Card album in 1980 and on the title track of the Eye in the Sky album, a US No 3 single in 1982.

Following Gaudi, a concept album about the Spanish architect released in 1987, Woolfson developed Freudiana, a musical about Sigmund Freud, and other musicals about Poe and Gaudi (Gambler revisited The Turn of a Friendly Card). These were mostly staged in Germany and Austria, two countries where the Alan Parsons Project had often topped the charts, as well as the Far East. Earlier this year, he released Eric Woolfson Sings the Alan Parsons Project That Never Was, an album of outtakes.

Parsons has belatedly been performing some of the Project material live. He said: "Eric was one of the most generous, musically gifted and knowledgeable people I ever met. He was also – and I mean no disrespect – the most stubborn individual to set foot on the planet: a trait which made him a great businessman.

"His songwriting talent speaks for itself. He not only wrote the majority of the songs we recorded together, but after we had two or three albums under our belts he proved – contrary to my own opinions – that he had a singing voice that would be loved by millions. He never let me forget that I actually disliked 'Eye in the Sky' when he first played it to me – arguably my most famous mistake.

"I look back upon our times together making the Alan Parsons Projects very fondly. The legacy that Eric created as half of the Alan Parsons Project lived on with a lasting power few artists have ever enjoyed. I will always be grateful for that."

Pierre Perrone

Eric Woolfson, songwriter, lyricist, pianist, singer, producer, manager: born Glasgow 18 March 1945; married 1969 Hazel (two daughters); died London 2 December 2009.

Suggested Topics
News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam