Maurice Woolf: ESP — Maurice Woolf, The Dulnaine Sessions

Dulnaine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the last years of his life Maurice finally got to make his definitive statement.

ESP, longtime guardians of no-compromise jazz and alternative music, searched Maurice out to persuade him to get back into the studio on his own terms. No compromise. No constraints. Complete freedom.

Emile van Deyk “My God, this was hard! We are not accustomed to this kind of travel. There are no roads, no way by which we could take a vehicle. I did not imagine such things could be.

But Emile made the journey into the upper reaches of The Dulnain, and convinced Maurice to record once more.

Emile again “He had buried his instrument, can you imagine? His daughter, Eimar, she has a spade and she digs, yes? I am gasping.

ESP did Maurice proud, and brought in a full field studio with satellite linkage allowing over-dubs for past band-mates who were unable to make the journey.

Maurice was in reflective mood, and opened with Black Orpheus before a magisterial take on Scrapple From The Apple. Four months later he passed, and we shall not see his like again.

Cover art references classic Blue Note, tho’ with a contemporary sensibility. Maurice WoolfThe Dulnain Sessions.

Maurice Woolf: Lisdoonvara Folk Festival 1980

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Maurice was invited to join the bill for the third Lisdoonvarna Festival in 1980 – and looking back we can only marvel at the talent! Three days of superlative musicianship for £10 – around £30 in 2016 money.

The audience only knew Maurice through his Tweed ‘n’ Tartan persona, and his arrival on stage was greeted, shamefully, by boos, hisses and wolf-whistles.

Wearing his iconic three-piece tweed suit, Maurice tore into a strict-tempo version of Merrily Kissed The Quaker’s Wife, in honour of Willie Clancy. In the following 30-minute set he re-defined Scottish Dance without compromising integrity.

By this time the crowd were baying for more. Maurice called for quiet and then, with absolute simplicity, sang An Béal Bocht in a pure Sean-nós style as an homage to Seamus Ennis.

Andy Irvine “You have to understand that Maurice was an absolute pro. Very few amongst the audience knew his history, and they simply had him down as someone to be mocked. Of course, as soon as he began to play all bets were off. The mighty thing about Maurice was that he gave his all. He didn’t do irony. He didn’t do snarky. He simply did music.

Willie Clancy “Well, I’m a butcher, and I do little piping on the side. Maurice came into the shop on the Saturday morning, and I cut him a couple of nicely-aged rib steaks. He wolfed them down there and then, and thanked me handsomely. A gentleman of the old school.

Maurice Woolf: Normandy Hotel Residency — 1979

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A typical job at this time was Maurice’s residency at the Normandy Hotel in Renfrew, shown here in an extract from the Glasgow Herald, dated February 6th 1979.

The Normandy Hotel was built in 1975 as an airport hotel, and in its heyday was a popular wedding locale. Maurice worked from November ‘78 through October ‘79, playing three one hour sets nightly. Lower image shows the hotel in 2015. \

Eimar Woolf “I was but a cub at the time. Dad would always make the long drive home. Mum would wake me up at three or four in the morning. We’d snuggle together and have a Tunnock’s Teacake. Dad would tell us wild tales of the big city. He kept our family together. I miss him so much.”

Glasgow at that time was still riven with sectarianism. Maurice, always the pragmatist, would open with The Sash My Father Wore and then segue into the Wolftones’ version of A Nation Once Again.

Maurice Woolf: EMI — Happy Hours with Maurice Woolf

EMI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning from America, Maurice found himself in an almost impossible position. He had neglected his duties as Clan Chieftain of The Werewolves of The Upper Dulnain. Funds were low. Younger werewolves were challenging his authority.

Acting on the advice of his accountant, Maurice signed with EMI, learnt accordian and released a series of Tweed ‘n’ Tartan strict-tempo country-dance albums.

These were wildly successful. Maurice put together a generic ceili band, and throughout the 70’s and 80’s toured Scotland, Germany and beyond. He cultivated a persona of The Werewolf as a non-threatening and lovable construct, and was reviled by many for selling out. The Creatures of Strathcarron were particularly harsh, resulting in the infamous Schism of The Isles.

The substantial royalties and shrewd investments paid off, and the Clan is now secure and independent.

Eimar Woolf, speaking of her father, said “He never complained. Sure, he was a jazz-man. But he was also a working musician. When The Clan needed him, he did his duty. I can’t stand strict-tempo myself. But Dad would just put on his suit, drive up to Thurso and do the job.

Cover art is typical of the series. Badly composed shot of the Upper Dulnain, shabbily composited image, unreadable typography, clichéd use of drop-shadow. But the punters loved it!

Maurice Woolf: Montreux Festival, 1969

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Summer ‘69 saw Maurice embarking on a tour of northern Europe – Scandinavia, Finland, Germany, Netherlands and finishing with an evening spot at the 3rd Montreux Jazz Festival.

This was the year that the festival took first steps toward an eclectic definition, and with their take-no-prisoners free-form approach The Findhorns stretched boundaries above and beyond. Their hour-long set of continuous howling, punctuated by a-rhythmic grunts and a virtuoso display by go-go dancers (The Wolvettes), was greeted by complete silence from a sell-out crowd.

Maurice had demanded a real-time broadcast, which was duly facilitated by Radio Swiss Jazz. Interviewed later that night, Maurice joked “When I asked for live feed I sure didn’t expect Toblerone!”

Alan Skidmore “Maurice put the Mix into Mixolydian. And then some . . .

Maurice Woolf: Dabbling with Psychedelia — The Electra Years

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Sales of Maurice’s Blue Note recording were minimal, and in 1969 he was released from contract and signed to Electra.

Pyschedelia and jazz-rock fusion were the new flavour. Maurice re-located to Los Angeles, and laid down this epic double-album of no-compromise funk.

Interviewed by Rolling Stone Maurice remarked “We werewolves have a righteous heritage. Funk is in our blood, baby, and we’re taking it to the street. The time is now, and the feeling is groovy.”

The album was a commercial disaster. Maurice insisted on touring with a 17-piece band and took to haranguing audiences in Scots Gaelic. It was at this time that his alleged dependence on gorse became cause for concern. Memorably, he was quoted as “I smoke gorse for the good of my religion. Sit on it.”

Cover art is entirely of its time – note the butterly motif attached to the Electra logo.

In retrospect there’s been a re-evaluation of this album. Long dismissed as an over-blown and self-indulgent vanity project there are now those who see it the wider context of Maurice’s work, and posit a neo-Trotskist analysis.

Maurice Woolf: New York Jazz Festival 1967

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August 1967, and an audience made up of equal parts college-age kids and older hipsters settled in for two days of the now legendary festival line-up.

Maurice opened the Sunday evening spot, having flown in from LA the previous night. Making his introduction he joked “That red-eye flight and I are old companions of the road. She speaks to my condition.”

The Findhorns played a blistering 80-minute set, eschewing all pretence of rythym, harmony or structure. Twenty minutes in Allen Ginsberg stepped on stage and declaimed his by now famous Howl . The crowd responded with sustained atonal wailing.

Ginsberg “Oh yeah. It was fall ‘54, and I’d go over to Maurice’s pad in Berkeley to shoot the breeze. Maurice gave me great insights. Jack and Neil just loved the man – Bill Burroughs showed a couple of times, and credited Maurice with giving him the inspiration for his cut-up pieces. Mind you, it was hard to understand Maurice at the best of times – he had this strong Scots brogue which we found hard to comprehend. I loved that cat. He had a cute ass.

Critical appraisal was mixed.

Nat Hentoff “Break the rules by all means. But at least have the common decency to respect the audience by recognising them in the first place.

Joe Boyd “Furry Lewis. Howlin’ Wolf. Maurice and his Findhorns. A straight-line of anarchy and innovation. We live in mighty times!

Maurice Woolf & HIs Findhorns: LA Times 1967

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Maurice, bottom right

Very few images are extant of Maurice, and this surely has to be in the strangest context. Theories abound, but the most likely is that it was inserted by a rabid sub-editor and fan as an act of agit-prop.

The press date is Saturday 24 June 1967 – that summer Maurice had a regular Thursday spot at Alfonse’s (10057 Riverside Drive, south of the 134 freeway, between Griffith Park and Burbank), and in all probability this was the locale for the image.

At this time Maurice was still signed to Blue Note, and had put together Maurice Woolf & His Findhorns – a radical 5-piece free-jazz ensemble. Billy Higgins and Hank Clarke remained from Howlin’ and Growlin’, with Alec Williams tackling bass lines and a very young Al Fraser on alto.

Photo line-up (L/R) is Higgins (drums), Patterson (trombone), Williams (sousaphone), Fraser (alto), Woolf (tenor).

Writing in Downbeat, Pat Delaney opined “With his Findhorns Maurice Woolf has redefined jazz. He takes us beyond the outer reaches with no return ticket.”

Interviewed on Radio KKJZ, Maurice remarked “I’ve been living changes all my life. You hip for the ride? We can do that.”

No recordings of the Findhorns survive.

Maurice Woolf: BLUE NOTE – HOWLIN’ AND GROWLIN’

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Maurice signed to Blue Note in 1959, and this definitive album – though long out of print – shows him at the very height of his powers. Fierce and uncompromising hard bop, backed by a classic piano/bass/drums section that gave him room to stretch out and explore.

Long an admirer of the Free Jazz movement, Maurice unleashed a torrent of squalls, howls and tonalitys that take us into the farthest reaches of musicality, whilst still referencing bop in its purest form.

Recorded over three days in the Mountcalm studios, engineer Dave Buell recalls “Very soon I realised that I was in the presence of an extraordinary being. I simply let the tapes roll whilst Maurice did his thing.”

Stand-out tracks are a lyrical take on I Remember Clifford and a muscular re-working of Straight, No Chaser.

Track 4 (After Midnight) features an un-credited Chet Baker, who remarked “Man, that cat could blow. I swear, he became transformed.”

Cover art is classic Blue Note, featuring a heavily stylised duo-tone. Blue Note’s designers worked to a tight budget, and typically only used process colours. Typeface is Helvetica 47.

Now a collector’s item, this item occasionally shows on Ebay, with final bids reaching four figures.

Maurice Woolf: Rags, Howls & Field Hollers

 

Early Music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DOCUMENT RECORDS – RAGS, HOWLS & FIELD HOLLERS

Shortly after copyright expired – in 2006 – The Library of Congress released a vast tranche of field recordings into the public domain.

Their publisher of choice, Document Records, began the lengthy process of re-mastering the material. Initial product was in CD format, though now the material is entirely presented as direct downloads.

Document Records CD DOCD-9062 is the first instance that we have of Maurice Woolf performing. Alas, the format does him no favours. Maurice has been marketed with the worst form of Uncle-Wolf stereotype, and is entirely misrepresented by both the cover-art and the appalling typography.

Maurice never played banjo. He played tenor-sax. The cover-art panders to a tired and over-egged trope. The decorative border and sepia colouration is particularly unpleasant.

But worse is to come. The cover art suggests a wry and humourous sippin’ whiskey caper. Nothing could be further than the truth.

The reality is that these remarkable recordings are a fusion of the multiple-register techniques that Maurice gained from his studies with The Mongolian Werewolves in the ‘20’s, and his deep understanding of the Mouth Music of the Outer Hebrides.

Entirely unaccompanied, Maurice presents an astonishing range of dynamics and tonality. His command of melisma and micro-tones is heightened by sudden squalls of pure howling.

Do not be dissuaded by the cover. This is an absolute gem.