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Woolly Wolstenholme's Maestoso - Grim CD (album) cover


Woolly Wolstenholme's Maestoso


Eclectic Prog

3.77 | 18 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Dark now my sky? More of a happy old world really

Woolly Wolstenholme's contribution to the success of Barclay James Harvest has never been fully recognised. John Lees and Les Holroyd arguably have the stronger voices and are the principal songwriters, but it was the keyboard work of Woolly, together with his contribution of about one song per album, which transformed the band into the major act they have remained for almost 40 years.

Wolstenholme actually retired from music altogether for an extended period, only returning towards the end of the last century to join John Lees version of BJH. He has since come through health issues and rekindled his solo career.

"Grim" was released in 2005, and is without doubt his finest achievement to date. The title is a reference to the phrase "grim up north", relating to the satanic mills and challenging lifestyle of midlands and northern England during the industrial revolution. There is a confidence and majesty to this album which was lacking on some of Maestoso's earlier material, the songs tending to have more in common with Woolly's songs for BJH such as "Ra" and "Beyond the grave".

After the brief amusing intro of "Coming soon.", "Through a storm" is a magnificent slice of power prog which is right up there with anything Woolly wrote for BJH. This 7 minute epic in four parts offers a feast of keyboard layers over which Wolstenholme places one of his finest vocal performances.

My criticism of other solo offerings by Woolly has tended to focus on his vocals. While in general I enjoy his style, I find he does not have the strength to carry an entire album. This is where "Grim" differs though, as the songs here are ideal for his voice, while Wolstenholme himself appears to have made a significant effort to improve things too.

Acoustic guitar is a welcome feature throughout the album, introducing songs such as "A lark" and "Love is". "That's The price you pay" is not the Springsteen song of a similar name, but there is a passing resemblance in the mood of the song and the pleasant melody.

One of the more bizarre twists on the album is the wonderful "The iceman cometh", a paean to the ice cream van which combs the streets selling wares of dubious quality and price ("What goes on inside the dairy"). The brief "loot" is Steve Broomhead's "Horizons"; a pleasing acoustic guitar solo.

Another interesting number is "Harp + carp". Anyone familiar with the work of Steeleye Span will recognise the title as being extracted from the lyrics of the traditional "Thomas the Rhymer". It is only the lyrics though which are "distilled" from that song, the heavy melody being entirely contemporary.

"Abendrot" is an arrangement by Wolstenholme of a piece by the composer Falschbier. The piece is reminiscent of "Moonwater" from "Baby James Harvest", with magnificent symphonic qualities. It is followed by a second orchestral piece "Overture Marsch Burleske", this time composed by Woolly himself.

Overall, a fine album from Woolly, who is in many ways doing more to keep the spirit of BJH alive than his colleagues who enviously cling on to the name in ludicrous formats. Here, we can still find vestiges of the prog influences which characterised the work of that band in the 1970s.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |


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