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Woolley with a theremin, London, 2014
|Born||11 November 1953|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, record producer|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, theremin|
|Labels||Epic Records, Island Records, Gramophone Records|
|Associated acts||The Buggles, The Camera Club, Radio Science Orchestra|
Bruce Woolley was born in Loughborough, England on 11 November 1953 and was educated at Loughborough Grammar School, where he learned electric guitar and began to write songs and where he met his future wife, Tessa. He lived in Shepshed, playing the UK pub and club circuit extensively for some years, before landing his first professional engagement in 1974 with Ivor Kenney’s Dance Band at Leicester Palais. After a transfer to Derby Tiffany’s, Bruce left Ivor and the Mecca circuit for London in 1976 to pursue a career in songwriting, after being offered a publishing contract with Everblue Music in Piccadilly.
Chart success as songwriter
10 years' writing finally paid off with his first hit "Dancing With Dr Bop" for Australian group the Studs – a number one record. After a short tour of the Orient as guitarist for Tina Charles, this was followed by his first English hit "Baby Blue" for Dusty Springfield, co-written with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, and soon after that in 1979 he had his first international hit, the Ivor Novello Award-nominated "Video Killed The Radio Star" – also co-written with Horn and Downes, who later became The Buggles. Although Woolley owns a 50% writing share of the song and the trio wrote the band’s third single "Clean Clean," Woolley was never a member of The Buggles. He was, in his own words, merely "on the design team."
The Camera Club
Around that time he established the new wave music outfit The Camera Club with a young Thomas Dolby on keyboards, Matthew Seligman on bass, Dave Birch on guitar and the late Rod Johnson on drums. Seligman at the same time joined The Soft Boys, and was consequently replaced by Nigel Ross-Scott (later to join Re-Flex). The Camera Club released their debut album English Garden in 1979 and toured England, America and Canada. They disbanded after two years largely spent on the road and following disagreements with CBS Records, who refused to release their second album.
Production and continuous songwriting
During this record company conflict, Bruce wrote and directed the cult animation movie GOG and produced a single and EP for Firmament and The Elements, a group formed under a pseudonym with his brother Guy. Woolley also teamed up again with Trevor Horn to co-write and produce "Hand Held in Black and White"—a top 20 UK hit for Dollar in 1981 and the pair also co-wrote their follow up single "Mirror Mirror" that reached #4 on the UK Singles Chart.
In 1983 Magnus Uggla recorded a cover of "Blue Blue Victoria" with new lyrics in Swedish. The song was the first single on the album called "Välkommen till folkhemmet". It sold 20,000 copies, becoming a gold single.
Success came again with 1985’s Slave to the Rhythm album for Grace Jones; (also a No 1 Dance record in America). Originally intended as a track for Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Island Records’ founder, Chris Blackwell, suggested using the title for Jones. Almost a year was spent in the studio, using the Synclavier system, to produce the eponymous, ground-breaking LP.
For the next few years, Woolley temporarily abandoned live work and concentrated on production and writing for other artists, including Grace Jones, with whom he collaborated on all the songs for her next album, Inside Story; also working closely with ex-Chic guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers. During this period, he spent time with Andy Warhol, Timothy Leary and also Keith Harring, who designed the sets for the video of "I'm Not Perfect (But I'm Perfect For You)". This song received the ASCAP Award for Black Music in 1987, presented to Woolley by Cab Calloway.
Through the magic of sampling, Woolley co-wrote the seminal ambient piece "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld" by The Orb. The track made the UK Single Chart in 1990 and featured vocals by Woolley and Trevor Horn taken from the Slave To The Rhythm album.
Artists who have recorded Bruce Woolley’s songs include John Farnham (another No 1 Australian record with "Two Strong Hearts"), Shirley Bassey (2007’s Get the Party Started was her highest charting album since 1978, and featured a cover of "Slave To The Rhythm"), The Feeling (No 1 UK Gold album February 2008), Divine, Cliff Richard, Tori Amos, Tom Jones, Cher ("Love Is The Groove" featured on her Multi-Platinum album Believe), and Bebel Gilberto. To date, Woolley's compositions have sold over 25 million records worldwide.
Films, TV and Radio
Written film music contributions include: Toys, The Wedding Singer, Hearts Of Fire, Electric Dreams, Veronica Guerrin, The Avengers (the Radio Science Orchestra wrote, co-produced and performed the title track Storm), Caddyshack, Underground, Supergrass, The Business, Rough Diamonds, She’s So Lovely and Empire Records. As a player, Bruce performed all the theremin parts in Baz Luhrmann's classic, Moulin Rouge!.
In 2005 Bruce wrote and presented radio shows for the first time, co-producing with Miss Hypnotique a series of documentaries for London’s Resonance FM under the banner of Switched On Radio. The series looked at the development of Electronic Music in the 20th Century. Notable subjects included Léon Theremin, Jean-Jacques Perrey and Dr. Robert Moog. Bruce interviewed Gershon Kingsley, Keith Emerson and developed a working relationship with Bob Moog, who gave one of his last interviews for the Switched On series.
The Radio Science Orchestra
In 1994, Bruce returned to the stage with the Radio Science Orchestra—a theremin-led ensemble which included founder members composer/arranger Chris Elliott (Moulin Rouge!) and Andy Visser (ONL). Since then, the ensemble has given numerous performances – always promoting the theremin.
These events have included the Glastonbury Festival, with Moscow’s Lydia Kavina, a special live score for the first public showing of Ray Santilli’s notorious Alien Autopsy film, an interactive soundtrack for the Turner-nominated Superstructure With Satellites at the Tate Gallery, and a three-month installation on London’s South Bank in 2004. Shell commissioned the weather-dependent "Electric Storm", which featured a 24-hour interactive soundtrack & 40 loudspeakers across the post-war site, with lights, music and artificial fog created from water which was pumped from the Thames. All the power for the show was derived from a huge wind turbine, specially installed alongside the Waterloo footbridge.
Also in 2004 Bruce and his son Kit took the Theremin and the Radio Science message to China, for a series of outdoor shows, attended by thousands of people, during Shanghai’s first International Pop Festival. The pair were presented with a special award of excellence to mark the occasion. This was the first time that the theremin had been played live in front of a Chinese audience.
Shortly after that, the RSO scored a three-minute viral commercial for Greenpeace featuring a ‘Galaxy’ of British stars.
The association with Grace Jones continued with the RSO co-writing and producing the title track for The Avengers movie, sung by Miss Jones. When Jones appeared with Luciano Pavarotti, it was to sing the duet "Pourquoi me reveiller" arranged by Woolley and the RSO.
Woolley has demonstrated the Theremin in numerous Radio and Television broadcasts with appearances on MTV, EBN, BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC World Service Television News, ITV, Channel 1, Channel 4, Radio 2, (including the Chris Evans Drivetime show in February 2008) Radio 3 and Radio 4.
The Prince’s Trust
On 11 November 2004, The Prince's Trust staged a concert at Wembley Arena to celebrate Trevor Horn’s production career, and 25 years of "Video Killed The Radio Star". Woolley was invited to sing and play with a few of the artists for whom he had written and with whom he had performed on record, including The Buggles, Dollar, Grace Jones, The Pet Shop Boys and Seal. That night raised £100,000 for The Prince’s Trust.
In 2006, Woolley reunited with Grace Jones in the studio, writing and co-producing for a new album in collaboration with Ivor Guest (Bomb the Bass), with Brian Eno acting as consultant on the record. The album features performances by theremin player Pamelia Kurstin and rhythm section Sly and Robbie, the latter of whom recorded with Grace for the first time in 29 years. Hurricane was released on 3 November 2008, ending a recording silence of 19 years.
That same year, Woolley was invited by Thomas Dolby, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik and the beginning of the Space Age. Bruce and Thomas shared the stage for the first time in 27 years, and, with The Radio Science Orchestra at London’s ICA, performed a specially written live score for a film by David Hoffman, accompanied by Lydia Kavina on Theremin, with live narration from science fiction writer Ken Hollings.
In August 2009 the Radio Science Orchestra appeared at the TED Global event "The Substance Of Things Not Seen" in Oxford, England, sharing the bill with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and WiTricity CEO Eric Giler.
Bruce performed the theremin on Thomas Dolby's song "Simone", which was released on Dolby's Oceanea EP in November 2010, and subsequently on the studio album A Map of The Floating City in October 2011.
Fall 2010 saw the release of Pink Friday by Nicki Minaj. The album features the song Check It Out (featuring a sample of VKTRS) with performances by Cheryl Cole and will.i.am. In early 2011 the album reached #1 in the US Billboard Top 200 chart as well as #1 in both the Rap and Hip Hop Album charts. The album has now sold over two million copies worldwide.
August 2011 saw the release of The Emperor's Nightingale, an album by the Stereo MCs featuring performances and songs written and produced by Woolley and his son Kit.
More recently Woolley and his son wrote and produced the music for the Connecticut Tourist board's major advertising campaign "Still Revolutionary". The song featured the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
In 2015 Woolley successfully recaptured his early catalogue including VKTRS, for North America, from Carlin Music. Signing a new deal with Round Hill Music, Bruce is planning to release newly-recorded versions of the song during 2017.
Bruce Woolley and his wife Tessa live in Surrey, England. They have three sons.
- Bruce Woolley Overview Allmusic
- Roach, Martin, ed. (2008). The Virgin Book of British Hit Singles (1st ed.). London: Virgin Books. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-7535-1537-2.
- "Switched on radio.co.uk: Celebrating 125 years of electricity and electronic music". www.hypnotique.net. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
- "Trevor Horn • The Buggles - The Lost Gig - 28.09.10". trevorhorn.com. 2010-08-25. Retrieved 2016-06-02.