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Roy Wood - The Enigmatic Wizard of Rock.

Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2007

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Roy Wood – The Enigmatic Wizard of Rock

Recently, whilst researching for a magazine feature about Derbyshire’s richest residents, I came across an unusual and unfamiliar name which intrigued me sufficiently to warrant further investigation.

`A Millionaire with the unlikely name of Ulysses!'

Subsequent painstaking sleuthing has revealed that this rather obscure name belongs to a somewhat enigmatic gentleman who was named after a character in Homer’s Odyssey, - and thus, is now a millionaire with the unlikely name of Ulysses!

“Ulysses who?” I can almost hear you asking.

The answer is Ulysses Adrian Wood, otherwise known to rock and pop music fans around the world as Roy Wood of Wizzard, The Move, and ELO fame– and to his friends as `Woody’.

Further investigation was hampered by a cloak of mystery which seemed to close around any attempt I made to interview or obtain any biographical information about him - other than his musical accomplishments and recording successes. In an attempt to unravel the enigma of Roy Wood I contacted his fan club, his internet web-site, and even visited his home and personally delivered a letter requesting an interview, all to no avail.

`Roy Wood remained the enigma at the heart of the enigma!'

Roy Wood remained the enigma at the heart of the enigma!

So who is Roy Wood?

He was born Ulysses Adrian Wood in Birmingham on November 8th 1946, and learned to play guitar in his early teens whilst still at school.

It would seem that despite his musical claim, `I can hear the grass grow’, Roy Wood has never been one to let it grow under his feet, for like the original Ulysses, his odyssey is one of fast changing and exciting adventure.

He was just fifteen when he started forming and joining rock music bands; first the Falcons, then the Lawmen, and soon came his first `success’ with Gerry Levine and the Avengers, with whom he recorded his first single.

`The Wild Man of Rock....'

The band broke up in 1964 and Wood joined Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders. He also began attending the Moseley College of Art – but was expelled within three months, presumably for some misdemeanor, a trait which was to become familiar with rock music fans as Wood quickly gained a reputation for his eccentric stage behaviour, and was portrayed in the music press as `the wild man of rock’.

Late in 1964, when still only eighteen, he formed the Move, with Bev Bevan on drums, Carl Wayne (lead vocals), Ace Kefford (bass guitar) and Trevor Burton (guitar) and by early 1965 the new band had landed a residency at London’s famous Marquee Club, where they built an enthusiastic following and a reputation for what was rather ostentatiously called `Rock Theatre’.

Following in the footsteps of the Who and Jimi Hendrix, the Move’s `Rock Theatre’ created crowd frenzy by chopping up television sets on stage, setting off smoke bombs and famously burning effigies of Hitler, Ian Smith, and the Devil, but as the Melody Maker stated at the time, -“they still played great rock music!”.

Roy Wood wrote most of the songs, both music and lyrics, and when Carl Wayne left the band, Wood also became the lead vocalist.

The Move had a major hit on their hands when `Night of Fear’ reached number two in the charts in February 1967.

These heady days of psychedelic hippie flower-power, were reflected perfectly in his music as Wood captured the essence of the times by writing and performing a string of self-penned hits for the Move including, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” (April 1967), the definitive “Flowers in the Rain” which zoomed to the top of the British charts in October 1967, and “Fire Brigade” which reached number two in March 1968.

Around this period Kefford and Burton left and were replaced by Rick Price (bass & vocals) and Jeff Lynne (guitar and vocals) but the Move’s hits continued with “Blackberry Way” reaching number two in February 1969, “Curly” (September 1969) and “Brontosaurus” (May 1970).

By 1971 Roy Wood had formulated the idea of forming an `offshoot’ of the Move called the “Electric Light Orchestra”. ELO was originally formed around Wood, Lynne and Bevan and was an almost instant success, but the new band completely supplanted the Move, which ceased to exist, and Roy Wood left ELO in the hands of Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan, and went off on his own to form Wizzard.

Wizzard epitomised Wood’s genius for capturing the spirit of the musical age and he became one of Britain’s most noteable glam-rock figures.

His public appearance was more visually outrageious than it had ever been with the Move, and he developed a cult following, appearing on stage in strange outfits, with long hairy wig, pointed hat, and terrifying `wizard' makeup that made the Hammer House of Horrors make-up experts look like amateur halloween costumiers.

The ineviatable hit records followed; Wizzard’s first single, “Ballpark Incident” went straight into the Top Ten in January 1973. This was followed by “See My Baby Jive”, which went straight in at number 3 in May 1973 and held that position for five consecutive weeks.

Wizzard’s “Angel Fingers” gave Roy Wood his first number one hit when it topped the British charts in September 1973, and three months later came the massive Christmas single “I Wish it Could be Christmas Everday”, still one of the most played Christmas songs of all time!

Towards the end of 1973, with Wizzard on the point of disbanding, Wood released a solo single, “Forever” which remarkable followed Wizzard’s Christmas hit into the charts.

In January 1974 Roy Wood’s “Forever” was at number 7, significantly overtaking Wizzard’s Christmas song which was down at number 10!.

Amazingly in the summer of 1974, Roy Wood, Wizzard, and the Electric Light Orchestra were all in the charts at the same time!

Roy Wood also recorded a remarkable solo album, “Boulders” released in 1973, on which he played all the instruments, produced and engineered the recording, and designed and painted the cover!

Wizzard finally broke up in 1974, whilst Wood went on to record albums like “Mustard” (1975), “The Roy Wood Story” (1976), “On The Road” (1979) and eventually after an eight year break, “Starting Up” (1987), all of which failed to reach the charts or to capture the glittering heights of his earlier career.

“Since then, writes music columnist Bruce Eder, Wood has become one of the more elusive active musicians of his generation, although he has continued to record up to the presnt day”.

`Elusive’ seems to be an apt description and Ulysses Adrian Wood remains an enigmatic figure, seen only in varying disguises throughout his remarkable recording career.

Apart from the discography, what else is known of him?

MTV presenter and music writer, Brian Burks claims that:

“Roy Wood’s classic material marks him as one of the greatest melody writers of the twentieth century, second only to Lennon & McCartney, and one of the most gifted multi-instrumentalists in existence. Most of his solo albums are solo in the truest sense of the word – recorded entirely by himself, where he plays all the guitars, bass, drums, pianos, banjos, trombones, flutes, accordians, violins – even the bagpipes! The sheer musical capacity of the man is jaw-dropping”.

Significantly, Burks ends by stating, “Roy Wood has got to be the most underrated rock musician of all time – and the most obscure, for he seems to have simply vanished into thin air.”

I can reveal that far from `vanishing into thin air’, Roy Wood is alive and well – and still rocking!

I can further reveal that he lives incognito and in relative obscurity in the isolation of the South Derbyshire countryside, near the village of Yeavesley. According to his Internet web-site, he is still recording, and at the age of 57 has a big Roy Wood Concert lined up in his native Birmingham for April.

Perhaps I should buy a ticket and shout my questions at him from the audience, in an attempt to unravel the biographical enigma of Ulysses Adrian Wood?

*footnote:

The area of gently rolling hills and rich pastureland to the south of Ashbourne has attracted a veritable galaxy of show-business stars, for within a few miles of Roy Wood’s residence are the homes of ex-James Bond star Timothy Dalton, Cartoonist and TV pundit Bill Tidy, ex-Goodie Tim Brooke-Taylor – and a few miles north, the home of the late and sadly lamented actor, Alan Bates.

 
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