Othello Woolf: “I’m definitely a control freak.”

24.10.09, Words by: Ruth Saxelby

“Is he famous?” It’s lunchtime in the Lock Tavern on a quiet Thursday and a rather inebriated gentleman is bewildered as to why a photoshoot is taking place in his local boozer. “Are you going to be a pop star?” he shouts across to smartly turned out, new soul man OTHELLO WOOLF. “Fingers crossed,” he laughs. “Or at least I’ll some photos to show my kids one day.” “Some photos to show your grandparents,” echoes the man. His misquote resonates because a little earlier Woolf had explained his dress sense comes from his late grandfather. “He missed being Victorian by about 10 minutes. Queen Victoria died and he was born 10 minutes later. He wore a suit – a tailored suit – every single day. Even when he went blind, he’d still be immaculately dressed with a three-piece suit and a pocket watch.”

Later on he’ll wear one of his grandfather’s old jackets for an uplifting gig at Yo Yo that lays bare influences from ROXY MUSIC to THE SMITHS and tropical soul boys GOLDEN SILVERS, who incidentally Woolf has remixed. But right now we need to escape drunken heckling. Mikael suggests a walk round the corner. We stop outside a picturesque bookshop. Woolf picks up a ‘70s looking book with an ominous title: Self Deception And Cowardice In The Present Age. We talk about relationships and agree they take a lot of getting over. “It takes the heart a long time to heal,” says Woolf. It’s certainly the feeling you get when listening to his debut single Stand (listen above) and it turns out he wrote an album full of songs in LA during the aftermath of a break up. He’s got the kind of voice that makes you stop and blink. A curious blend of old time soul and new wave numbness; languid and weary yet full of emotion.

There wasn’t much music in his house growing up but the few cassettes he did have – “John Lennon’s rock and roll album, Elvis’ Greatest Hits and a bunch of musicals like Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat, Phantom of the Opera” – prompted him to teach himself piano. Then as a teenager he discovered Morrissey. It sparked him to join a series of bands over 10 or so years before deciding to go solo “because I’m definitely a control freak. It was always me who wanted to rehearse all the time. No one else seemed as obsessive, or as enthusiastic. It gets to a point when you think, what am I doing with my life? You’ve got to pull it together.” He’s finding the freedom exciting – and finally feeling he can really express himself. “Part of the reason why I wanted to record under an adapted name [his name is Oliver] was to be able to write very personal songs and to feel a bit more detached from them. In the past I wasn’t brave enough to expose my feelings to that extent.”

We wander into a gallery in a converted Methodist church. It’s quite an extraordinary building, Tardis-like and full of quirks and character. A winding corridor opens out into a huge high-ceilinged back room space. On one wall hangs a series of photos of everyday London by Wolfgang Tillmans. Opposite them is wall filled with blown up shots of Hollywood beaches. It turns out to be one of Marilyn Monroe’s last photo shoots but she’s strangely absent. It turns out Monroe has been digitally removed from each photograph by artist Paul Pfeiffer. Only her shadow remains. Woolf might have been haunted by shadows in the past but he’s turning them into light, in his own quietly determined way.

Stand is out on Young & Lost Club in January.

Othello Woolf’s myspace

Katie Stelmanis is also obsessively determined and very talented. Read our interview with her from back in June.

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