A short history. . .
Shep Woolley has always been an entertainer. His Uncle Fred was the steward of the local Working Men's Club and whenever the opportunity arose, young John would be on the stage doing his thing, singing, dancing, joking and dressing up. In fact anything to make things go with a swing. Although in those days his mother might have told you that he did more swinging on the curtains than anything else.
No colliery seaside day trip would have been complete without 'Johnny Ray Woolley' providing the entertainment on the way home. The sound of 'If your sweetheart sends a letter of goodbye', 'The little white cloud that cried' and 'Not tonight Josephine', echoed between the seats as Johnny Arnold's Charabang trundled back through the night, and Johnny Woolley sang till his throat was sore.
"GET A GUITAR!" Said the advertisements in the paper. "PLAY IN A DAY! BE A STAR! GET INVITED TO PARTIES, BE A HIT WITH YOUR FRIENDS!"
He had to have one. Just think of all that birthday cake he was missing.
It wasn't long before Lil and Charlie relented and shelled out their hard-earned cash for three feet of strung plywood with a sound hole plus red satin cord for hanging round the neck.
and quiet in the Woolley household was a thing of the past. "Goodbye
tennis racket this is it!" The bedroom Mirror was the audience. 'You
load sixteen tons and whaddya get?' Ask Charlie he was the coal-miner.
Woolley was doing it five nights a week and every weekend. (After the bread round). Never content to be just the singer or the guitarist, Johnny Woolley wanted to be out in front, and so whenever the chance arose he would be bantering and joking with the audience.
There's no business like show business, but where do you find show business?
It was no easy task to become a professional singer in the fifties, surely this was just a hobby. "Get a proper job, and see how things go from there" was the advice he got from home and school. "See if you get discovered, but get a proper job first".
The only proper job on offer came from the National Coal Board and that option wasn't even at the bottom of his list. So on the 5th January 1960 Sheb Woolley (for he now had a nickname. Borrowed from a comedy country singer from the USA who had just had a hit with The purple people eater and was currently starring in TV western series Rawhide) strapped his guitar on his back and joined the Royal Navy.
In the Navy there were many chances to entertain in off duty periods, and Sheb appeared solo or with ships groups all around the world. Often performed alongside international stars such as Liza Minnelli, The Dave Clark Five and Matt Monroe. From Portsmouth to Puerto Rico, New Orleans to New Brighton. Very soon official entertainment jobs came his way, Ship's Radio and Television production plus service club organisation.
In the early seventies he took to standup comedy and comedy song writing, and found he had a particular flair to be able to put over the ordinary matelot's view on service life. His songs and monologues performed from the stage created a lot of fun and enjoyment throughout the Fleet, so much so that 25 years later the routines and songs are still sung and performed whenever sailors of the Royal Navy get together.
In 1975 Shep, (the Navy had dropped the 'B' in favour of a 'P' because it seemed only right that someone called Woolley should have a sheep connection) after a successful appearance on ATV News Faces (which he did for a bet) decided to give up his life on board for a life on 'The' boards.
In those days he saw himself as a singer/songwriter cum comedian, but it quickly became apparent to him that there was more to 'Showbiz' than just a microphone, a guitar and a handful of jokes. His experience on ship's radio and television came in handy when a new local independent radio station, Radio Victory, opened in Portsmouth. They were looking for presenters, so Shep wrote in, got an interview and from 400 applicants, got a job!
Production followed hard on the heels of presenting, and soon he was involved organising outside broadcasts, road shows and station link ups around the world.
Despite his radio commitments he was still very much involved with live performance, appearing at festivals, clubs and theatres around Britain with his one man show. He also found himself in demand for supporting concert roles to Alan Price, Joe Brown, Steeleye Span and Lindisfarne.
In 1985 Radio Victory lost it's ILR franchise, and although the 'New' station offered him a job, Shep felt it was time to look around and find out what else was on offer. The previous year whilst recording a family link up in Hong Kong, he had received a request to perform a standup set but had to decline due to time constraints. The time now seemed right to see if the offer was still on it was, and the resulting tour was a great success with re-bookings straight away.
The news on the Ex-pat grapevine spreads like wild fire, and soon 'gigs' were coming in from Singapore, Bermuda, Canada, Indonesia and the Arabian Gulf, and they still are to this day. Shep is known to be one of the most travelled artistes on the international circuit.
Festival direction came to Shep somewhat by default. In 1989 he made a comment to the arranger of a large outdoor event in the south of England, that the musical events were not running very smoothly and did not appear to be good value for money. The arranger said, "Well you do it next year" Shep did just that, and has been doing so ever since. In fact he made such an impression he was given other productions to look after as well.
To date he has been involved in supplying and arranging musical entertainment for the Tour De France (south of England Leg), P&O Ferry Cruises, the Southsea Show, the Bude Folk Festival, Imperial War Museum events aboard HMS Belfast, the 1998 Portsmouth International Festival of the Sea, the 1999 Maryport Sea Song Festival & Newlyn Deep Sea Fisherman's Festival, Navy days events in Portsmouth & Devonport and many more Real Ale & Folk Festivals around the UK.
To actually define what Shep Woolley does is no easy thing. To some he's a folk singer who tells funny stories, to others he's a standup comedian who writes great songs and parodies. He is equally at home in pub or club or onstage at the Albert Hall or the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. He can sing a protest song or belt out Long Tall Sally.
An active member of the Comedians Golfing Society, he has performed all around the world and in all sorts of situations. After dinner speaking in the company of HRH Prince Charles the Prince of Wales to a Thursday night bash for 300 oil men on DAS Island in the Arabian Gulf, and the Women's Institute at Leigh in Surrey.
As an actor he has appeared in numerous television plays and films and when he feels life is getting a little dull you can often find him pulling on his knickers and wig to take on the role of dame in pantomime.
He has eight long-playing albums to his credit, a couple of minor hit singles, and has just released a new CD.
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