The Woodentops were an '80s avant-funk indie band who ended up becoming more experimental and electronic and recording the definitive Balearic anthem, 'Why Why Why'. The track was picked up by legendary Ibizan DJ Alfredo, it became an anthem at Amnesia on the White Isle, and The Woodentops inadvertently came to define the Balearic sound.
Paul Oakenfold's first-ever remix attempt was 'Why Why Why', and The Woodentops also went on to work with expert remixers Arthur Baker and On-U dubmeister Adrian Sherwood. Now, to coincide with the triple-CD 'Before During After: Remasters, Remixes & Rarities 1982-1992' out on One Little Indian this month, the Woodentops are reforming for a show at London's Dingwalls on 23rd June.
Woodentops main man Rolo McGinty and cohorts began as a traditional band, but as they became more immersed in early '80s club culture and the electro sounds coming over from New York, they began honing their thrift store instruments towards da funk.
“We would play over and over and over to try to get that Kraftwerk or Moroder sequential tightness,” Rolo tells DJ Mag. “We'd often go out dancing, then in our rehearsal spot the next day, work like hell to get a little closer to 'what makes people dance'. James Brown, Fela Kuti and funk in general powered us too.”
By the mid-'80s they were playing all-nighters on the Spanish coast, which is where Alfredo saw them play. “Those gigs were completely different to the UK venues at the time,” Rolo says. “We had those places bugging from the front to the back. We would extend the songs with hypnotic beats until the whole place was with it at, say, 4am. Unforgettable events.”
Meanwhile, Alfredo had been turning their percussive punk-funk cut 'Why Why Why' into a Balearic anthem. “We hadn't heard of Amnesia, so we had no idea it was killing it there,” says Rolo. “Because it was live, it turned the disco into a live Woodentops show for a while. I suppose we are kind of a missing link, in a way, between rock and club sounds in the '80s. Just us live doing it, with no DJ involvement.
“So we didn't go Balearic, the Balearic scene kind of came to us,” Rolo adds. “Ironically the live ‘Why Why Why’ [that appears on the new comp] was the first time we all dropped one before going onstage, just to see what happened — a bit of a risk as it was originally recorded for a live US radio broadcast!”
The Woodentops heard house music for the first time in 1987, and before they knew it a young DJ called Paul Oakenfold was phoning Rolo up. “He was begging me to get to Ibiza and play,” Rolo recalls. “He was telling me about huge outdoor parties where our tune was record of the night, and thousands of people went nuts and knew the words.”
However, The Woodentops' rock & roll set-up counted against them, and they remained 'nearly men'. Their agent didn't know any promoters in Ibiza, and their record company — who also had The Smiths at the time — refused to release the tune as a 12”. “Business people went to bed at 11,” says Rolo. “We would go out at 11. So there we were, stuck in the middle. They missed a chance. Anyway, just knowing so many people had such a great time with that track is enough.”
Rolo recalls the Happy Mondays breakthrough London show at the Dominion Theatre in the late '80s, with all the new principal DJs boogieing away down the front and 'Why Why Why' being dropped just before the Mondays took to the stage. “Even Carl Cox made a point of letting me know how much he loved that record,” he says. “It wasn't just Rampling, Oakenfold, Holloway, Fung and Weatherall and all the gang — it was such an across-the-board winner.”
'Why Why Why' would go on to be covered by Deja Vu, Barry Ashworth from the Dub Pistols' acid house band.
“Tony Humphries started playing it on his world tour, on Kiss FM NYC, and on his mixtapes,” says Rolo. “I saw him do it myself at Ministry of Sound in its early days. He was playing it at 4am — the witching hour! Brutal! Three copies on three decks, on and on.”
Rolo enthuses about the acceptance he felt due to this, and how Rocky and Diesel from X-Press 2 were blown away when they realised who'd made the record, after hearing it on a Tony Humphries mixtape.
“They referred to it as 'selling coals to Newcastle',” he chuckles. “I did get to meet Tony Humphries, and he told me he found the record amongst a pile of white labels in the cheap bin and just wondered what it was. Loved it. He asked me for a box of them. I obliged.
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