Hailing from Bolton, Lancashire, England, Bernard Wrigley labeled himself the "Bolton Bullfrog" to describe his voice, in the liner notes to his first album in 1971. From the onset of his professional career, he has divided his time equally between recording and performing a blend of traditional folk songs and original compositions and acting in a variety of British stage, film, and television productions. Many of his original songs fit squarely in the British folk tradition, balancing sea shanties, pastorals, and bawdy compositions. His song "The Ballad of Knocking Nelly," for example, features pleasant singing and unassumingly sparse instrumental accompaniment in the service of an extremely lewd lyric about a rampantly promiscuous woman who is repeatedly found in compromising situations by her cuckolded husband. In other songs he parodies folk song traditions, as in "Robin Hood and the Bogey Rolling Contest," wherein Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham forego an archery competition to engage in flinging dried mucus at each other. While perhaps best known for his comedic musical compositions, Wrigley is also an admired interpreter of serious songs and is noted for his accomplished technique on the guitar and concertina.
Wrigley attended Thornleigh College in Lancashire, where he became entranced by the folk music book inspired by Bob Dylan in the mid-1960s. He had acted since his youth, recalling on his website: "My first recollection of acting was during a school production of Macbeth. I was playing a porter, a rather coarse character, and when I realized I could belch as loudly as I wanted in front of the headmaster and other teachers—I did!" By the time he was 16 he had performed at Bolton's Octagon Theatre. "I got interested in folk clubs," he wrote on his website. "Initially, it was because of the close proximity of the performer. Where else can you ask about chords and finger styles when the performer is right in front of you?" He formed a duo with classmate Dave Brooks in 1968 and the pair, dubbed Dave and Bernard, learned to play guitar and established a residence at the Bury Folk Club.
Failing to qualify for a university education, Wrigley took a day job as a customs and excise officer. His burgeoning performing career, however, led him and Brooks back to the Octagon as writers and performers in Crompton's Mule, a documentary production by Robin Pemberton-Billing about Samuel Crompton, the eighteenth-century inventor of the Spinning Mule, a device that produced high-grade yarns for Britain's textile industry. Dave and Bernard also made a British television appearance on the musical variety program Nice Time, hosted by Kenny Everett and Germaine Greer. "They advertised for anyone who could play tunes on their teeth," Wrigley recalled on his website. "Dave and I, along with eight others, played 'Sailers Hornpipe' on teeth and head." Dave and Bernard's performances of their own songs in Crompton's Mule proved enormously popular with audiences, and they repeated their success in 1969 in The Bolton Massacre, an Octagon Theatre production about the civil war in Lancashire, and Faith and Henry, a television play set in Bolton. The duo also wrote Christmas jingles for Yorkshire television in 1969 (broadcast in 1970), and worked for the remainder of the year on the Octagon productions Charlie Came to Town, The Hollow Crown, and Work is the Curse of the Drinking Classes, and in a show they composed themselves, It Brings Good Cheer. The duo split up shortly thereafter.
In 1970 Wrigley joined the Octagon Roadshow, with former partner Brooks, and Jane Hill, Bob Hoskins, and Ken Campbell. The group renamed itself the Ken Campbell Roadshow, and toured Northern England with a variety of songs and sketches. During this period he wrote the song "Our Bill and the Concrete Mixer," which he performed solo on a televised production of the Roadshow. He was hired to write and perform songs for another Octagon documentary, Bolton Wanderers, and then left the Roadshow. He wrote and performed songs for other productions, including The Abominable Showman, in which, he recalled on his website, he sang "'Nobody Loves a Fairy When She's Forty' dressed in clogs and a tutu." He performed a Scottish traditional piece, "Jute Mill Song," in a television production of Roll on Four O'Clock, written by Colin Welland and produced by Kenith Trodd. "By now the songwriting bug had bitten and instead of finding traditional songs to perform in folk clubs and concerts, as we had always done, I began to write my own," Wrigley wrote on his website.
The prolific Wrigley quickly amassed a large repetoire of his own compositions, and chose a number of them to include in his debut album, The Phenomenal B. Wrigley: Folk Songs, Tunes & Drolleries. The album included "Knocking Nelly" and several other self-penned songs, along with tunes Wrigley discovered in a 1789 manuscript. Rough and Wrigley was recorded in 1974, followed by the 1976 live album Songs, Stories, & Elephants, recorded at Leicester University and Preston Grasshoppers Club. His fourth album, Ten Ton Special, was released in 1976, and was produced by Dixie Dean of the British folk rock band McGuinness/Flint. Dean also produced the song "The Martians Have Landed in Wigan," which Wrigley intended for an album for Who guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend's Propellor label in 1980. When Propellor failed to take off and Townshend folded the label, Wrigley added the song to the reissue of Ten Ton Special, along with the 1980 Wrigley single "Saturday Cowboys."
In 1981 Wrigley began releasing albums on his own Loofy label, beginning with the live The Bolton Bullfrog, which was recorded at the Teanlowe Centre in Poultonle-Fylde. In 1988 he released The Instrumental Album, featuring a myriad of styles ranging from jazz and ragtime to blues and slow airs. Over the next several years, Wrigley released albums that were showcases for both his songwriting and comedic talents. The Magnificent Monologues releases featured Wrigley doing spoken performances of "Sam, Sam, Pick up Thy Musket" and other comic monologues written by Al Read and Robb Wilton. Wrigley teamed with Newcastle writer and illustrator Gary Hogg for the book and compact disc of Fairly Truthful Tales and 'amblethwaite 'appenings. In 2005 he released God's Own Country, a 13-song cycle about Lancashire County.
The Phenomenal B. Wrigley: Folk Songs, Tunes & Drolleries, Topic, 1971; reissued with Rough and Wrigley on Loofy.
Rough and Wrigley, Topic, 1974; reissued with The Phenomenal B. Wrigley on Loofy.
Songs, Stories, & Elephants, Transatlantic, 1976; reissued on Loofy.
Ten Ton Special, Transaltantic, 1976; reissued on Loofy.
The Bolton Bullfrog, Loofy, 1981.
Rude Bits!, Loofy, 1985.
The Instrumental Album, Loofy, 1988; reissued with bonus track, 2002.
Wanted: Live!, Loofy, 1991.
Buggerlugs, Loofy, 1992.
Albert, Arthur & the Car Park, Loofy, 1997.
Magnificent Monologues, Loofy, 2000.
Fairly Truthful Tales, Loofy, 2002.
Magnificent Monologues, Volume 2, Loofy, 2002.
Monologology, Loofy, 2003.
Amblethwaite 'appenings, Loofy, 2004.
God's Own Country, Loofy, 2005.
For the Record …
Born on February 25, 1948, in Bolton, Lancashire, England; married Mary Wrigley; children: Nick. Education: Attended Thornleigh College
Made first television appearance with musical partner Dave Brooks, 1968; turned to recording and performing professionally, 1969; joined Ken Campbell Roadshow and wrote "The Ballad of Knocking Nelly" and "Our Bill and the Concrete Mixer," 1970; released debut album, The Phenomenal B. Wrigley, 1971; played kleptomaniac in BBC2 production Said the Preacher, 1971; appeared in music documentary, Ballad of the North West, 1973; released Rough and Wrigley, 1974; released The Instrumental Album, 1988; released God's Own Country, 2005.
Addresses: Website—Bernard Wrigley Official Website: http://www.bernardwrigley.com. Email—[email protected]
The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, MUZE UK Ltd., 1998.
Bolton Evening News (Lancashire, England), October 30, 2004.
Bernard Wrigley Official Website, http://www.bernardwrigley.com (January 12, 2006).
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