His mum, and a lot of worship music followers, know him as Peter Wilson. Now he's launched as a solo as BOOLEY. Mike Rimmer caught up with the man.
On the eastern side of Belfast, Mo Mowlam is in the high security corridors of Stormont Castle, busy in talks about the preservation of the peace process. On a rainy afternoon not far away, opposite the castle, I am wandering around the reception area of the pretty posh Stormont Hotel looking for Booley. The only clue he gave me was that he has unusually coloured and spiked hair. Looking around at the suits and straights, it shouldn't be hard to find him. I walk past the reception area and a member of the hotel staff hands me a phone claiming there's a call for me. "Peter Wilson," they say, and that's Booley's real name, so I think it's polite he should let me know he's running late. How considerate! But as I take the phone, I discover the call is FOR Peter Wilson, not FROM him! I am confused until the girl calling explains she gave a description of Booley and obviously my own bleached and spiked locks confused the poor receptionist. Just at this moment I spot Booley and he takes the call. Phew!
Since the cost of a coffee in this fine establishment would send me scurrying to plead with my bank manager for an overdraft, Booley suggests we decamp to Grace'n'Grooves, a cosy coffee house that also doubles as an intimate live venue and where Booley sometimes performs. We settle down with drinks at the back of the establishment and chat.
A brief history of Booley is that he was brought up in a family where both faith and music were important. He was seven when he became a Christian but also went through many ups and downs on his spiritual journey. He and his sisters all learnt piano when they were kids and Booley recalls, "I was 10 or 11 when I started to try to play stuff off records as opposed to off music, and play stuff that I was into. I learnt a different way of playing piano than by reading music and I think that saved the day for me. I just found I could express myself more through writing and playing different kinds of styles."
In the mid '80s he played in cover bands in school, got into writing rap music and at this time British music ministry pioneers Heartbeat offered him an audition to play keyboards with the band. However, when he travelled to England, they told him that the band was splitting up. Instead he became a founding member and lead vocalist of 65dba who later mutated into dba. He played with them for two years. So is there plenty of music hidden away that he'd rather people forgot about? "I think you would get quite a few pounds from me not to play some of the old 65dba stuff. I have some friends who have tapes of 'Hello' by Lionel Ritchie, that were made for a girl I was going out with when I was 16, and I think you could get thousands for that now."
The time with dba was invaluable in helping Booley gain experience performing. "We played a lot of gigs and schools and stuff like that. It really helped to develop my relationship with God as well. It was a really good thing, and a good chance to develop and see how I could use the gift of music. Spiritually and musically I grew, definitely."
Recently it's been as one half of Booley House, and then as a solo artist, that Booley has gained attention. He formed the band with one of his best friends, Andrew Mitchell, and together they recorded one album. When he wanted to go full time, Mitchell decided to stay in his job and the pair moved their separate ways amicably. "I did keep the name Booley to maintain name recognition," he says, "but it remains to be seen if it was a good idea or not!" Whatever the response to his name, his first solo release, 'The Bathroom Floor' mini album is the best thing he has so far produced.
It was released in the USA in October and is being distributed into the Christian bookshops by ICC in January. The title track has raised some eyebrows, with people wondering about his relationships! "My wife Heather and I went on a bit of a holiday down in the very south of Ireland where there was an Art Retreat -my wife's an artist who does pottery and things like that. We've a wee boy called Ben who's three years old soon (he was about 18 months old then). The song was born out of being a father and all the insecurities that throws to the surface about feeling inadequate and seeing Heather do so well with him and playing with him in the room we were in. I just felt really inadequate and stupid. I just went and sat in the bathroom with a notepad and started writing stuff down, so it was literally written on a bathroom floor. This is the direction I want to take my songwriting, very personal. I think people who listen to your music can really connect if they hear you being honest and talking about things that they think about but don't talk about. I really wanna try to be honest. It throws a lot of dilemmas up in terms of Heather and me. With 'Bathroom Floor', she's forever getting people thinking we had an argument or something. It's definitely my desire to be more honest."
Readers of album credits might have spotted Booley turning up as a guest vocalist on
Spring Harvest Praise Mix and Resource 2000 albums under his real name
Peter Wilson. It just seems he has friends who are record producers
and call him in! He jokes, "I think I'm turning into Matt Redman and
Martin Smith Tribute Band or something. It's been really cool just to
be able to sing some of their songs hopefully do something a bit
different with them. It does amuse me a bit as well. Sometimes I end
up appearing on these albums and then people know me for that as
opposed to what I normally do. I'm not embarrassed about it but I
don't really wanna be known as a tribute band to anybody. I find
worship stuff really inspiring but I'm not a worship leader!"
Instead Booley feels the call of the mainstream music arena as his place of influence. "My decision to go mainstream is a personal thing" he explains, "rather than this is the only way to do it, which would be stupid to say. I was influenced when I was younger by people like Keith Green who were writing songs about God and about living as a Christian. But for me, what excites me most is just the thought of being salt and light in the industry. I don't wanna make it sound too spiritual or like I'm something special in that sense, cause I also wanna be a great entertainer. I wanna write great songs that last a long time and are memorable, but I also want my relationship with God to be obvious and impact other people's lives. It really excites me, the thought that I can maybe play in places or be involved in stuff where I can be salt. I'm writing as much about my own insecurities and my own fears and feelings as I am about times of great joy or insights into knowing God's love and things. I wanna express all of that. When you look at the psalms its full of fears and dark bits as well. What's at the bottom of me is that I know ultimately, that God is there, and that I am loved, so I think that comes across in my songs."