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Imagine you are one of the greatest, most respected scientists in your field. You've been refining your experiments over the last three decades and have distilled your knowledge in to an ever evolving and liquid form that has almost limitless possibilities and retains a vitality that is rarely found in even the youngest and most enthusiastic practitioners. The only draw back is that in your own country only a handful of converts follow and appreciate your discovery and the establishment couldn't really care for what is essentially a national treasure. Allan Holdsworth is a man in such a position, however his science is music and his laboratory is a guitar. Audiostreet's Mike Flynn caught up with this guitar guru to find out what makes him tick.
One of the finest musicians this country has ever produced and intellectually on a par with the likes of John Coltrane this down to earth Yorkshireman now resides in California and has done for the last ten years. His fiery playing has a lightness and speed that has won him a devoted following worldwide but like all true innovators he has never compromised his music, instead he has constantly sought to continually evolve as a player."The reason I moved to the States was economical." says Allan, "Because when I first met Gary Husbandafter I decided I wanted to form my own band and working with Gary was one hell of a struggle, a struggle that he's still going through now with his own music. We would play a pub and there would be ten people in there, then we'd go to California and there'd five hundred people and it's packed. So it was a very simple and obvious thing for me to do, I thought well do I want to go back there and play to ten people or do I want to go over here and play to loads. So I moved." Beginning his career with the likes of Soft Machineand then the hugely talented and influential drummers Tony Williamsand Bill Bruford, Holdsworth was developing his distinctive improvisational style. His searching harmonic journeys created many "urban myths" about his playing, including his exhaustive analysis of literally thousands of scale possibilities which to this day he is still discovering new ideas and combinations of notes. Allan explains this process further, "Well music is such and endless thing. I thought of a way of describing it, I was never really able to describe it, but I thought of a good way to describe it recently. Most people will know this but when you first fall in love there is this kind of urgency and there's this almost kind of like a horror. At the same time it's really a great feeling, but there's also this thing of there's something you don't understand yet, because it's new and that's the way I feel about music. It's like having a love affair that never ends. You never get past that like you would with any other relationship, like usually happens with a relationship. My relationship with music is that is what it feels like all the time. So long as I can keep writing something I'll be happy."
His new album "The Sixteen Men Of Tain" is full of this "love affair" his sonic landscapes loaded with a romanticism and passion that so many current musicians lack, particularly in the overcrowded ranks of modern day guitar heroes, but this accessibility is more coincidence than premeditation. "It wasn't a conscious effort, it was just a nice accident. Because what I wanted to try and do after the last album that I did with Gordon (Beck)"None Too Soon" we played old tunes, so in a way it was my album but I didn't think of it like it was my album. The last band album I think of was "Hard Hat Area" which was with Gary, Skuli (Sverrisson) and Steve Hunt and right after that album I was thinking I wanted to write some original music, but just put in a different setting, a slightly different setting. And in a way this also happened by accident because I was playing with Dave Carpenter, who introduced me to Gary Novak and we played a lot and we did two tours of Europe with that group and I also knew he played acoustic bass. So after the end of the touring I felt like I needed to record it. I had lost my record deal so my manager loaned me the money to pay the guys to do the record. So we recorded it like one weekend and then I shelved it, and sat it on the back burner until I got a record deal which was about a year and a half later on this new small label. Then I went ahead and finished it. Since then I did another album with Gary Husband and Jimmy Johnson and I'm holding that one back cos this one only just came out! I just wanted to have something that had original music, something that had intensity but was softer. The fact that Dave Carpenter played acoustic bass was nice because I was like "maybe it would be nice if you played acoustic bass on this record."
The lighter acoustic bass sound helped move Holdsworth's writing and playing in to a new area that he has never really pushed before. "That's the beauty of it as well because he, like a lot of the other bass guitar players I've played with, he plays a lot. If you put Dave on bass guitar he's playing all the time and he plays chords I keep telling him I'm going to buy him a one string bass guitar! So giving him the acoustic bass was great. It was a good element to have and I think it also added something to the sound, which also important to loads of people's perception of it." Despite Allan's success abroad in Japan, America and Europe things are beginning to happen again in the UK, but this hasn't changed his view of the music scene on this side of the Atlantic. "Well there's a huge contrast. I love England and obviously I was born here and my roots are here. A lot of music is very geographical and I always feel that my music still comes from Bradford even though I live in California. So there's that but at the same time there are things that I really don't like about England. The blinker thing and also like things that have happened millions and millions of times it seems like people always have to leave to come back, including anybody you can imagine. So many great things have been invented and thought of in England, like radar, and the guy can't get arrested! And he has to go somewhere else. I mean that's a very typical thing to happen to someone in England and it's a sad thing, I don't really know whose fault it is."
Always outspoken he expands on his views of contemporary music generally. "That's probably one of the few good things that are good about England if you are involved in pop music it's probably a good place to be. But if you are involved in any other kind of music it's probably the worst place you can possibly be. I mean it doesn't bother me really because when you think about it music is judged by people who don't know anything about music. The average person or the average listener they are not really going to know anything about music so when they hear it. It's like me going in to an art gallery, I never studied art but I can look at something and say I like it or I don't like it. But the artist will see a whole lot more than I will. Unfortunately for the artist if he has not done something that can cross the boundary to me I'm going to ignore it by ignorance. So you can't blame them, it's not the public's fault, as much as it's the fault of the media. There's the music and then there's the people and then there's all this bullshit in the middle. It doesn't really bother me." The "Sixteen Men Of Tain" presents a revitalized artist at the height of his powers playing music that not only communicates emotionally but still refers to his roots and his love of life that stems from being one of the greatest living Yorkshiremen and a talent we should cherish.
Updated: February 4, 2001
Scheduled update: None
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