Allan Holdsworth

Born : August 6th, 1946 - Leeds, Yorkshire (UK)
Died : April 17th, 2017
Past Bands :
Igginbottom (1969-70), Nucleus (1972-73), Tempest (1972-73), Soft Machine (1973-75), Tony Williams' Lifetime (1975-76), Gong (1976), U.K. (1977-78), Bruford (1978-79), various Allan Holdsworth Bands, Level 42 (1990), SoftWorks (2002-04)

A Short Bio:

The extent of Allan Holdsworth's contribution to the Canterbury scene during the 70's tends to be overshadowed by his subsequent success as a solo artist. As a matter of fact, after moving to the USA in the early 80's, Holdsworth found a new audience that, apart maybe from his appearances on albums by UK or Jean-Luc Ponty, was unaware of his work with such bands as Nucleus, Soft Machine or Gong.

Allan Holdsworth was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1946. Surprising as it may seem when hearing how accomplished a player Holdsworth already was on his first recordings, becoming a musician was not an early dream for him. He considered himself a music lover first and foremost, and if he ever thought of playing an instrument, it would have been the saxophone. But saxes were too expensive. One day his father brought a guitar from his uncle, and Holdsworth, then aged 15, started playing it, showing a growing interest for it. His father, himself a very good pianist, helped him at the beginning, but very soon Holdsworth developed an instinctive understanding of the instrument which made the technical learning process a lot quicker.

By the late 60's, Holdsworth started playing with local club bands, playing Top 40 material, in his native Bradford (Yorkshire) area. In 1968, he formed Igginbottom, with Dave Freeman, Mick Skelly and Steve Robinson. The quartet put out an album, Igginbottom's Wrench (1969), on the Deram label. Holdsworth is a little embarrassed with these early recordings : "All we were doing with that band was rehearsing", he said later in an interview with Facelift. "The album was recorded in about five minutes, a pretty horrendous experience. I'm actually sorry that it became a record. Everybody in the band hated it. There are some other tapes around that I have from rehearsals which would be much better memories of it than the record, but that's life...".

Following the inevitable breakup of Igginbottom, Holdsworth went back to doing his day job, gigging around with local club bands. Then an interesting opportunity presented himself : one Glen South offered him a well-paid job in his club band which had a residency at a Mecca palais in Sunderland. The following couple of years were spent doing that job, until Holdsworth moved to Manchester for yet another residency, at the Ritz Ballroom. In the meantime, Holdsworth had began to teach himself the violin. While in Manchester, he attended a jazz workshop by Graham Collier, where he made friends with saxophone player Ray Warleigh. Following the latter's invitation, Holdsworth moved to London a few months later, staying at Warleigh's place for a while, and becoming acquainted with the London jazz scene, sitting in with a variety of musicians, including Ian Carr, Jon Hiseman and John Marshall.

In the early days of his stay in London, Holdsworth was involved in a shortlived line-up, which has a bit of a 'legendary' flavour in the minds of Canterbury fans, because it also involved Alan Gowen (keyboards), later of Gilgamesh and National Health, and Jamie Muir (drums and percussion), formerly of the Music Improvisation Company and later of King Crimson's innovative Larks' Tongues... line-up. Unfortunately, Sunship broke up at the rehearsal stage, and Holdsworth doesn't remember playing more than a few gigs with them. In June 1972, he joined Ian Carr's pioneering jazz-rock outfit Nucleus (alongside Gordon Beck, Dave MacRae and Roy Babbington), appearing on the Belladonna album, produced by former Colosseum drummer Jon Hiseman. Hiseman was so impressed by his guitar playing that he immediately asked him to join his new band Tempest.

A heavy rock band, Tempest also included bassist Mark Clarke, and soon the trio was joined by vocalist and occasional keyboard player Paul Williams. Holdsworth remained with Tempest for a little more than a year, playing on the band's eponymous debut album. He left following the replacement of Williams with guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Ollie Halsall, probably not wanting to share lead guitar duties with somebody else. During the following few months, he returned to the London jazz scene, gigging locally with Nucleus, drummer Alan Jackson's band Kincade and an ongoing quintet with Ray Warleigh, featuring pianist Pat Smythe.

In November 1973, Holdsworth jammed with Soft Machine at a Musicians' Union rock clinic, which led to guest appearances at a couple of Softs concerts. His official debut with the band was for a Christmas party at London's Roundhouse on December 23rd, 1973. Holdsworth brought in an entirely new dimension to the thus then guitar-less line-up. The Bundles album, recorded at CBS studios in July 1974, was instrumental in his rise to fame as a superior guitarist. It was also his first recording in a purely jazz-rock/fusion vein.

Alas for his colleagues of Soft Machine, Allan Holdsworth was offered to become the guitarist in a new version of Tony Williams' Lifetime, so in the Spring of 1975, shortly after the release of Bundles, he left the band. After recorded an aborted album with Williams and Jack Bruce in Sweden, he followed the drummer to America, where Alan Pasqua (keyboards) and Tony Newton (bass) joined them. He ended up playing on two Lifetime albums, Believe It (1975) and Million Dollar Legs (1976), which also did much in forgeing his reputation. But Holdsworth eventually left before the recording of a third album due, among other things, to the uncertain financial situation of the band. At that point, a solo album, Velvet Darkness, was released by CTI Records. Holdsworth now describes it as "a real terrible disaster", which is understandable given the fact that the label used rehearsal tapes to compile it, deeming it unnecessary to finance 'real' sessions. Too bad, really, given the talent of the backing musicians involved - Alan Pasqua, Alfonso Johnson and Michael Walden. Over the years, Holdsworth has tried, and eventually succeeded in, preventing the album's re-release.

Allan Holdsworth's second major link with the Canterbury scene took the shape of an unexpected stint with Gong. The Shamal line-up had just broken up, and Pierre Moerlen (drums) and Didier Malherbe (reeds) were left to assemble a new line-up. With the recruitment of Moerlen's brother Benoit, who doubled on vibraphones and marimbas with the already involved Mireille Bauer, and the addition of former Magma bass player Francis Moze, the new combination was very rhythm-oriented, and Holdsworth keeps fond memories of this unusual musical experience. When the album Gazeuse! was recorded in the Autumn of 1976, following an appearance at the Reading festival in August and a European tour in the Autumn, Holdsworth had become the main composer in the band alongside Pierre Moerlen. Unfortunately, there was tension between Moerlen and Moze, so Gong broke up shortly after the sessions. But a solid musical friendship was forged between Holdsworth and the band, which led to later guest appearances, most notably on the Expresso 2 (1978) album.

1977 was a year of more informal associations, with Holdsworth appearing on albums by Bill Bruford (Feels Good To Me), Jean-Luc Ponty (Enigmatic Ocean) and Gordon Beck (The Things You See), recording in an improvised jazz setting with drummer John Stevens (Touching On) and eventually joining Bruford in his new band venture, UK, alongside John Wetton (vocals and bass) and Eddie Jobson (keyboards and violin). The musical direction of UK was progressive rock in the vein of Yes and King Crimson with a modern, synth-based approach. Holdsworth didn't really feel happy in this context, especially when playing live, as opportunities for improvisation and band interaction were limited by the constraints of the extremely written compositions. By late 1978, both he and Bruford had left, following which the cast of Bruford's Feels Good To Me - with Dave Stewart (keyboards) and Jeff Berlin (bass) - was reunited for One Of A Kind (1979), which featured one composition by Holdsworth, "The Abingdon Chasp".

Although he did a British tour with Bruford in the Spring of 1979, Holdsworth was soon to leave, on the eve of an extensive American tour. "I enjoyed working with Bill, but the problem was that I had this thing in my head about wanting to do my own thing...". He then formed an 'all-star' trio with Jack Bruce and Jon Hiseman, but this didn't go beyond the demo stage : tapes were sent to various labels without mention of the players' identities, and they all met with refusal - although things would of course have been different with the label's knowledge of the commercial appeal of the line-up. It was around that time that Holdsworth met drummer Gary Husband. It was the start of a long-term musical collaboration. With the help of bassists Henry Thomas, Neil Murray and Paul Carmichael, Holdsworth and Husband played many gigs during 1980-81, sometimes supported by keyboard player Dave MacRae, an old acquaintance from Holdsworth's time with Nucleus. The line-up went under the names of Allan Holdsworth & Friends, Handlebards and finally False Alarm.

In parallel to these 'rock' activites, Holdsworth also kept busy on the jazz scene : Sunbird (1980), another duet with Gordon Beck, led to a British tour in 1980 with Jeff Clyne (bass) and Gary Husband (drums). A little later, Holdsworth appeared with the same rhythm section as part of Turning Point at the Bracknell Festival, also touring Britain with them later in the year. Turning Point was a band led by ex-Isotope members Clyne and Brian Miller (keyboards), but Holdsworth was offered his own trio showcase during the gigs, with Clyne and Husband. Towards the year's end, he also guested on Soft Machine's final album, Land Of Cockayne (1981), alongside John Marshall, Karl Jenkins and Jack Bruce among others.

In 1981, False Alarm became I.O.U. with the addition of Paul Williams, Holdsworth's former Tempest accomplice. At that point, he had discovered that he had much more of a potential following in the USA, and started spending more and more time there. Eventually, he moved to California in 1982. Since then, Holdsworth has enjoyed a successful career as a solo artist with his own band - featuring drummers Gary Husband, Chad Wackerman and Vinnie Colaiuta, bassists Paul Carmichael, Jeff Berlin and Jimmy Johnson, and keyboard player Steve Hunt. In the mid-80's, Holdsworth made extensive use of the SynthAxe, which as it names indicates is a guitar synthesizer. At last, it fullfilled his lifelong fantasy of achieving perfect sustain with a guitar. But he gradually moved back to the guitar in the 90's.

Holdsworth has also kept busy as a guest player, adding his considerable talents to solo releases by Chad Wackerman, Stuart Hamm, Jack Bruce, Stanley Clarke, Jens Johansson and many others. More surprising was a brief stint with pop group Level 42, a connection provided by Gary Husband, who'd become their drummer. Holdsworth guested on the album Guaranteed and even joined the band for a record-breaking series of shows at the Hammersmith Odeon in December 1990. In 1994, he played on Gongzilla's debut album, Suffer (1995), renewing his collaboration with former Gong colleagues Benoît Moerlen and Hansford Rowe.

Another return to Holdsworth's roots occurred in 2002 - he joined forces with three other former members of Soft Machine in SoftWorks, which consisted of Elton Dean (sax), Hugh Hopper (bass) and John Marshall (drums), now with Holdsworth who replaced Keith Tippett, the original fourth member for a one-off concert in Germany in September 1999. SoftWorks released their debut album Abracadabra on Universal Japan in early 2003, and the band subsequently toured Japan and Italy. By late 2004, however, Holdsworth had left to be replaced (once again) by John Etheridge.

There is a chronology of Allan Holdsworth's career on this website.