Allan Holdsworth (Melody Maker 1975)
Summary: Allan Holdsworth became Soft Machine's lead guitarist and violinist during a period of significant musical change. He considered his role a natural progression within the evolving lineup, with influences spanning jazz and rock. Prior experiences included playing with Jon Hiseman's Tempest and local rock bands, leading him to the Softs after meeting them at an MU rock clinic. Holdsworth aimed to compose music specifically for the band involving the violin, despite initial nerves about playing it. [This summary was written by ChatGPT in 2023 based on the article text below.]
Soft Machine hadn't had a lead guitarist since the early days before Daevid Allen had his work permit problems in the late Sixties, and so to most people the obvious change in their sound has been the addition of Allan Holdsworth's guitar during the last 12 months.
In a sense, he has had an easier task than those new members who have replaced well-known Softs personnel, though of course he has had to carve out for himself a completely new niche in what was an established set-up, but he didn't consider whether it was more easy or difficult that way.
"To be quite honest," he says, "I never thought about it. The band wanted to do something, they wanted to change all their material at the time, and everyone was playing new tunes and things, so it was sort of new for everybody, really.
"I think it would have been the same whichever way it had been, because if I'd been replacing somebody I think they’d have still been changing their material anyway."
The only member of the band with who he was familiar before he joined was John Marshall, because he'd played with him on various jazz gigs, though Allan is more of a rocker really. Or, to be more accurate, he is one of a new generation of musical stylists who are influenced by the whole extent of the scene today, rather than any one aspect of it.
"So many things have happened in jazz and rock," he points out. "Musicians who are growing up now, young guys who are coming in now, they're influenced not by the separate things but by the combinations of things that people have been playing. So what Softs are doing is a new thing really, though what's gone before affects us as well."
"Before Tempest I wasn't really doing anything really. I'd played with local rock bands round Bradford and then I got into a Mecca palais thing for about three years. That was the longest thing I did, really."
He met the Softs at an MU rock clinic and had a bit of a blow with them and it worked out quite well.
"They just wrote out a few simple code (sic, probably “chord”) things and really enjoyed it, it was nice, then did a few gigs as a guest, just feeling it out for both, to see whether they liked it or I liked it. Everybody seemed to enjoy it and then was asked to join, so I did.
"I think the band is really like a collection of people I know as people and I know in what ways they play and I'm pleasantly surprised at times."
In addition to his superbly fluid guitar line, a developing contribution by Allan to the sound of the Softs is his violin-playing which he has been working on for the past four years.
“What I would like to do is to write something for the band specifically for violin so I would have to play it but at the moment I don't play it very much, which is my own fault because they ask me but I get nervous about it."
Melody Maker profile, April 1975