La Route Du Roc (Guitarist Mag 2000)

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Summary: Allan Holdsworth discusses his lifelong connection to music, his transition to the guitar influenced by artists like Charlie Christian, and his career with bands such as Soft Machine and GONG. He shares his desire to reach a broader audience and describes his latest album, "The Sixteen Men Of Tain," as an evolution of his musical journey. [This summary was written by ChatGPT in 2023 based on the article text below.]


This story was only available in the low resolution photographs you can see at the bottom. I therefore needed help in transcribing the article. Merci beaucoup to Philippe who provided an excellent translation.

Allan Holdsworth - La Route Du Roc

Guitarist (France), April 2000

Written by Franck Medioni

Transcribed and translated by Philippe N.

Editing and proofreading by The Allan Holdsworth Archives.

Considered by his peers - from jazz men to metal heads - as one of this century’s shining lights on the guitar, Allan Holdsworth, a quiet Englishman - except for his legato flourishes - tells his own story, just as his new album The Sixteen Men of Tain is released.

Q : How did you come to music ?

A : I feel like I have always played music. I was immersed in music very early and as a matter of fact, I remember quite well the first time I ever heard music. My father played a record for me. I remember it was a funny feeling. It made me feel very sad when it should have made me feel very happy. I didn’t really understand what was happening to me. But I became more and more aware of music. My father was a jazz pianist and he made me discover Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Charlie Christian. My father also encouraged me a lot, and offered me my first guitar when I was 17. And so very naturally, I became a professional musician, without really making a conscious decision. I didn’t really want to become a musician, I simply wanted to become a listener, but things took a different path for me. As a young guitarist, I was influenced by what my father was playing and by what I was listening to, mostly blues and Charlie Christian, whose solos I was copying. Sax players also made a strong impression on me, notably John Coltrane in the Miles Davis Quintet. I was trying to sound like a saxophone player, to make the guitar sound like a percussive instrument, or to play it as if it were a piano. A few years later, I was offered a music learning book and I started to study and work more seriously. Then I bought my first electric guitar. I immediately loved it, much more than the acoustic guitar, which I don’t practise anymore. [Back translated from French.]

Q : You also play the violin and when you play synth-guitar, it sounds like a violin.

A : I bought a bad-looking second-hand violin, very cheap, for something like 4 pounds, in the 60s. I played it in a jazz band. I really liked the sound of it and I sometimes tried to reproduce its sound on the guitar or on the synth-guitar, the Synth-Axe, which I was one of the first to use, along with Lee Ritenour in the 80s. It was a revelation for me as this instrument was able to make a lot of different things, particularly with distortion, and the programming of it quickly evolved. It prevented me from spending years and years learning to play the two instruments. It took me a lot of time to find my own sound to begin with. In my early career, I experimented a lot, in blues or rock bands, in John Hiseman’s Tempest in the 70s or with the pianist Pat Smythe. [Back translated from French.]

Q : Then, in 1975, you became a member of the Soft Machine…

A : It was a formidable experience, the first time I was really free. I was walking a thin line, the music kept changing, it was extraordinary. Then I left Soft Machine, Tony Williams asked me to join his band Lifetime, and I recorded two albums with him. It was a big deal for me, to be in New York, I was 27, Tony was 30, and my life was completely transformed. Musically speaking it was one of the most outstanding experiences I ever had. At the same time, I recorded my first solo album Velvet Darkness in 1976, then I met the French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, a musician I admire a lot and I played on his album Enigmatic Ocean. [Back translated from French.]

Q : In 76 you joined the band GONG…

A : It really was an interesting band, with two vibraphone players, a saxophonist, a guitarist, a bassist and a drummer. They were all French musicians. I didn’t understand anything at all when they were talking. I assumed they either spoke about philosophy all the time or were making fun of me (laughs). [Back translated from French.]

Q : When did you first decide to create your own band?

A : During my time in the band UK with Bill Bruford, we always played the same thing the same way and I quickly grew bored of it. In 1980 I recorded a duet album with the pianist Gordon Beck and I started my own group with Paul Carmichael on bass and the astonishing drummer Gary Husband. That was the point when my career as a bandleader started and I found myself on the cover of American magazines, whereas in England and in Europe, it felt like I was already forgotten. [Back translated from French.]

Q : How do you feel about being considered a musician’s musician, well regarded among other guitarists, and not well-known by the larger public?

A : I feel very flattered that musicians I have a lot of respect for, like John McLaughlin and others, appreciate my work. I would like to touch more people with my music, that is very important to me. It can be a little frustrating for me, but I don’t consider it as a priority. I follow my own trail without thinking too much about what people think or say. But the public support is a big motivation, it helps you move on. My biggest fear is to stop making progress, stop learning. Music is so enormous. In fact, I don’t really know why I’m not so well-known by a larger public, maybe it’s a question of luck. [Back translated from French.]

Q : How do you see today’s evolution of jazz guitar?

A : It’s difficult to say. There’s just so much of it at the time. What I really find amazing is the evolution of the electric guitar, notably its amplification, which opens so many ways of sound-sculpting, or refining. [Back translated from French.]

Q : The guitar is probably the instrument of the century…

A : Yes, probably. When my father offered me my first guitar, I was very surprised, I had never seen one before, except in photos in magazines. Now everyone has a guitar, even those who can’t play it (laughs). The guitar has evolved very rapidly, and has known lots of changes, in all musical contexts, whether jazz, rock, and other styles. And it’s only the beginning. [Back translated from French.]

Q : How do you consider your new album, The Sixteen Men Of Tain, in the course and evolution of your musical career?

A : It’s the continuation of my earlier records, like 1994’s Hard Hat Area. My way of composing has changed a little. I have tried to be more musical and more delicate. I try things on the guitar, I experiment, I improvise, then I transcribe the music on paper. It can take 5 minutes or 3 months. For this album, the challenge was to find a guitar sound that was appropriate to the compositions and up-to-date. It took all of the resources of the new digital Yamaha DG80 amp and of my Carvin signature guitars to achieve that, and I think I managed to evolve, a real but natural evolution. [Back translated from French.]