Soft Works

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Soft Works was a spin-off of Soft Machine alumni. They released the album "Abracadabra", and later "Abracadabra In Osaka" after the band broke up. The lineup for the albums was:

Allan Holdsworth interview (Abstract Logix 2004)

Fan: Since you keep touring with Soft Works is there a possibility that there will be another studio-album with this band?

AH: It’s a possibility. I like working with those guys. I think all the members of Softworks would like to delve into some new music together. We’ve worked so sporadically and we live far apart, so it’s made it a little more difficult than it would be if I was living over in England.

Harnessing momentum (Innerviews 2008)

I revisited Soft Machine with the Soft Works project. I felt it was something I should do, but it became a logistics problem with the three guys being in England and me being in America. Another reason for why we didn’t do more is because sadly, Elton Dean passed away. That was really tragic. Before he went on a vacation to Tahiti in 2004, he stopped at my house and spent a couple of days with me. On his last day with me, we went to the golf club to get a few beers, then he left and it was the last time I saw him.


The liner notes for "Floating World Live" contain a great account of the period Allan was in the band. Here are some excerpts that focus on Allan's role.

JOHN MARSHALL: As I said, Karl was getting less interested in playing. He wasn't interested anyway in being the big soloist. That's another reason why we needed someone who would really enjoy playing solos. That's the real thing - you have to enjoy it, you have to want to do it. And Allan certainly did!

JOHN MARSHALL: As far as I can remember, after we'd done the Seven album, we found that playing live, it was like there was a big build-up of energy in the band, and it felt like it needed to go somewhere. And some of the stuff on that album was not as strong live as the previous stuff, which I suppose would be mostly from the Six album at that time. So it felt like it needed some extra thing to push it. Allan was around at that time. He'd not long been down in London, for eighteen months or a couple of years maybe. So I said, 'Oh, this guitar player around is really special, and maybe it'd be a nice move to have him! And we tried him out, we did a workshop for the Musicians' Union. He seemed happy - we certainly were!

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: I started playing guitar when I was about 16 or 17 after I left school, because I'd always been interested in music. My father was a pianist, so I was exposed to a lot of music at home. I was in a few semi-pro bands around Bradford, where I was born. It was all working men's clubs and that type of thing. After that, I got in one of those Mecca bands in Sunderland and Manchester and played with them for three years. I eventually met Ray Warleigh, the alto player, and he told me that he had a spare room in London because I wanted to move, so I stuck it out with the Mecca band for a while and then decided that I couldn't take it any more. I left to go down to London and moved in with Ray. I couldn't have done it without his help, really. It's pretty hard if you don't know anybody... I was lucky, really, because I had- n't been down very long and somebody told Jon Hiseman about me and he called and asked me to play, and that brought about Tempest. That was my first pro band. Then I left Tempest in the summer of 1973. The connection with Soft Machine happened by accident. There was a guy called Brian Blain, who worked for the Musicians' Union. He helped me a lot when I was starting out. He really liked me and tried to put me in different situations - I did some clinics for instance, and that's how I met John Marshall. Basically he wanted Soft Machine to do a clinic but he also wanted a guitarist so he called me separately and told me we could rehearse a few things before the clinic. I just learnt a couple of their simpler numbers and we did them. They obviously liked it as they asked me to play a few gigs with them, as a guest. That's how it started and I just gradually sort of... stayed. With me in Soft Machine the band changed enormously, the guitar became most important solo instrument. It was in Soft Machine that I began to really develop my own sound.

KARL JENKINS: It wasn't, you know, 'We'll find a guitar play- er'. That's never been the policy. Even later, when we had Alan Wakeman on sax or Ric Sanders on violin, it was always the player rather than the instrument. And both John and I knew Allan from the time he came down from Yorkshire with this band called 'Igginbottom, and later with Tempest.

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: To be quite honest, I never thought about [Soft Machine's past]. I hadn't heard what had happened before, which may be a good thing, because then you're not trying to keep some- thing alive. The band wanted to do something new, 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 still have changed the material anyway.

ROY BABBINGTON: Allan blew the pants off anybody. There was nobody to touch him. You had to be around at the time to suffer the shock of hearing him. You'd go, 'Jesus Christ, where's that coming from?". There was this geezer from Bradford, just pouring with music, absolutely amazing. I mean, everybody wanted to play with him!

JOHN MARSHALL: Allan doesn't read music, but he's got ears like you wouldn't believe ! So you had the rest of us reading it, and he picked it up very quickly, so in fact we'd get the music right pretty quickly.

ROY BABBINGTON: Allan coming in that was a real departure from the original concept of Soft Machine. But then the band's membership had always been fluid, more so than with any other band I think. It was more a pool of contributors. Of course, at the time, with all the line-up changes, a lot of people thought it was a takeover bid, or something like that. But I can't, quite frankly, read it like that. All I know is I was involved at the time... One day follows another... It was interesting to be involved!

KARL JENKINS: My writing in the band gradually changed, espe- cially, of course, when our instrumentation suddenly altered. When Allan came in, it was the first proper guitar player that the band had had, and obviously the sound changed. Also, as I began play- ing mostly keyboards, Mike and I developed the dual-keyboard thing, which made for more opportunities in patterns and working things out between us.

JOHN MARSHALL: It was just a general progression. The sound of the band was different, and bigger, with Allan in. Also, Karl was getting more and more interested in composing, and because he was then concentrating more and more on just keyboards, there was no need for him to do much solo work. …I remember we were aware that we were taking a risk, because peo- ple come to concerts wanting to hear things they know. Especially with an instrumental band that played segue, it was nice to know a tune sometimes! But I remember it worked! We certainly felt, musically, that it did what we hoped it would do, which was open the band out. In a way it could have been any instrument, not nec- essarily a guitar, but somehow it was important that it was a gui- tar, because a guitar has a dual function: it's both a rhythm sec- tion instrument and a solo instrument. And it has - especially with Allan - a very wide range of sound. He was one of the very first people to get into synthesized sounds and things. So it fitted a lot of areas we were in, plus it took them out, because he was and still is an amazing soloist.

KARL JENKINS: The records were fairly live, there weren't that many overdubs, not really. On Bundles, I guess Allan redid a couple of solos. But because it was very much a live improvising band, not a studio-created band, we didn't layer things like they do now, using a click track and building things up from there. It was a live band, and it functioned better when there was quite a bit of internal reaction between the players. Of course that brought other problems, because when you play in a live situation you have no sep- aration, everybody's instruments bleed on each other's mikes, so mistakes come with the good bits. This is why a lot of the records weren't perfect by any means. There's quite a few mistakes. But that didn't really matter: if the spirit is there, and the invention is there, I don't think that's so important.

JOHN MARSHALL: We did do some post-production work, like having the Cologne bell and stuff like that... But in fact, that take of "Hazard Profile", the very long one, and the long one of "Bundles", were just first takes. In fact we were very unhappy with the sound. But the performance was so good, especially from Allan, so we decided to use it anyway. There might be an edit here or there, but in fact they're live per- formances in the studio. We were disappointed at the time, because the sound wasn't what we wanted it to be, but in performance terms, that was the one.

MICK STEVENS (roadie): I distinctly remember when they were mixing down the Bundles album at CBS studios, and I went along to check it out. I remember going into the men's room at CBS at one point. As I walked in, Allan was standing in front of the wall mirror over the wash basins, playing his guitar at blinding speed. My first reaction to myself was: 'What a wanker, he's posing in front of the mirror!". Afterwards, when I went back into the studio to hear the mixdown, and I actually heard what Allan was playing on "Hazard Profile", my jaw dropped! I then realized that he hadn't been posing in the bathroom, he was practicing scales and modes backwards in the mirror, to make the bore- dom of practicing more interesting!

JOHN MARSHALL: Anybody who's a player like that, they want to move on at some time. He did it just very suddenly. He said that he'd got the offer from Tony and he wanted to go, and we said, 'Fine, no prob- lem. It's just that we've got a tour coming up, can you do the tour and then we'll looking for someone else ? But in the end, he left, actually, like five days before a tour. There was a note pushed under the door of the office, saying, 'I've gone to join Tony Williams'...

KARL JENKINS: Allan was that kind of bloke, you know. We were all very fond of him, and I still am, but... His departure certainly wasn't good planning!

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: I wish I could have stayed longer, because the album, Bundles, was done right at the beginning and we worked together a lot after that. It would have been nice to have recorded anoth- er one, but unfortunately that was at the time when I got that opportunity to work with Tony Williams... I helped try to get Soft Machine hooked up with another guitar player and recommended a couple of guys, Ollie Halsall from Tempest and also John Etheridge who actually ended up playing with them. Having to make that decision was a real terrible thing, but of course you never get offered anything when you're not doing anything! You always have to make some rough decision.... I was really happy playing with the Soft Machine, but the opportunity with Tony just seemed like something I should do.