10 milestones in the career of Allan Holdsworth

Intro: Dimitris Kaltsas
Translation: Alexandros Mantas

Allan Holdworth’s contribution to music and, more precisely, the attitude, sound and role of the electric guitar in rock and jazz music is hard to be put in words. The specific weight of the late great musician is condensed possibly to the impulsiveness that any given listener picks him as the best and greatest of all, with no remorse or second thoughts.

But this is not the sole thing that defines Holdsworth. The academic recognition he earned is a priceless medal, but the most important is that this recognition was the outcome of a tremendous career, including a bunch of historical chapters. Starting out with the unkown Igginbottom, Holdsworth was one of the most pivotal purveyors of the devotees of the electric guitar as a lead instrument in progressive rock and jazz / fusion. He was engaged in some of the top albums we have ever listened to and then he built an enviable solo career, being unconstrainedly creative until the sudden and untimely end.

The following are ten milestones of the peerless Allan Holdworth’s discography.


Ian Carr – Belladonna [1972]

Having released four monumental albums, Ian Carr, the trumpeter and leader of the jazz-rock pioneers Nucleus, decided to release his fourth work under his name and not under the monicker of the British legends. His choice makes sense, since Brian Smith (saxophone, flute) was the only remaining member from the original line-up. Nevertheless, the new setup includes extraordinary musicians like the pianists Dave MacRae (Matching Mole) and Gordon Beck, the bass player Roy Babbington (Delivery, Keith Tippett), drummer Clive Thacker (Brian Auger’s Trinity) and of course the up-and-coming star of the electric guitar who went under the name of Allan Holdsworth. Even though Belladonna is nowhere near in the league with Elastic Rock and We’ll Talk About It Later, it delivers inspired jazz-rock with prog leanings and occasional funky grooves, while at the same time it is awash with a relaxed meditative atmosphere compared to the stiff-necked style of Nucleus. As regards Allan Holldsworth, notwithstanding some moments like the shredding part at the ending of Hector’s House and some lead parts in Remadione, his role is confined in accompanying the rest of the band in the rhythm section and as a result all these elements that established him in the elite of the electric jazz / fusion guitar remain obscure.

Paris Gravouniotis



Tempest – Tempest [1973]

After playing on Igginbottom and Ιan Carr albums (Igginbottom’s Wrench and Belladona respectively), the debut album of the British Tempest is the third, in chronological order, work of Allan Holdsworth, one of the guitar heroes and the stimulus for many glorious careers to come. King-drummer and composer Jon Hiseman hooked up with Mark Clarke, the bassist and his partner in Colosseum (consider Daughter of Time), Paul Williams (who sang for the fairly good blues rockers Juicy Lucy) and, of course, the late Allan Holdsworth.

The album has been repeatedly sold short, since only this legendary line-up has been highlighted. Tempest summarizes the effort of the four highly artistically genius musicians to give prominence to the hard and straightforward aspect of rock, veering to a great extent from the jazz / fusion / progressive approach of Colosseum. The album fuses ideally heavy blues riffs (Mountain’s Leslie West, as well as Mahogany’s Rush Frank Marino would envy the rhythm guitars of Gorgon and Foyers of Fun), hard rocking parts, guitar-driven psychedelic prog, prog rock and, to a lesser extent, jazz / fusion moments. A very important tessera in the mosaic of Allan’s career.

Thomas Sarakinitsis



Soft Machine – Bundles [1975]

Bundles is clearly a turning point in the career of this huge band from Canterbury. The main reason is the extensive use of the guitar for the first time in band’s history until that point. The addition of Allan Holdsworth was proved to be a determining factor for the creation of their best album since Fourth (some go as far as to put it side-by-side with Fourth). Style-wise, the compositions inch closer to pure “polished” jazz-rock / fusion, whereas the experimental and avant-garde elements of Softs’ past are absent here. The starter Hazard Profile is a landmark in the history of the genre where Holdsworth delivers some of the best themes ever played. Karl Jenkins is now the main composer, whereas the legendary Mike Ratledge leaves space to the other members and contributes mostly with his playing. Holdsworth is credited for Gone Sailing and the awesome Land of the Bag Snake. Aside his identifiable playing in this album, another thing that causes amazement is the superb tone of his guitar and it is seminal how a fusion guitarist should sound. Soft Machine pulled off to come up with fresh compositions once again and write one of the best fusion records of the mid- and late 1970s. Allan Holdsworth was clearly one of the catalysts of this renaissance.

Kostas Barbas



The New Tony Williams Lifetime – Believe It [1975]

Believe it was Allan Holdsworth’s musical “rite of passage”. He was basking of course in the status of being an amazing virtuoso, but it is this collaboration that defines him more than any other and it also reveals his compositional talent (Fred and Mr. Spock are compositions of his own).

Holdsworth introduced the 23-year old by then Alan Pasqua in the group to tickle the ivories who seizes the opportunity  and really shines on Wildfire. Tony Newton (bass player in Motortown Revue) teams up with Tony Williams, forming a unique rhythm section and he is credited for the two heaviest cuts of the record (Snake Oil, Red Alert). Tony Williams gives weight to the structure and the composition itself, out of which the dizzying improvisations unravel and he proves that he is as good a jazz drummer as a rock n’ roll one, an unbounded musical talent.

There are good albums, there are quality albums and there are timeless albums. Believe It is not the trailblazing record that gave birth to a new musical language. The language pre-existed, the speech had articulated itself and the vocabulary was already shaped up. Granted, it was not cosmogenic, but it was the epitome, the depiction of diverse expressive means of the musical style which was naturalized as jazz rock / fusion. The orgiastic live feeling that the album emanates, the fusion of jazz delicacy with rock improvisation and energy, is the trait that catapults the album into timelessness.

Dimitris Anastasiadis



Gong – Gazeuse! [1976]

Since Pierre Moerlen took it upon himself to keep Gong going , the way was opened for collaborating with remarkable musicians, not necessarily in a permanent line-up. In Gazeuse!, Allan Holdsworth with his multidimensional talent leaves his mark -or more precisely, gives direction- making the most of the limitless freedom he is given, both in composing and performing. The tight interplay with Moerlen‘s metallophones and the Be-bop attitude of Malherbe on saxophone is shockingly genius. The rhythms, the themes and the mood alternate impeccably, building countless airstrips for Holdsworth to take off. Frenzied, almost “embossed” phraseology, passion and tons of sentiment are part and parcel of his technique that upgrades the compositions emphatically. A perfect illustration is Shadows Of which is, in essence, nothing else than a beefed-up version of Velvet Darkness (off his self-titled solo album) thanks to Gong’s revamped arrangement. Another track that sticks out is Night Illusion which starts with a slow-paced hard rock riff and gradually spreads out rhythmically and harmonically, giving space to the percussion and Malherbe’s magnificent flute to adorn it with their talent. The collaboration between Holdsworth and Gong will go on unwaveringly on the equally beautiful Expresso II two years later.

Giannis Zavradinos


Jean-Luc Ponty – Enigmatic Ocean [1976]

After Holdsworth’s collaboration with Gong, a new one with the famous French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty followed. Enigmatic Ocean [1977] is one of the most significant works of Ponty that undoubtedly gained a monumental position into the jazz / fusion pantheon. Especially Mirage is justifiably considered as a rock classic that is broadly known by far more people than prog / fusion fans. The excellent compositions unwrapped by the talented musicians and the exploratory imagination that is unfolded travels every listener into adventurous places. Ponty manages to tempt with his stunning violin sessions that are unpredictable, aggressive or melodic and lyrical. Holdsworth’s solos are dominant in Enigmatic Ocean, Nostalgic Lady and The Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea, but what is most impressive is the fact that he’s a brilliant part of a flawless and yet grooving band alongside Stuermer, Zavod, Smith, and Ponty himself. Holdsworth abruptly left Ponty’s band while on tour, to collaborate with Bill Bruford on his first solo album, Feels Good to Me, and literally took music to another level once again in One of a Kind.

Dina Dede



U.K. – U.K. [1978]

The debut album of this supergroup was released in 1978. Despite the fact that the members were not the main songwriters and the leaders in their former bands, U.K. had to offer everything you want from a progressive band. The songs are extremely well-crafted, carefully arranged and very nicely balanced between progressive rock and jazz / fusion. The entire band’s chemistry is great here. Wetton and Bruford are in top form and they sound as good as in King Crimson. Bill’s masterful drumming along with Allan’s guitar work is one of the highlights of the album. Wetton’s vocals are superb in each song. The sound of Eddie Jobson’s keyboard is so perfect! His keys intros and some twisted solos are simply stunning especially in Alaska. The guitar solos of the great Allan Holdsworth are some of the most technically and the most inventive he ever did, especially his signature solo with impeccable legato technique in In The Dead Of Night. U.K. never reached the commercial success they deserved but their debut album is a masterpiece of progressive rock music and a must for anyone who claims to be prog fan.

Goran Petrić



Bill Bruford – One Of A Kind [1979]

Bruford’s second album Οne of a Κind released in 1979 is his crowning achievement. After an exciting stint with Yes and King Crimson, Brufford embarked on a solo career, focusing on the music that was truly his scene: jazz / fusion.

Aside Bruford, the line-up consisted of accredited musicians: the bassist Jeff Berlin, the keyboardist Dave Steward and His Majesty, Allan Holdsworth. Having decided that the direction of the new album would be entirely instrumental (whereas Anna Peacock had taken care of the vocal parts on the first one), the music was purely technical-oriented. Fusion, where Holldworth’s outstanding guitar pyrotechnics mix with Steward’s varied keyboards, with Bruford guiding discreetly the rest so as to unfold their multifaceted talent. All of the songs are of high standards, including highlights like Fainting in Coils because of its multidirectional rendition, Five G with its tell-tale bass parts, as well as both parts of The Sahara of Snow. Οne of a Κind is unique indeed, quoted to this day as a sublime fusion outing forged by peerless musicians.

Christos Minos



Allan Holdsworth – I.O.U. [1982]

During the seventies, Holdsworth was held as a great guitarist by all and sundry. What was possibly missing at the time was the milestone that would introduce him into the pantheon of the electric guitar. Recorded in 1979, I.O.U. was finally released in 1982 and was meant to be the album that would enthrone him as the greatest among the great.

Propelled by his collaboration with Bill Bruford (U.K., Bruford), Holdsworth would approach jazz / fusion on I.O.U. in a way that the aesthetic of Discipline by King Crimson (whose Bruford was a member by then) springs into mind and via his complex, sophisticated, at times deductive and at times chaotic playing, unleashes his attack from the very first second, assembling a guitar court. He is surrounded by equally worthy players, such as Gary Husband with his powerful playing on the drums, Paul Carmichael on the bass who makes sure that everything is solid in the background, but also Paul Williams on the vocals with his à la Phil Collins aura.

The word “innovation” does not even begin to describe I.O.U., a landmark album that paved the way for the great guitarists that followed in his wake in jazz, rock, even metal music. A far cry from an easy listening, but simultaneously far from being ornery, I.O.U., having as primary weapon its astonishing flow, is imposed on the listener, impelling them to give it multiple listens where there is always something new to discover.

Ιlias Goumagias


Allan Holdsworth – Metal Fatigue [1985]

Metal Fatigue is one of the finest albums ever released by or where this huge musical personality ever took part in. Aided by an all-star line-up (Jimmy Johnson, Chad Wakerman, Gary Husband, Alan Pasqua), he breaks new ground, makes an impression and leaves one more imprint on electric music. This is a record that deconstructs, recomposes and redirects 70s jazz / fusion through an 80s filter with regard to structure and composition, bringing into existence something totally new and self-luminous. The direct or indirect impact of this record, as well as all of Holdsworth’s works and style as a whole, lie in the successors of the genre that followed up (G. Howe, R. Kotzen), not to mention remarkably unique players that came after him in prog / tech metal (Jarzombek, Josh Christian, Thordendal, Gobel, Masvidal etc). During its 37-plus minutes the listener is treated with songs ranging from almost radio-friendly (the title-track is amazing) to the rambling fusion orgy The Un-Merry-Go-Round. The latter is dedicated to the memory of his father who, inadvertently, turned Holdsworth into a phenomenon. His poor financial situation rendered impossible for him to buy a saxophone to the young Allan and thus creating –like the butterfly effect– a saxophonist trapped in the body of one of the most unique players that ever existed in the history of music. On the other hand, in no way or by any instrument could this genius be trapped and restricted.

Tasos Poimenidis

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