A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Hooptedoodle #259 - Allan Holdsworth - A Unique Voice

I only just found out that Allan Holdsworth died last month, at his home in California. Another guitar hero gone. Oh well.

Holdsworth was never everyone's cup of tea - often too intense, too inaccessible. Of course, the equipment freaks and the technique warriors and all the rest of them (and just about every moron you know probably plays guitar - there's me for a start) have consistently missed the point by an enormous distance over the years - how he played, and the hardware he used, are very small parts indeed of a complex whole; the important bit, in the end, is what he had to say musically, and his was a unique voice - sometimes a breathtakingly emotional one.

He will be commemorated for his pioneering use of polychords, his completely original, alternative approach to functional harmony, his terrifying technique (based on what has become known as the "hammer-ons from nowhere" style of legato playing - no-one ever played like Allan - probably it's just as well), and the characteristically wide intervallic leaps in musical phrases. He developed his own way of playing, and he didn't sound like anyone else. He was born and raised in Bradford, and he took a pride in being an awkward Yorkshireman - he developed his own approach because he didn't find anything else that could produce the music he heard in his head. I guess he really was a genius - we hear a lot about geniuses, but they are thin on the ground.

Even as a (sort of) disciple, I can't take too much of it in one sitting - a lot of the music is very angular - uncomfortable - and if I try to visualise what he is doing I have to go and lie down. If you are a fan, please excuse my bumbling effort to pay tribute. If you are not, then I suggest he was worth a listen. He was never hugely popular - you will see why - but once you've heard him you will recognise him.

Here's a ballad from 1989.

And here's a live piece recorded in Frankfurt 8 years later. The album version of this track (same line-up) uses double bass, which I think is a big improvement (more space to breathe), but this is still good.

 Thanks, Allan.


  1. Unique indeed,and such an obvious influence on players like Aussie Brett Garsed and Brit, Francis Dunnery.Like you a couple of tracks would be my limit but truly an incredible musician and humble bloke.Check some of the old Soft Machine videos on Youtube for frightening scale runs and an even more frightening sweater..

    1. Thanks for getting in touch Pee Wee - well said. Other guys he influenced are Steve Topping (another personal fave of mine) and - for style of articulation - the much missed Alan Murphy, nearer the rock end of things.

    2. Aye,Topping great.I always thought Murphy an odd fit in Go West for some reason,he was a great player with lovely phrasing.