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Allan Holdsworth

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Hi folks,

not familiar with his music at all - only know that there are milestones of fusion guitar playing and also experiments with the Synthaxe. I am not interested in the Synthaxe stuff but in the stuff that made him famous.

What are the tunes to listen to?

Thanks in advance,

Seems there aren't many Holdsworth fans here, or are there?


Sorry, hadn't seen this thread. Massive Holdsworth fan here. I've got pretty much everything hes ever played on.

If you want to start from the beginning I'd say check out the tune Red Alert from Believe It (1975) by Tony Williams Lifetime. Wicked legato playing here, simply amazing.
He had recorded with some other bands prior to this (Igginbottom, Tempest, Soft Machine etc) and that's great stuff too and certainly worth checking out.

Next could be the track Enigmatic Ocean pt. III by Jean-Luc Ponty from the album by the same name. (1977).

In 1978 he recorded with the band U.K. The solo on the track In The Dead Of Night is a classic.

Then I would suggest Five G by Bruford (album is One of a Kind, 1979). Here you can hear stuff that would be mainstays in his playing for over a decade.

Next would be his solo records. It's impossible for me to be objective regarding this stuff, I simply love everything on every record; the songs, the sounds, the solos, the Synthaxe stuff.....everything. I'll just try to keep this short :) His most famous solo records are probably the early ones: IOU (1982), Road Games (1983) and Metal Fatigue (1985).

Metal Fatigue especially is a true classic and has some amazing highlights/songs/solos, and its the beginning of the "Golden Era" of Holdsworth albums for me. Everything from this album up until Hard Hat Area (1993) is superb. You should own all of them :)

Some highlights from each album:

I.O.U. (1982)
Nothing really sticks out to me here, its all pretty cool stuff albeit a bit primitive composition-wise (for lack of a better word) compared to the stuff he would do just a few years later. Just compare any tune here to The Unmerry Go Round from Metal Fatigue.....sounds like 15 years apart but there's only 3. The playing is amazing as always and he still has a cool rawness in his tone which disappears a little bit later on when we get to the '90s albums. They are more polished tone wise.

Road Games (1983)
A cult-classic. Pretty hard to find before it was reissued. Eddie Van Halen famously was going to produce this six-track EP but due to scheduling conflicts that never happened. It was nominated for a Grammy. It sounds like a cross between IOU and Metal Fatigue.

Metal Fatigue (1985)
A classic Holdsworth record.
The title track Metal Fatigue with the harmonizer set to a major 2nd. Classic riff.
Possibly the solo he's most known for is on this album, Devil takes The Hindmost. I remember an old Guitar Player issue that had the solo transcribed by Steve Vai. The solo is unreal. He pretty much just plays over a simple G bass note groove but he goes to outer space and beyond on it and its mindboggling.
On the track Home he plays a beautiful but rare solo on acoustic.

Atavachron (1986).
Here he plays some Synthaxe for the first time. Even if you're not into it, check out the first song Non-Brewed Condiment. The theme, played on guitar and doubled with Synthaxe is unreal.
I love the solo on the title track.
The tunes Funnels and Looking Glass has been in his live repetoire forever.

Sand (1987)
I love this album soooo much. It has some of his best writing ever. Its a lot of Synthaxe here (which I love btw) but there are plenty of ripping guitar solos too. Check out Pud Wud and 4.15 Bradford Executive.

Secrets (1990)
The album that got me hooked on Holdsworth. It took probably a year before I "got it" but boy, when it hit me.....I was floored and became a lifetime devotee :) Also a lot of Synthaxe on this one.
Guitar highlights:
City Nights - the whole song is basically just a solo. Pretty badass.
Joshua - beautiful ballad with some of his most lyrical playing ever.
Peril Premonition - like City Nights, a long-ass solo. Awesome.

Wardenclyffe Tower (1992)
Another brilliant album. Everything is top notch here. Some Synthaxe on this but not as much as the two previous ones.
The solo on Dodgy Boat is one of hs best ever, and other killer solos are 5 to 10, Questions and Zarabeth. The solo on Sphere of Innocence has the "John Holmes" guitar on it, a 38" baritone guitar built by Bill Delap. Also dont miss the brilliant drum solo by Vinnie Colaiuta on Against The Clock!

Hard Hat Area (1993)
Yet another brilliant album by Allan. The title track is one of the coolest tunes he ever wrote and Tullio is the "hardest song I ever had to solo over", according to the man himself.
Great guitar moments: Ruhkukah, Hard Hat Area

Heavy Machinery (1996)
This is an album by the Johansson brothers, Anders (drums) and Jens (keys), known from Yngwies band in the 80s. Jens also plays in Rainbow and Stratovarius, and Anders was in Hammerfall. They also did a record with Jonas Hellborg, and both Mike Stern and Shawn Lane appear on one of Jens solo albums. Here they wrote the songs and Allan overdubbed his solos. Some people really like this album because its pretty simple chords/harmony compared to Allans own music so its easy to get into. Im not a huge fan, mostly because Im allergic to Anders style of drumming, although the playing by AH and Jens is great.

None Too Soon (1996)
This is as close to a "straight ahead" jazz album as you'll get with Allan. The idea was to have Allan blow over some standards so that perhaps normal jazz fans would get into his music, which they usually don't like because it too much rock, or too distorted, or too much fusion or whetever. Absolutely killer playing throughout, Im just not a huge fan of the tunes.

The 16 Men of Tain (2000)
His last proper solo album. This one has the late Dave Carpenter on upright bass and while he plays his ass off Im not a huge fan of that sound coupled with Allans electric guitar tone. Eidolon is a great tune but its recorded with a Roland VG synth I think and its not the coolest sound.

Highlights from other albums/collaborations:

- MVP "Truth In Shredding" w/ Frank Gambale. The track Rocks has a stupendously brilliant solo.
- Blues for Tony. A really great live album from 2010. It has Red Alert on it among other great tunes so you can compare his playing to the original from 1975 :)
- He plays some great solos on Level 42's album Guaranteed (1991). Very cool to hear him in a pure pop context.

Also be sure to check out his instructional video on REH, it's a gem. A rare glimpse into the genius of Big Al.

Another thing which sometimes gets overlooked is the brilliance of the other musicians on his records. On bass it's almost always the legendary Jimmy Johnson, although he has also recorded with Gary Willis, Skuli Sverrisen and Jeff Berlin. Drums: Gary Husband, Chad Wackerman and Vinnie Colaiuta. They are all superb players but my favorite is Vinnie. His playing on Secrets is out of this world, and Vinnie himself rated his performance on that record as one of the top 5 of his entire career, and this from a guy who's played with EVERYBODY, from Zappa to Sting to Megadeth to Chick Corea etc etc etc. The list is endless.

...damn, this wasn't short at all, sorry..... ;)

---- TO SUMMARIZE ----

Best albums: Metal Fatigue, Sand, Secrets, Wardenclyffe Tower.

Best songs: Clown, 4.15 Bradford Executive, Joshua, Maid Marion, Atavachron, Hard hat Area, Dodgy Boat, Non-Brewed Condiment, Pud Wud.

Best guitarsolos: Joshua, 4.15 Bradford Executive, Rocks, Devil Take The Hindmost, Atavachron, Dodgy Boat.


Wow - that is a lot to look into. Many thanks for taking your time to write this all down, very much appreciated!

Cheers Stephan

No problem at all, it was my pleasure.
Let me know if you have any other questions about his stuff, I love talking about it :)


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