Intima Records, released May 1989
Bought: Our Price Richmond, 1989
Some time around the late ’80s, I became a bit disillusioned with the major UK music mags (but continued to love Q).
Their infinite search for ‘coolness’ coincided with my increasing interest in playing bass and guitar, so I started checking out American mags such as Musician, Guitar World and Guitar Player, as well as Guitarist here in the UK.
Their focus seemed to be on the mechanics of/intentions behind making music rather than puking in hotels or haircuts.
I think I first heard guitarist Allan Holdsworth’s name via a Guitar Player cover interview to promote his Secrets album. I hadn’t yet heard a note of his music but his intelligent, exceptionally modest (some would say mordant) approach to playing drew me in, as did his endorsement of sax players (Brecker, Coltrane, Parker) rather than the usual guitar influences.
Also he mentioned that he had been working with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, another name that I had heard with relation to Frank Zappa but had never really properly investigated.
By chance, I came upon Secrets a few months later in a bargain bucket. From the first bar of the opener ‘City Nights’ (a typically nimble salvo around the kit by Vinnie) I was blown away.
Holdsworth’s solo is burning, with loads of notes spraying out everywhere, but it’s also totally devoid of clichés. He repeats the trick all over Secrets, with Vinnie and bassist Jimmy Johnson prodding and cajoling him every step of the way.
It’s also refreshing to hear Allan blowing over lots of major chords in ‘Joshua’, the sort of tune which might be a bit soppy in the hands of Metheny or Abercrombie but is transformed into a stunningly fluent series of solos alongside Colaiuta’s brilliantly unhinged accompaniment.
‘Spokes’ is a nicely arranged vehicle for Allan’s nutty synthaxe playing (and some more Vinnie/Jimmy genius) and, on ‘Endomorph’, Holdsworth even comes up with a very moving song inspired by the death of his father with some excellent vocals from Craig Copeland.
Secrets is the one where technology really caught up with his ingenious concepts. All lead guitarists are on an endless search for tone and Allan seems to have found his ideal here.
It’s smooth yet fiery and he genuinely achieves the ‘sheets-of-sound’ style of improvising that he so admires in his favourite sax players by utilising incredibly wide intervals (for a guitarist) and legato phrasing.
His playing is as instantly recognisable as Wes, Van Halen or Scofield’s. It’s not easy music, though. But, as he lamented in the interview mentioned above, it’s not that difficult and he always wished it was more popular.
Secrets was the first in a trio of superb solo albums (and some sterling sideman work with Chad Wackerman) which continued with Wardenclyffe Tower in ’92 and Hard Hat Area in ’94, all of which are pretty essential listening if you like his vibe.
Within a year of Secrets coming out, I’d seen Allan live at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London and also checked out his month-long guest spot with Level 42 at Hammersmith Odeon throughout December 1990 (and some brilliant solos on their Guaranteed album). I was becoming a major fan and have been ever since.
3 thoughts on “Allan Holdsworth: Secrets”
Allan is a phenomenon. A musician who set out to expand the possibilities of expression on guitar. He may not be a household name, but his influence on other musicians has been considerable. I’ve seen him a number of times and on every occasion been in awe of his talent.
You won’t get an argument from me! Absolutely agree on every score.
The Late Great Allen Holdsworth… The 1st time I saw him I thought why am i even trying to play this when this man turned my whole concept on Guitar on it’s head… Getting albums from Pierre Moerlen’s Gong (Gazeuse! and Expresso II), Jean-Luc Ponty (Enigmatic Ocean) Tony Williams (Lifetime) But it was until i heard TEMPEST that i became at ease in my own guitar skin. before the Holdsworth (Tone) was this guy rippin an Axe apart like i heard no other. No wonder this is EVH guitar Idol. I know then l could understand from this naked guitar tone that his hand n finger size were illegal. but i persevered and it made me the guitarist i am today. Along w/ some other guitar slackers like J.Hendrix, J. Beck, & FZ… (Side Note didn’t Allen love these guys too LOL)
Later in years seeing him live i could just watch a Master at Play making young axeman shiver in their skin like i was at that age. Allen i miss you & your incredible music…