Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017)

With the sad death of Allan Holdsworth, we have lost another guitar great and one of the UK’s most singular musicians. There’s an old muso cliché that seems to lend itself to guitarists more than other players – ‘he/she’s a musician who just happens to be a guitarist’. Allan really was that. He came up with an entirely original soundworld, feted by the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Frank Zappa, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and John McLaughlin.

From a young age, Holdsworth always revered horn players – particularly Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane and Michael Brecker – above guitarists, but, given a guitar by his father as a teenager, decided to pursue his love of music using that tool. In doing so, he revolutionised the instrument, fashioning a unique legato technique.

The aim was a smooth, soaring sound which lent itself to horn-like improvisation, allowing him to play fiery, exciting solos with huge intervallic leaps. His chord work was underrated and equally innovative, using close-interval voicings and ridiculously large stretches. He came up with an entirely personal series of ‘chord scales’, loathing standard chord shapes and even calling them ‘disgusting’ on his instructional video!

The first time I heard Allan’s playing was his extraordinary solo on Stanley Clarke’s ‘Stories To Tell’ track from the album If This Bass Could Only Talk, but it took me a while to identify him since my cassette didn’t list the personnel… To my ears, it was just a remarkable solo; I didn’t even particularly ‘hear’ it as a guitar.

In the late 1980s, as I started reading various American muso mags, Allan’s name popped up frequently (particularly memorable was this 1989 Guitar Player cover feature) – it was time to explore his career in more depth. In the early to mid-1970s, he guested with Soft Machine, Nucleus, Tempest and Gong. Master drummer Tony Williams came calling, and he hot-footed it over to New York for 18 months of recording and touring with the New Lifetime band.

He then joined Bill Bruford in one of the greatest ever fusion units alongside Jeff Berlin and Dave Stewart, then formed prog supergroup UK with Bruford, Eddie Jobson and John Wetton (playing a legendary solo on ‘In The Dead Of Night‘). He also forged a brief but fruitful musical relationship with violinst Jean-Luc Ponty.

An early solo album, 1976’s Velvet Darkness, was virtually disowned by Allan despite featuring Narada Michael Walden on drums and Alphonso Johnson on bass. But he spent the 1980s embarking on a far more fruitful solo career. Endorsed by Eddie Van Halen and Frank Zappa, mainstream success beckoned in the mid-’80s, but a high-profile Warner Bros contract came and went very briefly with only an EP Road Games to show for it. It didn’t hold him back though; in fact it led to probably his most commercially successful period – Metal Fatigue, Atavachron and Sand were all important statements.

The period between 1988 and 1994 was arguably Allan’s peak – superb solo albums like Secrets, Then!, Hard Hat Area and Wardenclyffe Tower came out and he contributed striking guest spots to albums by Level 42 (Guaranteed), Stanley Clarke and Chad Wackerman (Forty Reasons). He was even lured to share the stage with Level for a month-long Hammersmith Odeon residency in 1990.

Like fellow ex-pats Richard Thompson and Morrissey, he made California his home, moving there in the early 1980s and forging valued musical relationships with Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Johnson and Scott Henderson. Henderson spoke of his incredible generosity in the studio. Drummer Kirk Covington – who recorded with Allan on the ‘standards’ album None Too Soon – reported that sessions at his home studio were always curtailed at 7pm at which point Allan would hand out pints of his home-brewed cask ale.

The complexity of his style meant that Allan influenced relatively few guitarists, though for my money Henderson and Francis Dunnery adapted some of his techniques to great effect. Fellow Yorkshireman John McLaughlin once said, ‘I’d steal everything Allan was doing if only I could figure out what he was doing!’

I saw Allan several times in concert; at the Bloomsbury Theatre, Jazz Cafe, Ronnie Scott’s, Queen Elizabeth Hall and twice with Level 42 at Hammersmith. He was notoriously self-critical, but to my ears achieved a remarkable consistency in the live context. A 12-CD career-spanning box set The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever has just been released on Manifesto Records. Allan was also working on a long-awaited new studio album at the time of his death. He spoke about both projects in this recent podcast.

Farewell to a master. We won’t see his like again.

Allan Holdsworth, guitarist and composer, born 6th August 1946, died 15th April 2017

Allan, Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Johnson in concert

Remembering John Belushi

John died 35 years ago today (5th March 1982).

Here’s a little selection of my favourite moments from his ‘Saturday Night Live’ days (1975-1981) in tribute.

Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou (1963-2016)

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George Michael in Antwerp, 14th November 2006

Sometime in the late 1980s, ‘doing a George Michael’ became music-biz parlance for leaving a ‘boy band’ and going on to become a credible, popular solo artist. It was many a record exec’s Holy Grail. George pulled it off with great aplomb and deceptive ease but it proved elusive – many others tried but very few, if any, cracked it.

George was surely the most successful and revered British solo artist to emerge during the 1980s, selling over 100 million albums and winning the Ivor Novello Songwriter Of The Year award in 1985 and 1989. He also possessed one of the all-time-great pure-pop voices.

Some mocked Wham! in their early days, but looking beyond the Lady Di hair and tight tennis shorts, it was always clear that the young George had some serious songwriting chops – ‘Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)’ and ‘Young Guns (Go For It)’ married amusing lyrics (‘Death by matrimony!’) with a slick Chic-meets-Britfunk groove. Everyone at my primary school loved ‘Bad Boys’. It was, to coin a phrase, the Sound of a Bright Young Britain.

Wham!’s second album Make It Big continued to wrong-foot the critics, featuring a parade of timeless, brilliant pop singles – ‘Freedom’, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, ‘Everything She Wants’ and ‘Careless Whisper’ (labelled as a George Michael UK solo single when released in July 1984). Love or loathe the latter, it’s impossible to dismiss the loveliness of that famous sax motif.

Solo albums Faith and Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 were monster hits on both sides of the Atlantic. If Madonna was the self-proclaimed Queen of Heartbreak, George was surely the King – to these ears, no other contemporary artist, not even Prince, could top the sublime late-’80s ballads ‘One More Try’, ‘Praying For Time’, ‘A Different Corner’, ‘Father Figure‘, ‘Cowboys And Angels’, ‘Mother’s Pride’ and ‘Kissing A Fool‘.

1996’s Older was another career highlight, the first album in UK chart history to feature six Top 3 singles. (Arguably, George’s music and songwriting were in terminal decline after Older, but that probably says more about the state of modern British pop than anything else.)

He became a solo artist of great integrity. Usually the first name on the team sheet for any high-profile charity gigs, he usually said yes but resolutely refused to play his own material, performing only cover versions at Live Aid and also his Prince’s Trust, Nelson Mandela Birthday and Freddie Mercury Tribute appearances.

He was a quiet philanthropist, giving a lot of money, time and energy to issues close to his heart, and he also became a vociferous anti-war campaigner. Ripped off in his early Wham! days, he went to war with Sony Records, inspiring other artists (including Prince) to study their contracts carefully.

Far from derailing him, his very public ‘outing’ in 1998 unleashed a new, outrageous side of his personality with candid interviews (a Q magazine piece in late 1998 being particularly memorable) and self-mocking videos aplenty.

March 2017 will see the release a new documentary about George’s life called ‘Freedom’, and also the re-release of Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1. What a shame he won’t live to see the release of Volume 2.

He is survived by his father and his two sisters, Melanie and Yioda.

George Michael (Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou), singer and songwriter, born 25 June 1963; died 25 December 2016

Mick Lynch R.I.P.

Stump featuring Mick Lynch (second from left)

Stump featuring Mick Lynch (second left)

Big bottom
Swing big bottom
Swing-a-linga
It’s blubbery Burberry, baby
It’s blubbery Burberry
Big bumpy-bump
Big bumpy
Bop-a-lula
In terylene tartan, lady
In terylene tartan, lady
How much is the fish? How much is the fish? How much is the chips?
Does the fish have chips?

I don’t want a drink but I’ll go to the bar
I’d go for a walk but I ain’t got a car
Exclamation mark, click-click-click…
I like when it’s different but it’s just not the same
The weather is perfect except for the rain
Immaculate molars, baby
Immaculate molars, baby
How much is the fish?
Don’t mention hamburgers, Harry…
How do I get off the bus?

‘Buffalo’ by Stump, lyrics by Mick Lynch

I was planning a piece about the 30th anniversary of Stump’s marvellous mini-album Quirk Out recently when inadvertently came across the sad news that their singer and main lyricist Mick Lynch had passed away on 17th December 2015. He was one of those fascinating, unique, highly-intelligent music-biz characters that could only have emerged during the ’80s.

Stump’s inclusion on the fabled ‘C86’ NME cassette (alongside Primal Scream, The Soup Dragons, Half Man Half Biscuit and The Wedding Present) was many people’s first exposure to the band, but it was their November 1986 video performance on ‘The Tube’ that will forever be etched on my memory. Lynch’s Tintin quiff, bulging eyeballs and brilliantly rubbery dance moves couldn’t obscure the fact that ‘Buffalo’ was a warped pop gem.

Lynch’s lyrics were some of the 1980s’ greatest, channelling Flann O’Brien, Beckett and Joyce, with a soupcon of Mike Leigh, to depict the more surreal aspects of Irish immigrant life in London. There were tales of dodgy landlords, bit-part actors, disastrous booze-ups, gormless American tourists (see above), pirates, part-time strippers, coffin-followers and even a classic song about Charlton Heston filming a Biblical epic (‘Lights! Camel! Action!’). Many lyrics still make me laugh out loud, his melodies were great and he was also a brilliant frontman.

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In a very rare interview with The Quietus, Lynch once said, ‘My lyrics are essentially ballads, I write in ballad time and still do to this day. Stump had no love songs. Everything was from a very oblique angle. “Boggy Home” would be closest to a love song. It was about being in London but desperately wishing to be on top of a mountain in Kerry!’

Though Stump’s tenure was short – consisting of only two studio albums and a handful of tours between 1984 and 1988 – but their impact was powerful. Bassist Kev Hopper has written a heartfelt tribute to Mick on this MOJO message board.

In the early 1990s, Lynch moved from London back to his hometown of Cork where he was a founding member of Dowtcha Puppets, a children’s puppet theatre company. Stump reunited for a one-off Cork gig in May 2015. Would love to have seen that.

Mick will be missed. He is survived by three sisters, Julianne, Noreen and Marie.

Recommended listening: ‘Stump: The Complete Anthology’ CD

‘Lights! Camel! Action! The Story Of Stump’ podcast

Victor Bailey (1960-2016)

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Victor in 2008

I was really sad to hear today of Victor Bailey‘s passing.

Born in 1960, he was part of the illustrious Philly bass fraternity alongside such luminaries as Christian McBride, Alphonso Johnson and Stanley Clarke.

He replaced Jaco in Weather Report at the age of just 21, teaming up with Omar Hakim to make one of THE great bass/drums team in music history. They featured on the albums Procession, Domino Theory, Sporting Life and This Is This, and appeared regularly on each other’s solo projects. They also toured with Madonna together in the mid-1990s.

I’m pretty sure I saw Victor five times in concert – first in an outrageous Weather Report gig at the Dominion Theatre (26th June 1984), then in a very cool jazz/funk/groove unit with drummer Lenny White at the Subterania, twice at Ronnie Scott’s with an electrifying Zawinul Syndicate, and finally about ten years ago in a trio with Larry Coryell and White at the Jazz Cafe. At all times, Victor’s playing was tasty, expressive, exciting.

I was pleased when he was recently the subject of a long, excellent feature in JazzTimes magazine in which he talked frankly about music, bass playing and also his illness. I hoped the piece might be the start of a healthy, fruitful period for Victor. Sadly it wasn’t to be.

Victor Bailey (27th March 1960 – 11th November 2016)

Rod Temperton (1949-2016)

When MJ and Quincy are requesting your songs, you know you’ve made it. Rod Temperton’s compositions are timeless, uplifting, full of detail and subtleties, with lots of vamp-busting major-7th/9th chords and joyful melody lines. It’s also important to note that he arranged all his own tunes for Jackson and Quincy too, outlining the rhythm, vocal and keyboard parts.

Like many kids of my age, I was kind of obsessed with Rod’s ‘Thriller’ during the mid-’80s. It was a perfect musical storm. Jackson’s red-hot vocal performance, the killer groove, brilliant horn arrangements, silly but spooky horror-movie lyrics, intriguing sound effects and Vincent Price’s rap/monologue all left an indelible mark.

But there was much more to Rod Temperton’s career than that obvious highlight. He was born in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, beginning his public life playing keyboards and writing songs for Heatwave, writing every song on their 1977 debut album Too Hot To Handle including ‘Boogie Nights’ and classic ballads ‘All You Do Is Dial‘ and ‘Always & Forever’. This led to his work on Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album for which he wrote the title track, ‘Rock With You’ and ‘Burn This Disco Out’.

Temperton started the 1980s contributing to George Benson’s Quincy-produced Give Me The Night, composing the title track, ‘Love X Love’, killer disco/jazz instrumental ‘Off Broadway‘ and the extraordinary ‘Star Of The Story’:

There were other classic Rod compositions and arrangements around this time for Patti Austin, The Brothers Johnson, Rufus, Herbie Hancock, Karen Carpenter and Bob James, as well as this classic Donna Summer floorfiller:

He contributed to Quincy’s fine 1981 solo album The Dude, supplying the title track, ‘Somethin’ Special’, ‘Turn On The Action’ and of course the stunning ‘Razzamatazz’:

Then came the epochal Thriller. Temperton was all over the record, composing and arranging ‘Baby Be Mine’, soul standard ‘The Lady In My Life’ and of course the title track. He famously wrote most of Vincent Price’s rap/monologue in a car whilst being rushed over to Ocean Way Studios to join Price’s vocal session. In fact, he was so prolific that he found time to write a third verse for the monologue, edited from the album version but available in outtake form here:

In the mid-’80s, Rod supplied three more classic compositions: Michael McDonald’s ‘Sweet Freedom’, McDonald’s duet with James Ingram ‘Yah Mo B There’ (co-composed by Ingram, McDonald and Quincy) and also the underrated ‘Spice Of Life’ by Manhattan Transfer featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica:

Rod enjoyed somewhat of a songwriting/arranging/producing renaissance in the early ’90s, including some great work for Mica Paris’s Whisper A Prayer album and also Q’s Jook Joint. His contributions to music won’t be forgotten, and he was by all accounts a lovely fellow too.

Rodney Lynn Temperton, 9th October 1949 – October 2016