Bill Bruford

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Bill Bruford is a British drummer. He appeared with Allan on three studio albums: "Feels Good To Me" and "One Of A Kind" by the band Bruford, and the self-titled album by U.K..

Excerpt from 1979 Modern Drummer interview

MS: Do you think of yourself as a conventional rock drummer?

BB: I am a rock drummer, but I don’t like most rock drummers. They tune the heads slack. They plod and are unimaginative. I love jazz. Tony Williams knocks me out. The feel is always there. I suppose my highest aim right now is to surprise Allan Holdsworth (U.K.’s guitarist, who has played with Tony Williams) as much as he was surprised by Tony Williams. My style is somewhat in the grey area between rock and jazz, which suits me for now. But there are many areas to get into. Improvising percussion interests me a lot. There’s a guy called Frank Perry in London who plays with Keith Tippet. He’s kind of like Jamie Muir was, a very spiritual player. He has this wild kit with tuned glasses and things. I just saw him in London a while back and he was very good.

Excerpt from Bill's autobiography

"Guitarist Allan Holdsworth, like bassist Jeff Berlin, was clearly developing something on his instrument that involved huge leaps forward. There was the liquid hammering on technique in the left hand, by which perhaps only one in three or four notes are struck, with the rest hammered on, by just hitting the fingers on the frets. There were the spectacular leaps in intervals - Allan had me given Nicolas Sloninsky's Thesarus of Scales and Melodic Patterns as a Christmas gift, and he was by now a leading authority in the arcane world of palindromic canons, sesquitone progressions, and the like. Allan brought forward this heavy armament for improvisation in rock and jazz groups. There was the whammy bar, more commonly known as the tremolo arm, which invested his work with so much passion. Just as it seemed the notes could go no farther, the phrase would spin off into the ether with the crying vocal inflection caused by momentarily altering the pitch of all the guitar strings..."

--Bill Bruford, "The Autobiography" pgs.100-101

Any Key In The U.K. (Unknown publication 1978)

How did U.K. come about?

Well, it had been going for a while before I knew anything about it. John and Bill got together first and then found Eddie and, around that time, I met Bill who asked me to play on his solo album. I was introduced to the other guys and that’s how it happened. Nobody actually knew it was going to work or whether we’d get on together ‘cos there are a lot of differences. That’s probably one of the things that make it good.

Player Of The Month (Beat Instrumental 1978)

Bill Bruford’s solo album (out this month) is the latest of Holdsworth’s projects; the featured musicians also include Dave Stewart on keyboards and an American called Jeff Berlin on bass, whom Allan spent several minutes enthusing over ("He’s a killer. He’s gonna scare a lot of people. Really lethal." ) At the time of writing secret rehearsals are going on with a new band believed to include Bruford, Holdsworth, Eddie Jobson and John Wetton. Whether this will result in a touring band, or in an album, or in both, is not known yet. Allan had been sworn to silence even regarding band personnel, and this information came from "another source". Let’s just hope it’s accurate.

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1980)

Over the next few years Holdsworth recorded on several albums, including drummer Bill Bruford’s first solo LP Feels Good To Me, and Jean-Luc Ponty’s Enigmatic Ocean. By this point touted primarily as a soloist, Holdsworth found himself trapped into a one-dimensional mode, feeling he had more to offer than just flashy embellishment to other people’s songs.

How did you happen to play with Bill Bruford?

Bill asked me if I would play on his album, Feels Good To Me. Afterwards, I started to really get sick of soloing. I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I just killed myself with alcohol. When Bill asked me to work on his second album, One Of A Kind, I expected things to be different, especially since he had Jeff Berlin on bass. Jeff’s a very good player.

Had things become better?

Not much. With Bill and U.K. the rehearsals had almost nothing to do with what ultimately went on the records. We just played bits and pieces of songs, and they would shake them up and record them. Then we had to try to reproduce those parts live. And I just don’t feel at home doing that. I’d ‘rather play something first, and then record it. Now, I’m not against overdubbing - it’s great. It’s nice to embellish things, but I think that the important things should go down on the tracks so that when you play the songs onstage, nine times out of ten they’ll sound better. With U.K., particularly, we had millions of overdubs, and then we had to try to decide who could play what parts live because one guy doesn’t have four hands, and so on. Again it comes back to the magical quality of interplay between band members.

How did U.K. form?

Bill said that he had an idea of working with [keyboardist] Eddie Johnson and [bassist] John Wetton. He asked me if I would like to go to a rehearsal and play. I agreed, and it looked promising. But the closer we came to recording, the more sterile the music sounded. Just before I left the band, I used to daydream an awful lot while we were playing all those bits onstage; you know, thinking about a nice pint of beer or something. I was easily distracted. And because I couldn’t associate all those bits - they didn’t form any kind of cohesive picture in my mind - I wouldn’t know if it was tune three or tune six or what.

What kind of amps are you using now?

I had Marshalls all the way up through U.K. and with Bill Bruford. Since then, I’ve gotten two [Norlin] Lab Series amps and a British amp called a Hartley-Thompson. The trouble with the Marshalls was that they only gave a suitable sound for single-note solo stuff. They always distorted the chords; if I wanted to get a clean sound for chords, I had to push the amps too hard. I often ended up with a horrible square-wave, fuzzbox sound.

Holdsworth & Co. A New Side Of Allan’s Music. (Guitar 1980)

If I play on someone’s record they usually just ask me to play a solo and that’s all, but there are other things I really like to do which I never get the opportunity to do. I could have done it a bit more with Bill (Bruford) except for the fact that he seemed to prefer the sound of synthesizer to guitar anyway. There are certain tunes where I’d like to have played accompaniment parts, but for reasons known only to him he preferred the synth thing. That’s something I’ve got really tired of, that curtain of sound over everything all the time. You get this backwash and it never stops, everything is built onto this blanket of sound. There are occasions when it can be beautiful - there are a couple of tunes on Bill’s last album where it was nice - but l just wanted to break loose from all that and play the music that I’ve been working on for a long time.

Allan Holdsworth (International Musician 1981)

In 1977 I joined Gong which was a potentially interesting writing situation, but they could never stop arguing long enough to orgnaise (sic) anything. We toured a little and then I left. Later that year I played on an album with Jean-Luc Ponty - ‘Enigmatic Ocean. In 1978 I played on Bill Bruford’s solo albums ‘Feels Good To Me’ and ‘One Of A Kind’. I joined U.K. in ‘78 which consisted of Bill, John Wetton, Eddie Jobson and myself, one album there. In 1979 I went to Paris with the new trio, and here we are two years later about to make another album. Ultimately I’d like the band to do a couple of albums and establish in the USA: I’m sure we’ll have more success over there.

The Innocent Abroad (Musician 1984)

As Bill Bruford notes, "When I hear Allan play, I’m just left with a very warm feeling. The passionate, lyrical side of him is the stuff that particularly got to me, and I used to love trying to write slow, long melodies, which he would then embroider like crazy. I love his choice of notes. I mean, apparently he plays fast, but I don’t notice that. There are terrific melodies. Things happen a little quicker in his music than other people’s, which is all to my taste."

Bill Bruford waxes, "Somehow the two of them had a spirit which just combined really well. And it is a difficulty getting Allan in a setting that he is happy with and that everybody else around him is happy with."

Having worked with the likes of Tony Williams, Jon Hiseman (in Tempest) and Narada, it seemed only logical that Holdsworth would fall in with another great drummer; he joined Bill Bruford to make Bruford’s solo classic, One Of A Kind. The two enjoyed working together so much, Bill brought him along to help found art-rock power players U.K., something which Bruford now has second thoughts about: "It’s obvious that U.K. was split into the pop half-with John Wetton and Eddie Jobson the potential Asia-type superstars-and Allan and I on the other side. I had hoped Allan would reinforce my side of the discussions, counterbalance the rock aspects of the thing. But it was a painful counterbalancing, it wasn’t understood, and I kind of put Allan on the spot."

Never again a serial-production-group (Sym Info 1986)

So that was an accident, and after that Gong; that stopped existing as the band fell apart, so that wasn’t my fault. And than Jean-Luc Ponty; even before I started playing with him I had agreed with Bill (Bruford) that I would co-operate on his solo-project, so after I had finished with Jean-Luc I had to go again to work with Bill.

Then came U.K., which came about because some girl had recommended me to the other boys from U.K. Bill and I got fired from U.K., so that was it. Why? I have no idea, really not… why do you dismiss somebody? After that Bill started his own band. The record-company probably found it safer to go further with the other two guys in the band, who were adjusted quite commercially, than with two typical jazz-people like Bill and me.”

I want to reach people with my music – common people. (Sym Info 1987)

You’re a shining example for a lot of famous guitarists. Bill Bruford told me a month or so ago that if he would play the guitar, he would have wanted to play like you, which is somehow the most beautiful compliment one can get. Aren’t you afraid that you’re investing 10.000’s of dollars in an instrument which will in the end alienate you from your own audience?

“Yes, but I don’t care for it. I’m not interested in guitar-players, I don’t want to play for guitar-players, I don’t like it to play for guitar-players. I want to make music, become a better musician. The instrument isn’t important. I listen to music, to tones. When I hear Michael Brecker play the saxophone, I’m not only hearing the saxophone, but also the music, the ideas, ‘the mind in the man’. The same when I hear Keath Jarrett play the piano. I’ve never wanted to play piano, it’s in some way a percussive instrument, and I don’t like percussive instruments. I love wind-instruments, like an oboe, or English horn, which is about my favourite sound. I want to reach people with my music, common people. And when I don’t play guitar anymore in the future, maybe I get a bigger audience, or not any at all, but that doesn’t interest me.”

Mike Pachelli Show (video transcript 1991)

MP: And you also got to work with some great bands, Gong, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Billy Bruford, how’d all that come about?

AH: Well Bill used to hang out at some of the local jazz gig in London – I think he saw us maybe doing that, I’m not exactly sure, and then we made contact and I guess that thing started and then he was doing a solo album and after that he was involved with UK and he suggested to them if they needed a guitar player they might ask me so…so that’s how that happened.

MP: And did I read this correctly, that you and Bruford were actually dismissed from the band?

AH: Yeah we were fired!

MP: Why was that?

AH: We were fired by the management but basically it wasn’t the management, I think, I saw that band was essentially as being Eddie’s band, because he was the most involved with the writing of it, and it really was his thing I think, I don’t know, it was kind of getting out. It wouldn’t have worked - I mean If Bill, I’m sure Bill would have left on his own anyway, but I was sure wouldn’t been able to take it anymore so it was like, being fired was pretty OK – but they were great guys, I really liked all of the guys, good, great musicians - I enjoyed it at the time, well I enjoyed making the record but doing the gigs was hell, but other than that yeah…

Creating Imaginary Backdrops (Innerviews 1993)

Bruford. [the band]

I enjoyed that. I liked working with Bill [Bruford]. It had some carry-overs from U.K., but if I hadn’t had that bee in my bonnet about wanting to do my own thing, I would have probably stayed there.

I’d like to go back to U.K. for a moment. Why was the experience so miserable?

It had a lot of potential. The band was originally Eddie Jobson, Bill [Bruford], and John Wetton without myself. They were looking for a guitarist and I had just started playing with Bill to work on his album Feels Good To Me. And he said "There’s this guitar player playing on my album, wanna check him out?" So, they had me over and thought this might work and said "Let’s give it a go." And we formed the band and came up with the name. I got on really good with all of them, but what went wrong is that everyone wanted to do something else. I think there were two factions in the band: Bill and myself and Eddie and John. And they were kind of at war really. So, that’s what made it miserable—they wanted me to play the same solos every night and it was a completely alien thing for me. I would have probably been able to adapt to that now, but what I wanted to do then was so opposite to that. Whereas now, I could have maybe said "Well I know what I want to do, but this is what this is." I enjoyed making the album, and that was great, but it got to be not too much fun on the road. It was purely a musical question. I don’t know, maybe the other guys in the band hate me, but it wasn’t that for me—it was just the musical thing. It was "Geez, what am I doing here?" It wasn’t that I didn’t like the people. I did—I really liked all of those guys, even though they probably don’t realize that! [laughs] It was purely and simply a musical problem.

Allan Holdsworth: An interview (Atavachron 1994)

CH: Now, there was a project that was proposed recently with Bill Bruford, but I guess that fell through somehow. But the question remains: Could you get something out of collaborating with Bill Bruford at some time in the future?

AH: Oh... possibly. I mean it just seems unlikely...

CH: But nothing in the immediate horizon? It’s too difficult from a geographic standpoint?

AH: It’s extremely unlikely, because simply he’s on one side of the ocean, I’m on the other. You know... there’s just the expense of doing an album. With two guys like that, you know, where... with two guys in England, two guys in the States, and they work for months on the music. It’s not like with... a different kind of music, but it’s more improvised, where you can show the guys the tunes through one way or another. And they can learn them... you... you’re talking about months of like getting it together, and... the only way you can do that is actually to be like a group and work together-you can’t just do that without it being real expensive. So if a record company was doing it...

No Secrets (Facelift 1994)

"I enjoyed playing with UK - they were all great guys, but it just didn’t work out - it wasn’t the right combination. And then when I went on to work with Bill, I enjoyed working with Bill but the problem was that I just had this thing in my head about wanting to do my own thing.

A Different View (Modern Drummer 1996)

RF: You became very well known during the time period when you played with Tony Williams' Lifetime and then with Bill Bruford-first in U.K. and then in Bill's own band. They are such different drummers. What are your thoughts on that?

AH: In the live situation I did with Tony, it was really great. It was about exactly what was going on, like it is with most of the people I've played with since. They've all had that thing where things change, things are moving, it's organic, it's alive. With U.K., on the other hand, I could have stood on my head or set the building on fire and it wouldn't have changed anything that anybody played. It used to drive me crazy. I enjoyed playing with Bill's band afterwards-especially on his second album, One Of A Kind. It was done more as a band than the first one, Feels Good To Me, which was more overdubbed. Bill played with a very compositional approach to the music, which is understandable since he wrote the music. I don't know how he did what he did sometimes going in there and playing on his own with nothing else going on. It's pretty amazing. Obviously, you have to have a vision. He knew exactly what he wanted to hear, and that was the really cool part about it. But I began to feel that I needed to do my own thing.

Allan Holdsworth interview (Abstract Logix 2004)

AL: Rumors are that previous collaborators Eddie Jobson and Bill Bruford are interested in a project. Would you consider going back to the future?

AH: Possibly, if the circumstances were right.

Fan: How is Bill (Bruford) doing and are there any chances of doing something with him in the near future (solo or group project)?

AH: I assume Bill is doing well. Again if the circumstances were right, I’d definitely consider it.

A Conversation With Allan Holdsworth (Abstract Logix 2005)

Q: These recent Bruford sound great. Have you heard that stuff?

Allan: I have a good friend who’s also a big fan...because I don’t really have any of my own recordings, I usually end up giving them away and then I try to get them a little later on. But he played me some of One Of A Kind, which I hadn’t heard it in 25 years. It was pretty good, I thought...for the time and everything.

Q: That must’ve been an interesting band to tour in.

Allan: Yeah, it was. I think if it hadn’t been for the U.K. experience I might’ve stayed with Bill a little bit longer because I really enjoyed playing with him. But with U.K. it was kind of uncomfortable because we had such different tastes in music. All of the guys were great guys, it wasn’t like a personal issue at all. We got along really well. It’s just that (bassist) John (Wetton) and (keyboardist) Eddy (Jobson) were of one mind musically and Bill and I were of another. And then when I started working with Gary Husband...I had just been introduced to him and played with a couple of times and I thought, ‘Oh man! I wanna play with THIS guy.’ So I decided to form my own band and that’s what cut short the Bill thing.

No Rearview Mirrors (20th Century Guitar 2007)

Bill Bruford on Allan Holdsworth and Rock Goes to College

TCG: Your CD and DVD release of Rock Goes T. College seems like good timing to speak with you about the 30th anniversary of the Bruford band, were you planning to make RGTC a 30th anniversary CD/DVD?

BB: Not really, getting stuff from the BBC is very difficult and expensive. We were just trying to make the numbers work and everybody could enjoy it. But it cost a lot of money to get that stuff from the BBC. They do a very good job so they’re worth it.

TCG: Can you reflect back on working with Allan Holdsworth and all the great players in your group between ‘77-79?

BB: Just going back to the time, I was figuring what I wanted to do after I left Genesis in ‘76- ‘77 was start my own recording career. To do that you need to call some people, I found Jeff Berlin in Long Island where he was living. And I knew I wanted Allan Holdsworth. With Allan, you needed a bass player who could keep up. Against those two, you really needed a steady keyboard player who wasn’t going to be a soloist so much. So Dave Stewart was the obvious keyboard choice for this thing. That was the core group, but we also added a jazz flugelhorn player here called Kenny Wheeler and Annette Peacock, who was Gary Peacock’s wife, the bass player with DeJohnette. She was residing here in the U.K. at the time. So it was kind of a cool quartet with guests really. It was great. We hit if off right from the start. Allan was terrific. Around that time, America was pretty unfamiliar with Allan in the late ‘70s. We knew him here. And in a way, that was the bridge for Allan between the U.K. and the United States,

TCG: You wrote some cool liner notices for Rock Goes To College where you say, "what we could do with that group now!" Can you speculate what might have been the next step with the Feels Good To Me lineup with Allan Holdsworth?

BB: They were big albums and they’re much talked about these days. It was great. I think that the comment in the liner notes is kind of facile probably. These things do have a moment in time when they are relevant. They were relevant in ‘77, ‘78 and ‘79 with U.K. and that band Bruford and everything. That was its period. By 1980 I was back in Crimson doing like electric world music. That was fine and that’s the way it should be.

TCG: Allan Holdsworth left after the Rock Goes To College show from March 7th, 1979. I saw Bruford play at My Father’s Place in July 1979 and we were surprised that Allan wasn’t playing guitar with you anymore!

BB: Yeah, I was surprised Allan wasn’t with me! When you get to know Allan, you get to know, he’s a free spirit. Sometimes he comes and sometimes he doesn’t.

TCG: Is there any reason why you don’t work with guitar players much these days?

BB: I moved literally from electric rock to acoustic jazz, play pertly much acoustic jazz full time now with pianos, saxophones and basses. Any reason? No, not particularly. I’m more interested in people then the instruments they play. The people I want to play with right now play pianos and saxophones and basses. But hey, I spent a lot of time with guitarists, its nice to have a change.

TCG: So there’s no chance of a reunion with the Rock Goes R. College lineup’? BB: No, there’s no chance of that Robert. There’s no more material with that band available! (laughter) I’m not sitting on boxes of material that was never released.

TCG: So will there be any more vintage material on your Winterfold label?

BB: I’m not sure, you just have to wait and see, as I will, I’ve probably said everything I can about Rock Goes to College, I really liked it. I loved the band. I loved being the leader of the band. I consider it a privilege to have worked with those people at that time. And of course it was my first effort, to compose music that would attract these people. To give them something to play. It’s not easy to find something for somebody as good as Allan Holdsworth to play. You had to think like a guitar player, which I wasn’t really doing. You need to under write because Allan’s going to fill for much and that’s what you want to hear. And of course, lover wrote everything. So, in a way when he got pissed off at being boxed in by the music, I think he was probably right to feel that way. In a way, I did nail him to the ground a bit, but on the other hand he was used sparingly but to devastating effect.

Allan Holdsworth (Sound Waves 2012)

You played in the band “Bruford” shortly before venturing out on your own. Was that about the time when you decided to stop playing in other people’s bands and start concentrating on your own stuff?

Yeah, it was while I was with Bill. I enjoyed working with Bill in his band, and I even enjoyed playing in U.K. before that. It wasn’t so much fun on the road with U.K. because even though I really liked all the guys, I couldn’t find my own space in it. And when Bill left U.K. to do his own thing, he asked me if I wanted to go along with him. I said yes because Bill was more open to things being looser, and not playing the exact same solos every night. Of course that would be impossible for me anyway, because I wouldn’t even know what I did the night before. So playing in Bruford gave me much more freedom.

Allan Holdsworth - Jazz/Fusion Guitarist (Musicguy247 2017)

R.V.B. - In the late 70’s you hooked up with guys like Jean Luc Ponty and Tony Williams. Things are starting to happen now. Was that a natural process to lead you to finally going out on your own and leading your own project?

A.H. - I loved working with Jean Luc and I loved working with Tony Williams. I got to a point where I just wanted to play my own music. It was a logical step to form a group of my own with Gary Husband and Paul Carmichael. We did that for a while and then I left the UK. I worked with Bill Bruford, which was great.