Gary Husband on Allan Holdsworth

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These are quotes compiled from interviews with Gary Husband, where he talks about his relationship with Allan. The quotes are sorted chronologically, and sources are listed at the end of each section. The first quote in fact contains an entire interview where the main topic is Gary's work with Allan. Huge thanks to Terry Arnett for saving a lot of these stories on his site.


Gary Husband: The Time Machine, Rhythm Magazine 1986

Compiled from a Rhythm Magazine interview, (U.K.), April 1986.

"Look, let me play you something - then you can HEAR what I mean".

Gary sticks a tape into a cassette machine...

"This is one of the pieces from our latest album - er, it's only a very rough mix".

Synth guitar, bass and drums boom out from the speakers and begin to chase each other through a series of melodic and rhythmic figures. What stands out immediately is the very raw and aggressive drum sound, contrasting quite oddly with the lyrical quality of the guitar.

"I was very pleased with that drum sound", he shouts through the music, "We spent ages with all sorts of microphones, trying to get it so that the floor toms didn't sound too papery. They really flap around. I tune them right down, you see ..."

The piece is from Allan Holdsworth's fourth album, "Atavachron", named after the Star Trek time-machine.

"I'm generally quite pleased with this album. One thing I was happy about was getting the chance to employ a lot of these funny beats that I've been working on myself. It's rather good how well some of them have gelled with Allan's compositions, too. Basically, Allan writes these pieces and demos them just with a click track, then I listen to them and put a drum pattern to them."

Yes, well I suppose that's fairly logical ... but, somehow I suspect it isn't that simple.

"Well, Allan doesn't think in terms of bar lengths, he just has a feeling for where things start and where things stop! What he likes me to do is link and differentiate the various sections - the verses and chorus's if you like - through the rhythm. What I do then is listen through the whole track and get an overall impression - where the accents fall, what pays reference to what - and then just try and arrange things around that. I like to get things planned and then be spontaneous from there - all very simple really".

And I get the impression that what does indeed make it simple is the empathy that Allan and Gary have between them.

"Like I said before, it's a very open situation. Okay, sometimes I don't hear things where Allan hears them, but in general he welcomes the way that these funny counter ideas can change a piece of music.

I think maybe the amount of freedom I get would frighten some drummers. Some people like to play in a certain more ordered way which doesn't require too much thinking like this, but personally I've been more interested in inter-relationships within the music - cause and effect, question and answer - and that's the way my own style has been going for quite a few years.

I think this is the best band we've had together too, because everybody is on the same wavelength here. Jimmy (Johnson) is very at ease in the same way that I am. I've always relied on being able to play along with the bassist in a particular way. In fact, that's what Allan relies on too. It's often difficult to find the right chemistry."

I've read interviews with Holdsworth where he deplored the fact that many would-be Allan Holdsworth clones were studying his technique and learning all his tricks, without realising that the important thing was the attitude which a musician brought to his music.

"Yeah, it's a funny thing that in America, where we do practically all our work, most of the audience are into something that doesn't interest either myself or Allan - technique. It just so happens that what Allan does is so technically ground-breaking and amazing but it's also MUSICALLY amazing.

It's beautiful, really, but there are people there with their binoculars who are only interested in getting a close look at his fingers. What's important, of course, is the essence of what you're doing, the spirit behind the playing.

In a way, that's all I've ever known - to equip ones-self with enough knowledge and "to forget it all at the drop of a hat" I think is what Charlie Parker said. You have to maybe have the technique to forget it, so that when you play you just refer to it, instinctively, without turning the whole thing into a technical exercise. I see it as a totally intuitive thing."

So how does this affect Gary's attitude to practising?

"I work on obvious things like independence, trying to stay in shape, but I'm generally not too good at being very academic about music. The magic happens when I feel I'm really playing with people and if it does so in front of an audience - well, that's the greatest feeling of all! I really prefer going with the rough edges sometimes, and y'know, this is what attracted me to playing drums in the first place - not the arithmetic, but the fact that I think of rhythms as incredibly passionate things.

I'm thinking of drum tuning in much the same way. I like it to be almost shocking - going from one extreme to the other, from very high to very low."

Gary uses a Tama Artstar kit in the US and a Gretch kit here in England.

Sizes on the Tama drums are 9" x 10", 11" x 12", 13" x 14", 16" x 16", 16" x 18".

Gary and his Tama setup described above.

Judging from the music I've already heard this talk about extreme and shocking tuning is no exaggeration.

"It's a very complete sound which somehow seems to say more to me. It also, I think suits the nature of this music. I sort of take the same attitude, as well as tuning with me - usually whoever I'm with.

Hopefully I'll continue to be doing different styles often, too, because it's only through doing that I feel as if I can develop my own style.

I have always been inspired by musicians who went out on a limb. I couldn't stand playing it safe ... even if people think I'm making a fool of myself! The trouble is these "less acceptable" people who are then perfectly accepted later on. John Coltrane, who in his time looked as if he was the target of rotton tomatoes or bad eggs is now referred to as someone we should all feel inspired by, as an example. I do hope Allan won't be the same kind of example - people should really know and appreciate what he is about, now.

Jazz, in particular should be radical, shouldn't it? Only, to play jazz these days it seems we have to sound like Philly Joe Jones ... and, I LOVE it but it's already been done! Ok, so even with contemporary music you should feel the tradition behind it, but the "BeBoppers" around at the moment only seem to want to go back to the Fifties ...

Well, my question is, what about everything in between? That's why, I actually feel pop is a much more healthy state of affairs at the moment, because it keeps changing so much, and developing. I can see more of a jazz spirit in what Kate Bush and Scritti Politti are doing now, because there's some progress being made here that doesn't seem to be quite the same in jazz."

Except perhaps in one area - that of rhythm. Despite the potential of drum machines to open up the field of wonderful rhythms, the all too familiar "dum-cha", "dum-cha" still dominates the pop world.

Which is why drummers like Gary Husband are good to have around, always seeking to push back the boundaries.

"I'd like to keep playing with Allan because it's an ever changing thing. It makes me discipline myself. And hopefully, I'll carry on having ideas all my life."


Gary Husband, Modern Drummer, June 1991

SG: It's interesting that Mark King invited you into Level 42 to be part of the creative team, despite the fact that you were known for playing quite a different style of music. He might have been expected to get somebody who would lay down a groove like Phil Gould, and otherwise just do things to order.

GH: If Mark had said to me, "Look, we want you to sound as close to Phil as you can," I wouldn't have wanted to join. Because, although I am quite happy to recreate certain drum styles in the spirit of authenticating musical styles from the past, this isn't something from the past, it's Level 42 now. That's what I'll represent to the best of my ability. Mark seems to have the philosophy that he will approach musicians for the individual way they play. He has to make decisions that are compatible with the musical and business pressures on him, and I respect him greatly for that. He has a record company breathing down his neck, expecting him to come up with a product that is going to work in a "pop" way. He hired me over the phone, on the strength of what he had heard on Allan Holdsworth's albums, because he had the unshakable belief that it would work. He was right-it does work—but I wouldn't have known before we tried it. [laughs]

SG: Don't you ever yearn for the oldfashioned method of just going into the studio and performing a number?

GH: I've always been a great fan of Mitch Mitchell, who was with Jimi Hendrix, and just recently I've had the opportunity to get to know him. You hear about how in the '60s they used to make an album in an afternoon; it's quite incredible. In a funny way, some of those albums with Allan Holdsworth were like that.

When we did Atavachron, I was suffering from jet lag. I got a cassette of the material a day before going into the studio. We went in, spent a day recording-plus maybe about half of the following day—and that was it. "Welcome to this new piece of music...Play it... Thank you and good night!" [laughs]

SG: Allan Holdsworth plays guitar on Guaranteed. How did that come about?

GH: Well, as you know, we lost Alan Murphy. That's been a great blow to all of us, because he was a great friend as well as a great player. We're still reeling from that sad loss. The very, very hard job that has been facing us is to replace him.

It was Mark's idea to give Allan Holdsworth a call to see whether he would be interested, and I had to think very hard about whether Allan would be willing. He has a perfectionist's view of everything he does. If he were to play on a Level 42 album, he would have to be certain that everything he did would fit perfectly. Another thing worrying me was that I knew that when he performs a solo, he doesn't like other band members in the control room. But to my amazement, he came in with a basic setup, got a monstrous guitar sound, and started playing incredible things to our music. I wouldn't have thought it would have worked so well, but it did. He gave his strong personal magic to that music, but nothing was out of place. He heard the music for what it was. It was a strange experience listening to the playbacks. There was the sound of Allan's guitar and my drums together, which is something I am used to hearing. Then there was the sound of my playing with Mark and Mike, which is something else I'm used to. Now I was hearing the whole lot together!

SG: I understand he will be touring with you as well. Does this mean that Allan Holdsworth is the Level 42 guitarist?

GH: When it was discussed that he might play on the record, it wasn't even contemplated that he might do some live work as well—simply by virtue of his commitment to his own record label and his own schedule. Also, Level 42 obviously needs a guitarist who is highly rhythmic, which isn't Allan's area. So I wouldn't have thought that him touring with us would have come about at all—until Allan said to me one night, "You can tell Mark that if he can't find anybody, I'd love to give it a go." I was completely gobstruck! [laughs]

Could you fill us in on what happened between the Atavachron period with Allan Holdsworth, and the invitation to join Level 42?

GH: At the time I had been working more or less exclusively with Allan. When there was no recording or touring with him, I was left very much to my own devices. There wasn't much else happening, particularly in London, where I might have been able to work as a freelancer—which is why I was seriously contemplating staying in America. It was almost a case of having to do that, so that I could maintain a working situation in which I could work with Allan, and have the opportunity to do some other things as well. I was trying to make Allan's band come first, because I believed so much in the music—and still do.

Gary Husband, unpublished interview, August 1996

An interview during the recording of "Thrive" by Gongzilla.

GH: With Allan Holdsworth, I am always given a lot of free reign over how I'm gonna come up with something for his pieces. Just about all the recording I've done with him he's never specified a thing to me in terms of what kind of a beat or flow he'd like. It's a big compliment really, but I throw myself right in, to the point where you have beats like the ones on "Sand", or "Unmerry-Go-Round", "Atavachron", "Non Brewed Condiment" and all those. They are all a kind of counterpoint idea I had almost instantaneously, about how the drum part could enhance these pieces. I'm very lucky really, and I love him so much.


Gary Husband, Interview with Drums UK in 1998

GH: The whole thing with Allan has been going ongoing since 1979! Somehow, we have an incredibly natural, organic sort of musical interaction between us.

Q: What's your favourite piece of your own drumming?

GH: "There are a few things I'm fond of, although I can't say there's any one thing I'm especially proud of. Actually, there are some nice bits of playing on the video - there's a nice thing with Allan, and things with Steve. I enjoy the album Steve's made, also an album called "Southern Reunion" I made for Mo Foster.

GH: The Holdsworth record "Metal Fatigue" features a track called "The Unmerry-Go-Round" which I always was quite fond of, but by and large it's very difficult to be pleased with anything. it's nice to go back occasionally and think "Oh yeah", but mostly it's because it reminds of a time and place which of course is what music does. It has an amazing way of transporting you."


Gary Husband, Interview from The Leeds Guide, July, 1999

Q: I remember seeing you at that one, with the mega-guitarist Holdsworth. Are you doing any work with him now?

GH: Sure, pretty regularly. We sort of get drawn together through some mystical energy, even though we spend long periods apart, either through arguing, or just geographical logistics - I don't spend as much time as I used to in the States. I go to Japan a lot with him - we still have this Golden Week slot open to us in the Tokyo club Pit Inn on pretty much of an annual basis, and that's great because it's five or six nights on the trot.


Rhythm Interview, Spring 2000

Q: And you were still young when you were playing with the extraordinary jazz rock guitarist, Allan Holdsworth. How did you get to meet him?

AH: "I was aware of Allan through his work with Tony Williams' Lifetime but I didn't meet him until about 1978. I had just been fired from Barbara Thompson's band (Paraphernalia) for playing too loud. I was doing my two weeks' notice at Ronnie Scott's club and during that time I met Jack Bruce and Allan who were playing together with the drummer Jon Hiseman. There was a certain poetry attached to the whole thing because Jon took my place when I got fired and so I started playing with Allan instead. And, funnily enough, both Jon and I are still in the same bands to this day.

AH: "Those early days with Allan were quite frustrating. A lot of people were very excited about the prospect of him having a band but nobody was prepared to give the band any action. It was almost impossible to get a record deal and so few people came to the gigs that we had to pay the place at the end of the night for hiring the PA. So we were literally paying to play in those days! We used to just get in each other's cars at the end of each evening and drive away in total silence.

GH: Allan ended up having to go over to the States to make something happen and our IOU album didn't come out until 1982. In fact the band was called IOU because we always owed everyone loads of money.

GH: "Allan and I go back a long way - we have been playing right through until today. We're back to a three piece band again, which is nice because there's more space for my drums in the music now."

Q: And what about the terrible moments? There must have been a few concerts when everything just went completely wrong?

GH: "Er, yes. I remember certain gigs where drums collapsed. There was one when I was with the Syd Lawrence band when the rostrum collapsed and I fell backwards with all my drums falling back on top of me.

GH: On another occasion I had to play along with a really primitive drum machine to Level 42's song 'World Machine'. It started off at an ungodly slow-tempo and, when the rest of the band looked around, I panicked in front of a live audience of thousands and stepped up the bpm more than a little bit too far. We ended up having to stop the whole thing because it turned into a jungle track!

GH: "And, perhaps best of all, there was an Allan Holdsworth gig at the Rock Garden when we launched into our strange brand of music and one of the members of staff thought we were just having a warmup. After a while he came up to us and asked us if we realised that the audience was in. Talk about taking the wind out of our sails."


See also:

Gary Husband,, 2001

GH: With Allan, Jack, Mark or Billy Cobham I was able to work accordingly to the high degree of integrity that I like to consider necessary in that I didn't pursue anything I didn't believe in, or that didn't require me feeling like a charlatan. I really care about it all too much to approach anything not in that way. I've been very fortunate to play with some wonderful musicians so far, but it's also very important to "have something to say" you know? I have many weaknesses, many unbearable aspects about my playing etc., but I have a "voice", and I do have something to say, every time I sit down, be it mediocre, great, lousy or whatever. You've got to be in tune with a real "need", a "reason" to express something. Of course you have to be motivated too, so, from this point of view I feel perfectly qualified to be involved in the things that I do with those great guys ... especially Allan; that was apparent from the beginning.

GH: If someone asks me what I would say Gary Husband is all about though, the answer would definitely include the stuff I did for Allan Holdsworth's records, or Steve Topping's album, predominantly. I wrote all those beats on Allan's material too, ... but, I do regard that as a bit of a contribution in the drum world. Y'know, I'm an improviser at heart, or a practitioner of "on the spot composition", (I like that phrase) and I need to be free and just play!!

J.F. - How did you hook up with Eddie Van Halen back in the 80's and were the sessions recorded?

GARY - I played with Eddie by way of Allan. We're talking of the early 80's, and we were making our debut as the group I.O.U. in the States. He used to come and jam with us on some of the early shows in L.A., and then I remember we did a four piece band session, more than once I think, at the Guitar Institute Of Technology with Jeff Berlin on bass. He's a very nice guy, Eddie, and he helped Allan make a record for Warner Brothers.


A Force Majeure: Gary Husband Interview, Abstract Logix 2005

Having this conversation about Steve reminds me of going way back into the early 80’s when I was working with Allan Holdsworth and he was doing a lot of his own publicity and promo. Now, anyone who knows Allan knows how funny this prospect is! I would be sitting in a room with him and he’d be talking to promoters of gigs on the phone here in England saying, “We’d like to get a gig, we are a three piece and I’m Allan Holdsworth and I’ve done this with Bruford, Tony Williams... They would ask what kind of music he’s doing now and he would say, “Oh, it’s Allan Holdsworth music! or It’s improvisational music! – just a beautiful answer, correct of course, but it meant absolutely nothing to them and he didn’t really choose to want to expand in any more detail, and why should he have had to!! There is one unique individual, he is amazing and with this man I pretty much formed my drumming vocabulary as well as in more general ways of development, and I owe a big debt to ‘Uncle Allan’ for sure! He’s like a brother, yes.. and back in those days he was just about the only one who let me really loose, playing the way I really felt to play.

L: Allan had already achieved quite a career establishing himself contributing to bands like Soft Machine, Tony Williams, before launching out on to his solo career in the late 70’s and 80’s. However, you were very young when you began playing with Allan on albums like I.O.U.

GH: Yes, I was all of 19. In fact.. well I can hear I’m also still working through my influences on that album; Cobham, Tony Williams, Stewart Copeland, DeJohnette and Narada and these people.. but I was very there for the music too, because I really felt it and loved it, and I was really loving forming and finding myself through it, trying to make it live in a vibrant way. I was like a puppy dog, always very happy to go ahead and work with any twists and turns Allan was contemplating in terms of the music, I was just overjoyed to be involved in it all and I’m very proud of all those old records despite their considerable faults! From when we took the band to America, we were almost able to keep working non-stop, certainly in those first few years! Aaah, different times.

We all went to the States at the same time to take I.O.U. there, only he just never came back. This was for the best for him back then, there’s no doubt there.


“There Were These Three Yorkshiremen…”, All About Jazz, 2009

AAJ: I hear this from a lot of musicians, that they feel that the music comes through them, as though they are some kind of portal. Let's talk about Allan Holdsworth. He's undoubtedly one of the most influential guitarists ever—I mean everyone talks about I.O.U. In what way has he inspired your music-making?

GH: He's been such a predominant figure in my own development for sure, as he actually was the first one to hire me and let me really play and not try and change it all. Back in the old days, I was a little bit on the intense side for most people's tastes as a drummer. I was always into something with a lot of reach and fire, and he was the first one who said, "Bring it on, go for it." And he really loves that from a drummer—a very improvisational input and participation.

He doesn't like rigidity, and in that respect I felt I'd found a place where I could reach a lot with someone. I wonder sometimes if it isn't very close to what Elvin felt like with John Coltrane, or Tony Williams with Miles.

At that time it was perfect for me—a very big stepping stone insofar as how my development was about to take shape. And there is no question that a lot of significant movement was arising as a direct result of the musical relationship with Allan. I also always felt very naturally his (quite uncommon) way and just understood it immediately. That's another thing. Very much as if we were brothers or something. Peculiar.


Gary Husband: Drummer AND keyboardist for John McLaughlin — the essential interview, Oregon Music News 2010

How did you meet Allan Holdsworth and get an invitation to join his band IOU? What was it like for you as a drummer to record on a barge? How did you work together with Paul Carmichael to flesh out the rhythmic ideas for Allan’s pieces?

I met Allan by chance while working at Ronnie Scott’s club with Barbara Thompson’s Paraphernalia group. It was around ’78. I’d actually been fired, and was playing my last gigs with her. Allan at that point was working on a three-piece band idea with drummer Jon Hiseman, (Barbara’s husband) together with Jack Bruce. One evening, Allan and Jack both came into the club, and I met them both. Allan was saying how much he had enjoyed my playing and asked if I’d be into the idea of having a jam with him. We did that and were immediately most comfortable together; it just clicked. Anyway, the story goes that Jon replaced me in Barbara’s band, and I took up with Allan! We just swapped places! It was a great thing to happen for me around then. It represented me starting to find my own voice with the drums, since Allan was really the first one to set me really free and play how I wanted to play in his music. And I was extremely comfortable in his music – always have been. So there it is; that was the beginning.


Interview: Gary Husband, Hit Channel 2012

Do you think your career would be different if you hadn’t met Allan Holdsworth at so young age?

Oh, sure. Because this forged in such a big way the way I play today. A most significant wealth of development stemmed from the early years with him since he was really the first one who let me be free. Before I met Allan, I was playing in a number of different bands. In one I would be asked to try and sound like Steve Gadd, in another like Elvin Jones. Even though the music was jazz, musical, fusion, they still wanted me to be in a certain way, and quite rigid with it, but Allan was the first one who said to me “Listen, just play how you want to play and bring to the music what you feel”. He was the first one that asked me not only to play the drums – he asked me for my imagination too. So, yes, he was especially important to me.

Do you remember that night at Roxy in L.A when Eddie Van Halen and Jeff Berlin joined you and Allan Holdsworth on stage?

Yes, I do (laughs). These were wild times. This is 1982 you’re talking about . We were just very happy because when we started that band in 1979 here, it was very difficult for anything happens for us. It was such difficult to get work. Because Allan had played in America with Soft Machine, U.K and Tony Williams, I [sic] lot of people knew that he was doing something new and it was very easy for us to go there and work, which at the time was an incredibly exciting thing for all of us. Especially for me. But, here Allan was in that country doing his own band, a lot of people were coming out and showing their appreciation. One of them, a big fan, was Eddie Van Halen, who loved Allan’s playing. At the time, I think we were trying to get a new record contract, so Eddie helped Allan out by giving him visibility and playing live with him onstage, which was great. I don’t remember actually which songs we played, but I remember the feeling, it was very nice.


10 Questions with Gary Husband, Peter’s Principles 2018

You have said Allan Holdsworth once told you to “be yourself “. In retrospect, did absorbing that truly allow you to express yourself, or could it have subconsciously made you strive to be different from your peers?

Allan really was the first one to come along and not put any pressure on me whatsoever to try and sound like somebody else. And this was so momentous a happening at that time. I was playing with a much more “American drummer” exuberance back in London in my teenage years. I hope I still do! But I was definitely forming in a way that wasn’t the norm by any means in 1978, and certainly wasn’t to everyone’s taste! And I could so bring to light the way I was forming with somebody such as Allan. The fact that it happened, and that we met when we did, was absolutely miraculous timing. But in another way, I kind of feel it was meant to be. That’s why I feel so blessed.


Audio Interview

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There's a raw transcription of relevant parts here: Gary Husband Interview & Notes