In interviews, sometimes the alternative spelling of Glenn South is used.
For all his jazz influences, Holdsworth began by playing rock ‘n’ roll-and God knows what else: "I first played out in local bands, doing pop music, top twenty tunes. I listened to jazz, but I couldn’t play it. After a few years of that, I met Glenn South, who had a band that worked a chain of ballrooms...top forty, foxtrots, quicksteps." Despite these humble beginnings, Allan evolved quickly; legend has it that several London musicians were knocked out by a demo tape Allan had done and went to Bradford to recruit him only to discover Holdsworth working in a shoe factory. Fortunately, Allan was persuaded not to follow in his father’s footsteps (at least so soon), and the short-lived but impressive Tempest was born. Soon, Holdsworth’s reputation as one of the most impressive wielders of altered state electro-flash brought him into the circle of musicians that were embarking on the first fresh drafts of what would become known (and later reviled) as fusion. A valuable currency of the era was speed, an d Holdsworth’s ability to incorporate dissonant modes and scales into flat-out rock scronch made even his earliest recorded solos truly arresting. His enormous hands gave him a unique ability to, as he told Guitar Player’s Tom Mulhern, "juggle the scales around. Most of the time, guitarists play the notes in a scale consecutively. I avoid that by playing intervals that are farther apart. They’re the same scales and chords, it’s just that I wanted them to be juggled around more."
From school, Allan drifted into work at various local mills. His respite from the tedium of the mill was playing in ‘Top 40’ hands in the evenings. He then joined the Glen South band, who worked in the Mecca-owned ballrooms of Sunderland and, later on, Manchester. Although already thinking in his own musical way, Allan reckons his three years with Glen South were a good grounding. He recalls the times - a couple of decades but musical light years away - with fondness: "He gave me quite a lot of freedom in that band. There were generally two solos in every song - we had to eke them out back then - and I always played the first solo as it was on the record, but for the second solo Glen used to let me do my own thing. It was good also, because I had all that time during the day to practise...
Through the Glen South band Allan met alto sax player Ray Warleigh, who was playing around the north of England on a Musicians’ Union tour. Quickly spotting an extraordinary spark, Ray promised there’d always be a place to stay, should Allan ever decide to make the break and move to London. About six months later the time was right and Allan called him:
MP: In 1970 you started playing with the Glen South Band, what was that like, what kind of band?
AH: It was basically like a Top 40 band, they just played - he had a dance band playing mostly foxtrots, [quick?]steps, all the dance things, and a couple of nights a week they played Top 40 stuff. I think he liked my playing and tried to get me into the band and I was really interested in doing that because I was working during the day and I thought it would be an opportunity to practice during the day so I could do the gig with the band and then kind of get some practice in there…
Q: What kind of music were you playing in that band?
Allan: Mostly pop music of the time, the mid-’60’s. After that, I got asked to play with a guy called Glen South, who was a band leader in one of the local dance places, like a resident guy. He offered me a job with his band, and depending on what day it was, it would be a dance band, or top 40. He asked me to do that, and I really didn’t know if I wanted to give up a job for it-music still didn’t interest me that much as far as making a living from it.
He began to take a serious interest in music in his late teens, while lie was working in factories and as a bike repairman. At first he wanted a saxophone, but it was then that Sam Holdsworth suggested a more modestly priced acoustic guitar. There followed lessons with Sam, an electric guitar and experiences with various local groups before an invitation from his friend Glen South led to three years or so in a Top 40 band on the Sunderland Mecca circuit. It was there that Holdsworth was first able to try his hand at the clarinet.
"What happened right after the Igginbottom thing was that I went right back to doing my day job - I was just gigging around with local club bands playing working men’s clubs. There was this bandleader called Glen South - he had a band that worked in one of the Meccas, in Sunderland think it was, and he always liked my guitar playing. He asked me if I’d join that particular thing, that Mecca band. And I thought that that’d be quite good because it was more money than I was actually earning doing the day job. And I thought, ‘I can practice during the day’. So I took the job and I did it for about three years. Two of those years were in Sunderland and then we moved to Manchester to the Ritz.
AII of which paints a picture quite different to the one of obvious harmony between him and Gordon Beck. Despite their obvious affinity in Nucleus, their partnership was first really sealed on the 1977 album “Sunbird", an uplifting album, deliciously light in touch, but with all the technical mastery both players were renowned for. “The sad thing about that was that we did the album first. My reading’s really bad, and they recorded the album before we did the tour. By the time we’d got through the tour I’d figured everything out, but the album was done!” Sunbird" also features Allan (briefly) playing violin: "It was the last time I ever played it. I never really played violin - it was just like a hobby. I just went into a music store in Sunderland when I was playing with that 'Glen'n South band and I don’t know why, I was just walking past a junk shop and went in and asked him if he had any old violins. I didn’t see anything - and he went in the back and he came out with this thing - no strings. And it was like 10 shillings or something - no, it was 5 quid. So I fixed it up and got a new bridge made for it and strung it up.
"It was just curiosity ‘cos I’ve always had a curiosity about instruments. I borrowed a clarinet and a saxophone from somebody in the same band. Then I tried an oboe - just to see how they work. I like to know - you get a better understanding of the difficulties you’ve got with each instrument. But the violin, even though I didn’t play it or practice it all that much, it felt relatively easy for me to play it. I think that if I’d started with that instrument when I was learning, that would have probably have been more my instrument than guitar, although unfortunately I wouldn’t have been able to play any chords. The chords have become a really important part for me. Maybe it worked out for the best..."
Without making a value judgment of good or bad, do you have any thoughts on the origin of your hypercritical view of your own playing?
Part of it is where I’m from, I think. A lot of English people are maybe like that, more so than American people. But I don’t know exactly. Many English musicians that I know are always apologizing for everything. I don’t know. Or maybe its because I didn’t set out to be a musician, it just kind of happened. I loved music, then I ended up with an instrument that wasn’t exactly the instrument that I wanted to play, but then I fell in love with it later, but then I still had no goals or aspirations whatsoever to be a musician. I had the opportunity to play in different bands when I was younger, and I thought, “Nah, I don’t want to do that, I’ve got a day job,” and I just carried on with it, and then all the sudden I got this offer from a guy named Glen South, who had a small band with a brass section, and he had gigs at some night clubs that were run by a company called Mecca—they’re still there in England—and they used to have them in every city pretty much, and it was a full-time job, and I took it. And while I was doing that job I realized for the first time that I was a professional musician. But right while I was playing in that band, that’s when I thought about trying to become a musician as a way of making a living. It was really just a hobby that took off. The foremost thing was not for me to do something so I could make money at it, and maybe that’s why I never really learned how to read very well or anything, because then I might end up in the studio world, perhaps, and I’m not sure that I would enjoy that, either. That would be like a job then. I always wanted music to be not a job. So I just feel incredibly fortunate that I ended up surviving doing something that I really love. Involved in a world that I really love. So maybe part of it is that I never really feel that I’m a real musician. Maybe there’s some subconscious thing going on in my head … I don’t really know what it is, it just that people ask me about things, like, “What do you think about that DVD that you guys did?” And I respond that I haven’t seen it. And I probably won’t, because I’m afraid that if I see it I’ll just put the guitar down, and I don’t want to feel like I’ll just put the guitar down, and that’s why I really hate going back and listening to live stuff. I know I’m going to probably hate it, sometimes to the point where I don’t want to play.
R.V.B. - What was your first band? Did you have a high school band?
A.H. - The first real band I played with was called The Glen South Band. He was a singer, and had a 12 piece dance band. They had a residency at this club in Sunderland. He eventually moved to Manchester. The band basically played pop music. I practiced during the day and play with them at night. It was very good for me. When I had enough of that, I had the opportunity to move to London, and I stayed with a friend down there.