Gordon Beck was a British pianist.
Allan Holdsworth and Gordon Beck recorded two duo albums together, "The Things You See", and "With A Heart In My Song". They also worked together on other occasions, first on "Belladonna", on albums by John Stevens, on Gordon's album "Sunbird", and on several of Allan's solo projects: Allan's cover of "Michelle", on three tracks on "Wardenclyffe Tower +3" and on "None Too Soon". Additionally, Allan engineered and produced Gordon's solo album "Dreams" in 1989.
I wish I could go back and do ‘em all again [laughs].
GW: Velvet Darkness included?
HOLDSWORTH:: [Groans] That whole thing was just a rip-off and an embarrassment; I don’t even like talking about it.
GW: If nothing else, the acoustic work on the record was very memorable. You’ve said that the performances they recorded were live rehearsals, and you were denied the opportunity for overdubs. How did you accompany yourself "Kinder" and "Floppy Hat?"
HOLDSWORTH:: They were done a different day, and I wasn’t happy with them. It was one of those things where you think that they’re going to let you listen to what you did, let you choose and maybe even do some of it again. But it wasn’t the case. We rehearsed, and they recorded it. Everybody was trying to figure out what was going to happen during the tunes, and then we were to try and record them, but it just didn’t happen like that. The guy put us in the red zone while we were just running through things, and consequently it came out sounding like shit. Sometimes, really cool things can happen like that, but generally, that would be far more likely if the guys knew everything and were then thrown into the studio playing pieces they were familiar with, rather than going in and struggling. It was a struggle, it sounds like a struggle and I really felt bad for all the other guys involved because nobody really got a chance on it.
GW: The guitar line from "Wish" is identical to the melody Paul Williams sings on "The Things You See (When You Haven’t Got your Gun)" [IOU].
HOLDSWORTH: That’s because I counted nothing we did on that album. Usually, if I record something and feel that was the right place for it, I’ll leave it to rest and never do another version of it again. I think that can only be said of that album; I can’t remember anything else. The only time I ever did that was when it was unfinished - for example, on that Gordon Beck thing, we did a tune that turned out to be "The Things You See," or part of it, but that was before it was really finished. When we did the I.O.U. thing, I put it to rest.
Allan chose to section the undertaking in a number of crucial but practical subdivisions. For of the eight compositions were submitted by members of the band, two of those feature Allan’s electric guitar work. Of the remaining four, written by Allan, two are SynthAxe-based, two feature extended improvisation and two are elegies. The eight pieces were partially tracked at a commercial recording studio; the improvised half of each was recorded here at The Brewery. Then Allan began mixing the album - at home - and spent half his time working on an album with pianist Gordon Beck, and half his time arduously fitting all the pieces together. He went almost a halfyear over schedule, and half his fans went crazy-eights.
Allan focused his attention on the SynthAxe for With A Heart In My Song, his second album of duos with Gordon Beck since meeting the pianist in London in the mid ‘70s. The Things You See, released in 1980, contained intimate, compelling duets between acoustic and electric guitar and piano - sort of a space-age take on a Jim Hall/Bill Evans dialog. "Beck" is one of the few bebop-based musicians Allan has worked with closely, and the guitarist has had to adjust his approach to suit the slightly unfamiliar territory. "I once worked in a band Gordon had for a while in France, which was kind of hard for me because I was like a fish out of water," he recalls. "But the more I played with him, the more I enjoyed it, because it was a way to check my own progress. At one time I probably wouldn’t have been able to play on it at all, but because of things I’ve learned, I actually felt a lot more comfortable playing and soloing over his changes."
I was really looking forward to a European tour that was supposed to follow the release of my latest album with [pianist] Gordon Beck, With A Heart In My Song. We were going to go out as a duo and play material from the album, and I was really excited because it was going to be the only tour I’d ever done where I’d only play SynthAxe - I wasn’t going to take a guitar. It was going to be acoustic piano and some synthesizer stuff, with some rhythmic things that were sequenced. The guy from the record company called and told us that when they learned of my involvement, everybody over there said, "Oh, no; that guy’s a rock player." It just put them off. I feel really frustrated by that, because I don’t really see the music I play as rock at all. I mean, I can see its roots, but I think they must just hear the tone; a somewhat distorted guitar sound, and automatically the music goes right by; all they can think is "Oh, this is rock." It’s a weird world.
Last time I spoke to you, I suggested you finish up your Restless contract with a live album so you wouldn’t have to waste any new compositions on them. But you said it was too valuable.
Yeah, there was another album as well. Two concepts. One that I had started working on with Gordon Beck—an English jazz piano player. It’s an album of old standards. But I was going to hold back on that because it seems, by coincidence, everybody in the whole world is doing an album of standards! [laughs] So we decided to hold off on that one. And it might be something that might help Restless more than they’ve been helping me. I thought it might be better for me and the musicians involved to not give that one to them, and give it to a Japanese company —someone that’s more interested in a specialized product thing.
CH: Yeah, let’s move on... I want to kind of move on and talk a little bit. Gordon’s going to be involved in the next album, and you were telling me that you really hadn’t had a chance to make a real album with Gordon. What do you mean by that?
AH: Well, everything that I’ve ever done with Gordon has been... has had some problems for me, one way or another. Either I didn’t know the music before it was done, like when we did "Sunbird"-we did the music before; it wasn’t music that I was familiar with, or a style of music that I [was comfortable with at the time]... By the end of the tour, at least I’d figured out how I could work my way through it [the changes]. But the album was recorded before the tour, which was disappointing for me. I felt that I liked it but that I sounded really bad on it. And that was my main reason. And everything that we’ve ever done together has been like that for me; I’ve never felt comfortable. So what I wanted to do is at least have the chance to be comfortable with the music before we recorded one. And I have such a respect for him, you know, he’s an unbelievable musician-that I just would look forward to having a chance to do that.
Allan would record an album with Tempest, whose music at that time has been compared with earlier work by Cream. One sonic document is a phenomenal live tape which sees him duetting with Ollie Halsall for a BBC in Concert recording. (“That was the last time I ever saw him"). First, though, was Nucleus, through whom passed any number of fine jazz musicians throughout the Seventies. Holdsworth left his mark on this line-up’s album ‘Belladonna’ with a blistering solo on the track ‘Hectors House’; in truth there is rarely a dud moment on this fine record. With musicians such as Dave McRae, Roy Babbington, Gordon Beck and Trevor Tomkins on board, that’s hardly a surprise:
"It was a good band - we were all really great players. In the band at the time we had Dave McRae and Gordon, sometimes even two piano players." Had this then been the first meeting with Gordon Beck, who Holdsworth was to form such a creative relationship with in later years? "No, I actually met Gordon a little before that when I was with Igginbottom, because when we were trying to get that Igginbottom thing going we played at Ronnie Scott’s."
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 Glenn 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.
“For example, someone like Gordon Beck, who’s a really wonderful jazz musician - he never works in England. He lives in England I guess because he was born here and he has a house here and it’s easier for him to stay here, but he works in Europe all the time and I guess that would have been the only other alternative, but I think I made the right decision going to America."
-Why did you choose to play only Jazz standards on your new album?
‘I have heard people say to me for years and years that they want to steal what I’m doing but they don’t understand the music! On one hand I take that as a compliment, on the other they might think that maybe I don’t know what I’m doing. In essence, my music is the same as Jazz, we improvise over chord changes.It’s just that it ends up sounding different, because of the way it was composed or maybe because I’m an idiot, I don’t know. Piano player Gordon Beck once suggested that I should do an album with more well known tunes so people can hear what I sound like over these tunes. It’s easier to hear in standards because the harmonic structure is easier to understand for people who have listened and played this kind of music before. But I don’t play bebop, I just do what I always do, how strange that sometimes may sound in this context. The other good reason for this choice is that I haven’t written enough original material to fill an album"
-Can you tell us something about the tunes on the album and why you have chosen to record these?
‘We absolutely didn’t want to play all the well known standards everybody is playing already, like ‘Stella By Starlight’. Gordon Beck wrote two tunes. We also play ‘countdown’ by Coltrane and a few tunes from Joe Henderson, ‘Isotope’ and ‘Inner Urge’. Then we do ‘How Deep Is The Ocean’, which has always been a personal favorite, and ‘Nuages’ from Django Reinhart. I definitely didn’t want to do any of my own tunes this time. That way nobody could say " He wrote that just to make it easy to play over for him’. It’s really the opposite. I find almost all the stuff I compose really hard to play over. I have written songs that were so hard to improvise over, I could cry. When I write a song, I think about the harmonies and which direction I want to take the song. I’ll start improvising over it afterwards.A lot of people think that when you write your own tunes you make it deliberately easy on yourself. Believe me or not, with my music, this is normally no t the case.’
-On your new album, the band exists of Gary Willis-Bass, Kirk Covington-Drums and Gordon Beck- Piano. This is a different band than you normally use. Why didn’t you use your own band?
I did a compilation album a few years ago where guitar players did their rendition of Beatle Tunes. When they called me I had two days left to prepare something. Coincidently, Gordon Beck, a good friend of mine and a great piano player was staying for a few weeks at my place. It was his idea to do a rendition of ‘Michelle’. Now, I’m a big fan of Gary Willis. Especially when he plays swing, he sounds fantastic. I know the conflicts that may arise between bass players and drummers, so I asked him with whom he liked to play and he said Kirk Covington. Funny, because that’s half of Scott Henderson’s band Tribal Tech. We did the song pretty fast and I really liked the way things turned out, so I decided to ask them again for my new album. The problem with my own band is that they’re living spread in all corners of the world. Chad Wackerman is currently living in Australia, Gary Husband is living in England, Skuli Sverison in New York and Steve Hunt in Boston. I can only get them together for a longer tour.In th e past things turned out pretty OK, but the last tours we didn’t make a dime. I cannot keep asking these people to play for next to nothing. That’s why I have been looking for some musician’s in the neighborhood for some time now. I’m on the right path with Kirk and Gary, but at the same time I realize it’s impossible to find a replacement for somebody like Gary Husband. It’s also about finding a soul mate, somebody who’s on the same wavelenght.’
‘None Too Soon’ is an unusual Holdsworth album in that none of the tunes were penned by the man himself. It features compositions by jazzers such as John Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Bill Evans instead.
"It’s not a trad album. It’s a bebop album, but with a wrench or two in there. I’ve got Gordon Beck on piano, and there’s Gary Willis on bass and Kirk Covington on drums. I think it turned out pretty good and we’ll probably end up doing another, but we’ll use real piano next time, as poor old Gordon had to deal with a digital one -something he’s not used to at all!"
Is he kidding? Anyway, the handpump on the cover of his latest album implies that Mr Holdsworth is still taking his beer seriously...
"Oh yeah, I’m afraid so [laughs], much to my waistline’s disgust! When I first came to America I couldn’t stand the cold, fizzy stuff, so we came up with a device which we call ‘The Fizzbuster’, which we place between a conventional pressurised American keg and a vacuum pump, in order to pull up beautiful pints of ale. You can just take a keg of some good American beer and put it through this and you get a beautiful creamy head. When Gordon Beck (keyboardist) came over to California and we were working on the album, we’d play most of the day and then at about 7pm we’d go back to my laundry room and pull up a couple of pints of ‘English’ ale. We’d just sit there and we’d think, Jesus, the California sun is shining and we’ve got some ale! That’s what that little handpump joke at the end of the album is all about. I brought most of the things I like along with me and there’s a part of England in my laundry room!"
He continues with mild irritation:
- Unfortunately, I cannot see an end to it. My last album, None Too Soon, was recorded two years ago! It was released in Japan, but Polydor in the United States decided that they would not release it in Europe. I fought for the rights and now it was finally released there a month ago. Big companies are not for me, and I do not intend to deal with them in the future.
None Too Soon contains compositions by Joe Henderson, Django Reinhardt and John Coltrane amongst others, and includes appearances by the Tribal Tech rhythm section. The project was initiated by Gordon Beck and Allan believes that it has two functions:
- We thought it was a good idea to show my playing in a different context. Maybe my music becomes more accessible for people if they can recognize the songs? I wanted to establish that a chord sequence is a chord sequence: the fact that one is traditional jazz and the other is from my own music makes no difference. My way of approaching music is the same, I have played over chord changes the whole time! I often get double-edged compliments like "You are playing really well, but I do not think I really understand what you ...". How should you interpret that? To my ears, it sounds like "I do not understand your music and I doubt that you do either". The other thing I wanted to achieve was to play in a traditional context with my usual distorted sound. I think it worked.
TCG: The previous CD None Too Soon was slightly more traditional. You had quite a few cover tunes.
AH: I try to be myself in any environment. It was keyboardist Gordon Beck’s idea to play recognizable tunes. He thought it might make it easier for listeners to jump from this sort of CD to some of my other recordings. The new CD Sixteen Men Of Tain has a definite jazz feel. So again it’s my music in a slightly different environment. It’s all original music. I think it actually worked out better than "None Too Soon."
"It wasn’t a conscious effort, it was just a nice accident. Because what I wanted to try and do after the last album that I did with Gordon (Beck)"None Too Soon" we played old tunes, so in a way it was my album but I didn’t think of it like it was my album. The last band album I think of was "Hard Hat Area" which was with Gary, Skuli (Sverrisson) and Steve Hunt and right after that album I was thinking I wanted to write some original music, but just put in a different setting, a slightly different setting. And in a way this also happened by accident because I was playing with Dave Carpenter, who introduced me to Gary Novak and we played a lot and we did two tours of Europe with that group and I also knew he played acoustic bass.