I.O.U. was the name of Allan's first proper solo album, but it was also used as a name for Allan's band at the time. Allan has said that he did not really see himself as a bandleader, but rather as a member of a band that played his material. Nevertheless, the genesis for Allan's venture into a career as a solo artist came about in the late seventies. Allan had appeared as a leader on a number of BBC sessions, but according to himself, these sessions were one-offs using ad hoc bands. At the time of doing Bruford's "One Of A Kind", Allan had a desire to do something with his own material, and thus set out to form a permanent band to showcase his own music. Early incantations of this band had rather an unstable lineup, and Allan used different names for these bands. At least two names were used before deciding on the moniker I.O.U.: False Alarm and Holdsworth & Co..
This article focuses on the band that appeared on the I.O.U. album: Gary Husband, Paul Carmichael and Paul Williams. After Allan emigrated to the U.S., he continued using the I.O.U. name, even after Husband and Carmichael were replaced by Chad Wackerman and Jeff Berlin. "Road Games" was presented as a solo album, but "Metal Fatigue" was presented as "Allan Holdsworth with I.O.U.", even though the album featured various lineups throughout. This was the last album to feature the "I.O.U." moniker.
The quotes presented here are therefore somewhat subjectively categorized, and overlap different lineups and periods.
What is the current state of play?
ALAN: Now things are starting to look good. I’ve spent a lot of time hearing people with people hearing me, on opposite sides of the wall. Can I get through that bloody wall? Right now I’m just about to record an album with my new band, my first album in two years. The band could be very loosely described as a modern power trio, but not quite like anything you’d expect.
In 1980, Allan teamed with bassist Paul Carmichael and drummer/pianist Gary Husband to form a trio in London known as False alarm. Expanded later to include vocalist Paul Williams (formerly of Juicy Lucy and Tempest, a band in which he and Holdsworth had worked together in 1973), the group became known as I.O.U. In a Guitar Player interview in the December 1980 issue, Holdsworth originally described the music as having "some elements of jazz and rock, but we try not to be overly tricky."
Given the freedom to pursue his chordal, melodic, and soloing abilities with the new band, Holdsworth developed material he had written over the previous few years, and with I.O.U. began performing in England. According to Allan, though, the climate wasn’t quite right for the type of music the band was performing. Punk and new wave were the rage, making I.O.U.’s music less desirable to the general public. Holdsworth and company recorded in early 1981, and found their music met with less than enthusiastic response by record companies.
By 1982, the band decided to try their luck in the United States, and released their LP, I.O.U., independently. It showcased for the first time the side of Allan Holdsworth’s guitar playing that had only been hinted at on previous works: complex, densely voiced chord melodies including unusual harmonic arrangements that sounded as if they came from neither guitar nor keyboard. Ambient, shimmering, and at times ghostly chordal swells, rather than harsh rhythm chopping guided the songs. Solos were sharply focused, the rhythm section of Husband and Carmichael pumped like a powerful machine, and Paul Williams’ vocals provided a familiar reference point for the songs. Accentuated by the band’s aggressive, jazz-influenced-but-rock-rooted arrangements, the music indeed captured a different side of the guitarist.
For several months Allan and I.O.U. played gigs mostly on the West Coast, and in August a dramatic upheaval in the band found Gary Husband and Paul Carmichael out, and bassist Jeff Berlin and drummer Chad Wackerman (who accompanied Frank Zappa on a few tours) in. After a few weeks of working together, the new lineup went out on the road, hitting major cities on the West Coast -- mostly in California. New material by Jeff Berlin and Holdsworth combined with new approaches to the older songs yields a hard-charging, spellbinding concert for guitarists as well bassists. Currently, I.O.U. plans to record a new album this month for Warner Bros.
No Record Contract, No Big Hoopla, But The Fans Have Kept The Faith For Allan Holdsworth (Guitar World 1982)
Allan Holdsworth wasn’t Stateside for long. But he had a new band this tour, his own. The vocalist, Paul Williams, first appeared with Allan ten years ago in a heavy metal band, Tempest, on the same bill as the old Fleetwood Mac at the Fillmore East. Tempest didn’t make it big, and the next time Holdsworth appeared in the U.S. he was filling the chair formerly occupied by another British guitarist, John McLaughlin, in drummer Tony Williams’ Lifetime. Holdsworth was already a guitar legend, having recorded in Europe with Soft Machine, the prototypical jazz-rock fusion outfit. Guitar fans strained to hear Allan’s outrageous lines, which were buried in a muddy stage mix. After all, it was the drummer’s gig!
Holdsworth, unlike, say, Tony Mottola, isn’t even a contender for the Most Recorded Guitarist award. But his fans held out for every note. After Ponty, there was silence.
Silence, that is, until last spring, when he returned to the States with his band I.O.U. He repaid the fans who’d kept the faith and waited, fans who’d kept his name from disappearing entirely. Allan’s achievements had become obvious - so obvious that guitar king Eddie Van Halen asked to jam with Allan during his gigs at New York’s Roxy. What? Eddie asking for a guest spot? Yes, and it was like a student asking to sit in with his teacher. News of the apocryphal encounter spread far and wide.
Allan Holdsworth - cult shaman to contemporary flash guitar idols like Eddie Van Halen, principal (and most interesting) soloist for U.K. Gong, Bruford, Soft Machine Tony Williams Lifetime (second edition) and Jean-Luc Ponty, and the only player to successfully fuse the ‘big guitar" timbre of seventies heavy rock with the melodic continuity and harmonic imagination of jazz - is not amused. He is sitting in his London flat with a bad cold doing yet another interview about his prodigious instrumental technique with an overawed American writer while his newish three-piece band, False Alarm goes absolutely nowhere slowly.
The transatlantic telephone conversation is punctuated with temporary pauses for some deep, basso-profundo coughing as Holdsworth relates the grinding frustration of his current situation. "Yeah, it’s still called False Alarm, that’s the name we’re using in the U.K. It’s my band but I don’t like using my own name. Same band members, Paul Carmichael on bass and Gary Husband on drums. We’re looking for management and a record label. It’s hard [getting signed] everywhere, but it’s really dreadful here. We can’t get anybody interested."
For example, he says, there’s the tape of False Alarm that is making the rounds among a small group of friends and supporters in the U.S.
"The funny thing about this band and the tape is that we do all songs. It’s three pieces and we’re going to be adding a singer. It’s the usual story with this tape though, demos are demos. It’s just bits of longer things. We didn’t know what to put on the tape and we really didn’t have the time to record it right. We’ve been doin’ quite a few live gigs but we get stuck in a corner because we don’t have a record deal which means we can’t get the right kind of gigs. Just playing for nothin’ man, we can’t make a living."
The tape IS rough. Featuring a murky mix which blunts the edge of the instrumental interplay, the unsettling combo of Allan’s tentative vocals and a female vocalist who sounds like a lower key version of Millie Small ("My Boy Lollipop’) and fragments of material which don’t add up to "songs" in the accepted form, the False Alarm demo can’t be considered a major plus at this stage of the game. The painful part is that, even with the bright shards of instrumental nirvana that bubble up through the mix from time to time, this tape literally shrieks NO COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL. Definitely not the kind of item that will bring record company a&r people running to his door.
"I don’t like listening to those records [Believe It, Million Dollar Legs] only from the standpoint of my own playing. I feel like my own playing’s improved so much that when I hear it, I just get depressed. But I really loved playing with Tony. The essence, the feeling. That was the best thing that ever happened to me as far as feelings and playing together. It was just such a pleasure. I’d look forward to every gig. Which is why I’m so happy about the band I’m playing with now. I get the same feeling I got when I was playing with Tony.
I like to play with a drummer who plays with you. I don’t like playing with static rhythmical things. I’d rather play along where there is spontaneity happening. These guys [False Alarm] are fantastic and they inspire me. The important thing is playing with people."
When I saw Allan Holdsworth on a very grey day in Kingston Surrey in the middle of 1981 he was feeling well shall we say not at his best? He’d grown tired of the fight and intimated that it wouldn’t take an awful lot more before he threw in the towel. He’d become disillusioned with the business to the point of thinking about taking a job in a factory, leaving free his evenings to play what he liked. Allan refuses point blank to play music he doesn’t feel, hence his dilemma. The last straw was an album he recorded in England called IOU, which featured singer Paul Williams who is now the only person from that band that’s currently playing with Allan. Allan Holdsworth’s troubles were not yet over, and he ended up having to press the album himself, and sell it on the door at his own gigs and by mail order. So far he’s sold an astonishing 14,000! None of the major UK record companies were interested enough to pick up the album, although that situation is about to change.
The first IOU band split after a series of gigs in the New York area and the East Coast because of internal problems within the band.
‘It all got too much, one of the band thought everything that went wrong was my fault, and I just didn’t need that pressure. With the old band I’d get on stage and not even want to play, I’d feel this evil vibe on stage. Paul is the only guy with me from the old band, and I recruited Chad Wackerman on drums, and Jeff Berlin on bass for the current line-up.’
I’ve noticed on the back cover of Road Games there’s a “special thanks” to Eddie Van Halen.
Well he was there when the first demos of the songs that we were going to record for Warner Brothers were done. And also he brought Ted Templeman to see I.O.U. in the first place.
He’s quoted as saying, “Holdsworth is the best in my books.” What do you think of his playing?
Oh, he’s great!
I.O.U. then made their tabled emigration and Americans greeted the band as long-lost old friends, which at that point they were starting to feel like. Still, for all the buzz, they were unable to interest anyone in the LP so they decided to put it out themselves, pressed it and worked it as best they could. It was then that Holdsworth was "discovered" by Eddie Van Halen. Edward had actually met Allan in the U.K. era, so he came down to the Roxy to catch I.O.U. After a post-gig chat, Van Halen was invited to come to sound-check the next afternoon and they had "a bit of a blow." For an encore that night, they worked up one of Eddie’s tunes, which went over big; very big. Van Halen immediately began working on his producer, Ted Templeman, and his label, Warners, to sign Holdsworth. What exactly was understood between Holdsworth and Van Halen was never pinned down, however. Allan logically assumed that Warners wanted the I.O.U. band. Paul Williams maintains that during all the negotiations for the deal, no one at Warners corrected that impression:
"When Allan signed the contract, we had a band. Then they turned around and said to him, ‘Well, we don’t want the band.’ But as it happened, the band changed."
What are you doing at the moment?
Well, we’ve got a new album coming out soon in the States, called ‘Metal Fatigue’, on the Enigma label. I understand it’s going to be released over here, unlike the last one, Road Games’, which was on Warner Brothers, but I don’t know which label it will be on. Warner Brothers took an awful tong time to decide whether they wanted us to do another album or not, which is why this one’s taken such a long time to come out. The majority of the recording was actually done quite a while ago, and there are two different sets of personnel. On side one it was Chad Wackerman on drums, Jimmy Johnson on bass, Paul Williams on vocals and myself on guitar. On side two Gary Husband, (an original member of the IOU band) played drums, Gary Willis was on bass and Alan Pasqua played some keyboards. The first line up is the one we’re touring with at the moment, and we’re just off to Japan. Hopefully, we’re going back to the States to record the next album, which I’m really hoping will feature the SynthAxe.
Cymbiosis: Now this was after your Soft Machine and Tony Williams days?
Holdsworth: Oh, yeah. This was way after that-and after Bruford and U.K. This was the beginning of this band now, the I.O.U. band. Then we found Paul Carmichael and we liked him because he didn’t sound like he was trying to do anybody else. He was going for his own thing, and that, to me, counts ten times over.
"The reason I moved to the States was economical." says Allan, "Because when I first met Gary Husband after I decided I wanted to form my own band and working with Gary was one hell of a struggle, a struggle that he’s still going through now with his own music. We would play a pub and there would be ten people in there, then we’d go to California and there’d five hundred people and it’s packed. So it was a very simple and obvious thing for me to do, I thought well do I want to go back there and play to ten people or do I want to go over here and play to loads. So I moved."
And also you have a long solo career. Have you had any facilities to record your projects?
It is very difficult to keep record contracts with the type of music that I like. Record companies want to sell millions and, well, with this music it is not probable they will do it.
However, you have always tried to play what you want without letting yourself be influenced by the demands of the record companies ...
Yes, I’ve played in many groups where people told me what to do and I decided I wanted to do this. Economically, it was a disastrous decision. When I formed my first group with Gary Husband I almost left the music [business] because I did not make enough money and then I met Matt Valy [Mike Varney? Ed.] , who had a column in Guitar Magazine, he found me and showed me all these magazines in which my name appeared and which I had no idea of. So I got a few gigs in California. It was amazing to play in front of ten people in a pub in England, to clubs in California with six or seven hundred people and always full. So I thought it was time to move. That’s why I went to the US, for work ... and it’s better to avoid rain. It’s not that I’m very fond of the beach or any of this, but I like to see the blue sky and the sun from time to time.
Q: And you devote yourself on solo project after 80ís.
A: Yes. I’ve played at someoneís bands during 70ís, and it was fun in a sence. Especially Soft machine was good. But I was tired of it and I became want to make my own. Till then, I composed many numbers but I had no chance to show them. At that time I met Gary Husband(d), Paul Carmicheal(b) then I recorded I.O.U with them, solo debut work. I began the band work but it was tough, it was difficult to find someone who were interested in our album release. So, I decided to make the album by ourselves. We recorded and mixed it in two days, from midnight to early mornning. My second album was the same. It took only 3~4days for recording, but the cost was at my own. Nicolas powell from Virgin records rent us a recording studio but I had to sell my two guitars for mixing. After that I had a chance to play at the U.S., it was succesful compared with U.K. activity, then I decided to emigrate to the U.S. and I havenít go back to the U.K.
Holdsworth left to do his own thing in late 1979, forming a band with drummer/keyboardist Gary Husband. The group changed members and names several times before solidifying as I.O.U. in late 1981, eventually releasing its self-titled debut in 1982. That same year, Holdsworth relocated to Southern California, where he formed an American version of I.O.U. that included bassist Jeff Berlin and drummer Chad Wackerman, and famously brought down the house while jamming with Eddie Van Halen at the Roxy Theater. EVH then helped Holdsworth ink a deal with Warner Brothers, and after a prolonged struggle over creative control, the now-classic Road Games was released in 1983.
About that time, I started playing with drummer Gary Husband on the side. At this time, I had already written a bunch of new music for myself. So I thought it was a golden opportunity to form my own group with Gary and Paul Carmicheal. But unfortunately it was a disaster from a financial point of view. We called the band “IOU” because more often than not, it would cost us more money to do the gig than what we normally got paid for doing it. That’s what happens when you want to play “esoteric bullshit,” which is what some people call what we do.
You didn’t make your solo debut I.O.U. until you were in your mid thirties. What spurred you to finally do it?
U.K. disbanded at that time, and I was still playing in Bill’s band. I’d just met drummer Gary Husband; we played together a little bit, and then I just kind of decided – the switch went on in my mind – “You know what? I’m just going to try this!” I just wanted to make the jump to play my own music. I had a reasonable amount of music written.