Level 42 is an English band, led by Mark King. At one time, drummer Gary Husband was member of the group. When Level 42 found themselves in urgent need for a guitarist, Allan was asked to help out. He recorded the album "Guaranteed" with them, and did a series of gigs with the band at the Hammersmith Odeon. Some live recordings from these gigs have surfaced on the album "Living It Up".
The following conversation took place in his London hotel room in the middle of his two week residency at the Hammersmith Odeon with Level 42 and I began asking him how he became involved with them. ‘They asked me to play on their new album, which I did and I really enjoyed it. Of course after Alan Murphy died I knew they were looking for a guy to be a permanent member so I said to Gary, ‘if you guys get stuck and you can’t find the right guy just call me up’. So they did.
IM - How did you find fitting in with Level 42 initially? Were they quite rigid or did they give you a lot of leeway?
"I tried to slot into what they had going previously. I don’t really know if I’m doing a good job or not. It’s alien territory for me. I have already heard a few things, like the way that my rig was setup. It was set up to do what I do. It wasn’t really set up to do a lot of other things. So I had to change a few things around just to accommodate certain aspects of the guitar parts the way the guys wanted them."
IM - So have they been definite about the how they want guitar parts to be played?
"Well in some of them, yeah. And then in other places they would just say ‘go, do whatever you want’. It’s fine, it’s great from that point of view."
IM - I noticed that you played the little guitar motif from Lessons in Love verbatim. How do you feel after having had so much freedom with your own band about sticking to something somebody else has done?
"They figured that people heard that not as a solo, but just as a melody, so they said ‘play that melody’. So I do. But on all the other solos I do what I want. Mark was the only person I have ever done a session for who actually let me do what I do. He just said, ‘play a solo there’ and practically whatever I did was acceptable to him which was great and he didn’t try to get me to do anything that would have alienated me from the music."
Holdsworth left school at 15, but not to pursue music. His teenage love, and one that still endures, was cycling. Holdsworth shared the hotel room in which this interview took place with a new touring cycle, custom built for use during his month or so stay in London as a member of Level 42. As a youth he did both road racing and time trials in Yorkshire, and he’s considering entering veteran races in California, his home since the early eighties.
Holdsworth felt that his light, legato touch created certain problems in Level 42, where he was expected to be a rhythm as well as lead player.
‘I didn’t really want to play the guitar as a percussive instrument, and strumming has never been something that appealed to me at all. It’s not something that I’d ever use in my own music, but it’s quite a prominent thing in Level 42, so it’s been strange because it’s such an alien thing for me. It doesn’t sound right to me, but they’re probably being polite and telling me it’s fine. I just don’t see the guitar in that role.’
It was good. It was good fun. Good guys. An enjoyable experience.
What about getting involved with a full-blown band again?
I wouldn’t mind that at all. As long as it doesn’t diminish the fact that I can go out and tour with my own band and make my own music. I would just be a member of someone else’s band. That would be fine. I enjoy playing other people’s music—like when I worked with Level 42. That was pop music, but I enjoyed it because I knew what it is, and for what it is, it’s really good.
Finally, I had to ask him about his spell with Level 42, as he’s the second guitarist to appear in 4 Facelift issues to have had connections with a band not usually associated with this sphere of music.
"It was basically helping them out because I played on the album. I always like to play on albums, because then you can go in and try and make whatever you do work in that environment. I just mentioned to them that I knew that Alan Murphy had died and I said if you don’t find the right guy before you go on tour and you get stuck, you can call me...
"And that’s what happened basically. They were looking for another guy and I guess in the end they got Jakko. I was just helping them out. It wasn’t right even down to my rig. The whole purpose of the way that my sound or the equipment has grown is to make certain things or certain sounds that like and I’d stayed away from all the regular guitar things like strumming, and there was a lot of that in Level 42. It’s not something that I really can get into. I never really liked the strumming aspect of guitar playing at all, so I knew it wasn’t right. But it got them through - it helped them out.
"Again they were all wonderful guys and for the kind of music that they play it was really good. But I couldn’t have done that for a long time - I would have gone nuts!" A major restriction on his playing, surely? "Oh, completely. And the thought of having to play some solo. The most horrendous thing for me was to have the spotlight on me once a night to play 4 bars of solo, note for note, that was played by this guy, like, 20 years ago. I had to really bite my tongue on that. But that’s that game - it’s showbiz, it’s not necessarily music.
It’s a little surprising to see his name on records with groups like Level 42, Russian Gorky Park, and Krokus.
- I could never work as a studio musician. Such side projects have come about because I know these guys, and sometimes I have played on records as a thank you for helping me out. This is how it was with Gorky Park, they lent me the equipment to mix None Too Soon. As for Level 42, I filled a temporary vacuum. (Drummer) Gary Husband played with them, and when their guitarist died, I participated in a tour and a recording. I was definitely not the right man in the right place, but I cannot say I regret anything. Generally, it would have been more fun if one could have influenced the music to a greater extent, but I do that with my own compositions.
You had a go at being in a commercial band with Level 42. Is there anyone you’d like to play with these days?
"No, not really. They were really great guys and for the type of music they were doing were really good. But it’s the touring side that kills me - not the scheduling, but it’s then that you realise what the music really is and that’s when it gets to you.
MM: Any future plans with Gary Husband or Level 42?
AH: Well, I love those guys and would play with them more but distance and money are always an issue. You know you book some dates at the Baked Potato and just don’t have the money to fly someone overseas to try and do a date when you won’t even come close to breaking even. That’s just the way it is. But, I know that I’ll play with those guys in the future again. I love playing with them.