Ollie Halsall was a British guitarist, who replaced Allan in Tempest. For a brief period, the two performed together in the group. Allan credits Ollie with inspiring his use of the vibrato arm.
You're one of the few players today who use a tremolo arm. Why is that?
Yes, well most people take them off don't they. Hendrix did a lot of things with it, and Ollie Halsall did a lot of interesting things with it too. He sort of fired me off really, because he took it one stage further. It's just a device, and doesn't really affect the way you play. The way I play has been a natural progression. Since I started I always played legatos, probably out of ignorance and partially because I wanted to play a horn - l didn't want to play a guitar in the first place. Before I realised it was doing it. I went through a stage where I wanted to stop playing legato, when I thought this is wrong, something's weird. I worked hard to make the notes even, but it's pretty hard to do because you always get the difference in volume between the notes you hit and those you don't. I used the tremolo because I was interested in the vocal sound, and the way the tremolo could manipulate pitch. Everything goes through stages, and now I don't use it as much as I used to. It's finding its way out of my playing and just comes out occasionally. I look upon it just as if someone uses a phase-shifter, or some new device that comes out. After a few months everybody's using one anyway, so l tire of it.
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Oh, did you know that Ollie Halsall died?"
JOE SATRIANI: "Oh man. About a month ago, yeah."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: " Yep. He was living in Spain or something. At age 43."
JOE SATRIANI: "You played with him a long time ago."
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Yeah, he was a fantastic guitar player. When I played with this Top 40 band, we'd play upstairs on the weekend and the big bands would play downstairs, and then the rest of the week we'd be downstairs, and usually the band would come up and check out the other band. And I remember these guys sayin', ‘Hey, you sound like that guy Ollie Halsall,' and I'd never ever seen him before; I didn't know who he was until we played in Tempest. He played totally legato, but I'd never heard him. But he was an influence on me because he was an extremely creative individual. When I first moved to London, he was the popular guy; everybody was saying, ‘Hey, check out Ollie.' I don't know what happened---he was there, and he was gone. When I saw him he had an SG and the old Gibson Vibrola, the little spring steel tailpiece they had on SG's after the Sidewinder. They worked. I mean, those days, nothing would stay in tune, it was something everybody put up with. I remember in New York when I started playing with Tony [Williams], I used to go around to all the music stores looking for tremolo bars. Everybody would look at me like I was NUTS: "Whaddya want THAT thing for, man? Whaddya gonna do with THAT?" It's crazy how it turns around: now no guitar is made WITHOUT one, you know? [joe laughs] But I saw the whammy bar, which I don't use much anymore, as just something that happens in a space of time. It's like when those MXR phasers came out and everybody had one, and even on that Tony Williams record, you can [stamps foot] stomp on that and know right away what year it was made! [laughter]"
JOE SATRIANI: "The bell-bottom of the guitar world! [laughter]"
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH: "Yeah! It's just another toy. And as soon as everything starts to sound the same, you go, ‘Well, time to look for something else.' There's no end to what can be done. It's just, people always look to what's...I don't think they look inside enough somehow."
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:
"I wish I could have stayed longer because the album was done right at the beginning and we worked together a lot after that. It would have been nice to have recorded another one but unfortunately that was at the time when I got that opportunity to work with Tony Williams. It was a real terrible thing in a way, because you never get offered anything when you're not doing anything - you always have to make some rough decision. I was really happy playing with the Soft Machine. But the opportunity with Tony just seemed like something should do. So then I helped try to get Soft Machine hooked up with another guitar player and recommended a couple of guys - actually Ollie was one of them, and also John Etheridge who actually ended playing with them."
The Big Time had arrived very suddenly. It only lasted nine months, however. Holdsworth, according to everyone who knows him, learns at a frightening rate, and soon got a little bored with the traditional rock format of Tempest. It was also very much Hiseman's band. There wasn't a great deal of room for the new ideas that kept bubbling up in Holdsworth's mind, so he quit, along with singer Paul Williams, and Ollie Halsall took over, Tempest continuing as a three-piece for a while before plummeting into oblivion.
But, as every Beat reader knows, pedals, strings and picks don't make you a good player; And in Allan's case they still don't explain that astonishing technique with the tremolo. How does he do it?
"Practice," came the frustrating reply. "I love the effects you can get with it. The first person I heard who used it in an interesting way was Jimi Hendrix. Well, it seemed interesting at the time, but afterwards you realized that it was similar to the way most people used it. Then, when I was with Tempest, I heard Ollie Halsall use it, but in a more controlled way than Jimi Hendrix. So I started experimenting myself, and after a while I realized that I was doing things that I hadn't heard anybody do. Using a tremolo arm makes it very expressive - it takes it somewhere else from having just frets, where all the notes are laid out for you like a keyboard.