The Sixteen Men Of Tain (album)
This album introduced a new band: Dave Carpenter and Gary Novak, plus a new sound: This time, it was Allan’s own tunes, but with a softer, jazzier feel, which Novak heavily underscored. Perhaps due to the band feeling, as well as what seemed like new inspiration, it is often seen as one of Allan’s best albums. The title track and “The Drums Were Yellow” stand out as guitar statements, while “Above And Below” is one of the defintive Holdsworth chord melody ballads.
This album has also been released in a new edition with the added tracks "San Onofre" and "Material Unreal". https://www.discogs.com/Allan-Holdsworth-The-Sixteen-Men-Of-Tain-Special-Edition/release/6577649
- 1 The Outter Limits: Allan Holdsworth's Out of Bounds Existence (guitar.com 1999)
- 2 A beginners guide to (Classic Rock 2000)
- 3 Allan Holdsworth (Guitarist 100 Guitar Heroes 2000)
- 4 Allan Holdsworth (steveadelson.com 2000)
- 5 Allan Holdsworth in exclusive LMS interview (tlms.co.uk 2000)
- 6 Audiostreet Featured Artists (Audiostreet 2000)
- 7 DG Player (Yamaha website 2000)
- 8 One Man Of 'Trane (Jazz Times 2000)
- 9 Pickups (Guitar Player 2000)
- 10 The Sixteen Men Of Tain (musired.com 2000, Spanish language)
- 11 Whisky Galore (Guitarist 2000)
- 12 Allan Holdsworth (NPS Radio transcript)
- 13 Allan Holdsworth interview (Abstract Logix 2004)
- 14 A Conversation With Allan Holdsworth (Abstract Logix 2005)
- 15 The Allan Holdsworth Interview! (Jazz Houston 2006)
A cursory listen to any of Holdworth’s ten recordings since his 1979 debut as a leader, I.O.U., reveals a player of astonishing technique -- the stunning streams of notes, unparalleled harmonic sophistication, singular chordal voicings produced by seemingly impossible reaches on the fretboard along with his orchestral scope as an arranger and his improvisational daring. But on his latest release, The Sixteen Men Of Tain , the reluctant guitar god has trumped himself. Fueled by the rhythm tandem of former Chick Corea drummer Gary Novak and in-demand LA upright bassist Dave Carpenter, Holdworth has come up with his jazziest offering to date for the small, mail-order-only Gnarly Geezer Records (www.gnarlygeezer.com). The typically mind boggling legato chops are very much in tact on Tain, and the swinging, interactive dynamic underscores the Trane connection.
Guitar.com: Are you still playing with the trio that’s on the record?
Allan Holdsworth: Since that recording, Gary Novak started working with Alanis Morrisette, so he’s gone doing that. I’m playing with Dave Carpenter still but we’ve got Joel Taylor on drums. Joel’s a really great musician. And it changes it again. Each guys brings something different. I’m also doing a tour of Europe with a different band -- Gary Husband and Jimmy Johnson. So that’s going to be pretty different, too.
Guitar.com: What was your attitude going into this project?
Holdsworth: After doing the  album None Too Soon, which was like a bunch of old jazz tunes [by the likes of John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Django Reinhardt and Bill Evans] I wanted to pursue this direction but with my original music. The interpretation of my music varies depending on who’s playing it. I had been playing with Gary Novak and Dave Carpenter, and I could hear that their interpretation was pushing into a different direction and it sounded really kind of natural. So I basically wrote the material that was on the new record with that in mind because I knew how Gary Novak would interpret it. He plays with a lot of energy but he can also play pretty soft. It’s different from the way Gary Husband’s interpretation would be and I was enjoying it. Also Dave Carpenter, who always on the live gigs would play electric bass I knew he played acoustic bass and I thought that would help even further to create the kind of sound I was looking for.
Guitar.com: I always felt your music was defined by the drummer. And I often wondered what these same tunes would sound like with, say, Billy Higgins on drums and Dave Holland on bass.
Holdsworth: It changes everything. The music actually stays in tact but the presentation of it changes it so much as well. Playing with Gary Novak and Dave Carpenter was just something I was enjoying. Plus, it was a lot less loud less volume. We toured with that group on and off for a couple of years and I really wanted to record it but I didn’t have a record deal. So at the end of one of the last tours we did together I felt, "I really would like to record this now while we’re still playing it." So we went into my home studio and recorded the basic tracks then, a couple of years ago. And I just shelved it. I stuck it off to the side and waited until such time as I could get a record deal to finish it. I’m glad I did that, actually. Because if I had waited until a deal came around [to record the basic tracks], it would’ve been different. I probably would have ended up doing it with different people. So I’m glad it happened how it happened.
Guitar.com: How has your recording studio evolved?
Holdsworth: Where I used to live, I just converted the garage. I didn’t have a place that I could really record, it was just somewhere that I could mix. I could record guitar there because I made these special isolation boxes with a speaker and a microphone. I didn’t make a lot of noise, so I could get the sound I wanted at pretty low level. That was how I did it then. But when I moved to where I am now in San Diego, a good friend of mine who’s also a carpenter helped me convert the big garage into a studio. With this one, there was actually enough room that I could record drums too. It’s still small and it wouldn’t work with someone who plays perhaps at different levels volume-wise. With someone like Gary Husband, you really need to put him a nice big room to get the drums to sound the way they should. And because Gary Novak can also play very loud but typically plays a lot softer, I was able to do it there.
Guitar.com: Gary Novak seems to be a key to your latest recording. He’s got that ability to play straight ahead and authentic or he can play very aggressively.
Holdsworth: It’s a very interesting thing to play with different drummers and get the actual feel of the whole thing. Gary has a pretty amazing way of just making it feel good. It feels better than it does with other guys even though you can’t really put your finger on it. Yeah, he’s amazing.
Guitar.com: Speaking of drummers, you included a wonderful tribute to Tony Williams on this record ("The Drums Were Yellow"). I’m sure his passing must’ve hit you pretty hard.
Holdsworth: Yeah, it was a shock. I remember when it [happened] because we were just loading into Catalina’s Bar & Grill in Hollywood and I remember Catalina coming out with this look on her face and saying, "You’ll never believe what I just heard." We were all kind of horrified. We played there three nights with the trio and two nights as a quartet with (keyboardist and former Lifetime bandmate) Alan Pasqua. The last time that Alan and I had worked together in a group situation was when we played together with Tony. So we played a few things that we used to play with Tony, in his honor. It was really sad.
And there, of course, lies the rub. Because genius of the guitar and home brew he may be, but selling himself has never been Allan’s strong point. Not that the lugubrious (aka hung-over) Holdsworth seems too worried. He’s back in the UK for a few days, so he’ll have the chance to pound the ales, especially in home-town Bradford, where the Tetleys, Thwaites and Timmy Taylors await him. And, oh yes, he’s got a new album out, ‘The Sixteen Men Of Tain ’, named after the mysterious guardians of the Glenmorangie distillery. Ah, booze again. Do I detect a theme?
"I don’t drink a lot of hard liquor, I’m still a beer man," grins Holdsworth, "but I liked the idea of a hand-crafted, high quality thing that is a single malt, and I think there’s something of that in the album." It’s certainly a hand-crafted affair. Holdsworth recorded, produced and mixed the album in his own home studio. He’s aided and abetted by Dave Carpenter on bass and Gary Novak on drums, with Holdsworth’s old pal and ex-Zappa confrere Chad Wackerman also guesting. The results are jazzier, more intimate than Holdsworth’s assault guitar of Lifetime days, or indeed from his last group outing, ‘Hard Hat Area’, back in 1993.
There are few musicians, let alone guitar players, with a style as original and distinctive as that of Allan Holdsworth. For years the quiet Yorkshireman has been exciting guitarists and music lovers alike with spectacular chord voicings and smooth, yet often angular solo lines. Although embellished with lightning speed runs, his style exudes a warmth and depth of expression that is missing in the soloing of many other ‘technically orientated’ guitar players. We caught up with him in 2000 when he was working on a West Coast trio project...
"We’ve just started the new album. I spent two days last week recording six tracks with Dave Carpenter (bass) and Gary Novak (drums), and I’m just about to do another three tunes with a different drummer called Joel Taylor. He was playing most of the American gigs with us, so I thought it would be fair to get him in for the last three numbers."
"They’re all originals this time. We’ve kept this one simple too - just guitar, bass and drums. There’s hardly any SynthAxe on it at all. In fact, the few bits of SynthAxe on it are just like wallpaper. I haven’t gone off the SynthAxe, or anything, but I was just going for a live vibe with this project. There are also a couple of tracks that have a trumpet and an acoustic piano."
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."
MRJ: Listening to the new album, 16 Men Of Tain , it sounds more content with more stylistic integrity, as if you’ve really found your style
AH: It was almost like I was a guest on someone elses album! Even though it was in my name. It’s a new record company. (It’s) these two really amazing guys that have been involved in the music business before. They’re both in the computer business and they both turned out to be huge fans. They came up to (after a gig) and said We can’t find any of your records, what the hell is going on? I told them , and they just looked at each other and sid Right! We’ll start a record company! They want to get other people on the label.
MRJ: (referring to Allans recent album title)What is the ‘16 Men Of Tain ’?
AH: The title comes from one of the (album) tracks. I used that because I like the sound of it. The first track is a bit darker, but the title track has a sort of festive feel to it, a carnival kind of thing. When I think of that kind of thing I think of alcohol. In tain there is a famous (Scottish) distillery called Glenmorangie and there is supposedly only 16 men who work there. On the bottom of every (whiskey) bottle it says ‘Handcrafted by The 16 Men Of Tain ’.
MRJ: You were getting a fantastic clean sound from those Lab Series amps back in the early eighties. Did you use them for quite a while?
AH: I used to play through a Marshall 50W with two 4x12 cabs, but when I would play a chord it was always a ‘crunch’ sound, so I didn’t play a lot of chords back then. When I decided to start my own thing I had an endorsement deal with Lab Series. I really love the clean sound-soft and wide. It was my first stereo set up and the beginning of what I use nowadays. I used to use three amps-a Hartley-Thompson and two Lab Series. It was a very fat sound. (Then) I used a Dual Rectifier. That was probably one of my favourite all time guitar (amp) heads. I used Mesa Boogie amps for years. when I went to Japan a few years ago (someone from Yamaha) brought me the first DG series amp. It blew me away. I now use two of the new DG *0s. I used on the whole of the (new) record.
His new album "The Sixteen Men Of Tain " is full of this "love affair" his sonic landscapes loaded with a romanticism and passion that so many current musicians lack, particularly in the overcrowded ranks of modern day guitar heroes, but this accessibility is more coincidence than premeditation.
"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.
So after the end of the touring I felt like I needed to record it. I had lost my record deal so my manager loaned me the money to pay the guys to do the record. So we recorded it like one weekend and then I shelved it, and sat it on the back burner until I got a record deal which was about a year and a half later on this new small label. Then I went ahead and finished it. Since then I did another album with Gary Husband and Jimmy Johnson and I’m holding that one back cos this one only just came out! I just wanted to have something that had original music, something that had intensity but was softer. The fact that Dave Carpenter played acoustic bass was nice because I was like "maybe it would be nice if you played acoustic bass on this record."
Non-tube amps have claimed to replicate tube tone for 30 years or more. What makes the DG technology different? The DG1000 preamp is the only thing I’ve ever heard that truly seems to do it. One of the first things that amazed me about it was the interaction of the preamp and master volume controls -- it’s exactly how it is on a real tube head. I’ve always looked for amps that have a certain feel, like that spongy thing you get from certain heads. Here, it’s all in the preamp.
How do you use it in your setup? I just run the DG1000 into a power amp and speaker cabinet, mike it up, and record it. That’s great, because I used to have to make my own load boxes to get a line-level signal from an amp head so I could get more control over it, EQ it, and so forth. I would have to play very loud to get the sound I wanted. But now when I run the DG1000 into the power amp, it doesn’t matter if it’s soft. In fact, I record at a volume you could probably talk over. I use the same setup in live situations, but with a couple of processors between the DG1000 and the power amp.
Are there any modifications you’d recommend for future models? No. Some of the stock sounds are extremely close to what I was looking for, so I liked the DG1000 right out of the box. But when I saw the potential of the technology, I realized it could go a lot of different places. Since the possibilities are infinite, one of the hardest design decisions to make would have been to choose the DG’s eight basic amp profiles.
Have you used the DG1000 on any albums yet? I used it for everything on The 16 Men Of Tain . I simply didn’t need to use anything else. I realized that this could be the beginning of a whole new thing, something that amplifiers might be able to do in the future that they’ve never been able to do in the past.
"The interpretation of my original music can be played in so many different ways, almost like different kinds of styles," he remarks. "And as I began playing with Gary Novak and Dave Carpenter a couple of years ago, I could hear that the interpretation of it was pushing into a different direction. And it sounded really kind of natural. So I basically wrote the material that was on this record with that in mind, because I knew that Gary Novak’s interpretation is a different kind of thing from the way that Gary Husband’s interpretation of it would be. He plays with a lot of energy but he can also play pretty soft, and I was enjoying that. [Novak] has a pretty amazing way of just making it feel good. It feels better than it does with other guys even though you can’t really put your finger on it."
"It is more of a jazz direction," Holdsworth says of Tain, "but it’s staying sort of intact for me as well with the music. It has the original compositions but at the same time they were presented in more of a jazz form.
"I think it’s evolving constantly," he says of his singular take on the six-string. "I mean, I can hear it. I don’t feel like I’m forcing it anymore; it just seems to be natural. It’s becoming more organic. And I’m always learning, obviously. That’s an endless thing. It’s nice to know that you can never know. And once you get used to the idea, it’s really appealing-to know that I’ll never know anything. I like that, actually."
"My sound is like my personality," says Allan Holdsworth "I can’t just change. But for Sixteen Men of Tain [Gnarly Geezer], the guitarist who first turned heads 30 years ago with astounding legato lines and otherworldly phrasing did try to change his sonic environment. "I added trumpet and acoustic bass to this album," he explains. "And those instruments brought a certain softness to my music that I had never exploited before."
Talk to me about the equipment you use, is it the same in studio and in concert?
More or less. It is changing because my sound is changing. The latest years I used Boogie amps, but these two last years I have been using Yamaha digital amps. I really like them. It looks like the person who designed these amps got a sound very close to what I want to get. Before I used my own device. It consisted in passing the signal from the speaker output to the line input of another amplifier, so I could put the volume very high, getting the texture I wanted but controlling the output volume level. I could get a very big but low volume sound. That’s why I like digital amplifiers, because in its design this concept is used, and now the whole assembly is simpler.
How about the experience on the new album?
Pretty bad because when I started I did not have a record label. I had done a couple of tours and I knew that I wanted to record something with the group, so my manager said that I would pay the musicians and record them in the studio that I have at home. This studio is more prepared for mixes than for recording because there is not a lot of physical space, so it was kind of awkward, a little rough ... but we did it anyway. We did most of the basic tracks in three days: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Then we left and I spent three or four years in which, instead of going to music festivals, I went to beer festivals presenting a device that I had designed. Then everything was very still and we started touring again. And then you turn, beers ... I mixed it, I was not happy, I mixed it again ... It’s not uncommon for me to mix several times, I try to squeeze things to the max.
And finally you are happy with the sound obtained?
Yes, well, in the middle of the process I was quite unhappy but now I’ve heard it and it’s pretty close to what I expected. I had heard it so many times that I did not know whether it was good or not, and I needed a break. When I came back I started to listen to the music again and I said, "Well, it’s okay."
A curiosity, can you explain more about the album’s title "The Sixteen Men Of Tain "?
Yeah, of course. I used to use one of the songs titles sometimes, and this song had a holiday or Christmas atmosphere. And, well, I do not usually drink whiskey, but occasionally I drink Scotch malt whiskey. I really like it, it’s very special. It is not like normal whiskey, which is a mixture of different distillates. In the villages of Scotland there are distilleries in small towns that make their own malt whiskey with a very special flavor. It is very expensive to drink it usually but a little is good. And there is one called Glenmorangie, which I think means ‘valley of calm’ or something like that, and at the end of the bottle is written "made by The Sixteen Men Of Tain ," a Scottish people. Only sixteen guys work at this distillery and it’s the people who keep the secret of this recipe. I loved how it sounded and it fit the festive melody of the song.
And the text that appears on the inside?
Well, it’s from a book by James Caas called "Finite and Infinite Games". It is a book about life, and this fragment separates people into finite and infinite types of people. I loved it. A friend showed me the book when we were in the process of creating and said "look, you are of this type of person". This came up and he liked the one who made the design of the cover, so he included it.
Allan, the average listener would be very bemused by your music. Not too many singalong choruses there...
"Not really, no. I don’t know where it comes from really; it’s like a little portal to the other side. I suppose it was initially classical music, which was what my father played around the house; he had loads of records so there’s obviously a lot of classical in there. But he was also a jazz musician and had a lot of jazz in his collection too, so that was another obvious source of information."
Who are The 16 Men Of Tain ?
"That particular track had a particularly festive feel to it and when I think of festivities I always think of alcohol. I’ve been introduced to the pleasures of single malt whiskies and there’s a very famous one in Tain, called Glenmorangie. The 18-year-old Glenmorangie is one of my favourites and on the bottom of every bottle it says, ‘Handcrafted by The 16 Men Of Tain ’."
How do you record an album these days? It sounds live but I take it it’s not.
"We played everything together. But it used to be that you’d go into the studio and be terrified that you might play something you liked, but somebody else would hate their track so you couldn’t use it. So now I just go in there and let what happens happen. Usually I just keep doing it until the other players get it dead right. And if I like what I’ve played I’ll keep it, if not I can do another solo."
PH: If I listen to the new album and I listen to some of the stuff that you’ve done previous, now, I see that you’ve come to a completely fresh area. There are not many guitar players I can listen to now and say it’s comparable to. You’ve always had your own style but now you’re in a different space, you can hear that...
AH: Well I’d like to think so, it’s just to do that learning thing and making any musical progress, trying desperately not get stuck, and the desire and that longing to continue. I always follow my heart, I never follow my head - I mean I do that in basic life anyways, that’s why I’m always in trouble, haha - but that’s just the way I feel about it, and with this album, particularly after I played with Gary Novak and Dave Carpenter, and I knew Dave Carpenter played acoustic bass, and I knew that I was trying to refine this electric guitar sound and I felt this would be a really good backdrop for me to write some original music for, and have the intensity in the music, but have a slightly different texture to it, you know, softer kind of feel. And I liked the way it turned out. I wasn’t sure, you’re never sure, but when I went away from it after I’d mixed it - cause mixing drives me nuts, you hear it so much you can’t hear the music anymore - but then by the time it was mixed, and then I didn’t listen to it for awhile, when I went back to it, I heard the music again and it was alright.
PH: Did you go out on the road first with Gary and Dave?
AH: Yeah we did 2 tours of Europe and some gigs in the States before I recorded it, but when we came back off the tour I didn’t have a record deal - I lost my record deal -so, my manager loaned me the money to pay the guys to play on the record so I could document it, cause I felt like, you never know where these guys are gonna go. In fact, Gary went off on the road with Alanis Morrissette, so it was a good decision, and I wouldn’t’ve been able to get him, so the beauty of it was we’d done the playing live, then we went into the studio and they came down and did it on the weekend - and luckily I have a studio at home - so we did Friday, Saturday and Sunday and I recorded, and then just basically shelved it, until such time as I’d gotten a record deal where I could finish it. But I’m really glad that I did that, because I knew that there was something about that group that I liked, and I also knew that Dave Carpenter, although he played electric bass on most of the tour, was playing acoustic bass, and I thought that would just be a little icing on the cake – and I think it was.
AL: You are working on a new record. Your last studio album was the magnificent Sixteen Men of Tain. Is your new album going to be conceptual in nature ?
AH: It’s essentially a trio record featuring Joel Taylor and Ernest Tibbs. The working title is Snakes and Ladders. I’m working on recording it at present. No, there’s no particular concept as such. I would say its closer in terms of the music to 16 Men than Hard Hat Area. Beyond that, when it’s done I guess you can tell me.
Fan: What is your favorite album and/or song that you’ve recorded (both solo and group setting)?
AH: : I don’t actually have one. Some of the albums just turn out a little better than the others for no real reason, but they’re all so different to me--because a lot of people think my shit sounds all the same).. I couldn’t choose between say Hard Hat Area, Secrets, or The 16 Men
Bill: I was also interested to hear that medley of tunes that you put together last night. Is that something that you’ve been doing for a while now?
Allan: We started doing that not too long ago, actually. It was just something that came out of one of the pieces of music that ends while I’m doing a volume pedal swell thing, and I thought, ‘This would be a nice way to go into ‘Above And Below,’ the ballad from The Sixteen Men Of Tain (2000).’ Then from there we go into the solo section from "The Things You See’ (from The Things You See, 1979). And then we end with that little cycle of fourths at the end of Road Games (1983), which is a little drum feature at the end. Yeah, it works pretty good.
Bill: I’ve lost track of all the labels that you’ve been with in the past 20 years.
Allan: Gnarly Geezer put out The Sixteen Men Of Tain album. That was the last studio album that I did. I just put out a compilation (Against The Clock) on another small label, which is Alternity. I think I’m just going to do it myself from now on and put it out through my website.
MM: How about the live DVD you did at the Galaxy and it’s release?
AH: Well it was supposed to be a demo on the Gnarly Geezer website when those guys were still up and running and what happened is they gave me another deal, after 16 Men Of Tain , and then it didn’t work out and they didn’t want to keep the record company going so they said “well forget about the tracks that you’ve already done on the new recording, give us the rights to the video and we’ll right off the other”. Eventually we decided to discontinue it because it was shot originally as a demo for the website, not a release of any kind. It was only about 40 minutes long and wasn’t really long enough or done well enough for a real DVD release.
MM: It seems you’ve dialed back on the overdrive sounds. Am I correct in this observation? Is this something that you’ve done on purpose as a musical choice or are you able to get the sounds in your head with newer modeling amps/pedals without the saturation that you’ve used in the past?
AH: Well, it’s really related to the kind of music. When I did the album None Too Soon and then 16 Men Of Tain it was a challenge to put a distorted guitar sound in that musical setting which was basically acoustic bass and drums. If I was to take the sounds I was using on albums like Hard Hat Area which was mostly the Boogie’s and stuff, when you stick that in with acoustic bass and drums it just doesn’t seem to work. It just doesn’t seem necessary to use the same amount of distortion. When Gary’s playing it works because it’s aggressive and has got that edge in that setting. But something softer and more delicate like on None Too Soon, it just didn’t sound right. It was a real challenge to make that work and sound right and I was pleased that I was able to do that in that setting. Now I don’t use that much distortion but I still use it to get sustain and but I get more of a controlled thing. The new album will be a return of stuff I used to do, more aggressive sounding.
MM: I would hope some program directors would give you more than thirty seconds of the first tune from albums like None Too Soon, Flat Tire, or 16 Men Of Tain .
AH: Well yeah, there’s a ballad on 16 Men that there’s nothing offensive about the track and could even be played on a smooth jazz station, really. Too many people are telling the public what they are going to like.