The Un-Merry-Go-Round

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"I wanted to write an extended composition dedicated to the memory of my father, Sam Holdsworth. He was a great musician and artist who once drew a cartoon he called "The Unmerry-Go-Round.” On the drawing was a carousel of caricatures depicting English political figures all seated on the wooden horses of a merry-go-round. "The Unmerry-Go-Round" is what I decided to call a story I thought of. In the story an honored, high-ranking astronaut type must decide whether he should embark on a mission which will take him a great distance and bring him back to Earth in a distant future. The astronaut, Colonel Som, decides to accept the mission and leaves his friends and family behind, knowing they will be gone when he returns. Christopher Hoard, who writes speculative fiction, wrote a brief story sketch to match the sections of the music. The movements of this piece are intended to reflect the feelings and experiences of Colonel Som. I asked him to keep the story vague (against his inclinations) so that the listener would be encouraged to form pictures in his mind based upon the idea of the story and the musical passages."

The Unmerry-Go-Round” was recorded in the summer of 1984 and mixed later in December after IOU completed their third U.S. tour with original members Gary Husband and Paul Williams and bassist Gary Willis replacing Jimmy Johnson. The same rhythm section recorded on the studio version of this fifteen minute instrumental, which features an extended drum solo by Gary Husband. Allan's long-time friend, keyboardist Allan Pasqua, who more recently recorded and toured with Santana and Bob Dylan among others, played keyboards on "The Unmerry-Go-Round." Holdsworth and Pasqua, once members of Tony Williams New Lifetime, hope to work together again in the future.

Reaching For The Uncommon Chord, p. 78.


(dedicated in loving memory to my father)

My father, Sam Holdsworth, once drew a cartoon he called "The Unmerry-Go-Round." On the drawing was a carousel of caricatures depicting English political figures all seated on the wooden horses of a merry-go-round. The Unmerry-Go-Round is also the title of a story I had thought of, and the movements in this instrumental suite correspond to scenes from that story. Christopher Hoard, a reclusive science-fiction writer/poet, describes briefly the events surrounding the journey of Colonel Som:

Part 1: "The Call" - introduction Colonel Som is called to his commander's office, where he is asked to accept a special mission. He accepts the challenge immediately, knowing well that he is one of the very few qualified men on Earth who can complete the mission successfully

Part 2: "Conscience And Denial" – the melodic complaint In the following months Colonel Som reconsiders the harsh consequences he is imposing on himself and those close to him. He advises his wife, Elise, to divorce him because he knows that if he returns, centuries will have passed, though his body will age only twelve years. Som gradually convinces himself that he shouldn't go. He begins to complain angrily to his superiors and friends, demanding that someone else be found for the mission.

Part 3: "On His Own" - voyage theme and drum solo Som realizes that despite his emotional conflicts, he cannot suppress that part of himself that has been conditioned to meet any challenge. He leaves the Earth from an orbital space station. During the months before he can sleep in a preservation chamber, Som struggles with his emotions, realizing that he is completely alone. Both his life and the success of the mission depend entirely on his own judgement and abilities.

Part 4: "The Mission -- voyage theme and first guitar solo Som is awakened by one of the spacecraft's computers after he has travelled to a point above the center of the galaxy. He realizes he must immediately collect his facilities and force his emotions to be controlled. The feat of maneuvering the ship through this difficult sector of space toward the destination requires most of Som's mental ability and endurance.

Part 5: "Nebulous Remorse" - reprise of themes/orchestral interlude Som begins to think about his home on a distant world in the distant past. He mourns in the silence of space, aware that the people of his time are there with him. He has seen their spectral holograms while exploring the corridors of the ship.

Part 6: "Destination" – reprise of themes and second guitar solo Som orbits the planet of an alien civilization, but as agreed, there is no contact, only an exchange of shuttles laden with varying forms of information and gifts.. Som has been ordered not to examine the contents of the shuttle, and as he begins his return voyage. he questions his sacrifice: "What am I bringing back – something of great value, more destructive weapons, mysteries, maybe only worthless artifacts?"

Part 7: "Anticipation/Return" – reprise of themes and synth solo, chordal coda Som returns to the preservation chamber, knowing that the most important adventure of his life lies before him. When Som recovers from the preservation chamber nearly half a Millennium after he left Earth, he can barely restrain his enthusiasm. He studies the planet from afar, noticing how different she appears on the computer scanning screens. As Som approaches in his landing shuttle, he waits with sadness, fear, and excitement: "I feel like the immigrants of ancient times," he thinks, "when they first saw the shore of a new continent."

Reaching For The Uncommon Chord, p 100-101.