Velvet Darkness (album)

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According to Allan, these recordings were studio rehearsals, and he never authorized its release. The band tracks sound like run-throughs, but there is occasional magic to be found. The acoustic tracks, “Kinder” (a version of “Fred”), and “Last May” (dedicated to his then wife Claire), are very nice...

Player Of The Month (Beat Instrumental 1978)

He had failed, however, to mention something that happened in New York just before he came home. As I mentioned this omission in his life’s history, Allan’s normally placid and amiable expression darkened in-to a scowl. The event? An invitation from Creed Taylor, boss of CTI Records, for Allan to record a solo album. He hates that album with a passion. It was recorded in nine hours; there were no rehearsals. "It’s just a jam. The sound is disgusting. I mean, I’m really particular about my guitar sound, especially over the last two or three years, cuz I reckon I’ve now got that part of it together. We got into the studio, and we never had what you might call a balance check. None of that happened, man. They set the mikes up, and they had two mikes for a double drum kit. Really crazy. We’d play the tunes once, and that was it. Finished. Next tune. We’d just let one tune run down even if it didn’t have an ending. And that’s literally how that album was made."

Personally, I don’t care how the album was made. Although it hurts Allan even to talk about it, even though the sound is admittedly thin, and the balance is a bit lopsided on several tracks, it stands out in terms of pure playing. Forget everything else and listen to the notes. The material was written in two weeks. The acoustic tracks were played on a cracked guitar that he borrowed from Tony Williams’ girlfriend. But if you like to hear guitar playing, it doesn’t matter two hoots. Sorry, Allan!

Allan Holdsworth (Guitar Player 1980)

Along with Williams, bassist Tony Newton and keyboardist Alan Pasqua, he recorded two albums - Believe It and Million Dollar Legs - and toured in 1975 and ‘76. After bad management drove him away from that ensemble (at one point during a tour he ended up stranded in San Francisco with neither money nor a place to stay and had to pawn his guitar to get back to England), Allan recorded his first solo album, Velvet Darkness.

"That was the biggest mistake of my life," he rues. "We didn’t have a chance to adequately rehearse the music, and we were given only nine hours in the studio," he explains, adding "many of the songs don’t even have endings, so on the record, they just sort of peter out!"

Didn't you record your solo album, Velvet Darkness, at about that time?

That was the biggest mistake of my life. As far as I'm concerned, it was just one big rip-off. We didn't have a chance to adequately rehearse the music, and we were given only nine hours in the studio. It was just like, “Get with it!” We were sort of rehearsing a song and the producer came out yelling, “Next!” They had recorded a trial run—not a song intended for final release. We didn't even get a chance to rectify any bad parts. If I were a stronger person, I probably would have packed my guitar and left right then. There were other things that were wrong, as well. For example, many of the songs don't even have endings—we hadn't gotten that far yet. So on the record, they just sort of peter out.

What did you do about these problems?

There wasn't anything I could do. I went back to England, and I never got so much as a cassette copy of the tracks. About a year later I received this album at my door. It was terrible. And now I suffer every time anybody mentions that album. I just die! It's so bad. In fact, afterwards I really wanted to stop playing-just give it up.

The Unreachable Star (Guitar World 1989)

I wish I could go back and do ‘em all again [laughs].

GW: Velvet Darkness included?

HOLDSWORTH:: [Groans] That whole thing was just a rip-off and an embarrassment; I don’t even like talking about it.

GW: If nothing else, the acoustic work on the record was very memorable. You’ve said that the performances they recorded were live rehearsals, and you were denied the opportunity for overdubs. How did you accompany yourself "Kinder" and "Floppy Hat?"

HOLDSWORTH:: They were done a different day, and I wasn’t happy with them. It was one of those things where you think that they’re going to let you listen to what you did, let you choose and maybe even do some of it again. But it wasn’t the case. We rehearsed, and they recorded it. Everybody was trying to figure out what was going to happen during the tunes, and then we were to try and record them, but it just didn’t happen like that. The guy put us in the red zone while we were just running through things, and consequently it came out sounding like shit. Sometimes, really cool things can happen like that, but generally, that would be far more likely if the guys knew everything and were then thrown into the studio playing pieces they were familiar with, rather than going in and struggling. It was a struggle, it sounds like a struggle and I really felt bad for all the other guys involved because nobody really got a chance on it.

GW: The guitar line from "Wish" is identical to the melody Paul Williams sings on "The Things You See (When You Haven’t Got your Gun)" [IOU].

HOLDSWORTH: That’s because I counted nothing we did on that album. Usually, if I record something and feel that was the right place for it, I’ll leave it to rest and never do another version of it again. I think that can only be said of that album; I can’t remember anything else. The only time I ever did that was when it was unfinished - for example, on that Gordon Beck thing, we did a tune that turned out to be "The Things You See," or part of it, but that was before it was really finished. When we did the I.O.U. thing, I put it to rest.

Mike Pachelli Show (video transcript 1991)

MP: How do you feel about that first recording?

AH: I think it was alright, you have to take them for what they were, some albums, if they were OK when they were done that’s the best you could do, but if something happens where you do an album under great duress where everything is completely wrong, like I did an album for CTI and the whole band was completely ripped off, like the whole thing – that is never valid to me, because it wasn’t even valid at the time, so it most certainly isn’t now. But the Tempest album, I’d probably cringe if I heard it, but that was what it was…

MP: You did some things with CTI you mentioned, the Velvet Darkness album…

AH: Yeah that was a big rip off, a big disaster in my whole – and it haunts me to this day – the guy basically said I could record with whoever I wanted to and I got Alan Pasqua, Alphonso Johnson, Michael Walden and I thought wow, this going to be great, but we were rehearsing in this studio and they just recorded the rehearsing, we never actually got to record the tracks – they just recorded the rehearsals and that was it. When we said like, Isn’t it time we did those tracks? Again, you know? No that was it. So it was a real disaster album then and it’s an even bigger disaster now because the new album Secrets, the last album, was on Enigma, which was bought by Capitol, and now that album is no longer available, but- ! Of course you can find the old CTI album on Sony CBS which is, makes me want to give it, just quit on the spot. How do you deal with that?

Creating Imaginary Backdrops (Innerviews 1993)

The single most frustrating thing for me, is to be in a situation where you can’t get a record deal because for whatever reason they won’t sign you up, but the same people will take complete advantage of you by bootlegging things and putting out other albums. Sony just did that with that old Velvet Darkness album. They re-released it, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stop them right away. But they [the lawyers] stopped them eventually and they’re not going to make that album anymore, because that whole project was a rip-off in the first place. Sony re-released it and packaged like a new album. So, those kind of things make me go crazy—they make me want to tear my hair out.

You had Velvet Darkness pulled?

It was no good. It was never any good. The way it was recorded, what happened to the musicians, the whole thing. It was a complete disaster. It was terrible at that time and that makes it terrible today. That album was never any good. And it’s one thing to say I’ll look back to that old I.O.U. album and go "Well, it sounds pretty old, and maybe I don’t like it as much as the other stuff." But, the fact was that it was what it is then and it was okay then and everybody accepted that to be the fact at that time. That was not true of Velvet Darkness. That album was never fit to be released. Nobody got to hear anything they did. I never got a tape of anything that was recorded. And we were actually rehearsing in the studio and they were rolling the tape while we were rehearsing on the premise that we’d be able to keep recording and also check things out, but that never happened. At the end of that day, the guy said "Thanks, see ya!" That’s why a lot of those tunes don’t have any endings—they were rehearsals! That was a complete rip-off.

Are you getting any royalties from any pressings?

No, none. I never saw anything from that. And that’s the main reason they got it stopped. They didn’t have a contract. They didn’t have any publishing. They didn’t have the rights to anything. This happens all the time! There are bootlegs all over the place—exactly the same thing.

What’s surprising is that Velvet Darkness was released on a major label.

Well, I think they bought the whole CTI catalog from someone. That album’s been bootlegged three times, and each time I think "Great, that’s the end of that one." But it showed up again—it keeps showing up! But now that it’s owned by a big label, they had to produce all the paperwork and they couldn’t. So, that’s how we got ‘em. They had no paperwork for anything to say they could do any of that stuff. But there’s no way you can stop them. We had a bootleg video out in Japan. I had a contract that said this could not be used. I actually have a contract and it just came out! The video just came out! It’s called Tokyo Dreams. What it was is we knew the cameras were going to be there, but we were supposed to be able to view it first. It was supposed to be completely up to us whether we wanted it used it or not. But of course that was not the truth. They lied and they put it out and it was done in a really sneaky way.