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Thursday, August 31, 2017

20: Secrets (1988-89)

(Photo: Ed Colver)

     After exploring the concept of a wide, "orchestral" palette of sounds in Sand, Allan Holdsworth used his next album, Secrets, to further refine the balance between his SynthAxe and electric guitar elements. Sand had held only two electric guitar solos on the entire album, since it was primarily focused on creating complex tone poems of texture, emotion and dynamics with the SynthAxe. This tended to give the impression of Allan having "sent the electric guitar to its room" (well, to me, anyways). Secrets welcomes the electric guitar back into the house, reinvigorated, and unabashedly placed on an equal footing with the SynthAxe (as evidenced by the inclusion of four electric guitar solos and four SynthAxe solos). Ironically, this was probably because Allan had actually become more comfortable with the SynthAxe at this point.
     "I think I've made a lot of progress with the SynthAxe on this record. The longer I play the thing, the more comfortable it becomes and the more it becomes a part of my playing. Now I enjoy playing it even more than guitar, because guitar poses a different set of problems that I've been battling with, one way or another, for years. On the one hand, I had to use distortion - quite unnatural to a percussive instrument like a guitar - to get the kind of sustain and vocal quality I wanted from my instrument. At the same time, I'm left with the 'schzzhhhh' of it all. I find that I leave a lot more 'holes' and pauses in my playing with the SynthAxe, whereas with the guitar's sustain, there's always some kind of note hanging on. It's relatively natural for me to leave holes when I play the SynthAxe, and - because of the amount of sustain I'd normally use on guitar - it's less natural there for me to leave those holes. That I don't like, because I realize I'm actually being pushed into something that I don't want to do by the instrument. So, in a bizarre way, though the SynthAxe is a much more technological "space tweak" than the guitar (a lower-tech thing that seems to have the potential to allow one to express more through it), the SynthAxe is actually closer to reality. It doesn't push me into playing things I don't want to play. I feel that the guitar still uses me, and I didn't realize the extent to which it did until I started playing the SynthAxe." (54)
Guitarist (UK), 1987
     Allan also used this album to open up the opportunities for song contributions from his band mates. In fact, only half of the album's compositions were written by Allan (with the other half split between Steve Hunt, Gary Husband and Chad Wackerman), making this more of a "group" effort than previous albums. It's possible that, having gone to an extreme compositional level with Sand, Allan was now curious about applying his new textural ideas to other peoples' structures.
     "...I just liked some of the tunes some of the guys had written, and I always like to experiment with those things. And the particular pieces of music that I did like, I felt that they would sound not incorrect on the album -  just because of the personnel. I figured it’s come out with like, a uniformity, which it has… I wanted to give the guys an opportunity to write things. So, it didn’t start out as a deliberate thing, like saying ‘this time I’m not going to write everything’. It was just that Gary played me a tune and I really liked that – which was "City Nights" - and Steve had two tunes, one of which, "Maid Marion", we’d done live, and "Joshua" (we didn’t actually do that tune live) – and I like both of those tunes. And Chad had written a piece, and I really liked that piece too. It was just more or less that I liked them, rather than saying I couldn’t be bothered to write any music, or I felt like I didn’t have enough music." (28)
    This album is also notable for being the first to feature album contributions from keyboardist Steve Hunt as the newest member of the band. Steve would be an important part of the Holdsworth band for the next decade, and several of his songs were featured on the albums of this period. Allan first met Hunt while opening for Stanley Clarke's band. Steve Hunt recalls the circumstances in an interview with Rick Beato:
     Steve Hunt: "I met Allan on the Stanley Clarke tour (in ’87). I was with Stanley, and Al, Chad and Chad’s brother (Bob) were opening up for us… For the tunes that he played SynthAxe on, say 'Pud Wud', or 'Looking Glass', he would play the head and stuff, and when he soloed there’d be no chords (like there are on the records), so back then he actually recorded on a cassette tape the chords on 1 track -and then another track was a tambourine click track which Chad had to play to. They really hated it, because he couldn’t take an extra chorus, and Chad had to play (that way for) the whole tune, and if they were off by just a click, it was a disaster. 
     "So all my stuff would be set up (for Stanley Clarke's set), and then he said ‘Do you wanna play during our set during these tunes, so I don’t have to use that bleepin’ cassette click track?’. I said 'Sure!' So he wrote out some changes. At that time, he would play the heads, and when he would solo, I’d come in with my chord sounds (Oberheims, DX7s, Rolands, all that kind of stuff). When I joined the band later, I guess my sounds had a little more keyboard-oriented sounds in it - although we never used like, piano and Rhodes sounds - it was more synth. We sorta just divided the sounds up. 
     "1989 was the last time he took that on the road, so after ’89 I had most of the sounds in my DX7s and Oberheims. So after '89, I would just do all the synth stuff that was on the record, and he relearned everything on guitar – which is amazing because some of those tunes are tuned in fifths, like 'Looking Glass' and 'Non-Brewed Condiment' - and then he had to relearn it on a 'fourths' guitar! Actually, he had a double-neck guitar that had a 'fifths' neck on it, and then a regular 'fourths' neck (he hated bringing that double-neck thing along, too)… and then he relearned everything in 'fourths'…
(Sounding Off with Rick Beato and Guest Steve Hunt)
    Allan also experimented with different ways of using group interaction to assemble the songs in the studio. Now that his home studio ("The Brewery") was up and running, he typically had the rhythm section recorded in a large room at Front Page Studios, and then later added his own leads in the comfort of his Brewery control room at home.
     "I try to be as inside as I can get in an overdub situation. It's difficult, because it's easy to overdub something that sounds like a good solo, but hard to make it sound like it was part of what was happening. I really usually listen to the basic track alot, until I actually know exactly what everybody else is doing. That way, I find it easier to play a solo, cause then I understand where all the little ‘things’ are gonna be, and I try and make it sound as natural as possible. I like to strike the combination between fitting in and maintaining a few ideas I feel are reasonable." (25, 28)
    Most of the album was recorded by laying down live drums and bass first (with the solo later overdubbed), but Allan also experimented with the opposite approach. On "Peril Premonition" he recorded his guitar solo over Chad's "guide" drum sequence, and then had live drums and bass overdubbed, reacting to the guitar track. Similarly, the keyboard track for Gary Husband's tune "City Nights" was initially laid down by Gary, and then drums, bass and guitar tracks were overdubbed in following sessions. Steve Hunt's tune "Joshua" was done with the rhythm section keying off of Hunt's home-recorded sequencer track as a guide.

Frans Schellekens/Redferns (Billboard)

The Secrets Behind Secrets (1989)

City Nights
     "When the guys played it in the studio, I thought, 'Boy, this would be a nice one to use as an opener.' Gary Husband, who wrote the tune, played keyboards. He played a ridiculous keyboard solo on his demo, and that inspired me: 'Gee, I can't fall asleep on this tune, because I just heard what he did on it. The ale at the end of the tune was a Spaten Franziskaner poured into a weissbier glass. Gary's been known to have a bit of fun after the gig, and it was his title for the tune - if we play in a big city, as soon as the gig's over, that's about the first sound we'll hear." (30)
Gary Husband further describes the genesis of this opening track:
     "'City Nights' was written on piano, yeah, actually as far back as around 1984 - actually maybe earlier. Anyway, around ‘85 or so I’d got some time in a studio and made a demo of that song, plus a number of other things I had. I’d used kind of a classic ‘80s, rather static, drum machine groove to perform it to on purpose. It just kind of plodded at a moderate tempo. The basic theme consisted of awkwardly placed but essentially “happy sounding” harmonic modulations, and by the time the solo section hit it was strictly a folky/country-ish vibe. Y’know, sweet chords. So the groove was fairly unobtrusive throughout, although it was actually upside down, and you had this sunshine 'happy' chord progression coming at you. I then felt to play a really intense, kind of obtuse and aggressive acoustic piano solo over the changes… really full on, reaching, crazy and furious. So there was a curious blend about it - sweet but turbulent. 
     "I played that demo to Allan and this is actually one of three occasions where I made a particularly strong impact upon him though music of my own. He really liked the blistering approach thing on sweet sounding chords idea. Come much later on, he’s getting into compiling things - I guess for Secrets - and he asks me if I still have that piece around. So we’re there - I think on Walnut and Culver, near Tustin, at his first home studio there - and I got a good tempo for it - put just a straight beat up for it. And I played in the entire structure of it, including a good predetermined length solo section - all the same as my original demo pretty much. From his Oberheim stuff we found a nice sound to support him playing the top of the chords of the 'melody' section, and then almost a kind of warm 'trombone section' type of patch - plus bells and stuff - for the repeated solo section. So I built up the entire piece and built it up in his studio. It became the template for the whole album track. 
     "Next thing I know, sessions for Secrets are occurring, and I’m hearing from brother Vinnie, and Jimmy in a very excited mood! That was great to hear! So then I get to hear what they did with it and, wow! It was something! Vinnie was jumping up and down, feeling it was among his most proud things he felt he’d ever done, and on hearing it I understood why! Those two were stellar on it, of course, everybody knows. Allan then does his guitar and it’s stellar throughout from him too! All in all a pretty eventful take! I still may not have earned a penny from it (as a composer) since it’s original release (!), but hey, this was the realm of Allan. In the scheme of things, the achievement of all they did on the session with that song is the single most amazing reward, in retrospect." (99)
(An longer, unedited report from Gary can be read here.)
  • Gear: 
    • Steinberger GM2T, with two custom Seymour Duncan Allan Holdsworth humbuckers, refretted Dunlop 6000 wire
    • ADA Stereo Tapped Delay, two ADA mono delay lines and a Lexicon PCM60
    • Boogie Mark III head, Juice Extractor (prototype), equalizer
    • Boogie Simulclass 295 power amp, "speaker box" with Celestion KS speakers, Neumann TLM 170 microphone
     Allan: "I started using that (Boogie Mark III) and I’m going 'I don’t like it!' But then I’d already started, so I couldn’t finish it with another amp…  that was the last time I ever used it. My favorite Boogie was the Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier – the 'original one', cause some of the new ones don’t even have a rectifier tube.." (66)

City Nights

AH: Guitar
2:33 (Gary Husband)
Allan Holdsworth: Guitar
Gary Husband: Keys
Jimmy Johnson: Bass
Vinnie Colaiuta: Drums

     Allan's lead electric guitar strikes back with a vengeance on this opening track. One of the most fascinating things about this track is that, even though the blowing section is essentially in 4/4 (with a 'static' chord progression), due to the brilliant, "freely-interpretive" nature of Gary, Jimmy and Vinnie's rhythmic and harmonic playing, it sounds much thornier than it actually is on paper. In fact, a May 1989 Guitar World transcription of the piece somewhat "over-analyzes" the harmony and meter, thereby making it seem more complicated than it is actually meant to be (see Gary's unedited note).

0:00: Drum fill into Head Pt. 1 (ends on major key harmony)
0:11: Transition/cadence (reverse of head 1 chords)
0:17: Head Pt. 2 (higher register, ends on minor key harmony)
0:27: Solo begins over harmony refrains based on head chords (highly-articulated in each chorus).
1:45: Head 1, transition (solo ends).
2:01: Head 2, alcohol.

     "I think of 'Secrets' as a song, but primarily as a vehicle to improvise over. The harmonic structure of the piece was inspired by a thought I had about how no one can ever really figure out what anybody else is thinking. And Rowanne Mark is really fantastic at taking an idea and creating lyrics. Apart from that, she sings fantastically. Quite often with me, titles come as I'm writing something, but this time there was only a feeling. I also usually write the melody after the chords, but on this piece I played the melody as the top line of the chord voicings.
     "I was looking for something like a cello tone (for the solo) that I could get a bowed quality from. I wanted it to have more of a string feel than a blown feel. I'm not saying that's what I achieved, but that's what I was going for. I used the breath controller to do things I would have done with a bow, like pulling harder, laying off and being more gentle, and then doing staccato notes where you bounce the bow. I'm not using it to dictate the way the note is played; it's only shaping it after it's been played. It's not part of the function of getting the note out, like it would be on a true wind instrument." (30)
  • Gear
    • SynthAxe, Oberheim Xpander, Yamaha TX7 modules (DX7)

2 Secrets

AH: SynthAxe
4:22 Allan Holdsworth: SynthAxe
Jimmy Johnson: Bass
Vinnie Colaiuta: Drums
Rowanne Mark: Vocals, lyrics

     A beautiful chord melody theme arranged for voice and SynthAxe leads to a development phase featuring SynthAxe as the soloist. Vocals take over for the final solo chorus.

0:00: Vocals over soft, falling harmonies (main theme).
0:30: Rhythm section and SynthAxe solo (1st chorus based on main theme harmonies), with accented cadences interspersed, pedal (rhythm section) break.
1:21: 2nd solo chorus, break.
2:48: 3rd solo chorus (first half).
3:27: Vocal resumes to finish 3rd chorus, break, distorted accent texture.

54 Duncan Terrace
     "This was the address of a really great piano player friend of mine who died a few years ago, Pat Smythe. He was a very inspirational character, a wonderful piano player, and a very musical, mellow guy. He had this wonderful room in his house.. A white room with blue clouds painted on it - or maybe it was vice versa. He played the nicest chords, and his technique was very delicate. He had this old Bluthner piano and got a great sound. His original tunes were always so pretty. I got the first four chords of this and said, 'Man, that sounds like Pat.'  
     "Originally, the long solo section in the beginning was going to be for myself, and then I thought it would be really great to get Alan Pasqua to put some acoustic piano on it. He's just incredible; he played a beautiful solo. I was (originally) considering an acoustic solo on this one. I tried recording it in my room, and it was just too noisy. If a car drove by, you'd hear it, because I'd have to have the mike really cranked. I guess I don't really have any technique on the acoustic anymore - I was getting all these noises with my hands. So I just bailed on it and went for something unusually percussive with the SynthAxe: a sampled mixture of steel-string guitar, harp, and synthesized guitar. Jimmy Johnson plays a great, really beautiful solo after Pasqua's solo, and then I do the short solo at the end. It was kind of a strange feeling, playing with that sound." (27, 30)
  • Gear:
     "The distortion splashes near the beginning and end were the SynthAxe through a Rockman. For the rhythm guitar, I ran the Boogie Quad Pre-amp straight onto the tape machine, without a microphone. I'd never done that before." (30)
3 54 Duncan Terrace
(Dedicated to Pat Smythe)

AP: Piano
JJ: Bass
AH: SynthAxe
4:35 Allan Holdsworth: Guitar, SynthAxe
Jimmy Johnson: Bass
Vinnie Colaiuta: Drums
Alan Pasqua: Piano solo

     The song structure is relatively straightforward, and is kind of a callback to the material "Holdsworth & Co." used to do at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in the late '70s. Great solos by all, but Allan's is also unusual in that the patch he uses has more "attack" than his usual "breathy" patches.

0:00: Gentle groove with clean chords, punctuated by a distorted SynthAxe "power chord".
0:37: Syncopated transition.
0:51: Piano solo (Pasqua) over theme harmony. Pasqua adds additional left hand ornamentation in the second half.
2:32: Bass solo, accompanied by filtered SynthAxe "church organ" chord textures.
3:22: SynthAxe solo using "piano/harpsichord-like" texture.
3:59: Syncopated transition, final SynthAxe power chord.

     "Even though Steve's new tune 'Joshua' sounds really open, it's actually very specific in terms of the voicings and what he wanted to hear in the accompaniment. And in that instance, you let the guy do his thing. To serve that, we did that take live."     
GW: That piece is uncharacteristically straightforward.
     "I actually had a little bit of trouble with that one. I liked it, but I wasn't certain that it would work for me, because it reminded me a little bit of Bruford. As soon as I started soloing on it, everything I played reminded me of ten or fifteen years ago, so I started getting really depressed really fast. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but because it was putting me in a space that I didn't want to be back in, just because that was then and not now. But I went in and said, "Okay, I'll do it", did the solo, and, listening to it afterwards, I realize that it came out different, even though the composition still reminds me a bit of something Bill might've written. That was my main worry - that it would come out sounding like an old Bruford record." (25)
     Steve Hunt: "On 'Joshua', I did all my tracks here in my house, and then I sent him the tracks and then he put’em on 2-inch. And then he went into a studio with Vinnie Colaiuta and Jimmy Johnson and they played on top of that. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I ever sent them charts, either… So they played one day, I was in LA the next day, and I came to the studio with Allan, and he goes ‘Oh you gotta check this out, man’. Vinnie had laid down his first take… (Vinnie) goes ‘Oh I think I wanna do that again', and Allan goes ‘Let's save that (1st one) just in case’. And then (Vinnie) did another track where he played a lot less - he just thought he’d played too much, y’know? And then Vinnie says, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the track I want to use’. But the next day, he and Allan came and we were listening to it, and we both listened to the first take, and we were like blown away – and Allan goes ‘I think we’re going to have to do an ‘over-ride’ here’. So on the record, we actually used the first take!" (Sounding Off with Rick Beato and Guest Steve Hunt)
  • Gear
     "This might sound like bull, but I've got the most control I've ever had over any guitar sound since I started using the plastic Steinberger, the GM2T. I just love that guitar, man. Boogie sent me this little .50 Caliber that uses EL84 output tubes, my favorite tubes. They have an aggressive yet soft, spongy tone, and it just went. That guitar and amp worked perfectly for that track. It wouldn't have been so good on 'City Nights', where the notes sputter out more, but on this, the notes were longer-toned, so it was great. The way you strike the string with the pick and then move your finger, you can get it to change vowel sounds, like an oo to an ee, and I really love that. On a bad amplifier it always goes the other way, from an ee to an oo. That's the way I test amps - if you can have a note go to ee and stay like that, then it's great. I ran the .50 Caliber into the Extractor, into the 295, and recorded it with the TLM17O, straight to the tape machine." (30)
4 Joshua

AH: Guitar
SH: Keys

5:59 (Steve Hunt)
Allan Holdsworth: Guitar
Steve Hunt: Keys
Jimmy Johnson: Bass
Vinnie Colaiuta: Drums

     Steve's theme is stated and then developed, followed by a cadential reprise. The song arrangement takes advantage of this triptych-like structure by mixing up theme and solo roles. Allan's "reinterpretation" of Steve's theme melody is fascinating, as this situation doesn't come up very often.

0:00: Soft, glassy keyboard theme over swelling string pads. 
0:33: Drums join for theme ending cadence.
0:49: Guitar solo loosely developing from theme and harmony development.
1:59: Guitar plays theme ending cadence.
2:15: Steve Hunt's keyboard solo.
3:41: Theme interpreted by guitar (octave lower then previous cadence quote).
4:53: Theme ending cadence (guitar).
5:11: Coda based on opening keyboard sequence, swelled textures.

     "I really liked bicycling riding when I was a kid, and this piece reminded me of it - of wheelies, actually... 'Spokes' was like another jump in using the SynthAxe. Because I long wanted to be a wind player (I always wanted to play saxophone), when I go to a synthesizer to create a sound, that's usually where I start. I'm not trying to replicate anything specific; I just say, 'Well, let's try and get a 'wind-instrument-from-Mars' tone.' So long as it's a wind instrument, that's all that matters. I quite liked the sound on 'Spokes', which is just a lone Oberheim Xpander. In the middle, I had a second Xpander detuned a tone away from the first, and faded that in during the middle section where Jimmy and Vinnie are just completely reaming. I wanted to leave it kind of open there for the bass and drums to do a bit of savaging. 
     "I'm a big cycling fan, and I started hearing that bass thing when I was out on my bike, just reaming out there in the hills. The line started out as a regular toy riff, a lot stiffer than the one Jimmy finished up just taking to the cleaners. And his tone is so pure; he can plug into a sideboard and sound awesome. He's the only guy I've ever met like that - straight into the studio board, it just sounds like the largest, longest amplifier. I wish I was the same." (27, 48, 30)

5 Spokes

AH: SynthAxe
3:32 Allan Holdsworth: SynthAxe
Jimmy Johnson: Bass
Vinnie Colaiuta: Drums

     The bass line Allan refers to above is probably the "enigmatic" pedal part which opens up each of the solo choruses. It stands out as being more "rubbery" than Jimmy's usual (but rock solid) playing. Allan also does some interesting swelled and harmonized chords as part of his solo in the second chorus. A simple, but fun SynthAxe blowing tune.

0:00: Drum rolls lead into an accented SynthAxe "power chord" harmony theme.
0:23: SynthAxe solo, opening with bouncing bass based on an enigmatic pedal chord, leading to modulating harmony theme.
1:34: Solo continues over power chord theme reprise.
1:54: 2nd SynthAxe solo chorus (opening with pedal section again), with additional blended textures in SynthAxe tone. Solo and song ends in this 2nd chorus (power chord theme reprise).

Maid Marion
     "When he (Steve Hunt) first presented it to us, it reminded me of something from Old England, like Robin Hood. But it was quite soft, so we renamed it 'Maid Marion'... The solo sections were really open - we just had that one pedal C, and when he was playing the intro chords, I was playing the melody. (27, 30)
     Steve Hunt: “Maid Marion” was done live with Vinny and Jimmy at the studio, and then I re-played my solo at Allan’s house onto his Akai machines that he was recording on at the time (I think they were 12-track machines and he had two of them). I wanted to have some percussion under Allan’s solo, but Allan said he couldn’t afford it. So later, when I heard a rough mix, I was like, ‘What is that (percussion)?’ Allan and Vinnie decided to have Vinnie play over the tracked drums during Allan’s solo… so there are two drum tracks going on during Allan’s solo - I guess a ‘poor man’s way’ of adding percussion, haha! (101)
  • Gear
     "Steve has really got his own sound, and I often try to use a patch to complement him. When we've done this track live, I kind of ripped off one of his patches, because I didn't have anything else that sounded any better. I might flounder a bit, but most of the time I stay away from anything that sounds like a keyboard. I won't use any piano-type patches, and Steve almost always has a little piano-type patch somewhere in there. 
     "Again, I used the Oberheim Xpander. To record, I take the output of the synthesizer and then I run it through a mike or line pre-amplifier, straight off to the tape machine. I normally use both oscillators and have all six voices in rotation, but on this I used three different sounds mixed together, so there were three voices rotating instead of six. The rotation thing doesn't make a big difference, but if you get less than three, it starts to sound funny, because quite often one note will still be sounding when another one comes off. Plus, if you make a mistake or get a glitch, that eats up that other voice, and then it sounds really funny. All of a sudden, the notes turn off because you flicked a string." (27,30)
6 Maid Marion

SH: Keys
AH: SynthAxe
7:17 (Steve Hunt)
Allan Holdsworth: SynthAxe
Steve Hunt: Keys
Jimmy Johnson: Bass
Vinnie Colaiuta: Drums

      Like "Devil Take The Hindmost", the blowing section in "Maid Marion" is structured around a modal pedal harmony with a turnaround cadence at the end. However, the difference here is that "Devil" was basically minor key, and "Marion" is major key, resulting in a much more lyrical and playful contest.

0:00: Glassy keys and reedy SynthAxe play the patient opening theme.
0:38: Theme reprise, cadence.
1:04: Keyboard solo as rhythm section ramps up over modal pedal harmony (accented by rising theme chords).
3:14: Cadence harmony, modulating.
3:44: SynthAxe solo over same pedal/cadence (additional overdubbed drums).
6:24: Coda: theme reprise (keys and SynthAxe).

Peril Premonition
     "This is a great piece by Chad Wackerman - so different from anything I would write. He recorded it on his sequencer at his mum's house, using real drums. It had this really 'perilous' vibe - it always sounded like something was going to happen (as opposed to nothing keeping happening, which is what normally happens when I try to play!). When Chad came down to the garage (Brewery studio), we sequenced all the parts on the multi-track, and I soloed over that before they put on the bass and drums. That track has a really, really live feel, and it made me think about that for the future. Although I had done a couple of things with sequencers in the past, I had always waited to do the solo last. When I play with a backing track, I'm concentrating on what the other guys are playing, saying, 'Oh I can't play this, because he did that'. This time I just did what wanted. Then I called Chad and his brother Bob, and they went down to Front Page Studio and played the drums and bass live, and that was it. I would have never thought it would work, but it did.      
GP: This track also marks your first vocal performance [in] quite some time. 
     "We kept thinking about all these times, particularly in Paris, where you leave a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door, and no matter how big that thing is, man, the maid'll be there breaking your door down at sunrise. We had some really funny experiences with Gary Husband when we first took the band to Paris and somebody was pounding on the door. He got up out of bed, and the maid had actually come into the room, got hold of the sheets, pulled them back over, but didn't change them, didn't change his towels, and then left. Not only that, but there's usually someone down the street with a pneumatic drill that's starting at 7:00 in the morning, and there's some guy in the next room fixing the plumbing. Those sounds and voices at the beginning are just a bit of humor; Claire, my wife, is saying in French, 'Open the door, I've got to clean up the room.'" (30)
  • Gear
    • Steinberger guitar
    • Boogie Quad Pre-amp, T.C. Electronic Spatial Expander, ADA Stereo Tapped Delay, Rocktron Pro Chorus (as main chorusing units), Ramsa 12 channel mixer, Hush IIC
    • 50 Caliber Boogie power amp, Juice Extractor, Celestion speakers, Shure SM58/AKG 460 mikes
     "I also took a really different recording approach: I ran the output of a Boogie Quad Pre-amp into the power amp of the .50 Caliber, and put that into the Extractor. I didn't want to use a big power amp, because I would have had to make the Juice Extractor glow red." (26, 30)
7 Peril Premonition

AH: Guitar
4:45 (Chad Wackerman)
Allan Holdsworth: Guitar
Bob Wackerman: Bass
Chad Wackerman: Drums, keys

Claire Holdsworth: Voice
Jeffrey Ocheltree: Hammer

     This tune features "guest drummer" Chad Wackerman, joined by his brother Bob (both of whom toured with Allan during some European dates). Allan's solo here is superb. In some ways this tune feels like a development from "Metal Fatigue" with it's "giant robot" groove (and subsequent " cheerful" back end).

0:00: Synth textures are joined by "noble" synth accents and electronic percussion ornaments.
0:35: Percussion "knocks" are joined by "real-life" knocks, as a short skit ensues.
0:50: Drum tom/snare rolls lead to a fat, syncopated, modulating pedal groove.
1:15: Guitar solo and keyboard accents enter.
3:43: Guitar solo continues with more lyrical phrases, as harmony becomes less "perilous". Drum rolls end the song, making this a kind of bracketing motif.

     "That's a solo piece about my father, but it could have been written about anyone. The song was written because I'm one of those people who never seems to say how much I care about people, especially the people I'm really close to. It's kind of an English thing; certain things go unsaid, and you don't have to always keep hugging people. I wish I had, because when my father did pass away, I felt that I hadn't actually told him how much I cared about him. The title means 'something that's encapsulated in something else', like when you crack open a rock and there's some kind of a stone inside. I just felt like letting him know, and the song's about anybody else who might be feeling the same way, about just generally not being able to say what you're feeling." (25) 
     I tried writing some lyrics for this piece, but I couldn't express them. I called Rowanne (Marks), played it for her, and explained the feeling, and that I wanted the title to be 'Endomorph', something that's trapped inside something else - just the way I felt. She wrote it, and like she usually does, she just put a big frog in my throat. She did the same thing with 'All Our Yesterdays', from Atavachron - I was just in tears, man. It was incredible. She'd written words that said more than I would have imagined I ever could have. The problem was, that I'd written it for me, and it was just outside her range. She could sing it up an octave, but I wanted the melody to be inside the register of the chords. We tried transposing it, and it started not sounding dark or somber enough. I remember my dad used to say, 'This tune sounds great in this key.' Then he'd play it in a lot of different keys and say, 'But listen - it doesn't sound right in this one.' Sometimes you can get away with a half-step in either direction, but even then it often doesn't work. I tried (singing) it again myself, and I couldn't do it, man. I might have been able to 10, 15 years ago - but I was just croaking and sounding terrible. A few people tried, and then Craig Copeland - whom I met through Chad, who introduced me to Rowanne, as well - came in, and he really sang it great.      
GP: Under the second verse there's a weird, ominous undercurrent. 
     "It was actually a resampled voice. It was taken way out of key, completely off. Then we took other samples at different notes, mixed them together, and made another sample as the combination of all of them in that one note. Sonically, it wasn't as nice as I would have liked, but it did the job inasmuch as it had the 'spooky' vibe about it - there's a lot of air in the sound. I'd also been working with the Steinberg TX7 programmer, to get something to simulate the unique sound of a PPG synthesizer. I did two PPG-ish sounds, and blended those with the voice sound. That was the bulk of the piece." (30)
8 Endomorph

(Dedicated to My Parents)

AH: Guitar
4:19 Allan Holdsworth: SynthAxe, Guitar
Craig Copeland: Vocals (Rowanne Mark: Lyrics)

     This heartfelt song features another devastatingly-poignant electric guitar solo from Allan. Despite all of his enthusiasm for the SynthAxe at this time, his guitar playing on this album reaches a high water mark for me.

0:00: Megalithic, sustained textures are joined by soft glassy pads and vocal.
1:30: Theme harmony with layered SynthAxe textures.
1:56: Guitar solo over modulating theme harmony and developed SynthAxe textures.
3:03: Megalithic drone resumes, vocal resumes.

Note: Most of the quotes above are extrapolated from the March 1990 Guitar Player feature on Allan Holdsworth (interview by Matt Resnicoff), and indicated by "(30)". The transcription of this print articles (as well as most of the other quoted magazine texts) was done by Per Stornes.

Gear Summary
     Allan's gear is mostly detailed in the entries above for each title, but the general trends can be summarized:
  • Electric guitar: Steinberger TransTrem (stock) with custom Seymour Duncan pickups, 20" DeLap customized neck radius, Dunlop 6000 fretwire.
  • Double-neck electric guitar: "I had this idea of having this double-neck made so I could play all of the music that I had done on SynthAxe on guitar. The problem was that although I really love the Steinberger, I didn't like that one. Since then I have had another made, but it had similar problems. But I found the regular guitar was suffering on the double neck so they made it longer to give it a bit more top, make it a little bit 'brighter' sounding. It's not really happened, I don't think it's going to be a success." (32)
  • Acoustic guitar: "I own one custom - made guitar built by Bill DeLap, which is beautiful. It's a five-string guitar, tuned in fifths. I like that tuning [C,G,D,A,E, low to high]; it's a really logical tuning to me." (54)
  • Amps: Boogie Mark III ("City Nights"), Boogie Quad Pre-amp, or .50 Caliber, Boogie Simulclass 295 power amp, Juice Extractor (prototype, various signal chain positions), "speaker box" with Celestion KS speakers, Neumann TLM17D microphone with a James Demeter mike pre-amp. (30)
  • SynthAxe synth modules: Oberheim Matrix 12 and Xpander, Kurzweil Expander, some Yamaha TX synth modules (but mostly Oberheim and Kurzweil used). (58)

     Tour dates for Sand/Secrets (1988-89 with Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Hunt and Jimmy Johnson) typically included the following songs in their sets:
  • With Guitar:
    • Funnels
    • Shallow Sea
    • White Line
    • Devil Take The Hindmost
  • With SynthAxe:
    • Looking Glass
    • Pud Wud 
    • Non-Brewed Condiment
    • Distance vs. Desire (later switched out for...)
    • Maid Marion

Guest Work
    Aside from working on Secrets, Allan also spent 1988 to 1989 on several "guest" projects, the most notable being his second "duets" album with Gordon Beck, With A Heart In My Song (this album will be further described in the next chapter). Another reunion would find Allan recording with old friend (and Road Games vocalist) Jack Bruce, joined by drummer Ginger Baker. This track is a kind of "mutant" post-Cream head-banger (with additional lead and rhythm guitar from Dio's Vivian Campbell). Other collaborations (mostly adding guitar or SynthAxe solos) are listed below:
Stanley Clarke

If This Bass Could Only Talk
"Stories To Tell"

AH: Guitar solo
Stanley Clarke: Bass guitars, synth
Stewart Copeland: Drums
Stuart Hamm

Radio Free Albemuth
"Radio Free Albemuth"

AH: SynthAxe solo
Joe Satriani: Rhythm guitar
Glen Freudl, Tommy Mars: Keys
Stuart Hamm: Bass
Mike Barsimanto, Amy Knoles: Drums/perc.
Alex Masi

Attack Of The Neon Shark
"Cold Sun"

AH: SynthAxe solo
Alex Masi: Guitars, bass, keys
Frankie Banali: Drums/perc.
Strange Advance

The Distance Between
"Who Lives Next Door"

AH: Guitar (ornaments, background solo)
Darryl Kromm: Vocals, Guitar, Twelve-String Guitar
Drew Arnott: Vocals, Keyboards
Ed Shaw, Simon Brierly: Guitar
Howard Ayee: Bass
Peter Fredette: BG Vocals

"Alien Time"

AH: Guitar (ornaments, background solo)
Darryl Kromm: Vocals, Guitar, Twelve-String Guitar
Drew Arnott: Vocals, Keyboards
Howard Ayee: Bass
Greg Critchley: Drums
Joe Primeau, Peter Fredette: BG Vocals
Jack Bruce

A Question Of Time

AH: Guitar (1st solo, rhythm)
Jack Bruce: Vocals, bass
Vivian Campbell: Guitar (2nd solo, rhythm)
Ginger Baker: Drums

"Only Playing Games"

AH: SynthAxe (melody line)
Jack Bruce: Vocals, bass, acstc gtr, synth
Jimmy Ripp: Guitars
Dougie Bowne, Mark Nauseef: Drums
The Golden Gate Boys Choir: Vocals
Carl Verheyen

No Borders
"Gretchen's Theme"

AH: SynthAxe (ornaments, solo)
Carl Verheyen: Guitars
Dave Marotta: Bass
John Ferrarro: Drums
Brad Cole: Keys
Various Artists

Practicing Musicians
"Play that Funky Music"

AH: Guitar solos
Jeff Watson: Guitar solos
Randy Coven: Bass
Mark Reale: Rhythm guitar
John O'Reilly: Drums
Bobby Thompson, Steve Piocica: Vocals

Next: Gordon Beck In America
Previous Chapter: Sand (1987)

Go to the Table of Contents... 

The numbers in parentheses after Allan's quotes above refer to sources listed in the Bibliography
For more detailed information on this chapter, see the Annotated Chronology.


  1. Wow Ed, Secrets is a massive post. This Thread is brilliant, I will go back to it countless times. And then start from the start again. Thanks

  2. Hi, I just discovered this side - very nicley done! In the 90's I transcripted the whole Secrets - CD with all solos and themes (not the drums!).What a work - I used a Sony walkman to slow down the tempo, but then the key changed.So after the transription, I had to write it down again, but then in the correct key... Feel free to write me if somebody is interested in the sheets.Just go to my webside