I came across Bill Bruford as part of U.K., although I didn't listen to them then. I may have mentioned before that I am very much of the curating style of music fan and I like to keep track of people so when two of U.K. turned up on Rock Goes To College sometime later I paid attention. Bill's clanging Roto Tom based drum sound was new to me, and they all seemed to be doing something slightly different with the sound of their instruments. Then I found the album 'One of a Kind' in a cut out bin for £1.99.
First track "Hell's Bells" still sounds like it's from another place, Holdsworth's opening solo with it's yawing vibrato and and the simple 11 note keyboard riff that repeats through the song set the tone for the rest of the album. One of my favourites has always been "The Abingdon Chasp", an Allan Holdsworth piece that was probably the first time I had heard bass guitar taking the lead in stating the theme of the piece, and to my mind is far more impressive than the slap bass solo at the start of 5G. For me the simplicity of the tunes allow the soloing space to expand to fill the gaps. Holdsworth complained in a magazine article that he hadn't been allowed to do much more than solo with U.K. and while Bruford were better he was still wheeled onto the mix to add flash rather than be integrated into the piece.
There had been an earlier album, with the same band 'Feels Good To Me', but the writing on 'One of A Kind had matured so far from this that it is odd that the Rock Goes to College show concentrates on it so much. There is a bootleg of the whole show that also features "Hell's Bells" and the two parts of "One Of A Kind", if anything Holdsworth's solo on the former is even more impressive than on record. Apparently it was the band's first gig.
In his autobiography Bill describes the trials of running the band, bringing bassist Jeff Berlin over from the US and carting Hammond Organs around, which explains Neil Murray's appearance on this OGWT segment promoting Feels Good To Me
I saw them play in Bath (The Pavilion?) in early 1980 supporting Brand X, who I hadn't learned to love yet. I was there for Bruford who were promoting their new album "Gradually Going Tornado". John Clark (the unknown John Clark) was doing a passable impression of AH and it turns out was his student. The band was good but to my recollection sounded like it was running out of steam. Not the band I had heard on TV the year before. Listening later to "The Bruford Tapes" a release of a radio show in New York reinforced this view of the Bath show.
That third album with John Clark replacing Holdsworth and more vocals isn't one I listen to often, for me the high point of this band was 'One Of A Kind'. The writing, playing and arranging all aligned in perfect combination and is one of the highlights of improvised rock or jazz rock fusion. I still listen to it regularly and find it as fresh as in 1979.
I saw John Clark again about 5 years later when I was dragged to a Cliff Richard concert by my partner, and there he was adding Holdsworth style solos to "Wired For Sound" and "Bachelor Boy". Dave Stewart cropped up on Top Of The Pops with Barbara Gaskin, Jeff Berlin wandered off into the darker reaches of Fusion, and I next saw Bill Bruford at Moles Club, Bath in 1981 with a band called Discipline who shortly after became the next iteration of King Crimson. My remembrances of Allan Holdsworth are here.
For a view from the trenches of life in music from the 70s to the new century I unreservedly recommend Bill Bruford's autobiography. The fact that he has played on so much of my favourite music and played with people who I like may influence that view. He has some interesting opinions on the business of music as well.
There is a great acoustic version of One Of a Kind rounding off the Earthworks album 'Random Acts of Happiness' which I almost love more than the original.
Buy Bill Bruford's music at Burning Shed