Melody Maker, November 6, 1971

Ollie's making it

By Roy Hollingworth

ONE of the most damning phrases, I feel, in music is the artist whose qualities earn him the distinction of being the "musician’s musician."

Nice as it may seem, it follows the pattern of the player’s player in football, i.e., they seldom make it.

Ollie Halsall has been for some time the guitarist’s guitarist. There’s more than several good players I know who've noticeably blanched on seeing this wizard from Patto hide himself in the corner of a stage and deliver runs of purse beauty, that are so ripe, so varied, so intense that one might first figure it was self-indulgence. But it ain't.

OLLIE HALSALL one leg of Centipede

Luckily, for all concerned, that magical factor (nobody knows what it is) is now bringing Ollie well into the eyes of the public. At last he’s the people's musician – that may sound over dramatic, but unfortunately the best is often sadly concerned by minority audiences.

Ollie started playing guitar about ten years ago, but actually commenced his playing days on drums with a Liverpool band. In fact, he played drums for three years, also got into vibes, and to round off the factual bits, he plays handsome piano as well.

He does most of his writing from piano, and insists that a guitarist will find numerous fields of scope from listening, and getting into other instruments. Then again, he maintains that there’s no right approach to playing. If you’ve got something to offer, then stand back and offer it. There are few commendable rules on just how to do it.

"I was lucky when I started playing. I had friends who introduced me to the right sounds. I heard Django at a very early age, and he enlightened me to certain attitudes of guitar playing i.e. to develop the instrument.

This is what Ollie talks of most, developing the electric guitar. "Very little has been done with it you know, very little. One or two people have taken steps forward, but I honestly resent anyone saying that nothing more can be done. The only player I find myself listening to is Django. I tend to listen to horn players, and pianists, especially Cecil Taylor.


"I’d like to play guitar like Cecil play piano. The complete powerful band action. I want to get the infinite power from guitar with his solid hand action. That is what I’m working on."

If you’ve seen Ollie, you’ll more than likely be fascinated by the scope, and the variety of playing which he manages to fit into seemingly straight rock. There’s his jazz line, his classical line, his freak lines, and then his emotional explosions. In his own words he slings his shoulders back and stretches out. He’s a natural is Ollie, the flow, the whole feel of the thing is inborn. You could maybe attempt to say that about a lot of players, but with Ollie you don’t have to attempt. I feel it’s the first thing that strikes you about him. He was built to be a guitarist.

A couple of weeks back Ollie got a break which will no doubt hold very well for the future. He joined the ranks of Centipede for the Albert Hall escapade, had a darned good time, played his guitar into the heads of everyone, and found even more fields opening up for him.

"I enjoyed not just the music, but the whole experience that comes out of Centipede. I made a few new friends, Brian Godding in particular. They all made me feel at home, and I went into the gig in a very fine state of mind.

I found incredible freedom there. Okay, there were riffs to play – but one could stretch out, and there was the room to change. A guitarist needs that."

Ollie had no musical training whatsoever. He can’t read, but expresses that he’d like to. He’s forever "exercising" his mind. "I deplore guitarists who just sit down and copy a solo they’ve heard and then make a few alterations. I find working with Patto most enjoyable. It’s been four years now, and well, we know each other. We’ve reached a stage which I feel is very basic, you could say there wasn’t much melody around. But we are trying to merge the whole sound, to try and get a continuous sound – not one long thing – but something very solid. It’s a case of developing. I feel there’s so much to be done.

"There are many things left for the electric guitar. Rock can take in many more aspects of guitar playing than it does at the moment. You can be very varied, as long as you’ve got something to offer. Throw your shoulders back, end let it come."

Ollie's equipment consists of a Gibson SG Custom; a Fender 40 watt reverb. "The effect is quite mindblowing when it all pushes through the three million watts slave units and what have you"



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