Updated July 2005
Brian has played "twiddly bits" for a great many well-known artists. Starting out on guitar in his native Northern Ireland at the age of 14, he crossed over to the UK, ending up in Hounslow in West London as an habitué of the White Bear and running his own folk club at Regent Street Polytechnic. Maureen Kennedy, the lead singer from the Tinkers met him at that club and took him on as her accompanist. (She reputedly liked the twiddly bits but thought his chords could with some work - so she gave him a book of chords for his guitar bag!) His agent at the time was Jasper Carrott, who later became one of the UK's top comedy acts.
Thanks to Dave Cousins playing some of Brian's instrumentals to Mary and her husband, Strawbs producer Tony Visconti, on Brian's 22nd birthday, they offered him a job touring with them. The tour lasted for about a year, and took him to Israel, Australia and New Zealand. Subsequently Brian also spent three years with successful popsters New World, Opportunity Knocks winners who went on to have 9 hits, including "Tom Tom Turnaround". A further year with veteran folkie Roger Whittaker and Joe Brown's two parallel bands - the Bruvvers and Home Brew.
No Sweat were Brian's next project - the first signing to Pete Townsend's Eel Pie record label. It was in 1978, playing with them in The Albany, in Twickenham, that Chas Cronk came to see Brian play. The rest is history! Being an old pal of Dave Cousins from the White Bear folk club days, when during a lull in the Strawbs' activities, Dave got the yen to get back to his folk roots with an acoustic tour round the folk clubs in 1979, he recruited Willoughby to join him. These concerts were a great success, leading to another tour later that year, and the acoustic partnership that resulted has continued to this day, a welcome fix for fans between the full band's all-too infrequent performances. Meanwhile, with the departure of Dave Lambert, the Strawbs needed a new lead guitarist and Brian fitted effortlessly into the role.
His full debut with the band, appropriately enough, being at the Northern Ireland Port Rush festival in 1979, Brian worked with the Strawbs up to their dissolution in July 1980, when Cousins left the band. He was there for the two infamous non-Cousins gigs, with Roy Hill as lead vocalist. In the next few years, Brian was involved in a number of other projects, including playing on Monty Python' "Contractual Obligation" album and being an extra in Terry Gilliam's film "The Time Bandits".
The reformation in 1983 saw him back with the Strawbs, a post he has filled with aplomb and good humour to this day. The reformed band re-appraised some of the Strawbs classics from the earlier folk albums, and Brian's tasteful guitar work brought a new freshness to such numbers as "Oh How She Changed", "Josephine For Better Or For Worse", "A Glimpse Of Heaven" and, more recently, "Tell Me What You See In Me", revived for the band's 1991 album Ringing Down The Years. He has his own take on epics from the Lambert years - "Down By The Sea", "Autumn", "Cut Like A Diamond" and others - and has made his own on other songs from that period - "Grace Darling", re-recorded for the 1991 album, being a case in point.
Brian has recorded two albums with Dave, the first Old School Songs reproducing faithfully the atmosphere of that first acoustic tour, side two featuring a live recording of the duo at Exmouth Festival. The second collaboration, The Bridge in 1994 was a set of new (or at least unrecorded songs) recorded by Dave and Brian with backing from various current/ex-Strawbs and other friends. He has also featured on both the 1990's Strawbs studio sets Don't Say Goodbye and Ringing Down The Years (he co-wrote two tracks on the latter with Hud and Rod Demick) as well as the live 1990 set, released on video and CD as Strawbs' Greatest Hits Live.
He released his first solo CD Black & White in 1998, a mainly acoustic outing, featuring the powerful voice of American singer Cathryn Craig as well as a contribution from old friend Mary Hopkin.. Cathryn and he have taken to the folk club circuit with a vengeance and built a strong and loyal following in the UK. A further CD by Craig and Willoughby, entitled I Will was released in early 2002.
In the electric incarnation of the Strawbs, Brian and Dave Lambert had forged a stunning partnership as the Strawbs' lead guitar duo Brian's duo partnership with Cousins, which persisted throughout the 90s, was further augmented by the returning Dave Lambert, initially brought in an as an emergency measure to deal with Cousins' wrist injury and an duo commitment in 2000. But the three discovered that the acoustic medium was just as rewarding as the electric, and went on to develop stunning acoustic renditions of the Strawbs' classic songs, after a stint at the Edinburgh Festival in 2001, taking their virtuoso performances to audiences in the UK Canada, the US and Italy over the course of the next two and a half years.
In May 2004, after extensive touring both with Acoustic Strawbs and with his partner Cathryn Craig, Brian announced that he was leaving the Strawbs after the Knaresborough Festival in August 2004 to concentrate on his work with Cathryn, both here and in Cathryn's native USA. Whilst Chas Cronk was taking over in a new Acoustic Strawbs line-up, debuting in September 2004, Brian took time out to put the finishing touches to his solo album, Fingers Crossed, and readied the epic "Rumours Of Rain" single, recorded with Cathryn and a folk cast of thousands, for release in 2005. 2005 also saw the duo's first concerts in Cathryn's native America.