His next big step was when drummer John Marshall got him his first major gig, with Soft Machine: "It was all down to playing; if I hadn't just kept playing I wouldn't have got half the gigs I did. Derek Wadsworth, the trombone player, told John Hiseman about me and that got me the gig with Tempest. Another time I had to sit in for Chuck Mangione at Ronnie Scott's - Chuck was ill; it was after I'd come back from my first stint in America - and Alphonso Johnson was on bass. Alphonse new [sic] that Tony Williams was looking for a guitarist for his band Lifetime, and because of that stand-in session he put my name forward and Tony asked if I'd like to go back to the States and join his band." Allan moved to California in the early eighties and has remained a resident since.
How did you originally become a member of “The New Tony Williams' Lifetime?”
I was playing at Ronny Scott's club one day with a friend of mine named Pat Spive, who is no longer with us. Chuck Mangione and his band were also playing there at the time. Chuck Mangione got sick while he was in London, and my friend Pat was sitting in for him while he recovered. Pat mentioned me to the guys in the band, and they asked me if I wanted to sit in with them. It seems like this is a strange way for things to happen, but this is exactly what happened. When the band went home to the States, Tony Williams ran into the bass player Alphonso Johnson. Tony said that he was going to put a new band together, and he was looking for a guitar player. Alphonso just said: “There's this English guy I just played with, and you ought to give him a try.” And that's what happened.
“I was working with a piano player named Pat Smythe and quite often we'd open for groups at Ronnie Scott's,” recalls Holdsworth. “Chuck Mangione was headlining there with Pat La Barbera on sax, Joe La Barbera on drums and Alphonso Johnson on bass. Chuck got really sick during this engagement, so there were a couple of nights that he wasn't able to be there and they asked Pat Smythe if he would help out. Pat mentioned to the guys that he knew this guitar player and asked would they let him sit in on one set. So I did.”
Once more fate intervened. A chance sit-in gig at Ronnie Scott's for a sick Chuck Mangione resulted in Alphonso Johnson, his bass-player, reporting back to Tony Williams in the States that he had discovered an amazing new English guitarist.