His cousin, Rick Wakeman, gave him his first music lesson in their back garden and, after practicing for three months, Alan together with Rick on piano – “the only one who knew what he was doing” – put together Drayton Manor Grammar School’s first jazz band.
Switching to alto sax at 16, Alan got to know Mike Westbrook when the up-and-coming bandleader came to Drayton Manor school for a year to teach art. By then Alan had decided to become a professional musician and was having lessons with Charles Chapman, who had also tutored Joe Harriott, Ronnie Ross, Vic Ash, John Barnes, Barbara Thompson, John Williams and Pete Whyman.
Alan left school at 18 to study clarinet at the London College of Music, at the same time taking up tenor sax, which eventually became his main instrument, along with the soprano. He joined what was then the pre-cursor to NYJO – the London Youth Jazz Orchestra – after being heard by co-founder Pat Evans playing in a working men’s club with cousin Rick.
While playing in LYJO, Alan became friends with free jazz drummer Paul Lytton, who was then occupying the drum chair. His involvement with the London jazz scene came after he joined Lytton’s quartet for six months, playing every Wednesday night at a club in Tottenham Court Road. Later Alan and the drummer formed various bands together, from duos to large line-ups and, in 1970, they won the G.L.A.A Young Musicians Jazz Award.
After fronting his own trio in 1970, with Harry Miller on bass and Paul Lytton on drums, Alan joined Graham Collier’s band, replacing Stan Sulzmann. This association lasted for two years and two albums – Songs For My Father and Mosaics – which featured such contemporaries as Harry Beckett, Phil Lee and Geoff Castle.
After a spell touring with John Dankworth’s group, Alan joined Mike Westbrook’s band, playing clarinet and saxophone on that band’s 1975 release Citadel/Room 315 and 1976’s Love/Dream and Variations. Subsequently Jon Marshall, drummer with Soft Machine, invited Alan to join the group – he was featured on Soft Machine’s 1976 album Softs – which he left when offered a retainer to be a member of David Essex’s band.
In 1978, together with drummer Nigel Morris and bassist Paul Bridge, Alan founded the trio Triton and also wrote a suite for octet which was premiered at the 1979 Camden Jazz Festival. Other collaborations during this time included with Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composers Orchestra, the Don Rendell Five, the Michael Garrick Sextet, the Harry Beckett Band, the Stan Tracy Sextet, Henry Lowther’s Quarternity and John Williams’ Baritone Band.
In subsequent years Alan has kept busy with commercial and theatre work while playing occasionally with various Mike Westbrook ensembles.