It is impossible to be certain, but Brian Willey may well hold the record for attending the most Ivor Novello Awards.
Brian, who died on January 16th aged 95, served as vice-chairman of the Songwriters’ Guild of Great Britain, the organisation responsible for creating the prestigious awards in 1955. The Ivors had been set up as a way to promote British songwriting in the face of increasing dominance from America. They have since grown to become what has been described as ‘the music industry’s favourite day of the year’.
Brian attended his first Ivors before the fifties were out and continued to do so every year, well into the 2000s.
Born in London on January 3rd 1928, he went to school in Ealing and joined the BBC as a trainee sound engineer in 1944. He served two years National Service in the RAF, before returning to the BBC in 1951.
In 1961, with the new wave of British pop music still in its infancy, Brian became a producer in the Variety Department. He worked on Saturday Club, the influential radio show on the Light Programme, where he gave a number of future stars their first UK broadcast. One such act was Simon and Garfunkel.
Brian began writing songs in the 1950s and was elected as a writer-director of PRS in 1968. He spent 14 years on the board before resigning to become a trustee of the PRS Members’ Fund. He went on to become vice-chairman of the Fund and chaired its Finance Committee, stepping down in 2018, but continuing his association with the charity as a Patron.
For many years he put his vast knowledge of music and musicians to good use, writing articles for numerous publications. He continued to share his insight and experience into his nineties.
I first got to know Brian when the three writer guilds amalgamated in 1999, becoming the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors (BASCA) – now The Ivors Academy. We were both members of the first board and I also sat under his chairmanship on the Ivors Committee. In 2014, Brian put my name forward to become a trustee of the PRS Members’ Fund, something for which I will always be grateful.
The tributes that have come in since his death share a theme. ‘Gentleman’, ‘old school’, ‘knowledgeable’, ‘great stories’, ‘immaculate dresser’. Above all, I will remember Brian for his kindness. It can be an under-valued quality, but Brian had it in abundance and willingly shared it in his quiet, unassuming, and affable way.
Songwriter, composer and PRS Members’ Fund trustee