Remembering the last of the legends, Brian
Loving tributes have been paid to a Leamington musical idol and the '˜last of the legends' who died just weeks before his 87th birthday.
Brian Willis was known across the country for his musical talents, successful band and charming personality.
The much-loved husband, father, grandfather and great- grandfather died on Sunday following an illness in what his daughter said had left them completely heartbroken.
The renowned musician was best known for his music and formation of band, The Brian Willis Four, which toured the UK for decades.
Mr Willis was the last remaining member of the band which was nicknamed “the legends” by fans.
Born in Leamington on September 10 1929, his life-long musical career began at the age of just 15 and continued for 60 years before Brian held his last gig at the age of 75.
As well as at countless wedding venues and concert halls, he played for miners in the Welsh village of Aberfan in 1966 after a devastating land slip which killed 144 people.
Speaking about her beloved father just days after his death, Susan Willis said he was an incredible man who would be missed by many.
“Dad was charming, and good looking and loved by everyone,” she said.
“He was known as The Gentleman and he was my hero. We are all completely heartbroken to have lost him. He would light up a room as soon as he walked in. He will be remembered by so many people from dance halls and the countless weddings he played at.
“We have so many great memories of him and travelling the country as children when he performed, it was like always being on holiday.
“We are devastated but will celebrate his great life.”
Classically trained on the piano, Brian had a lifelong love for music which he helped pass on to his children.
His love of performing developed as a teenager when he is said to have begun sneaking out of his bedroom window and down a ladder to play at the town’s Trade Union Club without his mother knowing.
He soon became a regular and went on to perform with some of the era’s greatest performers including Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen .
Deciding to eventually form his own band, he teamed up with Joe Bryan, Ginger (Red Stone) Lawson and Jonny Morrison - and the Brian Willis Four legends were born.
A proud member of the Musicians’ Union until his death, the lively performer always remained a lover of jazz.
And it was on stage while performing with the Les Spreckley Band in 1950 that he met the love of his life, Diane.
The then 18-year-old Diane Wheeler was already impressed by the young keyboard player. But couldn’t resist when he made the band play Smile For Me, My Diane by The Bachelors every time she walked into the dance hall.
A year later - on December 29 - they married in Warwick and went on to have children, Linda, Susan and Michael as well as six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.