At first, it was hobby amongst others such as bike racing, and he was tutored by his father, who was himself a musician. Some of the early influences were Django Reinhardt, Jimmy Rainey, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass, Eric Clapton and John Coltrane. After supporting himself by repairing bicycles and playing the UK dance hall circuit, he cut his first record with the band Igginbottom in 1969.
He joined the band Tempest, and recorded with them in 1971. Word soon spread in London about the amazing, soft spoken guitarist from the North, and when Allan joined Soft Machine and recorded the album Bundles in 1974, a lot of people took note. One of them was drummer Tony Williams, who asked Allan to play with him in his band Lifetime, replacing John McLaughlin. Allan did two records with Lifetime, Believe It (1975) and Million Dollar Legs (1976). These records were followed by recordings with Jean Luc Ponty (Enigmatic Oceans, 1976) Bruford (Feels Good To Me, One of a Kind), Gong (Expresso, Expresso II), and UK (Self titled, 1978).
As the seventies drew to a close, Allan finally had put together his first project as a leader, IOU (1979). Allan has since continued on track in his struggle to produce excellent records with often complex and challenging music in the face of a relentlessly predatory and tin-eared music industry: Road Games (1984, Grammy nominated), Metal Fatigue (1985), Atavachron (1986), Sand (1988), Secrets (1990), Wardenclyffe Tower (1992), Hard Hat Area (1994), and None Too Soon (1996). He also does a lot of sessions, and has collaborated with Stanley Clarke, Level 42, Chad Wackerman, Michael Brecker and many, many others. He often uses unusual instruments, such as the SynthAxe or the DeLap baritone guitar.
Allan has fans all over the world, and when someone started an internet mailing list, it soon had hundreds of subscribers. For web info, see http://www.gnarlygeezer.com/ and http://www.allanholdsworth.com/. He is an inductee in the Guitar Player Magazine Hall of Fame, and Musician ranks him as one of the top five of their "100 greatest guitarists of all time."
He lives in Southern California nowadays, with his wife Clair and their three children Louise, Sam and Emily. He spends most of the time in his recording studio, The Brewery, but he still enjoys cycling, a pint of fine British ale now and then, and inventing (he has designed a de-carbonizing valve for beer, The Fizzbuster™, and a reactive speaker load, The Harness™)