- Feb 21, 1930
- Dec 30, 2016
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Allan Richard Williams (21 February 1930 – 30 December 2016) was a british businessman and promoter, who was the original booking agent and first manager of the Beatles. He personally drove the van to take the young band to Hamburg, Germany, in 1960, where they gained the vital show business experience that led to their emergence on the world stage. […]
Liverpool music scene, and the Beatles in Hamburg
In 1958 Williams leased a former watch-repair shop at 21 Slater Street, Liverpool, which he converted into a coffee bar. He named the venue The Jacaranda, after an exotic species of ornamental flowering tree, Jacaranda mimosifolia. The Jac (as it became known) opened in September 1958. The Beatles were frequent customers, with John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe attending Liverpool Art College nearby and Paul McCartney being at Liverpool Institute adjacent to the college. Asking for the chance to play the club, Williams instead put them to work redecorating, with Lennon and Sutcliffe painting a mural for the Ladies room. Finally, the Beatles began playing at the Jac on occasions. Between May and August 1960, Williams secured a number of bookings for the group at other places. One was backing a local stripper, named Janice; when she discovered the Beatles were not familiar with the “Gypsy Fire Dance”, they instead backed her with a rendition of the Harry Lime theme tune.
Williams gave an extended interview in the 1980 documentary, The Compleat Beatles, in which he recalled preparing the group for their Hamburg bookings. He reassured Howie Casey, leader of the Seniors who were already established in Hamburg, who had cautioned Allan: “Listen, we’ve got a good thing going here in Hamburg. But if you send that bum group, the Beatles, you’re going to louse it up for all of us.” He also recalls auditioning drummer Pete Best, asking him to do a drum roll, which he did “Not too cleverly, but passable.”
In August 1960, with Best joining as the group’s new drummer, Williams and the Beatles left Liverpool in a small, crowded van which took them to Hamburg for the first time. He continued to get them bookings, until he fell out with the Beatles in 1961 over the payment of his 10% commission in a later trip to Hamburg. Williams had no further business dealings with the group and was especially disappointed that Sutcliffe, of whom he was especially fond, was the one who told him the band would not pay. In 1962, before Brian Epstein became the band’s manager, he contacted Williams to make sure there were no remaining contractual ties. There was none, but Williams forthrightly told Epstein: “Don’t touch them with a fucking bargepole, they will let you down.”
Life after the Beatles
Years later, Williams and the Beatles spoke fondly of one another, with McCartney describing Williams in The Beatles Anthology as ‘a great guy’. In the 1970s, Williams played a crucial role in producing the first Beatles conventions to be staged in Liverpool, and he was a perennial VIP guest at the city’s annual Beatle Week Festivals. In 1975, he published a memoir, The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away, to which Lennon gave his endorsement. Recovering a tape of a latter-day Beatles show in Hamburg (performing on New Year’s Eve of 1962–63), he saw it released (in 1977) as Live! at the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962. The tapes were subsequently rereleased and bootlegged multiple times in the years since under different titles on budget labels. In 1999 the micro-budget film All Those Years Ago was released by Shotmaker Productions. The film is largely based on William’s own recollections of his time managing the fledgling Beatles. Although initially flattered and sympathetic to the film, in his second book, A Fool on the Hill, Williams described the film makers as being deceitful and the film as “utter rubbish”. The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away is also the title of a musical by Irish playwright Ronan Wilmot, which was performed at the New Theatre in Dublin in 2002.
Williams carried on speaking at Beatles conventions from Liverpool to Singapore and South America. The Jacaranda reopened after a brief hiatus under new management in the mid-1990s and saw success build upon its cult status throughout the following decade; it remains a popular venue for young and old lovers of live music and hosted many gigs for Liverpool’s Sound City music festival.
In 2012 French comics Gihef and Vanders published Liverfool (Emmanuel Proust Editions) in which they relate Allan Williams’ encounter with the “Fab Four” and their first steps together.
On 9 May 2016, at a ceremony in Liverpool Town Hall, Williams was made a Citizen of Honour of the City of Liverpool, awarded by Liverpool City Council for his services to the local music scene.
He died on 30 December 2016 in Liverpool at 86 years old.
From The Jacaranda Club’s Facebook page, December 30, 2016:
Today is one of the saddest days in our history.
The Jacaranda’s original owner and the man who discovered The Beatles, Allan Williams, has sadly passed away at the age of 86.
All of our thoughts and wishes go to his family and his wife Beryl.
His legacy has allowed us to remain at the heart of the Liverpool music scene for almost 60 years and his memory will live on through every band that plays our famous stage.
Allan, you will be missed.