Sunday, January 1, 2017

Allan Williams, the Beatles' First Manager, Dies at 86

Allan Williams, the Beatles' first manager who became known as "The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away" from the title of his gritty autobiography, has died in Liverpool at age 86, reports the Liverpool Echo.

Williams opened a coffee bar in Liverpool called the Jacaranda where he first met Beatles John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Stuart Sutcliffe. He didn't have much faith in them originally.

"I thought the Beatles were a right load of layabouts," he wrote in his book, The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away.

One day, he said, John Lennon pitched the idea of the group playing at the Jac, as it was called. "You and (Larry) Parnes were talking the other night about using groups. How about us?," Williams recalled in his book. At the time, the group didn't have a drummer, so they added a local named Tommy Moore, rehearsed doing a lot of Chuck Berry numbers and had their first date at the Grosvenor Ballroom. They also took on a new name, the Silver Beatles, at the suggestion of Brian Casser of the Cassanovas.

They were paid 10 pounds, roughly $12 USD, for the show. Williams wrote he was paid a pound for his commission. He also hired the Beatles, who were desperate for money, to paint the Jacaranda's ladies' bathroom.

Williams helped the band get other gigs as well, including a short tour of Scotland with Johnny Gentle, but he and the Beatles got into a dispute after the group took on an extended engagement at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg and refused to pay Williams the commission he believed he was owed. The dispute was the beginning of the end of their association.

"I am very distressed to hear you are contemplating not paying my commission out of your pay, as we agreed in your Contract for your engagement at the Top Ten Club," he wrote them on April 20, 1961. "May I remind you you are all appearing to get more than a little swollen-headed, that you would not even have smelled Hamburg if I had not made the contacts, and by Law it is illegal for any person under contract to make a contact through the first contract." After threatening to report them to a music agents' group, he wrote, "I don't want to fall out with you, but I can't abide anybody who does not honour their word or bond, and I could have sworn you were all decent lads, that is why I pushed you when nobody wanted to hear you."

When the group returned to Liverpool, now with Pete Best as drummer, they came to the attention of Brian Epstein, who was running a local record shop. Epstein told Williams he was thinking of managing the Beatles. Williams told him about the commission dispute and how unpredictable they were. "Yes, yes, Allan you're right," Epstein told him, "but I feel here (tapping his chest) that together the Beatles and I could make something really big. So big that ..."

"Brian, as far as I'm concerned, they're all yours. I've finished. And bloody good luck with the Beatles," he relayed telling Epstein in his autobiography."

Years later, Williams worked to get tapes of the Beatles recorded while they were playing at the Star-Club in Hamburg released. The Beatles later won a court case to have the tapes taken off the market. In more recent years, he met with groups of Beatles fans traveling through Liverpool.

Liverpool author David Bedford (The Fab One Hundred and Four, Liddypool) said, "I was with Allan just a few weeks ago and he was in good spirits. We were talking over those days in 1960 when he got the Beatles a drummer and drove them to Hamburg. I said to him; do you realize that without you we wouldn't have the Beatles? He smiled and said, 'I never thought of it like that.' I told him it was true, because Allan took John, Paul, George and Stuart, gave them somewhere to play, got them a drummer in Tommy Moore, plus Norman Chapman and then Pete Best, and, with his business partner Lord Woodbine, drove them to Hamburg. As every Beatles historian will tell you it was Hamburg that made the Beatles. That, for me, will be Allan's legacy. Without him, we wouldn't have the Beatles. He was a larger than life character whose contribution is often overlooked in Beatles history."

Beatles journalist and co-host of the Beatles radio show Things We Said Today Allan Kozinn added, "Allan Williams was the Beatles manager only briefly, and he clearly wasn't the guy who could get them the record deal they needed, or mold them into the phenomenon they were. But he did make one absolutely decisive decision for them, which was to send them to Hamburg, where they transformed themselves from a mediocre dance band into the tight, hard-rocking group that mesmerized the world."

And Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, author of The Beatles: All These Years: Volume 1: Tune In, put it concisely when he tweeted Friday, "No Allan Williams, no Hamburg. No Hamburg, no Beatles. The Beatles' first manager died today age 86."

One of the tributes to Williams came from former Beatles drummer Pete Best on Facebook. "I'm stunned that I am writing something in the same context within days. Just heard Allan Williams whom I had a great relationship with starting back in 1960 on our maiden voyage to Hamburg, where we cut our teeth and learnt our craft has passed away. My deepest condolences to the Williams family. God bless you Allan and thank you. Pete."

The Jacaranda posted a tribute to Williams today on its Facebook page. "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." The Cavern Club, where the Beatles played numerous times before they were famous, posted, "We have just heard the very sad news about the passing of Allan Williams. Sincere condolences to his family at this difficult time."

Williams' death marks the second passing in recent weeks of someone closely associated with the early days of the Beatles. Sam Leach, who booked many early Beatles shows, died Dec. 21 after a long illness.