Allan Williams played a key part in the early career of The Beatles, as their manager, booking agent, and the man who first took them to Hamburg.
A Liverpudlian businessman and promoter of Welsh descent, in 1957 Williams converted a former watch repair shop at 21 Slater Street, Liverpool, into a coffee house. The Jacaranda, as it became, opened in September 1958 and soon became a popular hotspot for students from Liverpool Art College, among them John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe.
When The Beatles asked to play at the Jac, as it was known, Williams instead employed them to decorate the venue; Lennon and Sutcliffe created a mural for the women’s toilets. Eventually, however, he did allow them to play on occasion, as they did in the Blue Angel, another of his venues.
From May 1960 Williams began securing the group live bookings in and around Liverpool. On one notable occasion they were the backing band for a local stripper; unfamiliar with the traditional Gypsy Fire Dance tune, they instead backed her with a version of the Third Man Theme.
More of an achievement was the time when Williams arranged for them to back Liverpudlian singer Johnny Gentle on a tour of Scotland. Gentle was was managed by top London impresario Larry Parnes.
Allan Williams ran the Blue Angel and the Jacaranda. He was the little local manager. Little in height, that is – a little Welshman with a little high voice – a smashing bloke and a great motivator, though we used to take the mickey out of him. He held the auditions in conjunction with Larry Parnes. All the groups in Liverpool were there and we were one of the bands.
On 16 August 1960, Williams took The Beatles in a cramped van to Hamburg for the first time.
We probably met with the van outside Allan Williams’ club, the Jacaranda. There were the five of us and then Allan, his wife Beryl and Lord Woodbine.
It was cramped. The van didn’t even have seats; we had to sit on our amplifiers. We drove down to Harwich and got the boat to the Hook of Holland.
En route to Hamburg they stopped at Arnhem in the Netherlands, after taking a wrong turn. There, Williams, his wife Beryl, Lord Woodbine, Stuart Sutcliffe, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best were photographed at the war memorial, possibly by John Lennon. They also spent time wandering around the city.
We had time to kill so we went round the town centre and into a music shop, and when we came out they were all laughing their heads off. I said: “What’s the joke, lads?”, and John pulled out a mouth organ – he’d stolen a bloody mouth organ! I thought, “Christ, we’re never even going to get to Hamburg, we’ll all be in jail.” The first time abroad and he had the audacity to rob a shop!
The trip, in which the group was joined by new drummer Pete Best, had a significant effect on The Beatles’ live act, giving them the experience to help develop into the rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse that would eventually thrill the world.
We have improved a thousand fold since our arrival and Allan Williams, who is here at the moment, tells us that there is no band in Liverpool to touch us.
Allan Williams continued to work as The Beatles’ manager until the two parties fell out in 1961, over a disputed 10% fee for a subsequent Hamburg trip. The Beatles had arranged their own residency at the Top Ten club, negotiating the contract without Williams’ involvement.
Williams was particularly hurt that Sutcliffe, whom he considered a friend, was the band member who told him the payment would be withheld. Sutcliffe agreed to write to Williams as by this point he was living in Hamburg and no longer in the group. Williams had no further dealings with The Beatles.
When Brian Epstein began toying with the idea of managing The Beatles in 1962, he contacted Allan Williams to see if there were any remaining contractual ties to be considered. Williams told him there were none, but gave Epstein the warning: “Don’t touch them with a fucking bargepole; they will let you down.”
In later years the animosity between The Beatles and Allan Williams began to wane, and during the 1970s Williams played a key role in the first Beatles conventions to be held in Liverpool.
In 1977 he published a memoir, The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away, and the same year recovered a 1962 recording of The Beatles performing at the Star-Club in Hamburg. The tape was in an office in a building due to be demolished; Williams obtained permission to enter the building and recovered it. He sold the recording, which was released in 1977 as Live! At The Star-Club In Hamburg, Germany; 1962.
Allan Williams died on 30 December 2016, at the age of 86.
Today our founder and the man who discovered the Beatles passed away at the age of 86
Allan Williams, you will be missed pic.twitter.com/Mh7sq5Er4q
— The Jacaranda Club (@thejacclub) December 30, 2016
— The Jacaranda Club (@thejacclub) December 31, 2016