John Whelan, researcher for the Ottawa Beatle Site, May 20, 2000
THE MAN WHO GAVE AWAY THE BEATLES
By Gare Joyce, special to The Globe and Mail, Liverpool
Lugging a briefcase and leaning on a cane, Allan Williams hobbles along Matthew Street, past Lennon's Pub, past Abbey Road House, past the Cavern Walks Mall, home of the Lucy In The Sky Sweets Shoppe. A diminutive Welshman in his 60's, with grey hair and a complexion made ruddy by too many vodka-and-tonics, Mr. Williams brushes by rubber-necking tourists decked out in T-shirts bearing the likeness of John, Paul, George and Ringo. He overhears one American who, playing tour guide, remarks that this is "the birth-place of the Beatles."
"It makes me ill when I hear the dilettanti talking about the Beatles," Mr. Williams says. "They never knew them. When my foot gets better I'll be able to swing my cane at these international assholes."
He descends the stairs into the basement hall that is the Cavern Club. This is not the original Cavern, the breeding ground for Merseybeat back in the sixties, but rather a faithful reproduction of it. Story goes, the old Cavern was disassembled brick by brick and installed a few doors down Matthew Street (although rumour has it the Cavern bricks were all flogged as souvenirs). Matters not. In this tourist trap, Beatlemania and the torment of Allan Williams started.
"How'd you break your foot?" the doorman asks with feigned concern.
"I was struck by a speeding car," Mr. Williams says.
"Run down by a Beatles fan, I bet," the doorman says.
Scousers, those working-class Liverpudlians whose wit cut like a scalpel, treasure the appearance of Mr. Williams, a self-declared "promoter, manager and entrepreneur." His opinions are not solicited, his singing voice execrable, his mood insufferable. But for 30 years, Allan Williams has been the butt of the Scousers' jokes. "To them, I'll always be The Man Who Gave Away the Beatles," he says. That is the title of his out-of-print autobiography, The Man Who Gave Away the Beatles, printed to indifferent reviews and loud guffaws throughout Merseyside. "Gave away" doesn't start to define his relationship with the Beatles.
Pre-Fab Four, in 1960, Mr. Williams represented the Beatles in their early configuration -- John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison along with drummer Pete Best. He booked the teen-agers to dates in Hamburg. In 1962, Brian Epstein, then a 28-year-old record-store owner, approached him and expressed an interest in managing the Beatles. Mr. Williams believed the lovable moptops had stiffed him for commissions totaling L15. Further, he had tired of the lads' unreliability, particularly Paul McCartney's tardiness. So he responded to Mr. Epstein's overtures with a phrase that launched a thousand quips in this port: "I wouldn't touch the Beatles with an effing bargepole."
He handed over the group to Mr. Epstein and didn't ask for sixpence in return. Mr. Epstein turfed Pete Best, brought in Ringo Starkey, put the boys in suits and landed the band a record deal. The rest, as even Scousers say, was rock 'n' roll history.
Unfortunately, so too was Mr. Epstein, who died in 1967.
Over a pint of bitter in the Cavern and with Abbey Road playing in the background, Mr. Williams submits that his handing over the Beatles was a selfless act. "The Beatles had talent but were unprofessional," he says. "I told Brian they were a fantastic group but they'd let him down. Anyone with experience managing would lose patience with them. They needed Brian who was talented, passionate and willing to put up with a lot of shit."
Phil, the bartender at the Cavern, casts a skeptical look. "St. Allan, our bleedin' martyr," says the server, risking no tip whatsoever. "If you were interested in [the Beatles] welfare, why did you bar them from The Blue Angel?" Phil refers to an incident days after Mr. Epstein took on his new charges. Mr. Williams, still irate about the commission outstanding, barred the Beatles from The Blue Angel, a Liverpool pub he owned and a favourite haunt for his former proteges. Mr. Epstein mediated and won the lads' re-entry. However, his actions earned Mr. Williams the Beatles' lasting enmity.
"Let's face it," the doorman says, "you're still living off the reputation of having something to do with the Beatles."
Mr. Williams takes offence to this and curses the staff, but I don't understand the indignation. After all, he advertises himself as "The Beatles' original manager," he organized Liverpool's first Beatles convention in 1979, manages Beatles cover bands, manages a band featuring Pete Best's brother Rogue, and staged a rock 'n' roll concert to celebrate Paul McCartney's 50th birthday (almost certainly unsolicited by the performer.)
When I point out the inconsistency, he dissembles. "If there was money in it," he says, "I'd rather promote bands that cover Gerry and the Pacemakers."
Two American tourists walk up to the bar and, tipped to Mr. Williams's celebrity/infamy, ask him to pose for a photo on the Cavern's stage. Ever the businessman, he humours them for a price. "Buy me a drink then," he says unenthusiastically and stumbles toward the stage.
While he fulfills his commitment for a refilled glass, a Russian fellow, Dmitri, walks up to the bar and orders a pint. "Allan won't remember me," he says. When Mr. Williams returns, he doesn't acknowledge the new arrival. After a few minutes of chatter, he registers a look of recognition, as if the fog had lifted. "Russian?" he asks. "Did we meet in St. Petersburg?"
"Could you do some translation for me?" he says, pulling out a pen and a handbill for the rock 'n' roll festival. He dictates: "Russian sailors cordially invited. In lieu of cash, bottles of vodka and caviar accepted, in the spirit of international good will." He says this is "a charity show -- proceeds to the Allan Williams Retirement Fund."
Dmitri complies. "Are the Blitz Beatles Band going to play at the show?" he says.
"Those over-age Russian teddy boys?" Mr. Williams says. "They're nothing now the novelty of a Russian Beatles band has worn off, gone out with yesterday's papers and the Cold War, comrade. Know them?"
"Just know of them." Dmitri says.
Mr. Williams excuses himself to go to the loo. Dmitri confides, "Allan sold me the Blitz Beatles Band two years ago. He managed them before, and I am, how do you say, hoping lightning strikes again."
The bartender pipes up. "They're having a vote at the Beatles convention [this month]," Phil says.
"'Who's the most loathsome character in Beatles history?' Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney and the Maharishi are on the ballot. It's rigged for Allan to win. He'll probably ask for an appearance fee."
Mr. Williams returns and prepares to leave the premises to post handbills. By now the Abbey Road album has spun down to the last cuts: "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight a long time." I asked Mr. Williams the only question of our interview: "Don't you regret giving up the Beatles, a billion-dollar industry?"
"You asshole," he says. "I did the right thing. The Beatles killed Brian Epstein, didn't they?"
"It was the millions that killed him, not the Beatles," Phil says.
While the patrons laugh, Allan Williams ascends the stairs. From the front door he can see a grotesque, decrepit sculpture mounted three storeys high on the wall opposite the Cavern. A madonna figure holds out three infants in swaddling clothes -- there used to be four but someone pinched Paul. The madonna's face has rotted away and the babies are made from cheap plastic dolls. The dedication reads: "Four lads who shook up the world."
Limping past is the man who, the bartender assures me, wouldn't recognize the Next Big Thing if it smacked his face with a fistful of kippers.
Ottawa Beatles Site