Meet Allan Williams, “The Bootle Buck”
What hasn’t been written about Allan Williams, The Beatles’ first manager? What is your impression of the man who has written books entitled Fool on the Hill and The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away?
Losing The Beatles has been recorded as one of the biggest business mistakes of the 20th Century. Is he a fool, unlucky, or misrepresented?
In The Beatles Anthology, Paul describes Allan as “the little Welsh manager (little in height that is).” This is important because many have tried to claim he wasn’t their manager, so Allan was pleased with this quote.
I wanted to find out for myself, so I met Allan in The Grapes, the historic pub in Mathew Street where The Beatles used to drink. I was determined to meet the man, not the myth. His sparring with friend and Cavern DJ Bob Wooler was legendary at Beatles conventions the world over, with Bob doubting the validity of some of Allan’s stories!
The first surprising fact to me was that Allan was born in Bootle, North Liverpool, and not in Wales – a ‘Bootle Buck’ as he calls himself – though he did grow up in Wales and his family was Welsh.
You first made your mark on the Liverpool music scene by opening the Jacaranda Club in Slater Street. How did that come about?
“My wife Beryl and I used to love to travel around Europe, hitch–hiking and just enjoying ourselves. We stayed in the YHA (Youth Hostel) in Paris, and we loved to go to the St. Michel jazz clubs (like Alan Sytner, founder of the Cavern Club did) and see these youngsters in cellar clubs having fun. It was not possible in Liverpool then, but I thought it was a great idea.
I had been to the famous ‘Two I’s Coffee Club’ in London and then others opened clubs too. So I said to my wife Beryl, ‘let’s open one’. I was still a plumber and found an old clock repairer’s building at 23 Slater Street and we got it and did it all up – my mates and I did all the work. It cost us £300 for the lot and we had to borrow from the bank to get it finished!
I went to a social club in Upper Parliament and heard this great Caribbean Steel Band. I thought, ‘hat would be a novelty and would maybe last for a week’, but they lasted ten years! Half of them left and went to Hamburg, and the others went to London and got some new members, came back and formed a new steel band.
The ‘Jac’ took off straight away. We had art students hanging out there. This was because there was an art tutor called Don McKinley who did the original paintings on walls, which in turn attracted the art students. We had to share the toilets with the sweet shop next door, which didn’t go down well, as the girls used to leave obscene scribblings on the toilet walls. It was these I got the lads to decorate, which didn’t take long. Stuart and his friend Rod Murray then helped to paint the basement, though most of that original painting disappeared when the plaster fell off the walls with damp! There is only a small piece of Stuart’s artwork left.
There were no such building regulations back then either. Our only fire escape was just a step ladder where the coal was thrown in, and that was mainly for the band. But then everywhere was concrete, so there was not much chance of fires breaking out.
It’s funny. We made more money in the Jac than I did in the Angel, even though we didn’t sell alcohol in the Jac. We used to sell Pepsi – I was a bigger seller than Lewis’ department store in Pepsi – I didn’t have Coca–Cola as Pepsi was a penny a crate cheaper and we sold gallons of it! The delivery guy was delighted. There was nothing else to drink.
I do remember The Beatles, though. They were all bums, especially John who was the biggest bum of them all as he only got a small amount of pocket money from Mimi.”
How did you go from managing a coffee club to being the manager of The Beatles?
“Larry Parnes decided to put on this big rock ‘n’ roll show at the Liverpool Stadium. But Eddie Cochran was killed two weeks before and so Larry Parnes said I could cancel and get a full refund. I said, ‘It’s a bit inconvenient Eddie dying, but ask Gene Vincent if he’ll still do it.’ Well, Gene said ok, as he wasn’t too seriously injured in the crash.
As we only had half a show, I suggested putting Liverpool groups on in the first half. So we put on Gerry and the Pacemakers, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and, Cass and the Cassanovas, who were the best bands around then. John, Paul, George and Stuart went to watch, and then Stu and John came to me the next day and said, ‘When are you going to do something for us?’
I didn’t know they had a proper band, as they only played in art school dances then. So I said, ‘What do you mean? There’s no more painting to do.’ They then told me they had a group, though they had no drummer. What kind of group is that? ‘We’ve managed so far’ was their cry! Well, Cass from the Cassanovas was there and so I called him over. He asked what they called themselves and they said they were thinking of The Beatals, and he suggested ‘Long John Silver and The Beatles’, which became The Silver Beatles – which they hated, by the way – but they kept it, as Cass gave them a drummer in Tommy Moore.
Tommy was not too bright and so came under the unmerciful wit of John. Poor little Tommy, he was about ten years older than them, around my age. He was a very good drummer and I believe he eventually gave drumming lessons to kids. He left to go to work for the Garston Bottle Works to drive a forklift truck. His girlfriend said to him, ‘It’s either me and a proper job or them.’ He chose to quit The Silver Beatles after their disastrous tour of Scotland with Johnny Gentle. I remember driving up to his work in Garston and asking him to reconsider, but his mind was made up for him. So again they had no drummer.”
After Tommy, they recruited a guy called Norman Chapman. How did they find him?
“One night, we heard the sound of drums coming from the street, so we went outside to find out where it was coming from. There was a drummer rehearsing across the road from the ‘Jac’ – in what became the Bamboo Club – and they repaired old cash registers. We shouted up to him and down he came. He just played there on his own after work. He came and joined them and he was a good drummer. But of course National Service took him away after only a few weeks. He would probably have still been with them, as he got on well with them. His original drum kit is above the bar in the Jacaranda. Norman died young and I went to Norman’s funeral. His mum thanked me for attending. I hardly knew him but he was a nice man.”
Once they got the band together, how often did they play at the Jac?
“They used to play on Monday nights after the steel band left me in the lurch. I couldn’t believe it when they came upstairs looking for brush handles. I wondered what they were up to, as they never cleaned up! I found out that because they had no microphone stands the girlfriends were sitting on the floor, holding the brushes for mic stands!”
Before they went, did they look at other drummers or just Pete?
“They remembered Pete from the Casbah, and he’d just got his new set of drums, which sealed it. They didn’t ask anyone else. So I acted like a manager should and said he needed an audition, so Pete came down and played a few songs but he had the job anyway. Pete learned along with them out in Hamburg.”
You were instrumental in getting the whole Hamburg scene off the ground for Liverpool groups. What happened?
“The Beatles almost didn’t go to Hamburg. Everyone wanted to go as Derry (and the Seniors – DB) was doing well. The Silver Beatles were regarded as a bum group, always scrounging. I’ll give you an example. The staff at the Jac used to get a taxi home, and so these scroungers would hang around to bum a lift off the staff, which was a private taxi! They had no money. They’d only go out with girls who were local because they couldn’t afford the bus fare.
I saw Allan just a few weeks before he died, and glad I told him that without him doing what he did in 1960, there would be no Beatles. A legend.
This interview featured in Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles