Beatles' first manager helped them improve dismal reputation

Mr Allan Williams, the stocky Liverpool, England, club owner and impresario who, as the first manager of the Beatles, played a crucial role in the group's transformation from a mediocre local dance band to the hard-rocking ensemble that mesmerised the world, died last Friday in Liverpool. He was 86.

His death, at a nursing home, was announced by the Jacaranda Club, the coffee bar he founded in 1958.

He is survived by his wife Beryl Chang, daughter Leah and son Justin.

Mr Williams' main contribution to the Beatles' development was arranging for them to become the house band at the Indra, a small club in Hamburg, Germany, in August 1960. It was a decisive turn in their career.

At the Indra, and later at other Hamburg clubs - the Kaiserkeller, the Top 10 and the Star Club - the Beatles played long hours that forced them to quickly expand their repertoire and hone their stagecraft.

Before Hamburg, the Beatles' reputation among Liverpool musicians was so dismal that another band Mr Williams had sent to Hamburg begged him not to send the Beatles, on the grounds that they would ruin the reputation of Liverpool bands.

When the Beatles returned after 14 weeks in Hamburg, their playing was so tight and hard-edge that listeners who had been dismissive were aghast.

Even before he began managing the Beatles, in 1960, he had played a role in the band's early history as the owner of the Jacaranda.

He had become friendly with Stuart Sutcliffe, a promising artist who was John Lennon's closest friend at the time, and enlisted him and Rod Davis, a former member of the Quarrymen, Lennon's first band, to paint murals at the club.

Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, all still teenagers, soon began whiling away their afternoons at the club. Sutcliffe later became the Beatles's first bassist.

It was at the Jacaranda that Lennon wrote one of his earliest songs, One After 909, and it was there that Ringo Starr, then a member of a far more successful Liverpool group, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, first heard the group he would eventually join.

In 1960, when Williams began to dabble in promoting local bands such as Cass and the Casanovas and Gerry and the Pacemakers, Lennon asked him to do something for his band, which was then performing under several names and lacked a drummer.

Williams enlisted Tommy Moore, an older drummer whose taste ran towards jazz, to round out their line-up and invited the group to play at an audition he had arranged for Mr Larry Parnes, an agent in London who was looking for a backing band for one of his stars, Billy Fury.

Mr Parnes and Fury agreed to sign Lennon's band, which had taken the name Long John and the Silver Beatles just before the audition, on the condition that it replace Sutcliffe, whose bass playing was rudimentary.

When Lennon refused to jettison his friend, the job fell through, but Mr Parnes had another offer: If the Silver Beatles, Sutcliffe included, could leave immediately, they could back another of his singers, Johnny Gentle, on an eight-day tour of Scotland in May 1960. They agreed.

It was their first tour as professional musicians. But it proved disastrous and led to Moore's departure. The group found another drummer, Norman Chapman, but when he was called up for national service, McCartney took over on the drums, with Lennon and Harrison occasionally filling in.

Soon, Mr Williams offered them the possibility of a trip to Hamburg, provided they find a drummer. They hired Pete Best, a relatively inexperienced drummer they knew from the Casbah, a Liverpool club run by Best's mother.

Although the trip to Hamburg proved to be the making of the Beatles, it was the unmaking of the relationship between Mr Williams and the group.

While in Hamburg, the Beatles had negotiated a return visit in 1961, and because they had done so without Mr Williams's involvement, they decided there was no need to pay him a commission.

Mr Williams threatened a lawsuit and did his best to blackball them among Liverpool concert promoters. But they were already too popular for other promoters to boycott.

After his split with the Beatles, Mr Williams continued running his clubs and promoting Liverpool bands.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2017, with the headline 'Beatles' first manager helped them improve dismal reputation'. Print Edition | Subscribe