Words: Bill Drummond
And with a doff of its hat, it takes Allan Williams.
Yesterday I got a very short email from my friend Angie Sammons in Waterloo. It consisted of one line. The above line.
Today I sat down and wrote the following in response. I have just hit send in the hope it makes its way back to Waterloo.
No, not the one in London, not even the one in the Low Countries, but the one that really counts, the one on Merseyside.
Angie Sammons is the editor of Liverpool Confidential. She was going to write an obituary of this Allan Williams. I told her she could quote what she wanted from what I had written.
Allan Willams, left, with beard.
This is what I wrote:
Between September 1975 and June 1983, there were four occasions that Allan Williams came into my life and on each of those occasions the course of my life changed. This change might have only been in attitude but change it did. Each was a point of departure.
Allan Williams may never have been your regular visionary and apart from his tenor voice that was suitable for the light opera of Gilbert & Sullivan, I was not aware that he contained any obvious form of creative talent. But there was something about his mere presence that instigated events and made change seem possible.
These are those four occasions:
September 1975: I had got a job as the Master Carpenter at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. I was told by the Stage Manager that a Beryl and Allan Williams would sort out my accommodation. I was given an address. That evening I got the bus to this address. There I was greeted by a slim and attractive woman of Chinese origin and a short and jovial man of Welsh origin. They seemed an unlikely couple. And it seemed they had history. Their house was large and exotic. The stars of the repertory cast of the Everyman were given rooms in this house. I was not one of them. Allan Williams gave me an address of a house that had a room that I could stay in. The rent was agreeable but it was not near.
Two bus rides later and I am in the most run down room in the most run down house in the most run down area of Liverpool. The area is called Kensington. My housemates were not colleagues from the Everyman Theatre; they were members of the band called Karl Terry & The Cruisers.
Karl Terry & The Cruisers had been there before the beat arrived on Merseyside, before John met Paul, way before the screaming. Before anything. Then the Mersey Beat Boom came and it went (1962 – 1964). And the screaming stopped and things moved on. But not only did Karl Terry & The Cruisers not share in the hits, or have one girl scream at them, they never even got to make a record.
But they were the founding fathers. And Karl Terry was The Sheik of Shake.
By the time I was sharing a kitchen with them, a dozen years had lapsed since the boom and bust of Mersey Beat, but Karl Terry & His Cruisers still seemed to believe their time was yet to come and when it did they would show all the other ‘cunts’.
To back this up, I soon learnt from Karl Terry himself that he was more talented than John Lennon, but that ‘cunt’ Brian Epstein had seen things otherwise. And anyway Lennon was a ‘cunt’ as well. I was only sharing that kitchen in that house in Kensington for less than a fortnight, but it was time enough to learn a major life lesson.
Without Allan Williams sending me to spend time with Karl Terry, I would have never learnt, even if I was not The Sheik of Shake, or less or more talented than John Lennon, not to call somebody a ‘cunt’ however bitter I became.
September 1976. The Everyman Theatre had closed down for refurbishment. Ken Campbell gave me a job as the Set Designer for his Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool production of The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Allan Williams was given the role of Howard the singing porpoise. Allan seemed to have little interest in what the play was about or why or where it was going. Or even the number 23. There were numerous members of the cast who had star potential written all over them (Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent etc) but for some reason the whole thing revolved around the minor character of Howard the porpoise played by this singing Welshman, Allan Williams. Not that he obviously added anything to the whole thing, not even wit and humour. But he…and then I cannot explain it. He just was. And he was there and it happened.
He had also just written a book called The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away. I had never met a man who had written a book.
Without Allan Williams I would have never known that porpoises could sing. And that things happen for reasons that cannot be explained. And that you don’t need permission to write a book.
5th May 1977. Clive Langer, Phil Allen, Kev Ward and myself were sitting having a quiet pint in the Grapes, Mathew Street. We were planning to go and see The Clash play two doors up in Eric’s. Then in walked Bob Wooler & Allan Williams. They got their pints and sat down beside us.
Bob Wooler’s legend was and still is legend. Or it is in those parts that matter. He had been the DJ at The Cavern. It was him that turned the Hi-Fi high and the lights down low for the generation before us. It was Bob Wooler who had christened Karl Terry as The Sheik of Shake. Bob Wooler always had a twinkle in his eye.
Conversation ranged far and wide. And one of the topics that Bob Wooler was most insistent on pursuing was that we – Phil, Kev and myself – should form a band. The fact that we had never been in bands before, he saw as a positive plus.
Clive Langer was then the bandleader of Deaf School. Kev Ward designed their record sleeves and Phil Allen was the brother of the singer. The next morning Clive was leaving for an American tour with Deaf School. Allan Williams and Bob Wooler told Clive he should let us use their equipment while Deaf School were in the USA, as they would be hiring gear over there.
It was while that second pint was being drunk that the shadow cast by The Beatles was lifted from across Merseyside.
Later that night we saw The Clash play at Eric’s.
The next morning Kev, Phil and I wrote our first song. It was called Big In Japan. We decided to name the band after the song. Others joined our band. And others formed bands in our wake. If only to spite us.
Without Allan Williams’ presence in The Grapes that evening, Liverpool would have continued to struggle under the shadow cast by The Beatles and a whole generation of bands would never have happened.
June 1983. Echo & The Bunnymen were on a north American tour. I was their manager. We were in Boston. The band had played a show at a club called The Channel. We had just got back to our hotel. I pressed the button for the lift. The lift door opened. Standing there was Allan Williams. We went for a drink in the bar. He was over in Boston for a Beatles convention or something. His book The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away still had currency. Allan and I talked about this and that and the other. He told me if he had not given The Beatles away they would have never done a thing. It was the act of giving them away that made them happen. It was later that night I decided that if I really wanted Echo & The Bunnymen to become the second greatest band in the world I should give them away. It took me a few months to pluck up the courage to tell the band that that was what I was going to do. As yet I am not sure if the plan is going to work out. But while waiting I have attempted to keep myself busy.
Without Allan Williams I would never have become the man who gave The Bunnymen away.
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Allan Williams may have not contributed anything obvious to what I did in the period of time covered above, but his mere presence seemed, somehow, to affect outcomes. I have no idea how or why this was the case. But I do know that it was very definitely the case.
The last time I met Allan Williams was at Ken Campbell’s funeral (2008). He had no recollection of who I was or what I did. It seemed fitting.
I was not the only one who Allan Williams had this sort of influence on.
Some people make a difference. Allan Williams was one of those people.
Without Allan Williams, Liverpool would be a completely different place.
So would the history of Western Culture in the second half of the 20th Century.
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For those that want to know, Allan Williams was born on 17 March 1930 and died on 30 December 2016. Between those two dates he sang with the Joe Loss Orchestra and the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. He opened a coffee bar in Liverpool called The Jacaranda. And managed The Beatles. He then ‘gave’ The Beatles away to Brian Epstein, thus allowing them to become the greatest band in the world. But the smartest thing he ever did was marry Beryl.
If you want to read a proper obituary on Alan Williams, Angie Sammons has written one for Liverpool Confidential.
Bill Drummond – 31 December 2016
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