All through the final days of 2016 I waited apprehensively to see what other major celebrity would kick off, but the last really major one turned out to be Debbie Reynolds on December 28. I only just now learned that there was one moderately important Beatles-related death on December 30, that of Allan Williams, the band’s first manager.

Though not a leading character in The Beatles’ saga, Williams played a crucial role in the early days. In the late 50s he owned a coffee bar called the Jacaranda where John, Paul, and Stuart Sutcliffe used to hang out. After spending a long time trying to persuade Williams to let them play there, and paying dues by painting a mural for the ladies’ room, the then-Silver Beatles were finally allowed to perform.

They did well enough that Williams decided to take them on as clients. “Between May and August 1960,” says Wikipedia, “Williams secured a number of bookings for the group at other places. One was backing a local stripper, named Janice; when she discovered the Beatles were not familiar with the ‘Gypsy Fire Dance,’ they instead backed her with a rendition of the Harry Lime theme tune.”

Williams’ most notable contribution to Beatle history was that he brought them to Hamburg — both figuratively, in that he secured them a booking at a club there, and literally, in that he drove them there in a van. Hamburg, as we all know, is where The Beatles — hopped up on pills and youthful vitality — honed their chops by playing hour after hour for crowds of drunken maniacs. After they became a successful draw there and were offered a return engagement, they decided that there was no longer any reason to pay Williams his cut, leading to a falling out between the two parties. Wikipedia again:

In 1962, before Brian Epstein became the band’s manager, he contacted Williams to make sure there were no remaining contractual ties. There were none, but Williams forthrightly told Epstein: “Don’t touch them with a fucking bargepole, they will let you down.”

In a sense, then, Williams belongs with Pete Best and a few others on the list of those tossed out of the Beatles bandwagon as it hurtled toward world domination. He doesn’t seem to have suffered too badly from it, though; he later mended fences with the band, promoted Beatles festivals, and published a memoir called The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away. When he released a low-fi tape of a 1962 Beatles Hamburg show as a live album, though, there was another falling out and a lawsuit.

All that’s ancient history now, of course. As of this writing we find ourselves in the year of our lord two thousand and seventeen, if you can believe that. What do we modern people care for these things that happened in the sixties and seventies? Except that, you know, we do. Tomorrow, January 4, The Beatles will be back in the studio, and I’ll be back on my couch with a laptop to tell you about it. Till then….

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