Exclusive: Allan Williams and Fab Four's top aide Freda Kelly catch up on Town Hall balcony
Pictures: Angie Sammons
Two of the surviving key players in the birth of the Beatles had a nostalgic reunion last night on the balcony of Liverpool Town Hall.
Allan Williams, the self proclaimed Man Who Gave The Beatles Away was at a ceremony to receive one of the city’s top accolades: Liverpool Citizen of Honour.
The founder of the Jacaranda and the Blue Angel joins an elite group of people deemed to have played a part in Liverpool’s growth and development.
I wish I had 10 per cent of it, one per cent, even half a percent … anything
Now a sprightly 86, Allan was the first ever manager of the Beatles in the early 1960s, way before the foursome would “shake the world”.
Last night, on the same Town Hall verandah where John, George, Paul and Ringo looked down on a sea of screaming fans in 1964, Allan swapped memories with Freda Kelly, 71, Brian Epstein and the Beatles secretary and who, for 10 years, ran the official Beatles Fan Club.
For Allan, who now lives in a care home in the city, the accolade was an official salute to the key role he played in the rise of the Beatles from Woolton boy band - some might say _ to Hamburg rockers to global idols.
“It is not only the first honour I have received, it’s the only honour!” he quipped, wit as razor sharp as the suit and tie he wore for the occasion.
“I’m still in shock,” he told Liverpool Confidential in an exclusive interview: “I don’t know why they have given this to me, but I am very honoured and pleased.”
Nightclub owner Allan and the Beatles parted their ways in 1961 in a fall-out over some unpaid commission. He was never exactly airbrushed out of Beatle history, yet his role cannot be underestimated, delivering, as he did, a very different act back to Liverpool after the raucous days and nights playing Hamburg.
That act caught the eye of Brian Epstein who took over as manager and sent them on the final push to stardom.
But not without a warning from the Welsh, one-time opera singer: “Don’t touch them with a fucking bargepole. They will let you down.”
Allan’s story of those early days was graphically described in his 1975 autobiography, The Man Who Gave the Beatles Away, endorsed by John Lennon.
In the official citation, the city council said the honour was in recognition of his contribution to the music industry in the city as the original manager of The Beatles.
“He secured their first bookings in 1960 and their tour of Hamburg in Germany. He played a crucial role in establishing Beatles tourism in Liverpool – an industry now estimated to be worth £80 million a year - by organising the first conventions devoted to the band in the 1970s.”
“Of course I remember those days, there was a lot of fun and excitement in the swinging sixties,” he said.
“But we didn’t know we were creating history, that we were creating world history and the Beatles would become world famous. That is still a complete shock to me.
“The fact the group is still at the top doesn’t surprise me, having known them for that long. They deserve it and I can’t see anything topping them.
“Was I miffed at Brian Epstein coming in as their manager? No, not really. I was proud if anything. I more or less did all the ground work for them.
“When Brian Epstein took over he didn’t discover them. They were going for years before he took over. So I am really responsible for the most important years, their formative years.
“I don’t hear from Paul or Ringo, nothing at all. I don’t even know where they live.”
Allan says his own hell-raising days are over and now his only brew is a cup of tea: "I can't remember the last pub I had a drink in," he chuckled ("You never could," was the playful retort from knowing wags within earshot).
He doesn't listen to the Fab Four either but when asked what was his favourite number, he replied "Fool On the Hill", a title he wryly borrowed for his second autobiography in the 1990s.
“I’m labelled as the man who gave the Beatles away, but I didn’t give them away, they gave me away. Perhaps I’ll have that engraved on my tomb!”
On hearing the Beatles industry is now worth £80m a year to Liverpool, Allan’s managerial skills went into overdrive: “I wish I had 10 per cent of it, one per cent, even half a percent … anything.”
“I have many fond memories, going to places where they performed like the Grosvenor Ballroom. I was aware of many groups in Liverpool, but I knew there was something special about the Beatles. But nobody in their wildest dreams could have possibly imagined they would become the top group in the world. Nobody could have forecast that.
“They used to come into my club, The Jacaranda, just to hang out and mess around, and one day they asked me to be their manager. I thought, why not, it’s something I hadn’t done before.”
Asked if he thought there would ever be another ‘Beatles’, Allan replied “I doubt it and if there is I’m not going to manage them.”
By Allan’s side last night were friends and family and Freda Kelly, a fan of the Beatles before she became part of their inner circle at just 17 - one of the band’s true backroom boys.
It was a teenage Freda who was taken to the Cavern by a friend one lunchtime and who became immediately hooked. She and another girl formed the Beatles fan club and Freda took over the sole responsibility when her co-founder got a boyfriend and lost interest.
Freda was asked by Brian Epstein if she would like to come and work with him and be the Beatles’ secretary.
She reflected:"There weren’t many women in the music business in those days.
“You didn’t really realise how important it was. I look at it like being in the eye of storm."
Freda was last on the Liverpool Town Hall balcony in July, 1964 when the conquering heroes returned home for the northern premiere of their first feature film, A Hard Day’s Night.
“When I came to the civic reception on the balcony at the town hall and I looked up Castle Street and heard the noise and saw 200,000 people, that is when it hit me and how lucky I was.”
While every Beatlemaniac in the land may have envied the young Freda, for her working with the group was a down to earth experience.
“What you saw was what you got with the Beatles, the were the same. The Cavern was the best place to see them, particularly at the lunch time sessions," she said.
“As secretary I did everything: wages, contracts diary, just general work and looking after 40,000 fan club members. It was a fabulous 10 years.”
Roll of honour
Four others were made Citizens of Honour of Liverpool at the same ceremony, receiving their awards from Lord Mayor Cllr Tony Conception.
They were Brian Lawless for 40 years of unpaid voluntary service for organisations including Vauxhall Neighbourhood Council, Rice Lane Community Organisation, Rice Lane City Farm and Walton Advice Centre.
Kwong Ngan (aka Kenny Tam) – for more than 40 years representing the Chinese community, including the longest standing chairman of the See Yep association and founding the Merseyside School of Tai Chi, the first of its kind in the UK.
Roger O’Hara in recognition of his campaigning on social issues in the Granby/Toxteth area including chairman of Toxteth Community Council and the Dingle Housing Regeneration Committee.
Dr Chris Wells for his medical work in the field of neurological pain relief and pioneering new techniques including as Director of the Walton Centre and as President of The European Pain Federation.