Autumn, 1978, in Liverpool. I was sitting in the bar of the Everyman Theatre with some friends, eating pizza and dropping crumbs on the table, when a man pressed a badge into my hand.
“You are an artist,” he said, as if he’d recognized a kindred spirit. I couldn’t see it myself. I’m a writer, not an artist, and although his hair, like mine, resembled a haystack that had been dyed brown and then exploded, we didn’t seem to have anything else in common. I was 30, and he looked ancient to me. In his 40s, at least.
“Come join us on Saturday night,” he said. “It’s a home for artists.”
I studied the badge. It depicted a gold beetle ringed by these words: THE LIVERPOOL SCHOOL OF LANGUAGE, MUSIC, DREAM AND PUN. MATHEW STREET.
When I looked up, the stranger was gone.
“Eccentric,” I said, setting down the badge and taking another bite of pizza. “But I like his hair.”
“That was Allan Williams,” said one of my friends. “The man who gave away the Beatles.”
How to give away the Beatles
To give away the Beatles, you have to be in Liverpool in 1958. Granted, not easy to pull off, but let’s assume that time travel has been invented or that Dr. Who gives you a lift in his Tardis. So, proceeding from there:
- You open a club called the Jacaranda in Slater Street and hire two “layabouts from the art school,” John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe, to paint over the lusty graffiti in the ladies’ toilet. (“Frankly, I preferred the graffiti to the mess they made,” Allan Williams says in his interview in My Liverpool, an anthology about the city.)
- You start acting as an agent for the layabouts’ band, then called the Silver Beetles. You like the lads – John, Stuart, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Pete Best – despite their habit of cadging free coffees and bacon butties (sandwiches).
- You send them to Hamburg, the crucible in which their creativity and camaraderie get forged.
- You fire them after John refuses to pay your commission.
- When Brian Epstein approaches you about representing the band, you reply, in words that will go down in Merseyside history: “I wouldn’t touch the Beatles with an effing bargepole.”
An epic fail; or, as John Lennon later sang, “I’m a loser.” But Williams stayed connected to the Liverpool arts scene. For example, he helped organize the first Beatles conventions in the city, and he handed out badges to daft Americans in the Everyman Theatre.
But what was the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun? And was it by any chance connected to Carl Jung? Answers in a few days, right here on this page.
Department of Credit where credit is due
Thanks to Sgt. Pepper Free Beatle Graphics for the Beatles picture.