Stan Williams next to the John Lennon statue in Mathew Street _320
The mystery of a poppy-seller in one of the Beatles’ greatest songs will be revealed in the memoir of a boy whose feet were once parted by John Lennon’s knife. David Charters reports
COME to my New Year’s party, he’ll be there” said the pretty girl, who had been a dear friend of the man since their playground days of skipping ropes and cap-guns.
That night the man pressed the door-bell once, twice, again and again, but there was no answer. Maybe the music was too loud, perhaps she had been engrossed in conversation with her glamorous guests.
Anyway, he felt nervous about meeting the main guest again. He had never really liked him.
People said he was much nicer now, but the man remembered his intimidatory manner and that time when he threw a flick-knife between his feet. You don’t easily forget such things.
So the man raised his collar and walked into the dark.
A few years later, everyone was singing about the young woman on the other side of the door. She had become one of those ghosts of song – never seen, never heard, never touched, but there just the same. People see her in their own imaginations, as they whistle her tune.
Her special guest on that clear, cold night of white breath and celebratory horns hooting on the river is also a kind of ghost now, long dead, but his memories are felt everywhere. His name was John Lennon.
She was Beth Davidson, though you will know her as the nurse selling poppies from a tray in Penny Lane, a deeply evocative Beatles’ song.
Her identity wasn’t revealed by the Beatles, adding to the mystique of a song, which brings millions of tourists to what would otherwise have been just a street in Allerton.
The song was mostly Paul McCartney’s, but Lennon added significant ideas.
The man? His name is Stan Williams and he’s standing by the Lennon statue opposite the Cavern on Mathew Street, Liverpool – revisiting his native city in advance of the publication of his memoirs, Penny Lane is in My Ears and in My Eyes, to be published in the early summer.
“He never looked like that,” says Stan and, in the preacherly arch of his eyebrows, there remains a hint of ancestral dust from the Welsh slate quarries, which roofed the houses of Liverpool.
His contention is that the image of the Penny Lane poppy nurse came from Lennon.
Stan was a year below Lennon and Jimmy Tarbuck at Dovedale County Primary School, where Beth and another friend, Margaret Jones, were also pupils. In his own class was Peter Sissons, the newsreader, and in the year below them George Harrison.
“There must have been something in the gene pool,” says Stan.
He appeared himself at skiffle auditions at the Cavern in 1957, as drummer with the Satellites. They did a bit of Maggie May, before the chap in charge told them he had heard enough.
Minutes later another group, the Black Jacks, performed their version of the same song. Stan remembers Lennon playing the tea-chest bass in a pair of gloves. The Black Jacks were the embryonic Quarrymen who, after many changes, became the Beatles.
Stan was born in Fern Grove, near Lodge Lane, the son of Nellie (nèe Thomas), an auxiliary nurse, and Arthur, a bus/tram driver. Two sisters had died soon after birth, so Stan was the rather spoilt “young emperor” in the family. After the Luftwaffe bombed their house, they moved to a much grander, double-fronted terrace on Borrowdale Road, near Sefton Park.