Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.
Eric’s Liverpool opened its doors for the first time October 1, 1976, the first couple of ‘gigs’ were temporarily held in The Fruit Exchange building, Victoria Street, two levels, upstairs and downstairs.
Eric’s went on to carve out a unique venue for Liverpool’s subculture, the birthplace for Liverpool Punk but in a permanent, more intimate basement club, around the corner from the original Fruit Exchange Venue. Fittingly, located opposite another iconic venue, The Cavern Club, Mathew Street.
Beneath the iconic Mathew Street, Eric’s sign, a pair of metal doors led down to an underground den where alternative music and fashions were not only welcomed but celebrated. As a young teenager, Eric’s was a place where I instantly felt at home, where I felt I belonged. As a young musician, playing in a band, forging an identity in the music industry, Eric’s became ‘our’ spiritual home, our meeting place, our hangout, (at first) an aspiration, a safe place, a happy place a sense of belonging, our place to be.
I cannot remember attending Eric’s opening night, The Runaways gig, but vividly remember the week after. 15th October ’76, the now legendary Sex Pistols performance that announced Eric’s to the world, and put our Club on the Liverpool map.
Once settled into the Mathew Street (permanent) venue, the list of iconic bands who played Eric’s is as equally impressive as it is eclectic. I watched so many in the, relatively short time it was open for business – The Police, (pre Sting) when they were a heavy rock band; The Clash, 5 May 1977, Ramones and Talking Heads, on the same bill 19 May 1977, just a day before my 18th birthday, WOW! What a double bill?
Both The Ramones & Talking Heads were brought to the UK by, legendary music impresario, Seymore Stein (Sire Records), Seymore (Sire Records) would eventually sign Madona! Other Eric’s regulars included – The Slits, 20 August 1977, Siouxsie and Banshees, Human League and Spizz Oil (triple bill), 22 November 1978, Iggy Pop, 21 April 1979, Joy Division, 11 August 1979, The Cramps and Nightmares In Wax, 8 March 1980, Dead Kennedys, 29 September 1980, Adam and the Ants, 9 November 1980 to name but a few.
I have many many Eric’s stories, tales, myths and memories and some of them are mostly true!
I met my wife Gail, in Eric’s 7th May ’77 (see previous post 44 not out). A total chance meeting. Now, 45+ years on, a life-time together, two amazing (grown-up) children and (recently) our first (Covid baby) grandson, who we have only just got to meet.
Who’d have known?
Who’d have thought?
Would any of that ever have happened without Eric’s?
15th October 1976, two weeks after opening, Eric’s hosted the Sex Pistols. Everybody, in Liverpool, (of a certain age), claims to have attended that iconic gig. Liverpool City Council tried to get the gig banned, somehow, it went ahead. 1976, we are talking the final remnants of the prog rock music era, Yes, ELP, Genesis? Long hair, Flared trousers, 10 minute songs, ‘concept albums’, drum solos and, all of a sudden, Punk Rock explodes? Polar opposites, politicly, musically & culturally?
As we stood patiently in a modest queue, a local musical ‘legend in his own lifetime’ Phil Jones was arguing with two doormen, a short space ahead of us. He was clearly twatted and becoming extremely annoyed as they would not allow him in, ‘do you know who I am’? Without a ticket, he was still demanding entry based on the fact he had a record deal. His band had just finished recording a double album with Charisma Records. A concept album that now, Punk Rock had arrived on the ’80s music scene, was surplus to demands and never released.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about? I didn’t get it (at least not straight away)? I did however, get that this was the start of something big, a game-changer.
Bass player, Glen Matlock managed to achieve the impossible, breaking an E string during the opening number, something I didn’t believe possible without a hacksaw. The band seemed nervous, unusually so, if you listened to the hype. Quiet in-between songs, nothing like the raucous, aggressive ‘louts’ as portrayed in the NME and Sounds. They played a song, then silence, with literally zero audience response and little, if any ‘Rotten’ banter?
They appeared surprised, confused by the lack of audience response, not surprising as when you looked around, all you could see was, long haired musicians, all of an age soon to be irrelevant. Leather or denim jackets, flares, beards, so far removed from Punk Rock that it was comical. After what felt like a very brief performance for a headliner we went downstairs to watch a local support band, Albert Dock, all of us, sort of, scratching our heads? What was all the fuss about?
Jeff, my bessy, the bands ‘rowdy–roady’ was thrown out (forcibly ejected) for derogatory comments, leading to fighting with the support band, keyboard player. Jeff was walking passed the stage to the bar and suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, ‘look at the fucking webs on him’! Looking and pointing at the keyboard players, huge, oversized ‘webs‘ protruding, unnaturally, from beneath his keyboard.
In Jeff’s defence, his feet were fucking huge, sticking out from beneath the electric piano like two clown-like slippers, they nearly tripped Jeff up as he walked past? Big feet big guy. He was as big as fuck. Jeff is small, tiny in comparison. A short verbal exchange, followed by a physical scuffle and then the bouncers, already waiting in the wings, kicked Jeff out. The rest of the night was uneventful. We never really discussed the Pistols.
Once the dust had settled, around two weeks later, rehearsals. We doubled the tempo of all our songs, ripped our clothes and learnt how to spit whilst playing and we changed the bands name from Berlin to Fun …. if you can’t beat em?
Like every other band in Liverpool, we wanted to play Eric’s. We, like every other band in Liverpool, believed we were ‘managed’ by the Club originators and owners Roger Eagle and Ken Testi and later on, Pete Fulwell. A trio de force in the Liverpool clique music scene. They encouraged bands to believe they were ‘looking after them’ so as to get them to play (support) for free.
I loved playing Eric’s and I loved just going their, just hanging out with like minded people, mainly muso’s, which was most nights of the week, at least I did until the second wave of Eric’s goers caught up.
One such night, December (7th?) 1979, Queen, (a fave band of mine), had played two consecutive, sell-out nights at the Liverpool Empire, Freddie’s black leather pants had both blue and red knee-pads just to keep the football fans of both Liverpool and Everton happy. After an amazing show, we walked across ‘town’ to our Eric’s for a final drink before going home.
As we walked, ears still buzzing, Queens black, stretch-limo, black, with blacked-out windows, pulled up asking for directions to Eric’s. They must have got lost as later, Midweek, the club was emptyish, Queen arrived, we, literally everybody in Eric’s, completely blanked them, pretended we hadn’t noticed, ignored them. Queen wandered about, unnoticed, and left very soon after arriving, clearly unimpressed.
It had took all of my willpower ‘not’ to throw myself at Brian Mays feet! We were far too cool for school for that!
Eric’s was eventually closed after being over aggressively raided in March 1980. A local political statement. By then we had migrated to another spiritual home, Liverpool’s second Punk venue, The Swinging Apple (‘the apple’).
We had been part of the first wave of Eric’s, supporters, the beginnings. The second and third wave, the next generation, just that couple of years younger, all graduates of the legendary Eric’s (teen) afternoon matinee gigs, had now took over, Bernie Connor, Dave Balfe (Teardrop Explodes & Food Records), Julian Cope, Ian McCulloch, Pete Wylie, the final Eric’s generation.
My wife, Gail was working as a wages clerk in a local department store, Binns Liverpool. Will Sergeant (The Bunnymen guitarist) also worked in Binns, in the canteen as a trainee chef. After seeing us play at Eric’s, in work, Will asked her for advice, ‘your fella’s in a band? I am starting a band, what guitar should I get, a Les Paul or a Strat’? Gail, literally had no clue, she gave him my phone number (landline only, those days) and told him to ask me himself. I didn’t get to know Will at the time but, some years later, I did share a stage with him, Dynamo Minsk Olympic Stadium USSR, Children of Chernobyl Benefit Concert.
Eric’s Liverpool, seminal, influential and special in so many ways. Eric’s had a members only policy. The membership scheme not only served an important purpose in fostering the city’s punk scene but also by creating opportunities for under 18s to watch bands, during matinee shows. Thus inspiring a new generation of music lovers, creatives, bands and the like.
Jayne Casey (Big In Japan), still tells the tale of when Iggy Pop played Eric’s on his birthday. The matinee crowd, burst into a spontaneous version of Happy Birthday to You in a way that a grown-up crowd would most definitely not have done. Not expecting this reaction, Iggy grinned from ear to ear, his rock star persona punctured by this spontaneous, young gesture. Afterwards Iggy shook Jaynes hand and she swore she’d never wash it again.
By fostering a space for alternative music, the club also acted as a catalyst for local bands who were just coming up in the scene. Liverpool (Merseyside) bands like Dead or Alive, Echo & the Bunnymen and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Mighty Wah helped launched their budding careers with early, gigs at Eric’s.
Eric’s became the epicentre for Liverpool’s musical sub-cultures, with a vast array of diverse musical content – Split Enz (Pre-Crowded House), The Damned, Magazine, Rich Kids, Ian Brodie, The Specials, The Stranglers, Ultravox, Wire, XTC, X-Ray Spex, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks, Generation X, Wire, Simple Minds, Nightmare in Wax, The Pirates, Eddie and the Hot-rods, The Beat, Gang of Four, The Fall, Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, Tom Robinson Band, Killing Joke and early gigs by New Order and Mick Hucknall (pre Simply Red). Not to mention rock old-timers like Steve Hillage, Van der Graaf Generator, B.B. King, Stiff Little Fingers, Stanley Clark, The Pretenders and many reggae artists such as Steel Pulse, Prince Far I and Inner Circle, all appearing on the Eric’s eclectic bill at some point.
The Swinging Apple
The Apple seemed like a natural progression, out with the old, in with the new? We had begun to feel old in Eric’s and we were always looking for new places to gig. With the Apple, we got in early, staking our claim. We were evolving, changing as a band, experimenting with image, visuals, clothes, trying to be more theatrical, sophisticated, moving away from out and out Punk. We were never an authentic punk band, we exploited a ‘time’ but truthfully, we were better than that, better than Punk. Our songs, the band (musicality) suited this latest evolution, and ‘The Apple’ worked better than Eric’s did. That and the fact that every man, his dog with a guitar was now competing for gigs at Eric’s.
Not long before Eric’s closed, we were playing a gig at the Apple, The Clash were also playing Liverpool, at Eric’s same night. We were on stage, first set. Joe Strummer and a small entourage arrived. We continued playing, clearly chuffed to bits. It is more likely that he wanted to check out the latest hip punk venue in Liverpool rather than come see ‘Fun’ play but who gives a fuck, Joe Strummer is watching me, my band play live?
We finished our first set and Joe met us off the stage, he was really enthusiastic about ‘our band’ our performance, our songs. We were overjoyed so we negotiated for Joe to get up with us, second set and we played three songs together.
I can remember one song (for certain) ‘Roadrunner (Once) – Johnathon Richman & the Modern Lovers’. A classic Eric’s anthem that Rodger Eagle had manipulated us into including in our set.
Unfortunately, the brain cells responsible for recalling the second and third songs have sadly, long since expired. By process of elimination, I believe one was ‘Sweet Jane’ the other ‘The Passenger’ but WTF? I have played, live on stage, with the legendary Joe Strummer.
Thanks for Reading