Eric’s and the rise of Liverpool Punk

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Next week marks the 40th anniversary of the closure of legendary Liverpool club Eric’s. Kevin McManus, our Head of Music, writes about what made Eric’s so special. (This article was first published by Q in July 2016 as part of the ‘Eric’s To Evol’ commission for LIMF 2016).

“Punk changed my life. From the minute I first heard this new glorious noise on John Peel I was completely obsessed. For a few years even football played second fiddle to music. My life revolved around listening to Peel, buying the records you heard on his show and playing the life out of them with the couple of mates who had the same obsession.

This scene was probably played out all over the UK but in Liverpool we went for it a big way. When this raw music came out of nowhere it presented teenagers like me with a genuine musical and cultural alternative for the first time. The city was on its knees, at the depth of its miserable post-industrial economic slump and this was our opportunity to kick out at the establishment. Punk really struck a chord in Liverpool, a maverick port city constantly teetering on the edge of outright rebellion.

With hindsight it was a pretty small scene and you quickly got to know every other member of our gang by sight if not by name. It was built around one small grubby street, a venue, a record shop and a few key individuals. But that was all that was needed to ignite a period of intense creativity that we haven’t matched since. The record shop was a ramshackle but magical place where we bought our singles, tried to look like we belonged there, and were roundly abused and generally intimidated by the staff (which at times included Pete Wylie and Pete Burns).

But the place that truly opened my eyes to the life-changing power of music was a club called Eric’s. This was a place where I got to hang out with like-minded waifs and strays and felt like I was really part of something special. More importantly it was the place where I saw incendiary performances by the like of The Clash, Joy Division, The Buzzcocks and The Specials, as well as witnessing the birth of local legends Echo And The Bunnymen (when they still had a drum machine), Teardrop Explodes, and the hugely enjoyable chaos of Big In Japan.

From the first gig I saw there, the debut Saturday matinee gig featuring XTC, I was hooked. I was going every week — sometimes to matinees but often to the main shows in the evenings and legging it for the last bus home. I was 15/16 and going to Eric’s was a major part of my growing up. On my first date with my first real girlfriend I took her to Eric’s to see The Cramps which with hindsight was probably a pretty weird thing to do. She had a few halves of cider and black (it was what sophisticated 16 year old girls from Bootle drank back then), tolerated my oddball mates and loved The Cramps.

In that squalid but beautiful basement I was lucky enough to see the likes of Wire, the Undertones (with my mate’s band supporting them which made us feel as cool as 15 year olds can feel), Siouxsie And The Banshees, Gang Of Four, The Human League (at the time of their debut single Being Boiled), future stadium fillers The Cure (with an audience of about 30), stunning early gigs by Magazine as well as the punk/new wave staples like The Damned, Penetration, Adverts and The Skids.

What made Eric’s so special? Well obviously some of it is down to the fact that within the confines of the small cellar I saw some of the best bands ever at incredibly close quarters. We rubbed shoulders with Ian Curtis and Joe Strummer because it was impossible not to in such a cramped venue.

Then there was the influence of co-owner/promoter Roger Eagle who was a music fanatic. Through his bookings and his selections for the club jukebox he quietly educated all us Eric’s regulars in reggae and blues as well as punk.

It was a Clash gig at Eric’s that inspired the likes of Pete Wylie, Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope to all form bands (and for one or two rehearsals they were all in the same band, the modestly titled The Crucial Three). Mick Jones saw the hunger and passion that positively radiated out of Wylie and gave him a guitar after a Clash gig famously saying that Pete could pay him back when he was famous.

But despite our love of the political fire of The Clash or the sheer lunacy of The Damned the music that came out of Liverpool was typically non-conformist. Think of the Bunnymen, Teardrop, OMD and others and its obvious we didn’t do much in the way of routine thrashy, shouty punk. Overall this was a special time in music and culture in the UK and Liverpool put its own unique stamp on it. Where else could a band like Big In Japan have just happened? Don’t forget this was a group that had no real success but contained individuals who went on to be hugely influential. Their vocalist/front person was Jayne Casey, hugely influential on Liverpool culture over the last 30 years. There was Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes To Hollywood main man), and Ian Broudie who as well as going on to become a producer of some renown also had huge success with the Lightning Seeds. Guitarist Bill Drummond subsequently shaped the careers of both the Bunnymen and Teardrops, before having major success with the KLF, and then disrupting the art world in his own uniquely subversive way. Big In Japan were adored by us matinee goers and some of my favourite memories are of their brilliantly shambolic gigs at Eric’s.

A week after my first date at the club, when The Cramps played, the club was closed down after an over the top police raid. Apparently its finances were such that it wouldn’t have survived much longer anyway. So it was all over: but Eric’s somehow managed to change my life and that of many others. Only a couple of years later I found myself covering Liverpool music for the NME. I’ve stayed involved in Liverpool music in one form or another ever since but my favourite memories will always be of that special time in the smelly, damp basement that was Eric’s.”

Kev McManus, Head of UNESCO City of Music, Culture Liverpool

I’d like to add my condolences to the family of Pete Fulwell who passed away recently. Alongside Roger Eagle, Pete was responsible for bringing Eric’s to life. I first met Fully when I was a young punter at the club and then many years later we worked together, delivering support to creative industries in Liverpool. Pete was a great storyteller and brilliant company and my favourite memories from that time are of the many hours we spent together in the pub. He was a quiet, decent man who had a positive impact upon the lives of many. He will be much missed by everyone who knew him.

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