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Eric’s – a personal journey through Liverpool’s original punk club

Punk has become many things in the 40 years since it went overground.

It has become acceptable, stripped by time and familiarity of the ability to shock.  It has become common place – punk fashion and influence can be seen pretty much everywhere.  It has become an exercise in nostalgia; punk bands still play gigs to the same crowds who saw them decades ago, cosy gigs reliving a collective youth.

And it has become commodified, a trend that in truth started worryingly early.  These days, Ramones and Joy Division t-shirts can be snapped up in Primark, extravagantly dyed hair, ripped jeans and multiple earrings are mainstream and raise not a single eyebrow.

But it was not always like this.  Oh no – once upon a time, Punk was a dangerous, exciting thing to be involved with. Questions were asked about it in the Houses of Parliament and just looking like a punk could get you chased, beaten and worse.

In those far off days, this shocking new phenomenon was news!  Music papers particularly couldn’t get enough of it, devoting almost whole issues to its rise. But, John Peel aside, it was almost impossible for young teens to actually hear the music itself.

Thank God then for Roger Eagle being, not for the first time in his life, in the right place at the right time. And, more importantly, with the right attitude.

Following on from creating successful and influential nights at the Twisted Wheel in Manchester and the Stadium in Liverpool, Roger, along with Pete Fulwell and Ken Testi, opened Eric’s in 1976, just in time for punk to spread out from London to Manchester and then to the provinces.

The first band to appear at Eric’s were The Stranglers, followed a week later by The Runaways and then The Sex Pistols. Eric’s had clearly tapped into a rich vein of exciting new music with punk beginning to explode. Not that it was ever a punk club per se, also featuring gigs from such diverse artists as Steve Hillage, Van der Graaf Generator, B.B. King and many reggae artists such as Prince Far I and Inner Circle.

The first run of gigs at Eric's
The first run of gigs at Eric’s

Roger Eagle was one of the rare breed of people who were more interested in the art of what they were doing rather than the finances, so the more popular gigs by the likes of The Clash and The Damned funded gigs by artists less likely to pull in a large number of paying guests, but Roger would rather spend time and money showcasing wonderful music for a smaller audience than have it ignored.

His legendary enthusiasm for music and for turning other people on to bands he loved was undoubtedly one of Eric’s best assets.

This writer’s own calling to Eric’s came whilst still a fresh-out-of -school 16 year old, starting what would be my final summer holiday, marooned between the childish world of school and the more grown-up world of college. 

Towards the end of my school life, a schoolmate had moved away, only about 5 miles down the road, but enough at that age to make it difficult to maintain a friendship where seeing each other every day was normal and effort free.

We have, in fact, remained friends to this day. We got into punk together that year, neither of us knowing the full seismic effect this would have on the rest of our lives.

On the second week of this summer break, this friend phoned with an invitation to join him and some others in going to a punk club in Liverpool to see Magazine play a matinee show. To my eternal regret, after hearing all the shock horror stories in the press, I bottled out and stayed at home, wracked with jealousy.

When I found out the day had passed without major incident, we plans to go the following week to see Rich Kids, the band  Glen Matlock formed after leaving The Sex Pistols. So when the next Saturday came around, I pocketed my £2.50 pocket money and headed off to a brave new world.

Graffiti was quite big with punks at the time, not the arty tags or Banksy murals we see now, but crude Magic Marker scrawlings of band names and slogans. We all set pen to the train shelter while waiting for the train into town.

Terrible really, and the kind of thing I hate to see these days, but it seemed to be somehow important then; part of the Destroy culture that punk embodied, a lack of respect for your elders and surroundings. We thought we had a point to prove; to go against the grain, be disruptive, sign your contempt for the world and your surroundings as boldly as you can.

There was an interview with John Lydon’s wife Nora, many years later, where she recalled in 1976 being advised not to have these punks in her house, not because they would steal or break anything but because they were likely to write on her walls in paint and pen.

Arriving at Eric’s, we found we had to first become members before being allowed entry (something about it being a members only club gave it extra freedoms within the law, such as staying open late).

At first this extra expense was dismaying, taking my last 50p as it did, but looking back, 50p for a year’s membership of Eric’s must be classed as something of a bargain.

I paid this and the £1.00 entry fee and went down the Eric’s staircase for the first time. Memories of this portentous event are scarce, but it was like nothing we’d seen before.

Previous experiences of music played at anything above front room levels of volume had been local discos, and Eric’s was nothing like that. Dark, damp and with dirty red walls, walking down those stairs was walking into another world.

Proper bands played here, proper punks came here and we were entering their world. This was a big deal, although how big a deal was not immediately apparent.

As this was a matinee gig for under 18s the bar served only soft drinks, so we bought Cokes. This was a masterstroke of Eric’s – adding a matinee show meant that bands could be booked for two shows in Liverpool and then another night at Manchester’s Factory venue which in turn, made it more financially viable for bands  to make the trip North.

Away from those practical considerations, it meant that a generation of kids, ideally aged in 1977 for the shockwaves and upheaval of punk, could be part of things in a way that otherwise would have been beyond our means, schemes and wildest dreams.

It is impossible to overemphasise the impact this had on a bunch of 16 year olds from the sticks. Being a punk in a small town was to be in a small minority and made walking its streets and corridors a dangerous prospect, but Eric’s gave young outsiders a place to belong, maybe for the first time.

In return, the Eric’s owners, movers and shakers seemed genuinely fond of the young crowd and what they brought to the club.  Big in Japan dedicated their only proper release to “the Eric’s matinee crowd” and their singer, Jayne Casey, still tells the tale of when Iggy Pop played Eric’s on his birthday.

The matinee crowd, myself included, 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 young gesture.

Iggy Pop at Liverpool Eric’s: Shock was part of the currency of the early punks and, in Iggy, they had inspiration of sorts

Memory is not perhaps 100% reliable here, but there were a plethora soon-to-be famous faces working on the bar or on the door.  Ian Broudie certainly used to be on the door a fair bit, and there are blurry recollections of Mac, Julian Cope and Pete Wylie’s talents being employed in some capacity or other.

I seem to remember Pete Burns DJing occasionally. I always strongly suspected that he brought records down from his day job at Probe Records, played them in the club and then took them back and sold them, along with a nice crackly coating of sweat and beer.

The bar area was the first room you walked in to as you came down the stairs, with a dark seated area with the legendary Eric’s jukebox to the right and the stage area through a doorway in front.

After collecting our Cokes, we took our place stage left, me marvelling at the fact that I was in a punk club for the first time in my life.

Everyone looked punkier than us, so mental notes were made to make a few changes to wardrobe in future. The long hair had already gone, chopped off a few days after hearing God Save The Queen for the first time.

After standing around for a while, the support band came on. I had no idea who they were and had never heard them before; few people had then. The lead singer walked to the mic and said, “Hello. we’re Joy Division.”

So the first live punk band we saw at Eric’s turned out to be Joy Division!  Sometimes fate just seems to treat you well. Obviously this gig was now a long time ago and we had no idea just how immense Joy Division would turn out to be, but I can clearly remember the bass lines of Transmission and She’s Lost Control and can recall them playing Ice Age and They Walked in Line.

We were instantly hooked. From now on Joy Division were our band and we saw them every time they played a matinee show, as well as gigs in Preston and Leeds. We saw them go from support band to headline act, although the first headline show I saw them play was to less than 20 people.

After they finished their set, we waited for Rich Kids to take to the stage. We were about to see a Sex Pistol and were beside ourselves with excitement. Again, time has dimmed my memory of the gig somewhat, but loud punk music (or Power Pop as the Rich Kids were briefly classed) had well and truly got us and this was without question the most exciting day of our young lives.

Following the gig, the band came out of the dressing room and hung around the bar, chatting and signing autographs.

At the tender age of 16 and in one single afternoon, we had been to a punk club, seen Joy Division and got an autograph from a Sex Pistol. How could we not fall in love with this wonderful place?!

My second trip to Eric’s was to see The Clash on their Tommy Gun tour, ably supported by The Specials, in one of the best and most overcrowded gigs we ever attended. Eric’s had delivered again and our fate had been sealed.

For the next two years or so we would be back every Saturday. I even once, through a special mixture of sulking and badgering,  forced my poor suffering parents to cut a holiday in London short so I could be back in my beloved Eric’s to watch Joy Division again.

It doesn’t happen often in life that we are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, but when it happened  I am eternally glad that I made the most of it and have so many memories of my time at this legendary club.

Banjo

Categories
Lost Albums

The Teardrop Explodes Wilder: “A bloody-minded look into the downside of success”

The post punk boom of the late 70s and early 80s made stars of some strange people.

Marc Almond bringing high camp to Top of the Pops, Phil Oakey appearing in Jackie magazine with a chain between his two pierced nipples and Adam Ant displaying his Pure Sex tattoo to theatres full of young fans are but three examples of how punk sensibility clashed with a world not quite ready to take it all in.

We can add to this Julian Cope standing on a piano, tripping his face off and wearing a night shirt on Top of the Pops, with The Teardrop Explodes.

There is a sense with all of these of square pegs in round holes, of people perhaps not immediately cut out for mainstream fame bringing their baggage with them.

And none more so than the archdrood himself, Julian Cope.

When they first started, The Teardrop Explodes were a fine, if slightly odd, band formed in the embers of the punk scene that had raged through the UK. Countless bands were inspired by the likes of Sex Pistols and The Clash to pick up guitars and make music of their own.

Where the post punk bands covered themselves in glory was by refusing to follow the path of identikit punk thrash that was well trod by 2nd and 3rd generation punk bands and by applying their emerging musical abilities in a new and different way.

These bands had an innate desire not to follow the crowd. This led to some of the most wonderful music we will ever know being committed to vinyl by bands who were not interested in fame or its trappings, doing what they were doing out of a need to create.

It was in these post punk bands that the true spirit of the explosions of 76/77 bore fruit.

One of these bands was The Teardrop Explodes.

Formed around the triumvirate of Eric’s, Probe and the Armadillo Tea Rooms, Liverpool bands sprung up regularly, often lasting no longer than a day or two. Eventually though, some of these bands left the tea rooms for the rehearsal rooms and actually started writing songs.

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The Teardrop Explodes wrote three songs, Sleeping Gas, Camera Camera and Kirby Worker’s Dream Fades. Bill Drummond, ex of Big In Japan persuaded the band to record all three songs, releasing them as the band’s first single.

On it’s release, Sleeping Gas was awarded Single of the Week in the weekly music papers. Suddenly The Teardrop Explodes found the spotlight shining on them for the first time.

Further singles Bouncing Babies and Treason were released and The Teardrops were one of Liverpool’s brightest hopes. However, success eluded them and their rivals Echo and the Bunnymen signed to a major label and left Julian and co behind.

It wasn’t until 4th single Reward went top ten that it seemed to be time for The Teardrop Explodes to have their own chance at the big time.

Treason was subsequently re-released and made it to number three, and The Teardrop Explodes became pop stars.

Lacking a stable line up, Julian Cope became the band’s face and focus, essentially employing and firing a series of players who were little more than session musicians.

Debut album Kilimanjaro gathered rave reviews and it seemed that everybody loved The Teardrop Explodes. What could possibly go wrong.

Well the answer to that is pretty much everything.

Pop fame sat uneasily on Cope’s shoulders and took to taking huge amounts of LSD and isolating himself. An American tour came to a messy end and Cope sacked fan favourite Alfie Agius. By now he had a reputation approaching that of Mark E Smith when it came to the ruthless way he dealt with band members.

Drummer Gary Dwyer was the only other continuous member of The Teardrop Explodes, and deserves great credit for his part in their story and for being the prop that held the band up when falling apart may have seemed inevitable.

Nevertheless, anticipation for the Teardrop’s 2nd album was so high that Cope had wanted to call it Everybody Wants To Shag The Teardrop Explodes

Eventually called Wilder, it was in part designed to turn off The Teardrop Explodes new audience of pop fans.

There is still a rich vein of Cope’s love of classic pop running through Wilder, but it has an angular, awkward and arty approach that belied their status as staples of Smash Hits magazine.

Opening track Bent Out of Shape is a straight forward enough song, but underpinned by some strange noises and opens with Cope singing “All my life I’ve been bent out of shape, can’t you see it’s killing me’ adding “these are dreams that I never had” as if he has already had enough of the fame that landed at his feet.

Next up is Colours Fly Away, starting with a brass band section that harks back to the glory days of Reward. Fans could be forgiven that The Teardrop Explodes have picked up from where Kilimanjaro left off. But again, the opening lines show Cope’s unease with his success: “More by luck than judgement here I am, smiling at the fighting once again.”

Seven Views of Jerusalem is a jumble of beats and squawks with Cope seemingly in stream of consciousness territory, singing “I cut off my nose to spite my face, look at all pests around the place. Everyone’s laughing they think it’s disguise, but haven’t you seen all the lines round my eyes

Lyrics such as these seem a long way from the same person who burst into the public’s affections by singing “Bless my cotton socks, I’m in the news

Pure Joy is trite and throwaway, but next track Falling Down Around Me is one of the album’s highlights. Built around a stuttering mix of bass and drums that seem to have little in common with the guitar track, the song has echoes of David Bowie from his early days, in particular the World of David Bowie album that was so popular amongst the Liverpool post punk cognoscenti.

The Culture Bunker is classic Teardrop and references Cope’s early days in Liverpool as he mentions The Crucial Three, the band he started with Pete Wylie and Ian McCulloch, as he sings “I’ve been waiting so long, waiting for The Crucial Three, wondering what went wrong

Passionate Friend is another classic. Apparently written for Ian McCulloch’s sister, thus deepening the rift that had grown up between the two one time friends.

Tiny Children takes things down several notches and gives us a sense of Julian as a lonely figure writing his disquiet and depression down for us all to read, as if we were sneaking furtive glances through his diary. Lyrics such as “I could make a meal of that wonderful despair I feel” provide a glimpse into a troubled psyche and his approach to the people he now has to deal with is detailed when he sings “But each character is plundering my home and taking everything that is my own

The chorus of “Oh no, I’m not sure about those things that I cared about. Oh no, I’m not sure, not anymore” give the impression of an unhappy soul rocking himself in a dark corner.

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Like Leila Khaled Said further details an unhappy outlook, for some reason juxtaposed with Leila Khaled, member of the revolutionary Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the first woman to hijack a plane. Smash Hits suddenly seems a long way off.

And The Fighting Takes Over continues the downbeat, introspective theme still further, reading like an examination of Julian’s failing marriage in a sad but blame free manner, concluding “we were just a pair of little children, two children, no surprise

Closing track The Great Dominions is perhaps the greatest song The Teardrop Explodes ever recorded, an open-hearted epic that again seems to look at his crumbling marriage.

The band provide a sympathetic backing as Julian pours his heart out in his own symbolic manner. The Great Dominions reads like the aftermath of a long and emotional argument, with Cope singing “Suddenly I came to my senses, a night on fire put out all traces of feeling

The ending refrain saw Julian singing naked in a dark studio, his voice cracking as the tears come towards the end of the repeated line “Mummy I’ve been fighting again”, as the song climaxes around him.

As emotional as this is, it is difficult to see that the young fans who bought Reward would take to this tearful soul bearing with the same enthusiasm.

Of course, the post punk fans that the band had brought with them were more than able to love the sounds they found on Wilder, it was the pop fans that might have found it a more challenging listen.

Cope’s aim was not to make bad music, but to shake of his teenybopper image, a mantle that is easy to imagine never sat well on his shoulders.

Before the band could finish their third album, it was all over for The Teardrop Explodes. They remain one of the bands who have never reformed and probably for good reasons. Theirs is a tale that has too much depth, too many messy relationships and involved too many bad trips.

But, despite Wilder perhaps starting the death knell of one of post punk’s greatest bands, it is a mighty statement and one that deserves returning to.

A pop star who is prepared to open himself up to his public in this manner is a rare thing. We are reminded of the troubled output of Syd Barrett and Tim Buckley, but presented in a pop arena.

Wilder is a bloody-minded and honest look into the downside of success, when all The Teardrop Explodes had to do to ensure their continued success was to put on a happy face and smile for the pages of the pop glossies.

And as such, it is one of the bravest documents a band hungry for fame have ever committed to tape.

Banjo