In the thirty-one years since its closure ERIC’S club on Mathew Street has gained iconic status as a vital breeding ground for a burgeoning post-punk scene.
In its four short years of existence, Eric’s played host to a jaw-dropping number of significant bands now canonized in rock history. Owner Roger Eagle managed to book some of the era’s most successful acts including Elvis Costello, the Clash and the Stranglers which in turn helped attract a growing number of young, exciting bands such as Joy Division, U2 and XTC. Local acts quickly got involved, including Echo & The Bunnymen, Dead Or Alive and Julian Cope, who had all risen to fame by the time Eric’s shut down. Exactly thirty-five years after its launch, Eric’s club reopened with a performance by OMD. With a view to recreating the electric atmosphere of the original venue, the new owners hope to enjoy similar success by bringing in local and international artists; a bold move indeed.
The news has faced its fair share of criticism from those who feel that the legacy of Eric’s should not be tampered with. Particularly the use of the name (although perfectly legal) has angered some of the original crowd who deem it to be a form of bastardisation for the sole purpose of making money. Once a vibrant cultural quarter, Mathew Street is certainly not what it used to be and it is difficult to imagine young, hungry music lovers migrating to the area to mingle with the stag do’s and chain bars. To get to the heart of the issue, Bido Lito! spoke with music lovers young and old in an attempt to get to the bottom of what made Eric’s, Eric’s.
In a city that trades so strongly on heritage, it is perhaps easy to forget that legacy is something often developed posthumously, when the dust has had time to settle. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that one realises the profound impact spaces such as CBGB’s, The Masque and The FabMab have on music history. Huddled in front of the sweaty Eric’s crowds, Francesco Mellina took photographs of everyone from The Ramones to Talking Heads. He states “It was a case of right place, right time. The political and economic conditions combined to make something happen. The reputation was enormous but you never really realised because you were in the bubble.” It is this ‘bubble’ that sucked in and nurtured an ecosystem of creative people who fed off each other. Ultravox were drawn to Eric’s through its growing reputation. Singer John Foxx notes its importance, “You need the places before the scenes can happen. If you don’t have that then music dies. New wave, psychedelia and acid have all grown from clubs like Eric’s”.
Infinitely more important than the venue are the personalities behind it. Roger Eagle had gained a reputation in the North West through his DJ sets at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel club but it was only when he decided to open his own venue that he was able to fully indulge his eclectic taste in music. As a business model it left much to be desired, and Eric’s was often poorly attended, but this was of little importance to Eagle who continued to book his favourite acts, regardless of profitability. Resident artist and occasional DJ Steve Hardstaff emphasises the importance of Eagle’s philosophy, “It was Roger who gave the club its innovative quality, mainly due to the incredible mix of music he promoted. After his death it would have been nigh on impossible for the club to be re-opened and retain that quality.”
The re-opening of the club that some are pointedly naming ‘New Eric’s’ has been met with a mixture of praise, anger and indifference. Nobody would deny that a new live music venue is a positive thing and, as Hardstaff puts it, “any venue that keeps music alive and kicking is fine by me.” One question is whether young, creative people will be willing to hang out in a place occupied by their parents years ago and indeed if those same parents are even curious themselves. Jaki Florek, author of Eric’s: All The Best Clubs Are Downstairs, Everybody Knows That, likens the issue to “a child being expected to call the new man in your mother’s life ‘Dad’. Even with the best of intentions, it’s still kind of squirmy.” A colourful analogy indeed, but a key point is being made here in that fond memories cannot simply be recreated, they are a product of a myriad of factors including social and environmental interaction. Samizdat promoter Andrew Ellis prefers to look to the future, “You’ve got all these spaces that are pushing out new and interesting ideas and that’s the direction that Liverpool has always gone” while Mellina sees the spirit of Eric’s in the Kazimier, praising “the vibe and the closeness[…]there is a quirkiness about the place”. The existence of places like the Kazimier and Wolstenholme Creative Space on the other side of town put Eric’s at a disadvantage in attracting a young music-loving crowd to Mathew Street.
Ethan Allen, Music Director of Eric’s, is keen to point out that it is very much a business venture and it’s clear that a lot of money and hard work has gone into the project, clearing up “rubbish, water and dead rats”. He declares it “a crying shame to have an empty cellar with that history.” This sentiment is echoed by Mellina who asks “Why should Liverpool not benefit from something that belongs to it.” Liverpool is a city proud of its heritage and if the venue succeeds as a tourist attraction, following in the footsteps of the Cavern it will help bring jobs and business to the area. It is the fact that Eric’s is being branded as a venue for ‘new music’ that may be its biggest struggle. There is a fine line being trodden between old and new. As OMD polish off Enola Gay to a crowd just too young to remember Eric’s and just too old to be at the vanguard of new music, one question begs to be answered; will the Eric’s name retain its value as a byword for authenticity or will the logo become a marketing tool used to re-package and sell nostalgia? We wait and see…