Photography: Brian Smith

Eric’s of the 1970s has attained a status over the years almost approaching that of another famous club that stood in the same thoroughfare. Similarly, the long departed Liverpool Stadium also hosted shows that now read like Fantasy Festival line-ups. The promoter at both venues was a man who has deservedly become a legend in his own right: ROGER EAGLE. The recently published Sit Down! Listen to This! The Roger Eagle Story illuminates the story behind the man responsible for bringing such acts to the city, inspiring a wave of new musicians, DJs and promoters.

Author Bill Sykes, a veteran of the Manchester music scene and a friend of Roger’s for over twenty years, interviewed dozens of people for the book, which covers an era when recommendations from others was an essential way of discovering new bands. Prior to the invention of the ‘net Eagle became an oracle to a generation of Liverpool fans and musicians.

“He’d sit you down and he’d be playing the tune and I’d say ‘Is this Lee Perry?’ and he’d say, ‘Yeah, but you don’t get any points for that’. He had a memory like a taxi driver,” Bill says. “Now that the internet has come about, you can find out information about one particular thing, but there’s no link to the rest of it; it’s all in context.”

“There’re a few things that inspired me to write the book,” Bill explains. “Basically, to let people know who he was; I think he’s been forgotten a bit really, and he was an unsung legend for a long time. I fully expected someone to have written a book about him, a professional writer, and nobody did. I kept going on to a few mates about it and they just said ‘You do it’, so I did! I did it as an oral history ‘cos I thought it would be more honest to let the people who knew him tell his story. I interviewed Roger twice [in 1994 and 1999] and I used that as the main part of the book.”

Having almost single-handedly created what became known as Northern Soul in early 1960s Manchester, sourcing the obscure end of the Motown catalogue during all-nighters at the Twisted Wheel, Roger segued into booking acts. Quickly establishing himself as a promoter par excellence, Eagle built a sterling reputation by bringing blues greats Willie Dixon, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf across the pond.

Moving his operation to the Liverpool Stadium, gigs were hugely successful, largely due to Roger’s matchless list of contacts. Some of the country’s biggest acts or those on the way up – Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Queen – all played between May 1970 and December 1976.

Bookings of the then obscure Captain Beefheart (his favourite artist), Can and Amon Düül II demonstrated Eagle’s long-standing enthusiasm for giving a platform to underground acts. His ability in being ahead of the curve musically was proven by the decision to move to Eric’s in 1976, just as the punk movement was taking shape. “He had his finger on the pulse, he could tell what was coming up, new trends,” Bill says.

I think he’s been forgotten a bit really, and he was an unsung legend for a long time. I fully expected someone to have written a book about him, a professional writer, and nobody did. I kept going on to a few mates about it and they just said ‘You do it’, so I did! Bill Sykes

The eclecticism in Roger’s bookings at The Stadium and Eric’s, along with DJ sets that became famous in their own right, was reflected in line-ups such as the jaw-dropping bill of a July 1978 afternoon show that saw The Clash, The Specials and Suicide all appear on the same stage. “A big thing about Roger was that his interest in music went across eras and genres; it was very diverse, the stuff they had on there,” Bill notes of Eric’s, which had a far wider remit than the reputation of punk/new wave venue it acquired.

In addition to putting on bills that now almost defy belief – the list feels like a rock n roll hall of fame: The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Pop Group, Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire to name but a few – Roger’s DJ sets and guru-like status within the Eric’s community educated scores of music fans. Musicians that were inspired to form bands of their own are best exemplified by two ‘supergroups in reverse’: Big In Japan, comprising The KLF’s Bill Drummond, the Lightening Seeds’ Ian Broudie, Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Budgie, future record label boss Dave Balfe, plus Cream and Baltic Triangle co-founder Jayne Casey.

In addition, a band who never got beyond one rehearsal in a kitchen were The Crucial Three: the coming together of Ian McCulloch, Pete Wylie and Julian Cope, who became the frontmen of Echo & The Bunnymen, Wah! Heat and The Teardrop Explodes, respectively. After being invited to play a one-off gig, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark decided they would continue, while DJ Bernie Connor also got his start from attending the club.

Almost uniquely amongst his peers, Eagle provided a strong link between Liverpool and Manchester, two cities famed for being divergent in their music scenes. Despite many observing that he could have gone on to promote tours nationally, the notion didn’t appeal to him. It was clearly always about the music, as the ticket prices at The Stadium and Eric’s still to this day seem ridiculously cheap.

“There was no point in charging extortionate amounts; people who were going to those particular types of clubs would never have been able to afford it anyway,” Bill explains of Roger’s insistence at keeping admission prices low. “He needed somebody with a proper business mindset to take care of things and I think Pete Fulwell [Eric’s co-founder along with Ken Testi and Roger] was brilliant at that.”

Following the demise of Eric’s, precipitated by a police raid in 1980, Roger moved back to Manchester and The International, where he found himself in the midst of another fledgling music scene, booking gigs by The Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays.

A long battle with cancer led to Roger’s early retirement and tragically premature death at the age of 57 in 1999. The scenes he set in motion and the people he inspired, however, still continue to impact on Liverpool, long after the venues at which he DJ’d and booked bands have passed.

Sit Down! Listen to This! The Roger Eagle Story is available now from Empire Publications.

In stock at Probe Records.

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