Eric’s to reopen in Liverpool – will it work?

Eric’s: failed re-opening or a breath of fresh air?
The day has finally dawned on the local music scene of Liverpool; the opening night of Eric’s is fast upon the horizon, September 10th to be precise. Heated debate has surrounded this particularly contentious issue ever since it was revealed that local country musician, Ethan Allen, and owner of now closed nightclub the O51, John Lynch, were preparing to re-vamp Eric’s and attempt to return it to its past glory.

The music faithful have condemned its re-opening claiming that it will only damage the legacy of the club (or even worse will be turned into a museum) whilst others have welcomed the idea with open arms believing that the local music scene is in dire need of a re-vamp.

However, what’s to say that because Eric’s boasts such a great past that it’ll hold a similar future? Cynics, or realists, depending upon your view, have commented on the fact that Eric’s was only a triumph due to the fruitful subcultures of the late 1970s and that this is certainly not the case in 2011. Even Allen says this himself, “Eric’s wasn’t responsible for the punk scene but it was a place where the bands of that era, playing the music of that era played.”
What scene is going to be used for 2011? There are clubs and venues that are firm favourites for Liverpool giggers, which are grouped together and host cheap nights with great new acts already. It’s going to be a tough nut to crack if you ask me.

In terms of bands playing, it’s not just going to be local music. Allen is thinking big echoing feelings that scousers have felt for a while; “I’m a live music enthusiast and I love gigs but I hate having to travel to Manchester to see what I like. I love this city. I love the people that are in it. I’d love to just come into the city centre of Liverpool and hear some of the great music that I listen to on the radio and that I but the CDs of. So that’s what I’m looking at with this venue.”
He doesn’t seem too phased by the cynics who are readily dismissing the Eric’s re-opening dubbing it a failure. They’re a lost cause but still a crowd that needs to be pacified. Allen is desperate to impress the people who are willing to come down and give the place a chance. He says, “We are very aware of what we have to do; a) to impress and b) to appease. There are people there that are willing to see and want to come and have a look at the venue and see what it’s like and I want to impress the hell out of them. I want them to really enjoy it and think it’s a positive thing but people that are going to sit at home at night and already tell us that we’re shit… I can’t do anything about that and to be honest, I’m not arsed.”

So far the response has been positive from young adults even though there’s already a bunch of venues that are deep rooted in the local music scene, according to Allen. Being a 21 year old with an insatiable appetite for new music and having discussed the re-opening with people of similar enthusiasm to me, the jury is still out. For them, a music venue is a music venue, history is irrelevant. If young ones are what Eric’s is trying to appeal to then the ground level isn’t particularly inviting; plans are to transform it into a bar “a bit like the Hard Rock Cafe”. This is certainly very tacky but it will certainly placate snap happy tourists. The basement will be the musical underbelly of the whole project allowing for sweaty twenty somethings to play to a crowd of…sweaty twenty somethings.

Although Eric’s was only open for four years, between 1976 and 1980, it hosted some of the world’s biggest musicians whilst also becoming a catalyst for a generation of Liverpool bands; Echo and the Bunnymen and Dead Or Alive enjoyed a flurry of success after playing Eric’s. Such musical marvels as Elvis Costello, who famously banged his head on the basement club’s beams, The Buzzcocks, The Clash, Joy Division, The Ramones and the Sex Pistols also played shows there. Yet for every amazing, talented act that did play at Eric’s, there were four or five acts that weren’t so good and consequently were left to play out the rest of their sparkling careers singing covers in a dingy pub in Blackpool. So although there’s a boastful history about the place, it’s the same as any music venue; hit and miss.

After being raided by the police for drug offences in 1980, the club was closed and has been revered both locally and internationally ever since. Nevertheless, it is an inevitability that times have changed as too has location. Matthew Street isn’t what it was in the 1970s, it is now known in Liverpool for its pop clubs, which bang out chart hit after chart hit whilst drunken hen parties roam the streets doused in feather boas and L-plates. Surely this is no place for a serious music venue? Shouldn’t Eric’s have been re-located to a site closer to other clubs that are trading in the same vein?
He says, “All of Liverpool has [changed]. So everywhere that was cool and a safe haven for musicians and alternative people is now right in the middle of Nike Air wearing, shell suit scally lads who are off their cakes. You’ve got dance clubs and all of the problems that ensue from that. So whereas you might have ten girls dressed as policewomen down here, you might have ten lads up there who are all shaven headed, thugs who just want to cause problems.”
Allen seems to be a little misinformed here. Yes, there are many clubs that host an array of lads who like a fight but they aren’t close to the scene where most of the alternative clubs are based. A slight excuse for not having to relocate if you ask me.

The question on everyone’s lips is whether Allen and Co are going to keep the true spirit and feeling of Eric’s alive by hosting new and upcoming bands or whether it’s going to turn into a tribute club, like The Cavern. The defining battle cry of Eric’s was its decision to showcase new and upcoming bands and it seems as though this approach is going to remain somewhat the same. Allen has commented saying that “the original spirit of Eric’s was to put on new music and to put on new bands and give new bands a platform to play and we’re aiming to keep it that way. Music policy wise, if you’re in a band and up to a level and you have a following and I believe you’re talented enough then you can get a gig here. There’s no prejudice against music.” No genre will be off limits, apart from dance music due to its already outstanding popularity citywide. The only problem will be logistical due to the fact that it is, after all, a basement.

However after talking of new and upcoming bands being the main interest of the project, a bombshell was dropped. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are the headlining act for opening night. Doesn’t this prove that the main philosophy of Eric’s is already dying a death? Shouldn’t this opening night be devoted to promising local acts? As well as this, there’s been a lot of interest from musicians who played in the first wave, such as Glen Matlock and Adam Ant, who want to return. How does this fit into the values of the club- principles that the developers have been so adamantly professing?

As for the future of the place, Allen believes that it’s going to be huge for Liverpool and the music scene. Along with many other music fans young and old, my heart wants Eric’s to succeed but my head is doubtful.  

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  1. Being a Liverpool/Wirral resident I would like to see it work – to be clear I would like to see any venue that champions new music, established yet under the media radar acts, anything cutting edge. I can\’t see the point in calling it Eric\’s other than to suggest they are reaping promotional gain from the efforts of others who did the real hard work before them.
    It\’s not Eric\’s nor will it ever be – Like RR I went to Eric\’s, and also to Brady\’s and again to Planet X when it took over the space.

    Eric\’s was unique in that it actively encouraged diversity on all levels – music, race, even class and it also actively promoted accessibility; they ran Saturday afternoon matinee gigs 5pm-8pm for under 18\’s so the kids (myself included) could see the bands – I saw The Clash, Slits on the same bill for 75p!!
    I was present on the protest march around the city centre – I can\’t imagine any venue fostering such loyalty these days.

    Its in the wrong location, if they are going to encourage more cutting edge bands, these bands often have more visually colourful fans – believe me walking down Mathew St on a Saturday night would be no fun for a group of such gig goers!!

    I want the place to work – but why call it Erics\’s.
    As for OMD playing the opening night – Why not? They played the original venue many times, they still live in the area, and actively support local music – if you were starting any venture you want a big opening night so seems sensible.

    If anyone is really interested in Eric\’s please read \’Liverpool Eric\’s\’ by Jaki Florek and Paul Whelan, a magnificent book detailing every gig, interviewing the surviving key players and with some wonderful photographs..

  2. As the Marquee Club discovered 20 years ago in London, history ain’t much to trade on for long.

    I wish the fella luck, but the live arena is a tough place to compete. Time will tell.


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