'Sit Down! Listen To This! The Roger Eagle Story' – book review

‘Sit Down! Listen To This! The Roger Eagle Story’ (Empire Publications)
Author: Bill Sykes
Available now

Apparently it’s all about being ”Ëœin the right place at the right time’ ”“ regularly musicians will quote this old adage as a humble explanation for their sudden success; Roger Eagle however wasn’t prepared to just sit and wait, he was more interested in creating the right place, which would then allow the right time to develop…

Roger Eagle died in 1999 ”“ he was a cultural icon whose story is only now being told; he was a DJ, a promoter and club manager, whose knowledge of and appreciation of music educated and enriched countless numbers across the cities of Liverpool and Manchester.

Author Bill Sykes has spent seven years researching this his first book ‘Sit Down! Listen To This! The Roger Eagle Story‘ ”“ Sykes first met Eagle when he was hustling for gigs for his former band, I myself met Eagle on a number of occasions; I was just 15 at the time and infrequently attended the now legendary Eric’s venue in Mathew Street, Liverpool ”“ Eagle together with Pete Fulwell and Ken Testi ran the basement venue from summer 1976 to its dramatic closure in 1980 whilst The Psychedelic Furs performed on stage.

Eric’s was essentially a music club, not a venue, a club ”“ Eagle was keen to foster feelings of kinship amongst regulars who were subsequently treated to gigs from the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash, as well as jazz and dub reggae ”“ the venue provided a home for the emerging Liverpool scene including Echo & The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, and the reverse super-group Big In Japan. In an effort to bring the music to a wider audience Eagle had the inspirational idea of matinee gigs for then under 18’s like myself ”“ the headline bands played two sets, the first at 5pm, the later at a more traditional time; as such I was fortunate enough to witness The Clash, The Slits, The Banshees in their rawest, most primal form…the repercussions of Eric’s continue to be felt in Liverpool to this day. Did I ever speak to Eagle? Sadly not, his towering 6ft 4 frame filled the ticket office at Eric’s ”“ you just paid you £1 entry and hoped ”ËœRoger’ didn’t growl at you.

Eagle however had already been inspirational in shaping the UK music scene, he had promoted gigs at the former Liverpool Stadium, previously a boxing venue ”“ the stage was built across the ring; gigs had included the likes of T-Rex, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and Eagle’s own personal inspiration Captain Beefheart…and prior to that way back in the mid 60’s he was the highly influential DJ at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel famed for its all-nighters which provided gigs for the likes of The Animals, The Yardbirds, and Screaming Jay Hawkins.

In fact Eagle twice shaped the live music scene of Manchester ”“ after the closure of Eric’s he moved the 40 miles up the M62 and took on the role of booker/promoter at Manchester’s International 1 & 2 venues ”“ the venue that provided a stage for the future ”ËœMadchester’ scene…a few miles down the road the late Tony Wilson had opened the Hacienda which at this point struggled to gain an audience; Wilson and Eagle had worked together previously initially planning to jointly release the ”ËœFactory Sampler’ EP ”“ Wilson was interviewed prior to his death and said of Eagle that without him: “I might have been just a TV presenter.”

Bill Sykes adds: “He always seemed to be one step ahead. After Eric’s, for example, he got hold of this warehouse in the city and wanted to set up a cultural hub, but it never came about because he couldn’t get the funding. It would have been many years ahead of its time.”

What Sykes has done is gather together all the right people, who havethen provided often very personal insights in Eagle’s life, his business dealings and his dreams.
Geoff Davies, former owner of Liverpool’s Probe Records stated “Roger brought so much music to Liverpool that we otherwise wouldn’t have had and such a variety of music. One night at Eric’s The Clash would be playing, the next night there might be a reggae band from Jamaica and on another a Cajun band from Louisiana.”

Through these recollections what comes across most strongly was that Roger Eagle was a man with an unbreakable desire to educate, to bring new unheard music to a wider audience – Bill Drummond (ex Big In Japan, KLF) said “Via Eric’s he turned a Liverpool generation on to a weird and wonderful world of strange records ”“ and the possibility of making even stranger ones.” We get anecdotes from Doreen Allen who worked with him at Eric’s and later owned the equally famous Planet X club, comments from a raft of Liverpool musicians.

Sadly, what also comes across within this story is Eagle’s utter inability to either recognise or understand business opportunities, the book covers periods when he was virtually homeless, forced to sell his precious record collection, despite this Eagle was constantly looking for further opportunities to start a scene in ever more odd locations ”“ and its here that Eagle and Wilson differed the most noticeably.

Comparing Roger with Wilson, Sykes writes “Wilson did seek the limelight but Roger preferred to be a little bit more in the background. I think they worked well together and helped each other ”“ Eric’s benefited from Tony telling people about it on TV and Tony’s So It Goes show benefitted by filming gigs at the club.”

Sykes explains that this was the motivation for the writing of this book “One of the reasons I wrote the book was to try to redress the balance. Having moved away from the North West, I saw the focus just seemed to be on Factory Records ”“ but Tony Wilson started The Factory club because of Roger’s direct influence.”

Sit Down! Listen To This! eloquently and warmly tells Eagles story and goes a long way to levelling the playing field; though whether Eagle would have approved is open to speculation, and even if it had been published prior to his death, Roger wouldn’t have bought a copy ”“ his money would have gone on an obscure Jamaican dub pre release.

This fascinating book will appeal to anyone with a passion for music, the person who would always buy the vinyl, the CD before the more mundane things in life, you don’t have to have attended any of Eagles ventures; just be willing to open your mind to new possibilities.

‘Sit Down! Listen To This! The Roger Eagle Story’ by Bill Sykes is published by Empire Publications.

For further reading about Eric’s and all the bands that appeared there get hold of Jaki Florek and Paul Whelan’s book ‘Liverpool Eric’s – All The Best Clubs Are Downstairs…everybody knows that’ (Feedback)

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Phil Newall is 47, from The Wirral - he earns his living not writing about music nor playing music...though sorely wishes he could. He was fortunate enough to see many of the first generation punk bands when they played the U18's matinee shows at Eric's, Liverpool. As an attendee at Eric's he was exposed to punk rock, dub reggae, art rock, and all manner of weirdness; as a customer at Probe Records he was variously served and scowled at by Pete Wylie and Pete Burns - he has written for Record Collector, Whisperin & Hollerin, and Spiral Scratch and wanted to write a book detailing the Liverpool punk scene; however with 'Head-On' Julian Cope beat him to it...and frankly did a much better job.

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