The only time I went to Eric’s Club in Liverpool was in early 1978, when I was press officer for Stiff Records. I travelled up there with Devo, who were red hot at the time and looking for a big-money deal on the heels of their short-term Stiff contract. Henry Priestman from local band The Yachts (another Stiff act) was disc jockey that night and credited every record he played to Paul Conroy, the label’s general manager, who had also made the journey. Everyone in the audience was too gone to notice.
At one point, Mark from Devo came up and asked me if I could throw any light upon a cheque which had been thrust upon him by a large, shaven-headed man purporting to be an important record company mogul. It was made out for a million pounds and bore the signature of the great Supercharge saxplayer and prankster Albie Donnelly, who probably had about ten bob in his bank account at the time. I told Mark that it might be wiser to accept Richard Branson’s offer.
I spent much of the evening talking to club owner Roger Eagle, who I’d known for years – great stories about rock ’n’ roll singer Larry Williams showing everybody his gun at The Twisted Wheel, hanky panky with tripped-out hippie bands at the Magic Village, and how Liverpool finally seemed to be coming alive again, buzzing and fizzing, following visits by the Ramones, the Pistols and the Clash. Roger had seemingly become mentor to a new generation of questers.
In the months that followed, he phoned several times, brimming with excitement about a surge of new bands that were incubating at Eric’s – but by the time I found an opportunity to go up there and investigate, the club had been closed down by over-zealous cops and Roger had gone back to Manchester.
Sensing that I might be able to link many of these new bands into one big family tree, I made three visits to Liverpool (always my favourite UK city), enlisting Bill Drummond as my guide. The former leader of seminal lunatic punksters Big In Japan, he was now running Zoo Records with Dave Balfe and guiding the careers of Echo & the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes. Thanks to Bill’s tentacular connections, I was able to interview every scene-shifter from Pete Wylie to Pete Burns, Ian Broudie to Budgie, Ian McCulloch to Andy McCluskey, dozens more – hardly any of them known outside Liverpool at the time. An animated Holly Johnson told me that he had, that very morning, decided to change the name of his band from Hollycaust to Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Between interviews, Bill gave me a guided tour of the city’s cafés and coffee bars, in each of which he was welcomed as a regular.
A few years later, he moved down to Aylesbury, not far from where I was living at the time – and again, he familiarised himself with all the local cafés . . . so much so that he devoted several pages of his fin de siècle book ‘45’ to discussing them and his coffee addiction. “I’m now at the point,” he wrote, ”where I can’t lift a pen without first feeling the caffeine shaking down my arms and banging in my head.”
It came as something of a shock, therefore, when I recently read in The Independent that he had given up coffee, which he now regarded as “poison”. Strangely, the date is forever inscribed on his memory, remembered in the same way as someone who has renounced the devil and accepted Christ into his life. “Not one sip of coffee has passed my lips since that last double espresso at an alfresco café in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, on 3 October 2002.”
Jeez – he obviously knows something I don’t.
It seems that Bill can’t shake his addiction to tea, however. In his most recent memoir, ‘17’ – one of the most fascinating rock books ever written – he reveals that he consumes several pots of tea every day. A cup of coffee contains 100-150 mg of caffeine and a cup of tea contains 50-60 mg – so that can’t be the poison.
According to my Textbook of Pharmacology, excessive chronic consumption of caffeine causes headaches, restlessness, anxiety, insomnia and confusion – but some drugs don’t seem to affect me in the same way as they affect others. I drink strong back coffee by the bucketful – always have. Can anybody enlighten me on the perils of this practice?
Editor’s note: Pete’s investigations, as described above, gave rise to two family trees . . . Liverpool 1980: Eric’s Progeny and The Liverpool Renaissance – a modified version, drawn up for the BBC Television series. He has also drawn several family trees detailing the first Merseybeat explosion of the early 1960s.