THEY'RE selling Eric’s T-shirts on ebay these days. They are, of course, fakes. I don’t think such a thing actually existed at the time. There wasn’t enough interest.
When Eric’s was happening, very few people in Liverpool knew or cared about the city’s music. They hated Eric’s, if they knew about it at all; they’d forgotten Merseybeat. Even the site of the Cavern was the car park over the road from Eric’s that I used to run across to get the last bus. The Beatles industry didn’t get started until after John Lennon died (and then it was used to evict the new musicians from Mathew Street).
I’ve lost count of the number of plays and films about the Beatles I’ve seen in Liverpool. Then there was the Gerry Marsden musical at the Playhouse. And the one about Billy Fury. Even in Capital of Culture year, when you might have expected some forward thinking, we had musicals set in the 1930s (Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi) and the 1970s (Eric's).
Facebook is abuzz with
people wanting to turn
back the clock. But we
can’t. And we shouldn’t
It’s only a matter of time before we get ‘Cream - the Musical’. Someone’s probably writing it now.
And it doesn’t stop. This year, we’ve already had a book about Eric’s and now come not one but two photographic exhibitions. About to open is Kevin Cummins’ ‘The Crucial 3-0’ - named after a band that never existed - at the Hard Day’s Night - named after... well, you get the point. (The blurb promises "the changing faces of Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch".)
And, of course, there’s Francesco Mellina’s ‘Sound and Vision’ show at, bizarrely, the National Conservation Centre (‘the changing face of Pete Burns’, anyone?).
Facebook is abuzz with people wanting to turn back the clock. But we can’t. And we shouldn’t.
The explicit theme of all this nostalgia is “wasn’t the Cavern great?” or “wasn’t Eric’s great?” The subtext is "we were there - aren’t we great?"
Memory lane is culture as comfort food: familiar, reassuring, and something you don’t have to think about. And it’s the default setting for Liverpool. Are we selling a lie to the tourists (we all know the Cavern is a copy, but no-one lets on)? Or are we telling a lie to ourselves?
The more people try to resurrect the past, the less true it becomes. We’ve already allowed history to turn the Beatles into four cardboard cut-outs. Now everyone thinks they know about Eric’s, too.
When the musical came out, we had a Radio 2 documentary with the usual suspects retelling the story with themselves at the centre (only Wylie’s reminiscences about his campaign against Big in Japan rang true); Then there was the Daily Post writing about "the venue’s 1980s heyday" (it closed in 1980). All these stories are as fake as those born-too-late mail-order Eric’s T-shirts (that co-owner Ken Testi is now trying to stop, ed).
"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend". That’s the lazy way out. Actually, the fact is always more interesting, and more complicated, than the join-the-dots history that becomes the official version.
It’s easy to celebrate something after the event, smoothing over those awkward questions about sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, politics and authenticity that make real culture so hard to take at the time.
What people forget about Eric’s is that the glory days were short-lived. That intensity of freedom and discovery and inspiration could never last. By the time punk became mainstream, Eric’s had stopped being a club and become just a venue.
The part-time punks turned up in coachloads, stopping just long enough to check the pictures in the Daily Mail for how to get a safety pin into their cheek. The best-kept secret wasn’t secret any more.
Eric’s had to burn out, or change. I’m glad it burned out. I cried buckets at the time, but it was the right thing to happen. By the time the club closed down, the ’70s were over, Thatcher was on the throne, and times were changing. Punk was dead, strangled by its more palatable parasites ‘new wave’ and ‘power pop’. A phoney mod revival was even bringing scallies into Eric’s. You never hear that mentioned.
All is not lost, however. If you catch the the long-running exhibition The Beat Goes On, at Liverpool World Museum, you will sense an intention that is less about nostalgia and more about continuity. The material on Eric’s gives you a genuine flavour of what the club was really like: you can even remind yourself how crap Big in Japan actually were.
You could also hear another owner, Pete Fulwell, talk about how he, Roger Eagle and Testi used to joke that these were ‘the good old days’ - because they knew how important Eric’s would become in the future. Unfortunately, they were right.
The bit of the Eric’s play that I took away with me last year is the bit that said punk was about looking forward, not looking back. It’s something that Liverpool needs to learn.
In the words of Johnny Thunders (as sung by Pete Wylie): ‘You can’t put your arms around a memory... don’t try.’
Penny Kiley is a former music journalist from Liverpool who now has a normal job somewhere else.