Big In Liverpool: The Legacy And Heritage of Eric’s Club


Having detailed the connections that made the Manchester music scene so vibrant, I’m taking a 30 mile drive:

Along the M62 to Liverpool.

Manchester was a web of interconnections tracing a linear story down the decades. Whereas this is a complex tangle of interconnections in a brief moment in time.

The focal point for this moment was Eric’s Club.

It didn’t last long; open from 1976 to 1980.

But in that time it hosted a who’s who of punk and new wave acts and provided a stage for local talent. Talent that didn’t find success in their own right initially but left their mark in later guises.

Eric’s had parallels with The Cavern, being an underground cellar bar located on the opposite side of Matthew Street from the famed early home of the Fab Four.

It even held matinee shows for under 18s so that kids could get to see the likes of The Clash and The Specials. There’s a story of Iggy Pop playing an afternoon show on his birthday in 1979 and being taken aback as the kids burst into a spontaneous rendition of Happy Birthday.

Despite a reputation as a wild man of rock even Iggy was charmed by the youthful exuberance.

One of the local bands to appear at Eric’s was the punk / post-punk, Big In Japan.

Who won’t be familiar to most, given that they weren’t big anywhere.

They were active for around 18 months from 1977 to ’79 with a total recorded output of seven songs and no commercial success. They got through more members than recording sessions.
Photo Credit : Kevin Cummins

Through many personnel changes the most notable line up comprised; Jayne Casey (vocals), Bill Drummond (guitar and vocals), Holly Johnson (bass), Ian Broudie (guitar) and Budgie (drums). 

Learned fans of British music may recognise the names as they went onto the following post-Big In Japan highlights;

Bill Drummond:

Formed Zoo Records, along with Dave Balfe.

In order to release Big In Japan’s From Y To Z And Never Again E.P. Zoo also released early Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes singles with Bill continuing as E&TB manager.

His eccentric style, that would be fleshed out in the myth making of The KLF, saw the already famous Bunnymen playing tiny venues far off the beaten track in the Outer Hebrides off the North-West coast of Scotland.

Drummond made a joke that the tour was following an intergalactic leyline that runs through Iceland, the Outer Hebrides, Matthew Street in Liverpool and onto London. Which became reported as fact.

Then he devised; ‘A Days Worth of Happenings’ to accompany the release of the Ocean Rain album.

1,500 fans were given a map of locations directing them to breakfast at the bands favourite diner, a visit to their hairdressers, a trip on the Mersey ferry with participants given a free banana which resulted in a food fight and a bike ride round the city centre with the route marking the shape of rabbit ears.

He returned to making music in the late 80s as one half of The KLF

and their various alter egos (The Timelords, Justified Ancients of Mu Mu and The JAMS). Scoring two #1 singles and a further five top 10 hits between 1988 and 1991.

Holly Johnson:

Holly moved from bass to Frankie Goes To Hollywood frontman. They had a stratospheric career trajectory with controversy laden Relax becoming the 6th biggest selling single ever in the UK and follow up Two Tribes not far behind. There were seven top 40 hits in their initial incarnation, including three #1s.  Such is their legacy that re-releases of those hits gave them another six top 40 entries. After FGTH broke up Holly added three solo top 20 singles.

Ian Broudie:

Ian made his name initially as a producer: Working with E&TB, The Fall, Wall Of Voodoo, The Coral, The Zutons and The Subways. He kept making music in the bands Care and Original Mirrors before finally finding success in the 90s as The Lightning Seeds. Initially he played everything himself before they became a proper band with Ian as frontman. There were 16 top 40 singles with England football anthem; Three Lions topping the chart on three occassions.

Budgie (real name Peter Clarke):

Joined punk legends The Slits before moving onto Siouxsie And The Banshees in 1979. He stayed with them til 1996 appearing on 15 top 40 singles with them and another two as part of Siouxsie offshoot The Creatures. Plus, he married Siouxsie.

Jayne Casey:

Followed up her time in Big In Japan with the bands Pink Military, then Pink Industry. While they didn’t trouble the charts she had a huge impact on the cultural landscape of Liverpool with her post recording career. Running an independent venue, co-founding superclub Cream, and taking leading roles in a number of ventures promoting the arts and culture in the city.

Then, there was one of the founding Big In Japan members;

Clive Langer:

Rather than going onto make hits, he produced them with partner Alan Winstanley. They’re most closely associated with Madness, producing the majority of their output. An extensive clientele also includes The Teardrop Explodes, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Elvis Costello, Hothouse Flowers, They Might Be Giants, Morrissey, Bush and A-ha. While the final Big In Japan line-up contained:

Dave Balfe:

Having founded Zoo with Drummond, he took responsibility for their other main act; The Teardrop Explodes. First as manager and producer before becoming an actual band member and featuring on their three top 40 hits.

Tensions with the clashing egos of frontman Julian Cope and Balfe tore them apart.

Not helped by Cope’s excessive intake of psychedelics. Though Cope left it to drummer Gary Dwyer to chase Balfe across the countryside while wielding a shotgun.

Escaping the madness, he reverted to being the man in charge, managing Strawberry Switchblade and Brilliant. Brilliant didn’t live up to their name, but they did contain Jimmy Cauty, who would become the other half of The KLF. Future partner Drummond was the A&R man that signed Brilliant.

Everything is connected.

In 1984 Balfe founded a new label: Food. Their biggest acts would be Blur and Jesus Jones.

Blur’s #1, “Country House,” is about Balfe, who by that point had had enough of the music industry and sold up, becoming as the lyrics have it; “a professional cynic but my hearts not in it, and, “now ‘lives in a house, a very big house in the country.”

Moving onto another legendary band borne out of the Eric’s scene: The Crucial Three:

This was a short lived venture, existing for six weeks across May / June 1977 and never playing live.

Ah, yes, Mathew Street, Liverpool! Home of a certain cellar club that provided a springboard for all kinds of music. But if you're thinking about mop-tops and cavernous venues... Contributing Author <a href=""><b><u> JJ Live At Leeds</u> </B> </a>has a bit of a surprise in store for you

The Crucial Three members were Julian Cope, Ian McCulloch and Pete Wylie.

They did write some songs, one of which would appear on The Teardrop Explodes first album as Books and on the US release of Echo & The Bunnymen’s debut as Read It In Books.

The Crucial Three gave way to The Nova Mob. With Cope and Wylie joined by a pre-Big In Japan Budgie.

They managed to play one show before splitting. Cope then reunited with McCulloch for another one gig wonder as Uh?

Their next stop was A Shallow Madness with Paul Simpson as the third member. Simpson’s previous band; Industrial Domestic, featured Will Sergeant, later to become a Bunnyman with McCulloch.

Simpson would later form Wild Swans who featured Ged Quinn, also a short term member of The Teardrop Explodes.

He later formed Care with the pre-Lightning Seeds Ian Broudie.

By late ’77 Cope and Wylie were, for one show only, The Mystery Girls, accompanied now by Pete Burns.

Burns went onto international success with Dead Or Alive in the mid 80s.

He was already a well known figure in Liverpool working at Probe Records. A record store with a reputation for elitism – with Burns as its most fearsome arbiter of taste. Quotes attributed to him being:

  • We don’t sell that shit in here!’ to someone with the temerity to ask for 2112 by Rush
  • And, ‘I’m not lettin’ yer waste yer money on that shite!’ to another customer asking for something that didn’t meet his exacting standards.
  • Or just responding with silence if he felt the request was really beneath him.

His acerbic attitude was enhanced by his appearance, even in the punk scene he stood out as an individual. Make up, black contact lenses, dreadlocks, high heels all part of his look.

Pete’s colleagues at Probe included the aforementioned Pete Wylie and Gary Dwyer, plus Paul Rutherford.

Rutherford would join Holly Johnson in FGTH. Rewinding to back before Big In Japan formed, he and Wylie were members of Opium Eaters along with Ian Broudie. And before that was in The Spitfire Boys with Budgie. Apparently the first punk band in Liverpool to release a single.

I hope you’re keeping up. I’d draw a diagram but Venn has left the building a quivering wreck.

Back to The Crucial Three. Their post break up achievements:

Julian Cope:

Three top 40 hits with The Teardrop Explodes and seven as a solo artist. Which doesn’t do justice to his idiosyncratic career which went from the drug addled early solo album Fried, the cover featuring a naked Cope underneath a turtle shell.

Through mainstream success with World Shut Your Mouth. To leaving the mainstream behind with heavy metal side project Brain Donor and cosmic rock exploring what it’s like to be an outsider in modern Western culture.

Then there is his writing and publishing:

Krautrocksampler and Japanrocksampler detailing German and Japanese rock music. He also expanded into history with The Modern Antiquarian and The Megalithic European, travelogues of ancient pre-historic monuments and stone circles across Britain and Europe.

His extra curricular activities saw him attend the 1990 Poll Tax Riots in London’s Trafalgar Square that would help bring down Margaret Thatcher. Julian’s attendance was particularly noticeable as he appeared as his alter ego, a 7ft alien going by the name Sqwubbsy.

Ian McCulloch:

As frontman of Echo And The Bunnymen had three top 10 and 11 more top 40 hits. Figures which don’t do justice to his opinion that they were the greatest band in the world, they were just too cool to put the effort in.

He was always good for a quote, offering particular disdain for Bono. In 2011 he offered his opinion of ‘Nobbo’ as he referred to him, to the Irish Independent newspaper: 

“I’ve always thought he was a c***. A real proper one. Had he been in Liverpool, he would have been laughed out of the place. U2 have never been liked in Liverpool. We know a fake when we see one.”

Pete Wylie:

Pete found success as The Mighty Wah! Or as they were also known; Wah! Heat / Wah! / Shambeko! Say Wah! / Pete Wylie and Wah! The Mongrel / Pete Wylie / Pete Wylie and The Oedipus Wrecks

Whatever name they were released under, he had five top 40 hits with the towering “The Story Of The Blues” (a #3 hit) being the highlight.

Then there’s Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark. Teir story is fairly straightforward in comparison.

Apart from the fact Andy McCluskey was previously a member of Dalek, I Love You with Dave Balfe and Andy Gill. Gill would also join The Teardrop Explodes.

OMD were the first to break into the national conciousness.

Having made their live debut at Eric’s in 1978 they were in the top 10 by 1980 – with two more ex- Dalek, I Love You members on board in Malcolm Cooper and Dave Hughes.

As already said, everything is connected. There’s never more than a couple of degrees of separation between everyone.

The number of bands they got through in a short space of time is incredible. But that intensive, highly localised scene created a fertile proving ground with so many going onto local, national and international success over the next couple of decades.

Even if a certain band from the 60s overshadows them all?

There’s a lot more to Liverpool than the obvious.

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JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

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Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
March 25, 2024 9:03 am

Another fantastic unearthing of local riches, JJ. Great job.

I’m curious about what Big in Japan sounded like. I don’t see them on Spotify.

I am listening to the KLF’s early work for the first time ever. When I was going into raves, we only knew the duo as the pranksters who set a million pounds on fire and released an ambient farm album no one actually listens to.

Early stuff is very different from Chill Out. Much more R&B influence than I would have guessed. It’s not exactly my thing, but I like the production nevertheless.

Also, I notice that there’s an artist called Nightmares In Wax listed on that old Eric’s poster. I’m guessing they’re different from the Nightmares On Wax that was signed to Warp Records?

Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
March 25, 2024 10:23 am

Those two songs are pretty great.

Famed Member
Online Now
March 25, 2024 11:44 am

Yeah, a Venn diagram isn’t the right chart for the job. We need a flowchart.

Excellent job, JJ. I remember hearing the name Big In Japan but I don’t think I’ve ever heard them.

Famed Member
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March 25, 2024 2:30 pm

I had no idea that all of this happened in Liverpool. I am familiar with a good many, though not all, of these bands, but had not idea of their interconnectedness and common roots.

Famed Member
March 26, 2024 12:31 pm

I only know a fraction of these bands, but the interconnectedness of it all is fascinating. And you could definitely hold your own as a podcast guest on one of those shows that covers this era and scene. Or even host your own.

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March 28, 2024 1:04 am

I’m an Elvis Costello obsessive. To me, there is no such thing as a bad EC album. Goodbye Cruel World gets a bad rap, even by the artist himself in the liner notes of the first or second reissue. Costello declared it his “worst album”. Sure, it’s overproduced; it’s the eighties. I stan for “Home Truth”, “Peace in Our Time”, and “I Wanna Be Loved”. I think the buried treasure is “Worthless Thing”. If he stripped back the excess and accompanied himself on guitar, I think a great song will materialize after hiding in plain sight for the past thirty years. Costello makes fun of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley in the liner notes for Punch the Clock. Something about everybody fleeing the dance floor. So why would he use them again? My favorite deep tracks are “The Greatest Thing” and “Love Went Mad”.

Langer/Wistanley produced some of my favorite records. Too-Rye-Aye, of course. Also, my favorite Madness album, Keep Moving. Not enough love for “Brand New Beat” and “Victoria Gardens”.

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