BRUTALITY, RELIGION AND A DANCE BEAT: A SHORT STORY BY BILL DRUMMOND

09/09/08

Image: Roger Eagle

October 1975, I was 22 and back in Liverpool, after a two year absence. Just started a new job, building stage sets at the Everyman Theatre on Hope Street.

I had a room at the top of a rundown house in Fairfield Street off Prescot Road. Shared the kitchen and bathroom with a Karl Terry. Karl Terry had a band called The Cruisers. They also lived in the house. Karl Terry and The Cruisers were also-rans in the Mersey Beat boom of the early sixties. Not only was Karl Terry fuelled with a bitterness that he was not John Lennon, but Karl Terry and The Cruisers were not even The Searchers, The Swinging Blue Jeans or Gerry and the Pacemakers. This meant they were not able to make a lucrative living on the Mersey Beat nostalgia package tours that had been going ever since the genre had outstayed its Hitsville welcome.

"He also regaled me late into the nights about what an arsehole John Lennon was and what a crap live band The Beatles were"

Karl Terry and his Cruisers eked out a living playing working-men's clubs across Merseyside. He also regaled me late into the nights about what an arsehole John Lennon was and what a crap live band The Beatles were.

At 22 I had long since lost any interest I may have had in contemporary pop. It was the arse end of progressive and glam held no interest for me. I was just too old for all that stuff. Each weekday morning I got the number 78 into work. I was still young enough for the top-deck front seat to be my one of choice.

One Monday morning I found a bundle of magazines on the seat next to me. The first thing I noticed about the magazine was the word FREE on the cover. Back then the world was not awash with giveaway papers, magazines and periodicals stuffed with meaningless adverts and column inches full of shit that nobody reads.

Back then for something to be free was a radical statement. Almost like burning the Stars and Stripes or smashing down the gates of the Bastille.

The only other words on the cover other than FREE were 'Trumpet', 'Last' and 'The'. If The Last Trumpet was the name of this magazine it was the best name for a magazine I had ever heard. It instantly resonated with something deep and lost. A clarion call from the edge of time.

Looking round first to make sure no fellow travellers thought I was nicking one of these free Last Trumpets, I picked up a copy. On opening it up I was disappointed to find that it was not packed with revolutionary rhetoric, there was no call to arms, it was just stuff about local bands, adverts for record shops and gig lists. Then I turned to the back cover. This was taken up by a black and white photo of a man who looked and dressed like he had just escaped from the high-security ward of a mental hospital. Whatever this man was or did he was my instant hero. The intense and demented stare, the crap haircut, the bad suit all screamed "I am Legend, worship only me." And I did. Under the picture was one word WILKO. What this word referred to I had no clear understanding.

On arriving at the Everyman Theatre that Monday morning, I showed one of the actors this Last Trumpet magazine and asked him if he knew who or what Wilko was. The actor was called William Nighy and he knew about such things.

"Where have you been, Bill? That's Wilko Johnson, the guitarist with Doctor Feelgood." "What, a British band?" "Yeah, from Canvey Island, Southend. They are playing at the Liverpool Stadium tonight. We're all going. You wanna come?"

I went, but by myself. I didn't like going out with other people. The Liverpool Stadium was a pre-war indoor boxing stadium. It was down some backstreets north of the old Exchange Station. Not a residential area: industrial mills, bonded warehouses and a severe lack of street lighting.

"The dress code seemed strict and decidedly downbeat: dark anoraks or tracksuit tops, straight leg jeans, trainers and short haircuts with lank fringes."

The queue to get in was five deep and at least a couple of hundred yards long. I joined the back. Things had obviously changed since I had last been to a rock concert some four years earlier. Gone were the loon pants and waft of patchouli oil. Gone was the pseudo West Coast peace and love vibe. Punch ups kept erupting in the queue as youths tried to push in or shove those in front. The dress code seemed strict and decidedly downbeat: dark anoraks or tracksuit tops, straight leg jeans, trainers and short haircuts with lank fringes. A large man with a bright red shirt and black trousers appeared on the steps that led up to the doors of the Stadium. He must have been six foot four and he must have been in at least his mid- thirties. He was a figure of natural authority. His mere appearance quelled whatever punch ups were erupting.

"Any more of that and none of you get in and I don't care if you've already got tickets." Silence fell and order was regained.

Inside the Stadium the atmosphere was equally oppressive. Drab paintwork, little house-lighting. The P.A. and band gear were set up on the boxing ring rise, the back half of the hall was partitioned off. There was a woman selling hot dogs and hamburgers from a kiosk. Everyone seemed to know she was called Doreen. "Go on, Doreen, more mustard than that." She represented the only ray of femininity in the whole place.

The walls were covered in faded and torn bills advertising past and future fights.

The house lights went down and the support band came on stage. They were fronted by an American in glasses who looked like a chunky Jewish Buddy Holly. His band played a loose, stuttering and jazz kind of boogie.

The crowd didn't like it, but instead of talking about the football or some bird they almost shagged, they en masse decided to let the Jewish Buddy Holly and his band know how they felt.

The band I learnt were called Roogalator and they were not for giving into the crowd's displeasure. They carried on with their lazy southern boogie shuffle thing. The crowd took to more radical measures to make their point known. They started to smash up the wooden tip-up seats and hurl them towards the stage. Most didn't reach that far, but hit the back of the heads of other disgruntled punters. This then caused fighting to erupt between those near the front and those further back. By now, nobody was taking any notice if Roogalator were still grooving on stage.

Then suddenly a great booming voice filled the Stadium. "Right, that's it. You can all go home. I've had enough of your pathetic behaviour. I bring to Liverpool the best working bands around for you and this is how you show your appreciation. Well, you can forget coming to the Stadium for any further shows because I'm going to cancel them all." The place fell silent. It was that big man with the red shirt and black trousers again. I asked the lad next to me "Who is that man?"

"You don't know? That man is Roger Eagle, the greatest man on Merseyside after Bill Shankley."

"You don't know? That man is Roger Eagle, the greatest man on Merseyside after Bill Shankley."

Roogalator played three further songs, not a sound from the audience, not a jeer or a clap. After the third, they left the stage to complete silence.

Fifteen minutes later, four ugly convicts sauntered onto the stage, picked up their sticks, Fender Precision, mike and Telecaster respectively, someone counted to four and the place erupted. What I witnessed over the next sixty minutes may have been the greatest rock'n'roll event ever on earth. Fuck all that Woodstock shit, this was the real thing. Wilko, the guitarist, was everything and more his picture on the back of The Last Trumpet had promised. He was the ultimate guitar hero for a decade that so far had only delivered bollocks like Steve Howe as a blueprint for young hopefuls to follow.

I was one of the last to leave the Stadium. 1 just wanted to stand there, stare at the smashed up seats, the ripped boxing bills and roadies clearing the stage and try to work out what was happening and why I had had to wait since 1969 for whatever it was to start happening.

I went back to my room in Fairfield Street thinking maybe I should start playing guitar again. Karl Terry and his band had just got in from doing a gig up in Bootle. They were chopping out lines of coke on the kitchen table. It was the first time I saw someone sniff cocaine. Suddenly that line about a ten bob note up your nose made sense. I'd led a sheltered life.

I tried to explain to Karl what I had witnessed at the Liverpool Stadium. He didn't want to know. He was too full of the fact that they might get the opening slot on the upcoming Billy J. Kramer Australian tour.

A thousand rock journalists have tried to define that thing the Feelgoods had for those barren months that led up to the punk onslaught of late '76. By the time the onslaught hit, Doctor Feelgood were irrelevant. Their job had been done. Rock'n'roll Lesson Number 7 - all success is on borrowed time. A year or so after seeing Doctor Feelgood at the Stadium, that man called Roger Eagle opened a club on Mathew Street opposite to where the Cavern had been. The club was called Eric's. 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. But all of that is another story better told by others.

Yesterday afternoon I learnt that Roger Eagle had died of cancer. Plenty of people die but Roger never seemed like he was going to be one of them. No, Roger don't die, he wouldn't allow it. Whatever else may go by the wayside Roger Eagle carries on. There is always another club for him to open, concert to promote, record to buy. My mind filled with a memory. The memory was of me sitting on a chair in a flat off Lark Lane in Liverpool and pacing around the room was a large man in a red shirt and black trousers. The man exhaled clouds of smoke before taking another toke from the giant spliff in his hand. Behind the man was a wall of shelves stuffed with albums and reggae 12" 45s. It was August 1977. The man was Roger Eagle and he was the manager of the band I was in, Big In Japan.

"'All great pop music, from John Lee Hooker to the Bay City Rollers, from Captain Beefheart to Augustus Pablo, from the Buzzcocks to Johnny Kidd And The Pirates has it. 'Brutality, Religion And A Dance Beat'"

"But, Roger, why have you called our record 'Brutality, Religion And A Dance Beat'? That's got nothing to do with us." "Bill, if it hasn't it should have; without those three ingredients pop music is nothing. All great pop music, from John Lee Hooker to the Bay City Rollers, from Captain Beefheart to Augustus Pablo, from the Buzzcocks to Johnny Kidd And The Pirates has it. 'Brutality, Religion And A Dance Beat', it's rock'n'roll; rule number one, and don't forget it.

"But the cover looks shit, Roger."

"Fuck off, Bill, I got work to do. Shouldn't you go and rehearse or something?"

For some, there was rather a quaint notion that the size of a man's record collection was somehow symbolic of his size in other departments. Whether this was ever openly articulated at the time I'm not sure.

Roger Eagle had the biggest record collection I had ever seen.

I'm sitting in my workroom at home. I've just looked up at the clock - 18 minutes past two. The funeral service started at two. They will all be there, the Normans, the Bernies, the Steve Hardstaffs, maybe not the ones that got to the cover of the NME, but the ones that counted. The ones that understood. The ones that had to put up with the pig ignorance, the arrogance and even the bullying of Roger. And, of course, Doreen, she'll be there.

Roger Eagle was never bothered about being a record producer or going to London and making it big as a wheeler dealer in the music business. Roger was a record collector first and foremost. What he was driven to do above all was play people records they had never heard before. "Listen to this Bill, Bo Diddley meets Beefheart at the Black Ark produced by Lee 'Scratch' Perry, the greatest record ever made" - and it probably would have been if it ever had.

In many senses that record collection was the man, or at least in my head stands as a perfect symbol of the man.

An idea presents itself. Roger's record collection should not be sold off piecemeal by his executors to pay off funeral bills and whatever debts he may have left behind. I should use some of the cash that came my way and never would have if he had not existed and put an offer in for the collection.

A towering cabinet could be made from iron or oak or concrete or granite, whatever feels right to encase the collection.

It could stand like the monolith at the beginning of Kubrick's 2001, shelf upon shelf of worn grooves and dog-eared sleeves, a monument to the man. A monument in a public space that we can walk around and admire its size, its girth. Those records' playing days would be over. No needle should ever touch their grooves again. Without Roger there to play them to you, they would lose their meaning. You may as well just get the CD box set down your local HMV or Virgin. Tonight I will make some phone calls, see what can be done. Of course I could be wrong. Maybe my idea is just me jerking off - "Look at me, Bill Drummond, didn't I do well for myself" - as I wave my diminishing wad at the thinning crowd.

Bill Drummond, May 1999