Live performance in Liverpool

Guitarist, singer and drummer performing on stage

Heroes on stage at Liverpool's Royal Court Theatre in 1975,
courtesy of Carey Pring

More than once in Liverpool's history, the only way to hear new sounds was through live performances. Most famously this was the case in the early years of Merseybeat, when scores of bands performed at venues all over Merseyside. In that instance the music industry woke up to the music's appeal, but in other cases it failed to understand fully the desires of young people to create new music scenes and sounds contra to the major music industry trends.

Lacking industry support, people who put on live events in this situation have always relied on news circulating by word-of-mouth. Venues have always been centrally important to this process. In the 1970s pubs such as the Sportsman (where Supercharge performed) and the Masonic Arms (the In Crowd, the Harlems, Odie Taylor) regularly supported new sounds with distinctively loyal followings. This word-of-mouth networking might be based on a common social denominator, such as racial or ethnic community (for example, the Black population of Liverpool). Alternatively it might group around a genre (for example, country music fans), or even around the fans of well-known performers associated with a particular venue (such as country performers Joey Rogers and Georgie Nield at the Melrose pub).

Sometimes the problem of getting new sounds to be heard resides with the promoters and the operators of large venues. In the case of the 'trad' jazz and folk music scenes in the 1950s and 1960s, it was left to smaller venues such as Alexandra Hall, Knotty Ash Village Hall, Picton Hall, the Liverpool Stadium, Blair Hall, etc, and various pubs across the city, to encourage people to hear these sounds. In this way, word-of-mouth became increasingly important. For example, country music fans in the Liverpool of the late-1950s were aware of the Black Cat club over Sampson and Barlow's Restaurant, London Road; in the 1960s folk music lovers were made aware of both the Calton Club and the Spinners Club at Gregson's Well, Low Hill - all, usually by word-of-mouth, helped by a small advert in the 'Liverpool Echo'.

By the early 1970s there were three linked venues in Liverpool that thrived on word-of-mouth advertising, and around each venue a scene existed in which interest in a particular new musical sound was a key element. The three were: the Moonstone pub in St John's Precinct, O'Connor's Tavern on Hardman Street and the Cavern in Mathew Street.

Built in the late 1960s the Moonstone soon attracted a subculture loosely based around the hippie movement. In the Liverpool of the time hippies were something of a minority, but the Moonstone, in catering for a more alternative crowd, gained a reputation within the hippie or 'trogg' (as it was called locally) subculture as a friendly venue. Not since the days of trad jazz had there been such strong divisions in pop music that ran along precise lines of dress, lifestyle and even social class.

Several local bands played at the Moonstone, but the major group for many of these 'troggs' were Restless. Invariably when Restless appeared, the venue was packed. Following the end of an evening's sessions, 'troggs' would often move onto the Cavern, the Stadium, or perhaps the Mardi Gras.

Perhaps the first 'rock pub' in Liverpool was O'Connor's Tavern, where from 1969 rock groups took over where the Liverpool Scene poetry and music collective had left off. Bands like Easystreet, the Electric Rhythm Boys, Marseille, Nutz, and (later) Nasty Pop and Deaf School appeared at the well-known Thursday night residency slots, along with guests ranging from local bands to visiting Londoners such as Pete Brown, Lol Coxhill and Graham Bond. One of Liverpool's genuine alternative groups emerged from the underground scene at O'Connor's: Medium Theatre.

'Heavy' bands and their followers were usually to be found at the Cavern. By the early 1970s the Cavern had become a split-level club - catering on the upper floor for a more soul-orientated fan and in the original basement venue for live rock. The fact that the Cavern was the only club putting these bands on in 1970 illustrates why the progressive scene never developed to a great extent in Liverpool. However, the local hippie grapevine soon noticed these promotions and the Cavern once again proved to be a magnet for an alternative scene. Several important progressive and/or heavy rock bands played at the Cavern around the 1970-1973 period including Wishbone Ash, Nazareth and Stray. But this subterranean scene was very different from that on the upper level, which was basically a soul music disco for Mods.

When promoter Billy Butler moved to the Mardi Gras club he and business partner Chris Wharton made another attempt at 'progressive' nights. Word soon spread that Butler and Wharton were attempting to appeal once again to this alternative crowd - and the fans duly followed the pair to the Mardi Gras, leaving the Cavern somewhat surplus to requirements. Butler and Wharton presented some of the top 'underground' bands of the early 1970s including Audience, Lindisfarne, Uriah Heep, Argent, Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator and Thin Lizzy.

When the Cavern closed in 1973 owner Roy Adams obtained the premises directly opposite - opening the New Cavern and the Revolution clubs. The New Cavern continued to attract a more 'alternative' audience and local bands such as three-piece Strife were regulars at the venue. It was at this site that the Eric's club evolved.