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In the first part of this four part series, our writers and photographers will be reflecting upon and providing memories of great venues, past and present. Nicky Crewe, Andrew Twambley and Adrian Janes remember 60's club The Magic Village and 70's venues, Eric's in Liverpool and the London Rainbow.
THE MAGIC VILLAGE, MANCHESTER
The Magic Village was a music venue in Manchester that existed from 1967 until 1970, a world away from the sunshine of Californian flower power. Roger Eagle had started the coffee bar and venue as a place for lovers of psychedelic and blues
music. He had made the Twisted Wheel the legend it still is and went on to create Eric's in Liverpool.
There was enough space for the band, a few hippy dancers, a light show and an audience sitting cross legged on a suspiciously damp floor. The juke box was legendary and introduced me to Captain Beefheart and Jefferson Airplane. The coffee bar was my refuge and haven during the day.
I saw a few bands there, Groundhogs, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Al Stewart and Third Ear Band come to mind, but I wasn’t there the night Bowie dropped by.
I fell down a kind of rabbit hole into this dark, dank Dickensian cellar at the age of fifteen and discovered a parallel universe. The cast of characters I met there became part of my life story. Underground club, underground culture, all now buried under the Arndale Centre.
There should be a blue plaque.
On 8 October 1976, I was in my room at The Liverpool Poly Halls of Residence listening to Genesis (post Gabriel) and sticking a poster above my desk entitled “Brian May: Guitar God”. There was a knock at my door and “The Pin” from the next room asked if I fancied going into town to see some American girl band, called the Runaways. The alternative was to hang around the halls talking about Elton John.
So we took a bus into town and The Pin showed me Eric's on Matthew St. but diverted into the famous Grapes next door for several (probably two) pints of Higsons. I recall walking down into Erics about 9 pm...and my life was never the same again. I don’t recall much about the music that night apart from it being loud, fast and exciting. I do recall hanging back afterward and the band just mingled with the crowd, though I was nowhere near cool enough to speak to them.
The next day I removed my Brian May poster and gave my Genesis album away. I was hooked on the experience and wanted more. I have no idea why I missed `The Pistols' the following week, but did see Racing Cars (crap) followed by almost every legendary band I can think of including The Stranglers, The Police, The Clash (three times), The Slits, Joy Division, Johnny Thunders, etc., etc.
Eric's was a small underground club with a capacity of a few hundred, though it was usually packed to the roof. Sweat ran down the walls; it smelt, and offensive material from the toilets would often run down three steps into the cloakroom and then into the main room. It was grotty but it was iconic and it was MY CLUB. I went there weekly for over three years. I can never forget experiences had.
It was truly legendary. Tell the kids of today about Erics, and they won’t believe you!
The local authority hated Eric's and eventually closed it down on some trumped up drug charges...but in my mind it lives forever...
THE RAINBOW, LONDON
The Rainbow, in Finsbury Park, London, staged three of the most significant concerts in my early years of gig-going. In some ways, March 31st, 1974, is the most special of all of them, as it was the first I ever attended. It featured Queen, at the time of their ‘Queen II’ album, supported by a hard rock group called Nutz (therefore the first band I ever saw live). Even after all these years, the image of Freddie Mercury striding about the stage, resplendent in some sort of flouncy, white number and posing with the mic, is indelible.
Nearly three years later, on March 18th, 1977, the many changes in music had left their mark on me. That night’s concert was headlined by T. Rex, and whereas I had once been an avid Marc Bolan fan, his loss of inspiration since about 1974 meant I had largely lost interest, and was mainly there for that night’s support, one of the hottest of the new punk bands: The Damned.
They were as dynamic as expected, but my overriding memory is of how great Bolan was, and how good it felt to hear those classic hits again. In retrospect, I feel especially lucky to have seen one of my key idols when growing up. For this proved to be his last date in London; that September he died in a car crash.
On May 9th, 1977, the Rainbow hosted what from this distance is now an extraordinary bill: The Prefects, Subway Sect, The Buzzcocks, The Jam and headliners The Clash, this being a date on their ‘White Riot’ tour. The first two bands were forgettable, the Buzzcocks, lively and fresh. Outraged by Paul Weller’s then-recent NME interview in which he said he’d vote Tory at the next election, and their swinging bank clerks’ apparel of suits and ties, I feigned sleep throughout The Jam’s set.
Anyway, I was really there for The Clash, and theirs remains one of the most exciting sets I’ve ever seen. Incredible energy animating Strummer, Jones and Simenon, amazing slogan-splattered clothes, shifting, colourful lights, against a giant backdrop that reproduced the image of police and rioters from the cover of the first album. At some point I became aware of seats being torn up elsewhere in the auditorium and being passed up towards the stage, yet I don’t recall any feeling of intimidation, even at this time when “punk violence” was a Fleet Street staple. No, the intense, key feeling which came off that stage was one of excitement and inspiration.
Today the Rainbow is the home of a church. Yet, in the sense of community and the transmission of strength and energy to carry on in the wider world, I can’t help but feel there isn’t such a gulf between what the worshippers go for today and what the music fans of yesterday received.