Roger Eagle was one of the three creators of Eric’s Club in Liverpool. Bill Sykes’ biography is a testament to the profound effect that Roger had on all who knew him. This review appeared in The Word, July 2012.
SIT DOWN! LISTEN TO THIS! THE ROGER EAGLE STORY
By Bill Sykes (EMPIRE)
In a pamphlet he wrote a few years ago, Bill Drummond of the KLF described his late friend Roger Eagle. Promoting a Dr Feelgood gig in Liverpool, Eagle was putting the evil eye on troublemakers in the queue: “A large man with bright red shirt and black trousers… He must have been six foot four and in his mid-thirties. He was a figure of natural authority. His mere appearance quelled whatever punch-ups were erupting.”
Drummond asked someone who this man was: “You don’t know? That man is Roger Eagle, the greatest man on Merseyside after Bill Shankly.”
The pamphlet, incidentally, was called Brutality, Religion And A Dance Beat – the three qualities Eagle believed you would find in all the greatest pop music. Drummond suggests that the archetypal Roger Eagle record would be Bo Diddley Meets Beefheart At The Black Ark, produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry. Such a record doesn’t exist, of course, but Roger Eagle’s entire life was a sort of mythic quest to find some equivalent Holy Grail.
As a club DJ, promoter and all-round musical evangelist, the tall man with a guardsman’s moustache was literally a life-changing force in many people’s lives. When I first knew him he was running Eric’s, the Liverpool club that would spawn pop stars from Simply Red to Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Just as profound was the effect he had on hundreds of ordinary punters, whose tastes dramatically expanded under his tutelage. But I was only dimly aware, at that point, that Roger was already the veteran of another musical revolution.
That was Northern Soul, the dancefloor phenomenon he had pioneered in his early DJ days at Manchester clubs like the Twisted Wheel. If we lay aside the Scouse-Manc rivalry we can acknowledge the North-west of England as one of the world’s musical hot-spots. A staggering proportion of its achievements can be traced back this one man, whose name remains pretty well unknown. Sit Down! Listen To This! – the title itself captures Roger Eagle’s crusading zeal whenever he had a prized piece of vinyl and a willing victim – is the first book to place him centre-stage. It’s not a vividly-written book, but it gets the job done via straight, transcribed interviews with those who knew him best.
Roger was a rather posh Oxford boy who drifted North and found the grittier atmosphere suited him. He put on gigs by his beloved blues and soul stars wherever he could, and bullied local kids into forming their own bands. Mick Hucknall was probably his most successful pupil, but there were far stranger instances like Drummond’s own Big In Japan. Eagle lived a semi-vagrant life with only his records for company: he never made money, nor found a long-term lover. He could disappear sometimes, when the debt-collectors got too near. When he died in 1999, popular music lost a champion it never knew it had.