by Michael Patrick O'Leary
Roger Eagle at 355 snapped by Steve Hopkins with laundry in background
The 355 Wilbraham Road Nexus
On the morning of 24 October 1971, I heard a peremptory rapping on the door of my attic room at 355 Wilbraham Road, Whalley Range. I tentatively opened the door and a huge, gruff, grizzly bear of a man thrust a vinyl album at me. “I believe it’s your birthday. Take this”. With that, he retreated to his own room in the basement. The album was Seatrain. The six-foot-four grizzly bear with eyebrows meeting over his nose was Roger Eagle.
I met Roger briefly in the 60s and re-met him in the early 70s through my Wilbraham Road connections. My friend Paul Burke (an alumni of Xaverian College) introduced me to Annie O’Malley at a gig at Manchester Polytechnic. Annie introduced me to her Loreto Convent classmate Cathy Hopkins. I got to know Cathy’s brother Steve who was being left in charge of the house at Wilbraham Road while his parents emigrated to what was then still Southern Rhodesia.
Rockettes Annie, Cathy and Lois
Frank Rodriguez and me at 355. Note the greasy hair and Manchester City away strip.
Steve Hopkins was a friend at Xaverian of Martin Hannett who went on to be a legendary record producer (Joy Division, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Durutti Column, Buzzcocks, New Order, Nico). Steve is now teaching physics at Durham University. In those days, as well as being my landlord, he played keyboards for The Invisible girls, John Cooper Clarke’s backing group. He also recorded with Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico during her sojourn in Manchester (I am told I was once at the same party as her above a Co-op near Manchester City’s football ground. I do remember being there, but I cannot claim to have seen her). Martin Hannett was a regular visitor at 355 as were the band Greasy Bear (who were sort of managed by Roger) which morphed into Alberto y Lost Trio Paranoias. Annie O’Malley, Cathy Hopkins and Lois Hilton sang in a group called the Rockettes.
Rockettes Cathy Hopkins and Lois Hilton
Roger had a habit of press-ganging fellow-residents to help him out with his musical promotions. Many was the rainy night (usually a Sunday, when I was dreading going to work in the morning) when I would be dragged out of my room and driven off to some god-forsaken spot like Preston looking for venues for his ventures. Sometimes Roger would hire a car and Paul Burke did the driving, as Roger at that time had not learned to drive. Sometimes a van would appear and we would all pile in. Paul Burke has memories of these kidnappings.“Roger , Padraig and myself went off to some club/dancehall in Burnley I think and I felt like we were in ‘duelling banjos’ country, a long, boring drive there and back. To this day I have no idea what was in Roger’s mind about these visits.” I have hallucinatory memories of being in the dark in a depressing town I did not recognise with Jo Jo Gunne playing on the radio.
Me and Cathy and Liz Regan at Paul’s wedding. Yes Cathy was tall but I was standing on a lower step
Paul also brings back to my mind some of the warp and woof of daily life at 355. “I fondly remember being summoned by him late at night to play several smoke-filled hours of Scrabble, which usually ended at around 3-4 am. We had some great games.” I remember those as quite terrifying because Roger was determined to win every game.
With Helen East and Rockettes Annie and Cathy 1992
Who Was Roger Eagle?
Roger Eagle was a man who could count among his friends Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart, Captain Beefheart and Mick Hucknall. Despite this, he lived in penury for most of his life and died too young at the age of 56. He was once employed for a pittance by Bill Drummond, manager of The Teardrop Explodes and hit-maker with the Justified Ancients of MuMu and KLF. Drummond once burned a million pounds as a publicity stunt.
Roger’s life was one of poorly managed finances, escapes, squalid living conditions. His enthusiasm rarely dimmed and everywhere he went some kind of music scene happened. His zeal and knowledge probably could not have been made financially exploitable because he would not allow himself to be trapped in an office as a high-power executive.
Why Did Roger Eagle Matter?
Why should Roger have been more financially secure? How did he know such rock luminaries?
As a DJ and promoter he was immensely influential in the development of in Britain of urban blues, R&B, Northern Soul, British Rock, Reggae, Punk, Indie and New Wave.
Memorabilia at Roger’s funeral
Roger’s unique career in music began when he was the DJ from 1963 at the Twisted Wheel, a disco in Brazennose Street, at the centre of the Manchester Mod Scene. In a 1985 interview with Mod fanzine The Cat, Roger recalled: “I walked in there one afternoon, when it was the Left Wing Coffee Bar, with a pile of Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley imports on Chess and Checker and this guy asked me if I knew anything about Rhythm’n’Blues.”
As well as DJ-ing Roger presented live acts such as Chuck Berry, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker.“When Sonny Boy Williamson came over, he freaked over English girls wearing miniskirts. He was wandering around looking up all the girls saying ‘Heaven Hath Come Down’.” There are wonderful stories about what Sonny Boy got up to at Roger’s apartment at 504 Wilbraham Road.
At Roger’s flat at 504 Wilbraham Road – Sonny Boy Williamson with a lady whose friendship he purchased in Liverpool for GBP40 per day. Apparently, among her many talents, she was a good cook.
In an interview Roger recalled: “The Stones came down to the club and they were standing in the coffee bar having a cup of coffee. The kids were standing round them – just looking at them. Not talking to them – just looking. And I played all of the original tracks off their first album, which had just come out….’I’m A King Bee’ by Slim Harpo, ‘Walkin’ The Dog’ by Rufus Thomas, Arthur Alexander… They knew exactly what I was doing… I played them in exactly the same order as the LP. ”
Muddy Waters plays a hand
Roger with Sugar Pie de Santo and Howlin’ Wolf
Roger said: “I actually got on OK with The Stones. Brian Jones bought a copy of R&B Scene [Roger’s own magazine from the early/mid-60’s] from me when I was in London. Mick Jagger once bummed a cig off me. That sums up The Stones for me.”
Roger left the Twisted Wheel in mid-1967 (still only aged 25) partly because the demands of Northern Soul fans became too restrictive and boring. There was also the problem of remuneration. “I made them a fortune and they treated me like shit”, he said of the Abadi brothers, owners of the Twisted Wheel.
Roger Eagle’s first love was the black music of the 50s but his enthusiasms moved with the times. The venue at which he promoted “progressive” music in the late 60s was the Magic Village in Cromford Court.
“Progressive Music” has had its reputational ups and downs. I went through a phase of thinking it clever and important. Punk was supposed to have destroyed its pretensions but John Lydon is a fan of Peter Hammill (who lived in the Tower Block at Owens Park at the same time as me) and Van der Graaf Generator (I went to one of their recording sessions in 1970). I recall being impressed by the Dutch band Focus. I went to a gig of theirs at Manchester Polytechnic on November 1 1972 with Martin Hannett. I was deeply embarrassed when Martin kept shouting “Boogie!” at the band.
When I was at the Village, the ambiance was less than magical. It had some of the atmosphere of a squat – many people had occupied benches and ledges with sleeping bags and were fast asleep! On June 8 1968, I saw John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers featuring future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor and jazz trumpeter Henry Lowther, who played violin and cornet. Dick Heckstall-Smith on sax (Frank Rodriguez later taught him economics). Jon Hiseman (later with Coliseum) was on drums. This was around the time of the Bare Wires album.
Jethro Tull played the Village before issuing any records. I think it must have been the same night I saw them at Manchester University Union. Marc Bolan also played the Village, as did Roy Harper, Pink Floyd, Incredible String Band, Joe Cocker and the Grease Band. John Constantine reminisces :”I recall hanging David Bowie’s coat up one Friday night and charging him six pence!”
Sometimes a larger venue was required – the Houldsworth Hall next to Kendall’s on Deansgate. I saw Country Joe and the Fish there – although Barry Melton was still on lead guitar I recall being told that most of the band were remnants of Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Company. The band, minus Joe McDonald, came into the burger bar on Deansgate where I and my friend Roger Amos were eating. Roger Amos recalls:” They were very non-rock & roll, Southern polite – ‘Yes sir, nice to know you enjoyed the show…’ I learned later from someone I knew vaguely, who was a minor support act that night, that the guitarist had to virtually beat up the band to get them out on stage after shooting up – or so he claimed.”
There will be no plaque commemorating the Magic Village. The site was destroyed when the Provisional IRA blew up the Manchester Arndale Centre.
The Seatrain album Roger gave me for my 25th birthday was a promotional demo given to him by the record company because he had organised a concert for them at Liverpool Stadium. I had been press-ganged into helping out at the concert. I can’t remember what duties I performed but I do remember getting there quite early and trudging around Liverpool in the cold and rain. I can still feel the special Liverpool rain making its way up my flared denims by osmosis.
Paul Burke did more than me on the Liverpool stadium thing: “My job was that of driver/chauffeur and general factotum. At the gigs, this involved anything from getting a bottle of Remy Martin brandy for Marc Bolan, taking the band ‘Yes’ to the pub and buying them countless rounds of beer. Also getting whiskey for Canned Heat and pulling the plugs on Maggie Bell and ‘Stone The Crows’ when they would not come off stage, were also some of my not too onerous duties. There were long periods of acute boredom punctuated by the odd moment of terror- Maggie Bell was a fearsome sight when angry.”
Annie O’Malley was also press-ganged. She remembers Keef Hartley pinching her bottom.
I cannot remember how I got to Liverpool Stadium, what I did there or how I got home. I remember listening to Seatrain rehearsing all afternoon in a very professional manner and recall that they did a storming performance in the evening. For me they out-classed the headline band, Traffic. I am a great fan of Traffic and greatly respect Steve Winwood but that evening Traffic were somewhat shambolic. I was positioned fairly close to the stage and sometimes backstage. I could clearly see the exasperation on Winwood’s face as Chris Wood floundered about petulantly complaining about the equipment and fluffing his notes. Another clear memory is Rebop taking a lustful interest in Steve Hopkins’s girl friend, Lois.
Chris Lee went on from Greasy Bear and the Albertos to be a playwright. His musical Sleak, ran for several months in London’s Royal Court Theatre and the Roundhouse and also had a run in New York. Today he is Dr CP Lee of the Film Studies Department at Salford University. He reminisces on the Stadium website:
“Cold and ugly, with very primitive seating, with a boxing ring in the middle…There was still a smell of the boxing ring about the Stadium, liniment and embrocation – the dressing room used to reek of it”.
That site also includes memories of Sutherland Brothers and Quiver member Gavin Sutherland (they wrote the Rod Stewart hit Sailing). He recalls falling through a hole as he left the stage and descending rapidly down the layers of scaffolding on which the stage was built. When Can played rain was coming through the roof.
Keith of the Heavy Metal Kids recalls a heavy glass plate falling from the ceiling and striking Ronnie Thomas a glancing blow.
In his recently published book Sit Down! Listen to This! Bill Sykes provides a list of of Roger’s Stadium gigs which includes:
Rod Stewart, Status Quo, Queen, Captain Beefheart, Led Zeppelin, Mott the Hoople (with Max Wall), Frank Zappa, Kevin Ayers, Free, Hawkwind, Argent, Yes, Bonzo Dog Band, Sha Na Na, Faces, Canned Heat, Terry Reid, Incredible String Band, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, Chuck Berry, Jethro Tull, David Bowie, Rory Gallagher, Roxy Music, Mountain, Everley Brothers, Procol Harum, Ten Years After, Sutherland Brothers, Curved Air, The Kinks, Slade, Lou Reed, Steeleye Span, Thin Lizzy, Supertramp, Gentle Giant, Focus, Deep Purple, Can, Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, Wishbone Ash, Bad Company, Judas Priest, Barclay James Harvest, Cockney Rebel, Faust, Tangerine Dream, Love, Camel, Osibisa, Dr Feelgood, T Rex, Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, AC/DC, Ultravox.
Bill Sykes’s list does not include Traffic supported by Seatrain. The Stadium website gig list does include Traffic for May 30 1971 but says “cancelled”. It wasn’t. I was there.
By the time Roger co-founded (with Ken Testi and later joined by Pete Fulwell) Eric’s on Mathew Street, Liverpool (near the legendary Cavern, shrine to The Beatles), in 1976, I had lost touch with him. Some say they named it Eric’s because it was a simple, unpretentious Anglo Saxon name unlike other clubs of its era (e.g. Annabelle’s Tiffany’s and Samantha’s). I have also heard that it was named in honour of the great jazz multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy. I know that among his musical enthusiasms Roger loved the work of Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, both of whom Dolphy worked with.
In 1976, I acquired my first mortgage and a house in the east Manchester suburb of Denton. My step-son attended Audenshaw Grammar School, where there was a fellow pupil called Mick Hucknall, another Denton resident. Mick Hucknall has just confirmed to me his relationship with Roger Eagle: “He and I were very close friends. He did infact manage me and the Frantic Elevators for well over a year and I used to also DJ for him at ADAMS club in Liverpool which is was after his ERICS experience.”
Eric’s was a membership only venue whereby members had to buy a yearly membership to enter the club. One of the more beneficial ideas was to provide membership for ‘under 18′s’, which allowed younger music fans to see both local and national bands during a ‘matinee’ show. This was a good way of building an audience and a market. Roger co-opted clothes shops to publicise the club to what he called the “taste-makers”.
The club lasted until March 1980. The story, according to Wikipedia was that the club was raided and closed by police because drugs, which was ironic considering Roger’s strong stand against drugs at The Twisted Wheel. Pete Fulwell said it was not as simple as the police closing the club and suggested they visited regularly, hinting at bribes. Roger told the Guardian: “”I’m not anti-police. I respect the values they are there to protect”. Roger felt he had dealt responsibly with the police. “It was shameful. They were using tactics against us they would use against the IRA. All of a sudden you had representatives of law and order literally running in and hurting people”.
Eric’s was legendary as a breeding ground for Indie and New Wave bands, but also played host to jazz-men Johnny Griffin and Stanley Clarke.
Others who appeared there were:
The Stranglers, Sex Pistols, Flamin’ Groovies, The Damned, Dave Edmunds Rockpile, Buzzcocks, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Ramones + Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, XTC, The Adverts, Adam and the Ants, Boomtown Rats, Ian Dury, The Fall, Robert Gordon + Link Wray, Colosseum, Sham 69, The Rezillos, Richie Havens, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Doll by doll, The human League, The Specials,, Split Enz, Teardrop Explodes + Echo and the Bunnymen, Gang of four, John Martyn, X-Ray Specs, David Johannsen, The Police, Joy Division + Cabaret Voltaire, The Undertones, Joe Jackson, Jonathan Richman, The Pretenders, The Cure, The B52s, Iggy Pop, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Simple Minds, Madness, The Selecter, Toyah, Rockin’ Dopsie, Steel Pulse, The Beat, Bad Manners.
The main problems were financial and Roger did not cover himself in glory. To cut a sad story short he disappeared leaving Pete Fulwell with the debts.
There were protest marches when Eric’s closed. Plans to re-open Eric’s came under strong criticism from those who did not relish the prospect of something that meant a lot to many people being museumised for current profit.
After Eric’s, Roger went on a bit of a wandering fugue. He returned to Manchester and tried a new venture at Rafters in Oxford Street , with Dougie James of Soul Train and Paul Young of Sad Café. Mick Hucknall says Roger tried to help his career and introduced him to the music of Mingus. Roger then moved back to Liverpool and ran Adam’s where he booked Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Bo Diddley and Junior Walker. He also tried an arts centre cum recording complex called Crackin’ Up and lived in a freezing shed in the roof space of a warehouse.
Roger left Liverpool again in a hurry (for reasons that remain mysterious but probably had much to do with large debts and small income) leaving some of his record collection behind. At one point he fetched up in Bangor, North Wales, where there are reports of Mick Hucknall visiting him. He did DJing around town and at the University.
Bruce Mitchell of the Albertos reports that Roger was discovered in Anglesey at a popular restaurant in Beaumaris. Roger ran away with the elegant blonde Swedish proprietress and they set up the Lord Buckley in the smart Bristol suburb of Clifton “a Ferrari on every street corner” according to Roger’s brother John. This venture did not work out. Mike Tobin, manager of Stackridge, recalls Roger phoning him sounding “terrified” and asking Tobin to drive him out of Bristol to Oxford.
Roger had gravitated to the outskirts of Blackburn by the time he was headhunted for The International. This venue was on the corner of Dickinson Road and Anson Road. In my final days at Manchester University in 1969, I had lived in a depressing house down an unmade road, Harley Avenue, within spitting distance of the nightclub Oceans 11. The only time I went inside the venue was in the early 70s for an office stag night, the highlight of which was the stripping of Manchester legend, Big Julie, a mountainous foul-mouthed woman who wobbled when she breathed. One punter recalls: “She came out as Nell Gwynne with a basket of oranges and threw them out to the crowd. The crowd responded with ‘Get ‘em on’ rather than the more traditional ‘Get ‘em off'” . The patrons of Oceans 11 mistakenly thought they were sophisticated, in their drunkenness fantasising that they could emulate Sinatra or Dean Martin.
In 1985, Oceans 11 became The International and under Roger’s guidance became one of the leading music venues in the world. Gareth Evans and Matthew Cummins owned the nightclub and managed The Stone Roses who also frequented the club. Evans and Cummins were alleged to have underground connections. Manchester rock writer Mick Middles describes Evans as “a loose cannon of the bombastic variety, prone to extraordinary scams which zip, this way and that, from a central work ethic…Evans would use his underworld influence to decorate the entire city centre with promotional posters”.
Roger’s booking and promoting know-how resulted in an impressive list of artists performing at The International.
Simply Red, Thomas Mapfumo, REM, The Last Poets, Hugh Masakela, Toots and the Maytals, Happy Mondays, The Waterboys, Fairport Convention, Hüsker Dü, World Party, Roger McGuinn, Loudon Wainwright, Robert Cray, Jimmy Smith, Curtis Mayfield, Marc Almond, Courtney Pine, Commander Cody, Roy Harper, The Pogues, The Stone Roses, Lone justice, Big audio Dynamite, Michelle Shocked, Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, The Long riders,, Gil Scott-Heron, Albert King, 10,000 Maniacs, Bhundu Boys, The Sugarcubes, Hothouse Flowers, Wayne Shorter, Microdisney, Throwing Muses, Red hot Chilli Peppers, Fairground Attraction, My Bloody Valentine, James, Lester Bowie, Ali Farka Touré, Green on Red, Tom Tom Club, Jane’s Addiction, American Music Club, The La’s, Deborah Harry, Melissa Etheridge, The Charlatans, The Lemonheads, Manic Street Preachers,, Christy Moore, Maxi Priest, Augustus Pablo, Johnny Thunders, Dudu Pukwana, Gregory Isaacs, Motorhead, Jeff Healey Band, Salif Keita, Pixies, Fela Anikulape Kuti, The Beautiful South, Ziggy Marley.
Roger was not destined to be rich or happy as long as he was dependent on people like Cummins and Evans.
The International 1 is now the Turkish supermarket “Venus Foods”. The “International 2″ building has been demolished and replaced by a gated apartment building complex
Roger moved to the small Derbyshire town of Whaley Bridge and commuted to the International. He told Pete Fulwell that he had lost the appetite for the club and told others that he had moved to a cottage because of his health. He smoked at least 40 mentholated cigarettes each day and his diet consisted of huge fry-ups and curries.
Almost to the end, he had projects on the go and many of his ideas were good. He had so much experience of the music business but could not turn his knowledge into financial success or even security.
Tom McMaster once played at the Liverpool Stadium as support for Chuck Berry.Tom has kindly sent me some pictures he took at Roger’s funeral.
Dimitri, bass player for Drive In Rock
Alan Wise, who brought Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico to Manchester.
Dougie James of Soul Train fame
Many of those quoted in Bill Sykes’s book comment on something intimidating about Roger Eagle. Roger Amos introduced me to Roger Eagle in, I think, 1967. Roger A now recalls : “He was a slightly alarming character; simulating avuncular maybe, but probably only while it suited him – that was how I read him at the time.” Eagle would have been 25 then.
Many in Sykes’s book echo my own experience that Roger Eagle rarely referred to anyone by their forenames. It was always surnames like at school. Although he did not go to university he was educated at the Dragon School whose other alumni include Sir John Betjeman, John Mortimer, Hugh Gaitskell and Nevil Shute. Roger’s brother Martin had a career in the aeronautical industry. Martin says their father (a military man) treated people as objects and may have had Asperger’s Syndrome. “We didn’t love him and he didn’t love us”.
Val Randall knew Roger from the Magic Village days. She told Roger when he was dying: “You used to scare the crap out of me sometimes”. She is six foot tall. He said “Well, let’s face it, Val, somebody had to do it. It had to be me didn’t it”. Nicky Crewe reminisces about the same era: “Tall enough to appear remote, with dark curly hair and a booming middle class voice, he was an imposing figure. I realised later that he was far more at ease with musicians than hippy teenage girls, but I liked him.”
Many remark on a certain vulnerability. Others tell of small acts of kindness delivered with embarrassment.
Roger was born in Oxford. Distantly related to George Bernard Shaw, his mother, Dorothy, edited the Oxford Literary Guide To The British Isles.
Despite his financial difficulties throughout much of his life he resisted claiming welfare benefits, preferring to rely on his entrepreneurial skills. Those skills were undoubted but he never managed to become rich through them. Simply Red’s manager, Elliot Rashman said: “He had times when he was on the cusp of making big money but something within himself made him not do that- otherwise he would have been Harvey Goldsmith, he would have been in an office and it wouldn’t have been about music.”
Roger Eagle’s Legacy
Roger Eagle died of cancer in North Wales in 1999. In his Guardian obituary Bob Dickinson wrote that Roger: ”was an influential DJ, record collector, club promoter, and musical mentor. Without him, performers like Mick Hucknall of Simply Red, would have missed a vital element in their musical education and their vocal approach – when Hucknall’s punk band, the Frantic Elevators, split, the singer spent weeks in Liverpool with Roger absorbing his knowledge of Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean music.”
When I knew him, he was living in the coal hole at 355 Wilbraham Road. Later he risked hypothermia living in a unconverted loft space of a Liverpool warehouse. Judy Williams told Bill Sykes: “When Roger was really struggling in Whaley Bridge and was short of money, the help that he asked for was not given generously. I think they did help him to get his house but it wasn’t seen as a gift really, he owed them for that”.
As Paul Burke recalls: “He genuinely believed that more music would make the world a better place. Although this sounds rather hippyish in tone, he was nevertheless right wing in his attitudes towards the poor and the weak, although this was a result of his rather posh background. He did not believe in taxes or governments really; this chimes with his views on the poor. Politically he was close to the adherents of the present day Tea Party ‘faction’ in US politics. Oddly though, he never showed any real interest in being rich or making real money for himself.”
Most who knew him saw him as an educator. He was known as the king of the blues compilation tape. Let Steve Hopkins’s view stand as a specimen: “The important thing about Roger is how he influenced a whole generation of Manchester musicians. He influenced their taste and was responsible for educating them”.
Mygoodself in 1992 with screenwriter Helen East and Ian Wilson of Sad Cafe
Only yesterday Mick Hucknall told me: “He and I were very close friends…The most romantic, idealist R&B missionary I have ever known bless him!”
Six years ago, I went to Chorlton-cum-Hardy to visit my dear friends of 40 years standing, Paul Burke and Annie O’Malley. Paul and I took a stroll along Wilbraham Road and stopped outside number 355, beyond whose portals once walked Roger Eagle, Martin Hannett, the Invisible Girls, Jilted John, Eggs Over Easy. The building is now a care home for elderly people. Perhaps one day there will be a blue plaque on the wall.