Occasionally, just occasionally mind, I do go and see live events that aren't gigs. Unplanned, this week I found myself at Eric's, the musical celebrating the legendary Liverpool club at the Everyman Theatre. The subject matter itself would merit a mention here - but it was so good the production deserves more.
Musicals based on band's band catalogue are two-a-penny at the moment (Queen, Take That and Madness all recently 'celebrated' in the West End) spawned by the global dominance of Mamma Mia. So Eric's could be a venture to be approached with trepidation. But I am hugely relieved to report that not only does it capture the spirit of the club and the era, it manages to incorporate the music of bands associated with Eric's into an original story without cliche and without cringe.
The story is largely autobiographical based on the experiences of writer Mark Davies Markham: "Eric's is based on the two occasions in my life when I felt most alive ... When I was 17 and thought I was going to live forever, and when I was fighting for my life on a cancer ward". So the story focuses on Joe, diagnosed in his late 30s with leukaemia and facing a 30% survival rate following a bone marrow transplant, and interweaves this present day story with Joe's coming-of-age at Eric's in its heyday. Here he encounters the punk spirit, sense of liberation and creative inspiration that takes him out a dead-end job and on the path to be a writer.
Yes but the music you ask? I had assumed from the flyer that this was all original music written for this production. Instead songs of the period (not mentioned on the flyer for copyright reasons? Or for fear of offending a theatre-going audience?) are played live by a four piece band whilst the acting company (ten of them or so?) play all the characters who inhabit Eric's including key musical figures of the day.
Myth plays a large part in music and in particular in Liverpool (see the Pete Frame family tree in the programme). But what this show proves is that the myth of Eric's has real substance and legacy. So there are snatches of songs by the visting bands that played the club (The Damned, The Clash, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello) as well as the local heroes. So you don't get a live performance of an Echo and the Bunnymen song by actors playing the band - instead you get The Cutter sung by Joe's wife as she contemplates losing her husband; and then you get to see Mac as an inhabitant of Eric's in the late 70s. Now a 90 minute play is always going to reduce everything to caricature but the self-styled Crucial Three of Pete Wylie, Julian Cope, and Ian McCulloch are captured very well: Wylie the walking ego, Cope the public school oddball, and Mac the cool poseur. Somehow it combines homage and bringing-down-to-earth piss-take in one.
And there was some great music in the show. It was a shock to hear The Wild Swans without warning. Revolutionary Spirit was a firm compilation tape favourite of mine in the 80s. And then to hear two of the lesser known songs from The Teardrop Explodes second album Wilder was a joy. I remember when first listening to this album not being able to decide which song was better or the more moving. I still can't decide so here they both are.
Eric's is only on until 11 October - more info here.