by Karl Coppack

After the QPR game a few weeks ago a few of us headed into town and found ourselves in Slaters.Nothing too macabre about that as it’s an ideal venue for getting a round in for under a tenner for six of us but what struck me was the transformation of the area.

I left Liverpool in 1988 to go to Poly and hadn’t been out in town at that time of night since the early 90’s. I passed where Macmillans was on the way and I felt like I’d nibbled on Proust’s biscuit. The memories came flooding back. Slater Street, Seel Street and Wood Street, which housed a great little snooker club, the 147, just up the road from fly by night clubs such as Flintlocks where I once took a bad schoolboy muzzie past a doorman.

Macs was home from home for me. The girls at college preferred The State or Quadrant Park but us musos, most of us in bands that possessed neither instruments nor songs but knew our way around a good cover sleeve, liked to waste our time in Macs and the Mardi, maybe even Rainfords if your tastes were a little heavier. Plus they had a pool table.

My parents even came to Macs on the night of my sister’s 18th birthday. As old Cavern dwellers they sniffed at the dry ice with a frown and complained about the lack of seating and music volume obviously.

The ‘Liverpool scene’ was dying a bit back then as the Bunnymen and Julian Cope had made it big but weren’t being followed up just yet and the era of Erics was well and truly over. The La’s were on their way and you couldn’t see a big band without The Farm supporting them but stardom was still a year or so away.

Actually, by 1988 I’d seen The Farm more than any other band and always by accident. There were plenty of other bands about but nothing to match what had come before. George Sephton played Up and Running from time to time but others such as Blue Nose Bee, Western Promise, Groundpig (who did Jam covers) and my mate’s band A Broken Promise never quite made it to the heights of their predecessors. OMD and China Crisis had had their moments in the mainstream and The Christians were the latest Scouse TOTP band but nothing grounded in indie and guitar genres.

If there was such a thing as a scene it was championed by men such as Conn McConville who broadcast ‘Street Life’ on Radio Merseyside on Sunday nights. The funny, gentle Irishman was accompanied by ‘Roger with the gig guide’ for a couple of hours. Always worth a listen and, as listening figures were presumably low, there was always a chance to win a prize on the phone-in. Radio Merseyside still owe me a McCartney biography.

I’ve heard that Conn died a few years ago. A real shame as his show meant something at the time despite the fact that, somewhat at odds with the content provided, he really, really, really liked A-ha and played Hunting High And Low every week. Every. Single. Week.

Back to Macs then, the Indie Hello Magazine of its day. It’s not often you get to dance to The Cutter ten yards away from the singer or sing There She Goes Again boisterously with Lee Mavers in earshot.

There was also The Night Morrissey Visited just after The Smiths split up. Everyone I spoke to afterwards claimed to have had a ten minute chat with him much in the same way that everyone was as that Sex Pistols gig in Manchester in 1976 despite only 13 people being there.

Other venues included the Mardi which started themes nights on Sundays where they’d play two bands a night but from differing walks of life. The Smiths and Roxy Music night might seem an odd mix but it got me into Roxy which, I suppose, was the point. Planet X and The System were thriving too, both ideal places for those who hung around outside Probe Records, Backtrax and Relax Xtremes in the day time (guilty) and didn’t fancy going home to get changed before heading out again.

That was pretty much it though. Other than that you needed shoes and a shirt to dance badly to Huey Lewis and the News in places where you could choke on hairgel fumes the second you walked in. These two worlds would later collide in The Lobster Pot at 2am in a re-make of The Specials’ ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’.

Probe was an odd place to hang around. At school a couple of years earlier there was talk of a backroom where weirdos dyed their eyeballs and there was a challenge to go in there and find a ‘normal’ record and buy it without being sneered at but it was never as bad as the legend suggested.

In any case it was always better to buy your records there than at Our Price. Plus you never know who you’d bump into. One day I bearded Neil from Half Man Half Biscuit for a full two minutes about the chords from The Trumpton Riots. He looked shocked to be recognised and even more flabbergasted that someone would want to know. It’s mostly A and G if you’re interested.

I suppose every generation has its own recollections about places, smells, music, dialogue that matters to them but a mate of mine, now 32, claims to be part of a lost Liverpool music generation as Scouse House and Cream took over from small bands and clubs where you could only drink cans.

By the early to mid-nineties live music venues were few and far between and the onset of the Buzz, the 051, the Garage and development of Clayton Square saw off a lot of young guitar bands so I would have struggled. Just as well I left really.

Still, that was a long time ago and my priorities have changed many times since then. The best thing about Slaters that night? I got a nice sit down.

Somewhere my Dad is laughing his arse off.

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