Obituary Roger Eagle. The energy and enthusiasm behind northern soul
· By Bob Dickinson The Guardian, Saturday May 15, 1999
Roger Eagle, who has died of cancer aged 56, 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.
Roger was born in Oxford. Distantly related to George Bernard Shaw, his mother, Dorothy, edited the Oxford Literary Guide To The British Isles. But like many teenagers in 1950s Britain, Roger was captivated by black American rock 'n' roll and blues. The beat group scene lured him on a weekend motorbike jaunt to Manchester. He stayed, and had his mother send his clothes by post. Surrounded by his record collection, he edited the magazine R&B Scene - unsold copies propped up his bed.
In 1965 Roger was hired as a DJ by Ivor Abadi, owner of a coffee-shop-cum-nightclub called the Twisted Wheel. Here he pumped out a repertoire of R&B and soul, on discs by artists such as Bobby Bland, Ike and Tina Turner and James Carr. All-night sessions gave rise to a demand for increasingly fast-tempo dance tracks to satisfy the amphetamine-fuelled clientele. The musical genre and sub-cultural lifestyle subsequently known as northern soul was born.
But Roger didn't approve. In his last interview, to be seen in Ian Levine's forthcoming documentary The Strange World Of Northern Soul, he recalled: 'I got very, very fed up having to call ambulances . . . and not being allowed to play the full range of music.'
By 1967, Roger was becoming interested in Manchester's underground music scene, for which he supplied a focal point in the form of the Magic Village, staging light shows, films and happenings, as well as concerts by blues-derived American west coast acts, including Country Joe Macdonald, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. He also brought together Manchester's first psychedelic band, Greasy Bear, which became the more satirical Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias.
In the early 1970s, Roger moved to Merseyside and took over Liverpool stadium, an old boxing venue, which played host to Lou Reed, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople and Captain Beefheart. With Geoff Davis, he was involved in setting up Probe Records shop, which became a meeting place for Liverpool's next generation of musicians, motivated by punk rock.
In October 1976, in a basement opposite the site of the Cavern, he opened his most fondly-remembered club, Eric's, where musicians, who included the nascent line-ups of groups like the Teardrop Explodes, Echo & The Bunnymen, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, could cut their teeth alongside Roger's eclectic headline billings, bringing together anything from dub reggae to Louisiana zydeco to the Clash.
The early 1980s saw Roger's return to Manchester, where he set up the International Club, securing early performances from bands like REM, as well as local unknowns the Stone Roses. Regularly to be seen in the foyer, attired in one of his characteristic Hawaiian shirts, Roger always responded to inquiries about the music he championed with a barrage of information and frequently a compilation tape. His enthusiasm never let up. I remember him crying with joy when he secured a booking for his Tamla Motown hero, Junior Walker.
Since the mid 1990s, Roger had been living at Llanfairfechan, north Wales, where he could be close to friends and the landscape he loved. He leaves two brothers, Martin and John.
Roger Eagle, DJ, born July 15, 1942; died May 4, 1999
A Roger Eagle biography “Sit down listen to this” is due for release in August 2012.