A Short History of Liverpool Stadium

Liverpool Stadium staged many of the city’s best gigs during the 1970s, running the gamut from avant garde, prog, hard rock and the beginnings of punk. Despite this, its pivotal role in Liverpool’s music past is overlooked. Richard Lewis celebrates the venue’s place in the city’s musical history.

While Mathew Street is understandably venerated, drawing thousands of visitors each year to The Cavern to soak up The Beatles’ history, and Eric’s on the same street has achieved legendary status, a huge part of Liverpool’s musical past formerly situated a quarter of a mile away is seriously neglected.

The Liverpool Boxing Stadium (to give it its full title) was the premier live music venue in the city for almost all of the 1970s. Considering the illustrious roll-call of bands who played there, its dedicated fansite liverpoolstadium-rockyears.com describes the place as "One of the forgotten rock venues".

Demolished in the mid 1980s, The Stadium has a permanent exhibit in The Liverpool Life Museum, dedicated to its sporting heritage, with scores of handbills, photographs and newspaper cuttings of legendary pugilists including Liverpool’s very own light heavyweight world champion John Conteh in action.

Despite the wealth of material that could fill a similar space for the venue’s musical history, this part of the Stadium’s past is woefully under-represented. The venue is passed over in several histories of Liverpool music, possibly due to a lack of local bands who formed and played at the venue, unlike The Cavern and Eric’s.

Like The Cavern that preceded it, Eric’s that followed and on to The Zanzibar a decade ago and The Kazimier in the present day, people who attended The Stadium had an emotional attachment to the place that went beyond going to ‘just another venue.’

Aside from superb fansites liverpoolstadium-rockyears.com and Facebook group Stadium Daze, there is scarcely any account of the venue’s musical history, even though concerts being held at a rate of one a week for much of the 1970s.

Where the Stadium stood, alongside the far end of Exchange Station in a district of the city once covered with warehouses, the space is now entirely occupied by a vast steel and glass construction that houses dozens of offices. Built on the site of the huge ornate St. Paul’s Church, between Pall Mall and Old Hall St, The Stadium was the world’s first (and to date only) purpose-built Boxing Stadium. Designed by architect Kenmure Kinna, the building cost £30,000 (way over a million in today’s money) and was opened on 20th October 1932.

Boxing was a hugely popular sport in Liverpool, with many of the most revered fighters drawn from immigrant backgrounds, especially the city’s Italian community based in ‘Little Italy’, where John Moores’ Byrom Street campus now stands.

While the new stadium catered for boxing and later wrestling, political rallies were also held there. Winston Churchill chose the venue as the first stop on the Conservatives’ election campaign in 1951 and the all-seated hall was used for scores of political hustings and union meetings well into the 1980s. Both privately-owned companies such as the vast Ford Motor Works in Garston regularly held union meetings at the venue along with public sector workers in the Civil Service.

The Stadium was owned and operated by Best Enterprises, headed by Johnny Best, the British Army’s former middleweight boxing champion, who came from a family of boxing promoters from West Derby. The Best family was later associated with the city’s music scene via Best’s eldest son Pete, who became The Beatles’ drummer (who was infamously sacked before the group released their first single). This family connection led to The Beatles’ appearance at the Stadium’s second ever gig.

Four years after a performance by jazz great Louis Armstrong in 1956, the first show to feature rock n’ roll bands was held in May 1960. The biggest acts in the fledgling Merseybeat movement - The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Howie Casey and the Seniors and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes - made the short journey from The Cavern to St. Paul’s Square to support legendary US rocker Gene Vincent.

Following this, aside from a one-off all-day show The Kaleidoscope Festival in December 1968, headlined by Pink Floyd, with support from The Move and local act The Klubs, no further gigs were held at the Stadium until 1970.

May of that year saw a strong line-up of Soft Machine alumnus Kevin Ayers and the Third Ear Band supporting psych/hard rock group The Edgar Broughton Band, in a show that emphatically put the Stadium on the map as a live music destination. The venue’s emergence on the live circuit in 1970 was especially fortuitous as it coincided with an era when the majority of the world’s biggest bands were British.

Prior to the advent of huge sports arenas being pressed into service as live music venues from the 1980s onwards, the Stadium’s theatre-sized capacity meant the venue could cater for some of the world’s biggest bands as well as those with a smaller but loyal following.

In an era when groups could ensure shots that weren’t taken by official press photographers didn’t see the light of day and cameras were largely banned in venues, frustratingly few live bands shots from the Stadium exist. In the present day when gigs are filmed en masse by attendees then uploaded onto YouTube, the lack of images and footage from the Stadium has served to increase its mystique.

The atmosphere of the Stadium is one of the principle reasons the venue is so fondly remembered in the present day, with many stating whether you particularly liked a band or not was sometimes irrelevant, as going to a gig to soak up the ambience was enough. The Stadium differed hugely from other venues in Liverpool at the time as gig goers would hang around outside the building for hours prior to the doors opening.

As the venue had no age restrictions on under 18s being admitted, under-age drinkers who couldn't chance their arm at the bar had to stock up on booze (sherry appeared to be a popular tipple) from the off-license on St. Paul’s Square.

Due to major redevelopments in the area, only The Cross Keys, a favourite haunt of journalists from the Liverpool Echo and Daily Post remains from the handful of pubs. The long-demolished St. Paul’s, a reference to the church the Stadium was built on and the similarly departed Matchbox and The Grapes also catered for gig-bound drinkers.

A 1974 article from Sounds mentions the Stadiums attendees practice of showing up early doors. ‘There were kids queuing up outside here by 2.00’. Four hours later when the bands took to the stage, the writer recounts, ‘By six o’clock there are 1,400 sitting docile in the ringside seats, or circling in the massive gloom. By the end of the night there were probably 2,000.’

Nerve Arts Editor Colin Serjent remembers The Stadium, "It was just an incredible atmosphere, I never sat down for a gig, everyone stood up. ‘Cos it was a Boxing Stadium you’d always get a good view of the band. The guy we can all thank is the promoter Roger Eagle. How he managed to get all these tremendous contacts is just unbelievable."

As part of Mott the Hoople’s Rock n’ Roll Circus tour in April 1972 (admission was a scarcely believable 70p) music hall comedian Max Wall did the band’s warm-up slot. "Max Wall came on doing his vaudeville act and he was pelted with loads of beer cans", Colin recalls. "Ian Hunter [Mott’s lead singer] came on afterwards and really lambasted the crowd. Rory Gallagher [Irish blues guitar virtuoso] was one of the top acts at The Stadium, he was extremely popular. He used to play for over two and half hours. You’d go every Thursday and Saturday to The Stadium, I went almost literally every week."

The highly fertile ‘underground’ music scene in the city was especially strong at the time with Probe Records selling many of the alternative music papers. Captain Beefheart first appeared at The Stadium in April 1972 - a performance that coincided with an exhibition of his art at Bluecoat Chambers.

Beefheart’s presence (whose huge following on Merseyside continues to this day) alongside space rockers Hawkwind the week before and Chuck Berry the previous month speaks volumes about the Stadium’s eclectic booking policy. In the period of a fortnight between late October and early November 1974, groundbreaking German prog band Faust performed, succeeded by ambient pioneers Tangerine Dream, who in a complete change of pace were followed by gritty rock n’ rollers Thin Lizzy. Sowing the seeds of another lasting cult in the city were Love, with the San Francisco psych/pop group playing in May 1975.

A hallmark of bands who appeared at The Stadium was the frequency they made return visits. Mott the Hoople had a close association with the venue, making five appearances between March 1971 and September 1972. Space rockers Hawkwind meanwhile notched up no less than nine appearances in four years - their December 1972 show recorded for part of their classic live double LP Space Ritual (tickets cost 80p.)

The Stadium made a lasting impression good or otherwise on anyone who attended shows there, as a review of a Virgin Records package tour in May 1974 by Sounds music journalist Bob Edmonds demonstrates. "The Stadium looks dog-eared, decaying and ratty… A lady from Virgin Records mutters ‘This is quite the nastiest place I’ve been to.'"

The gig review of a show headlined by prog rockers Gong gives an insight into Roger Eagle’s ticketing system, renowned for extremely reasonable prices for shows. "The kids pay 44 pence each, a ridiculous price for six hours entertainment. Eagle’s take is £200, which covers the hire of the hall, advertising etc. The bands take the next £200, plus 75 per cent of the rest. It sounds a fair deal for all concerned."

Whilst undoubtedly catering for the underground and avant garde acts of the day, in the period of six months between November 1971 and June 1972, an astonishing gamut of huge bands including Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, David Bowie and Roxy Music all played at the venue. The Faces - who sufficiently moved John Peel to get up onstage in London and dance along ("And I never dance") - were at the height of their lairy lad-rock glory in December 1971 when they played a headline set.

Towards the end of The Stadium’s time as a music venue, one of the city’s most fondly remembered music publications, The Last Trumpet ran for almost two years from 1975. A free magazine (unusual in the 1970s), the publication featured gig and record reviews and existed partially to advertise forthcoming shows at the venue.

Writing a tribute to Roger Eagle in 1999, future founder of The KLF and Echo & the Bunnymen producer Bill Drummond described his first encounter with the promoter at a Stadium show. After seeing a gig preview for seminal pub-rock/proto-punk band Dr. Feelgood in The Last Trumpet, Drummond set off to his first gig there.

"The queue to get in was five deep and at least a couple of hundred yards long…" Drummond wrote. "Punch ups kept erupting in the queue as youths tried to push in or shove those in front. A large man with a bright red shirt and black trousers appeared on the steps that led up to the doors of The Stadium. He was a figure of natural authority. His mere appearance quelled whatever punch ups were happening."

Drummond described the scene as he entered the building, "Drab paintwork, little house-lighting. The PA and band gear were set up on the boxing ring riser, the back half of the hall was partitioned off. There was a woman selling hot dogs and hamburgers from a kiosk, everyone seemed to know she was called Doreen. The walls were covered in faded and torn bills advertising past and future fights."

The penultimate gig on the venue listings clearly showed how much the musical landscape had changed in Britain between 1970 and 1976. A startling line-up of punk icons The Damned, The Clash and The Sex Pistols, scheduled for 11th December 1976, was cancelled nationwide due to local councils concerned about the effects of punk rock on the nation’s populace.

As The Stadium was ideally suited to the avant-garde and progressive acts of the early to mid 1970s, along with a number of commercial big-hitters, Eric’s was ideally suited to punk. Founded by Roger Eagle and Pete Fulwell in early 1977 Eric’s, reminiscent of New York’s CBGBs and London’s 100 Club and The Marquee was more compact, its low-level stage ideal for the bands to play eyeball to eyeball to the front rows.

As Roger Eagle moved to Eric’s, taking his booking contacts with him, The Stadium never staged another gig. The venue continued to host boxing matches and wrestling, the latter at the height of its popularity due to a high profile slot on Saturday evening ITV.

As British Wrestling’s popularity waned however and the building began to look forlorn after fifty years of extremely heavy usage, the final boxing match was staged at The Stadium in 1985. Following this the building closed for good and was eventually demolished two years later.

Around where there had once been huge warehouses and railway sidings there were now office buildings, such as the vast Littlewoods Building to the rear of The Stadium, which now houses dozens of offices as The Plaza.

The Stadium’s fate was to be the same after being used as a car park for quarter of a century, with a huge steel and glass construction now in its place. No trace of the building itself remains, no plaque, no roads renamed in tribute, only the street name of St. Paul’s Square dedicated to the church that preceded the venue survives as a reminder of the site’s remarkable past.

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Sorry Comments Closed

Comment left by Craig McIntosh on 28th September, 2012 at 10:17
As archivist of the website you mention I can only applaud this article. I would like to note that there is a plaque simiar to the one outside the original probe and is pictured on the website.When I received it there was no building to put this on. Now there is and I plan to approach the owners to put this in its rightful place. Hopefully with some notice from the media. Cheers Craig

Comment left by Dave Davies on 28th September, 2012 at 23:45
This article should be displayed at the exhibit in the Liverpool life museum.

Comment left by Charlie Thorpe on 30th September, 2012 at 14:14
Great read, great venue. As above there really should be far more info displayed at the museum regardin' music at the Stadium.

Comment left by David Kinna on 11th February, 2013 at 16:24
Hi, Do you have a photo of Kenmure Kinna Regards David

Comment left by phil newton on 21st February, 2013 at 18:42
In the 50s I remember the Lucas Broadgreen Victor Works Apprentices after 5pm pay packets night would head straight for the tram to get to the Stadium wressling.I was in the Merseyside Youth Orchestra then and remember playing there under Bill Jenkins Liverpool Music Adviser and later Ray Mulholland.Strauss "Die Fledermaus " overture and Englebert Humperdink`s overture "Hansel and Gretel" The Liverpool Phil Orchestra [before the 1960 "Royal prefix] did the premier of the Malcolm Lipkin violin concerto -solo was Yfrah Neamann. Sweltering hot night. RLPO did lots of world premier modern composers -Musica Viva under Prichard -Probably some in Stadium as well as at The RLPO Hall.

Comment left by Keith Hughes on 14th April, 2013 at 2:29
I cant find the facebook group Stadium Daze .. can you forward the name of a member so I can contact them. I think it may be a hidden group.

Comment left by Keith Hughes on 14th April, 2013 at 2:31
I met some of the group Stadium Daze in Keiths Wine Bar, Aigburth .. Id like to join the group ... anyone know the name of a member

Comment left by Craig Mc on 28th October, 2013 at 18:42
If anyone wants to join Stadium Daze on FB or come to the reunions..e mail me at octavedr@hotmail.com

Comment left by rob on 22nd January, 2014 at 18:19
I used to go to the wrestling on a friday night with my dad and brother in the seventies,so every time I have a hotdog it reminds me of them days. Great memories. Count Bartelli (masked),les Kellet etc. Sorry to see that it was demolished though.

Comment left by Ian Jackson on 24th February, 2014 at 18:08
I remember the Gong gig - Supported by the global village trucking company- what a dive, but a great venue

Comment left by Bob Lamb on 28th April, 2014 at 9:02
Excellent short history. Went to the boxing with my dad, saw the fine Liverpool boxer Billy MacDonald.One of the seconds used to carry the advertising board around Anfield and Goodison before the games.he was also a streetsweeper in Liverpool ! Wrestling with the wonderfully, evil, Jack Pye and Louis Armstrong on the revolving stage with the Merseysippi Jazz Band.Louis was wonderful.He didn't like playing to the empty,expensive,seats at ringside so told us to come down and fill the seats ! But one omission from this history is the appearance of Aneurin Bevan ( with a young Harold Wilson )at a Labour Party election rally.A wonderful piece of rousing oratory in a packed out Stadium.

Comment left by Bob Lamb on 28th April, 2014 at 9:10
Ian Jackson. Gong were good and if you go along to Frederiks next to the Phil pub on tuesday 29 April you can see Gong violinist Graham Clark !

Comment left by Anastasia Kelly on 12th July, 2014 at 13:44
I worked for Littlewoods from 1974 (after seeing the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind etc at the Stadium in the early 70s). Littlewoods bought the land and knocked down the building, but before it was demolished it was used as our fire assembly point, and I think our union meetings were held there. The car park was built on the land, but they left a memorial to the ring - a landscaped square in the middle, supposedly at the location of the original boxing ring.

Comment left by Ken Nicol on 7th August, 2014 at 13:08
What a place!! saw Whishbone Ash twice, Rory Gallagher and Greenslade all within a few weeks in 1972 with my now departed mate Phil Baker and our girlfriends. What a summer that was!!

Comment left by Louise Cater on 16th September, 2014 at 23:01
I went to the Stadium many times in my teenage years. I saw T.Rex there, amongst many other bands, and as I was in the habit of getting there in the afternoon to wait outside, I actually met Marc Nolan when he came outside for a breather. So sad it was demolished. Ps I have photos of Marc ostage in the Stadium.

Comment left by ken pickard on 13th November, 2014 at 15:15
Spent many happy happy hours at this place. Getting quite emotional thinking about it. In my mind I saw ACDC as support for Status Quo but it probably never happened. I actually wrote a piece as part of my English 'O' level describing the sights, sounds smells of a visit to 'The Stadium'.Did not mention the Cross Keys Pub(I was 16!). See links below; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-LFMREetXM

Comment left by Mark Chatterton on 22nd November, 2014 at 20:38
The Stadium will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the first place I ever went to see a rock concert. It was Deep Purple supported by Nazareth in February 1973. I also saw several other big names there including Barclay James Harvest, Hawkwind and Robin Trower amongst several others. As well as Hawkwind recording their Space Ritual album there, Barclay James Harvest also recorded their Live album there in 1974. Finally, doesn't the line from Mott the Hoople's "All the Way From Memphis".... 'from the Liverpool Docks to the Hollywood Bowl' refer to the Stadium?

Comment left by Nev Ward on 23rd June, 2015 at 20:43
Has anyone ever complied a list of all those who Boxed at the 'New' Stadium between 1926 & 1960. Also those who later went to sea mainly with Canadian Pacific & Cunard.

Comment left by Tony Platt on 26th August, 2015 at 9:14
Following on from Phil Newton's recollections of the Liverpool Phil at the stadium, I remember in the 1950s the Phil used to put on a summer season of Liverpool Proms. I went to several concerts on visits organised by the Music Society at my old school, KGV in Southport. I remember the acoustics in the stadium were a bit wild but that didn't stop us enjoying the music.

Comment left by David Prentice on 15th November, 2015 at 18:37
I visited the Stadium once - when popular Liverpool heavyweight Noel Quarless boxed an eliminator for the British title against Horace Notice. Frank Bruno, Notice's stablemate, was ringside and saw his pal win by a knockout. It was only recently I discovered that had been the last ever pro boxing show staged at the Stadium. I got in just in time! I wish I could remember more but several hours in the St Paul's pub beforehand blurred the memory a little. But I'm loving the Liverpool Stadium Rock Years site. Look at that line up in the summer of 72. Bowie and the Spiders From Mars just two weeks before Roxy Music!

Comment left by phil newton on 31st December, 2015 at 9:29
Hi Tony. Thanks for your comment from mine of 2 years ago about the `Phil at the stadium. As that venue also put on music -pop rock -folk -classical-country- and was all "in the round"then will Prescot`s mooted Shakespearian Theatre project be second fiddle to another L/pool 1st? The Malcolm Lipkin violin concerto I mentioned before that was premiered there and was written by a local composer. His cousin used to play in the Merseyside Youth Orchestra and I remember playing in summer prom concerts where you could nip out for a breather - I remember HND/HNC/City and Guilds apprentices at Old Swan Tech day release for ex discussing how the RLPO Leader Peter Mountain player the Tchiak violin concerto there in the late 50`s! With factory/Industry backed "Industrial Tue night concerts "at the Phil Hall there was a depth to culture in the city before commercialisation and sponsorship because it might be safe to say the Industrial Concerts were driven by a community urge for workers education -Sadly a thing of the past now.Rather like going to the Bolshoi or Moscow Folk Opera in the 80s where the gilt edged Tzarist legacy seats were occupied by ladies in headscarves with their shopping. The Phil then[before all the "Royal titles"] was a worlds leading shellac/LP disc recording band and a "Corpy" run one at that with its own hall-the envy of LSO etc. So the Stadium to me has left a good mixed and deep legacy on the city`s and its living memories.Need it- but will Liverpolitan [why the puddle?]conductor [ex MYO too]Simon Rattle make a case for more stadiums up North as well as yet another one for London that he`s asking for? phil newton

Comment left by robbie curtis on 16th January, 2016 at 16:56
what great memories of the stadium friday night wrestling waiting outside the cross keys with lemonade and crisps while my dad had a pint then going to concerts when older what value for money only lived around the corner in vauxhall gardens so no fares needed to get there