A Bombed Out Tour of Liverpool City Centre: The Grapes, Mathew Street.
Above Photo: A night shot of the Grapes on a wet Monday night along Mathew Street recently.
A friend who’d read Bombed Out! recently asked to be taken on a tour of book locations in Liverpool city centre. This was another stop on the tour.
I have to admit, I hadn’t been back to the Grapes in years but everything I’d read, seen or heard about it was bad. Or fantastic, if you like ear-splitting karaoke in packed pubs.
Famous for having been a watering hole of the Beatles, the Grapes’ Punk and New Wave history has been buried under a mountain of Beatlemania, so when I went in there, I had no expectations at all.
The pub had been built in the late 1800s, to cater to labourers who’d worked up a thirst in the nearby busy fruit and vegetable warehouses around Mathew Street.
Later, those same warehouses would be filled with Punk and New Wave clubs (such as Eric’s), record shops, bars, restaurants, hairdressers, clothes shops, cafes, rehearsal spaces and other ancillary ventures as Liverpool’s music scene, centred on Mathew Street, grew in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
As described in Bombed Out!, the Grapes was at the centre of that vibrant Liverpool culture and as such, the pub receives many name-checks in the book. I only have very fond (and incredibly vivid) memories of many penniless nights spent in there with my girlfriend and friends, when I was in the bands and going to Eric’s.
I still recall numerous incidents from back then too, none of which I put in the book.
For example the first time I was ever in the company of someone who’d shot up heroin was in the Grapes. He was part of the music scene and he’d been fine one minute, went to the toilet and came back, slithering along the corridor that leads from the toilet, before collapsing at our table, totally off his head.
As he was being revived by my friends, I went into the toilets to see what had happened and there was a used syringe lying on the floor of the stall.
One night in the Grapes in 1979, I’d met a member of a Liverpool band, and he’d taken a cheap and cheerful, home-made drugs cocktail including Vicks Medinite, but he’d forgotten to take the ‘non-sleep’ version. In the early evening, he fell into a deep slumber in the corner of the pub, so we left him to it and went off to see the band playing that night at Eric’s.
Now the pub is pretty characterless, with the inevitable Beatles memorabilia section located where my favourite table was, and where the above two incidents occurred.
The night my friend and I drank in the Grapes recently, I felt I might be thrown out if someone made the heretical connection between my t-shirt and Eric’s Club, because I wasn’t in there worshipping at the shrine of the Beatles. I felt like a gatecrasher.
Still, to give the boozer it’s due, we went back to Mathew Street to take some photos later that night. It was a Monday night and every single pub and bar in the area was closed or closing, and we were only able to get service in the Grapes, where we stayed for a few (many) enjoyable few beers.
As we sat there and the place filled up after midnight, I felt I’d somehow reconnected with the ghost of the old pub, and that it had come to save me once again, booze-wise, when everywhere else around was closed.
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php