Tony Butler from Liverpool’s Zanzibar Club dies: a personal reflection on a Liverpool music legend

Courtney Barnett in the Zanzibar at Sound City 2014

Courtney Barnett in the Zanzibar at Sound City 2014

The Zanzibar’s Tony Butler has died, Getintothis’ Peter Guy shares a personal tribute.

Tony Butler has died. Tony was The Zanzibar.

The Zanzibar is perhaps the most influential and important grassroots venue Liverpool has ever known.

It’s hard – near impossible – to put into words the importance and impact this place, and Tony’s involvement, in Liverpool music. It is quite simply a rite of passage for every musician that’s ever wanted to grace a stage.

A place that made dreams come true. Tony, to so many young people, made them come true.

Tony was, it’s fair to say, a one of a kind, a man who had his principles and stuck to them. He took no shit. And let you know it.

He was a firm believer that it was his way or the highway. Punters knew that. Musicians knew that. And we the press, we told that on many occasions.

We first gotten to know Tony in 2007 – he was suspicious of our intentions when reviewing a gig.

He told us in no uncertain terms that we were an ‘arty’ website covering ‘arty farty’ bands and why would we want to see bands at his place. We persevered. And over the years had regular verbal battles – all part of the Tony Butler game.

He was combative and liked to keep us on our toes. Primarily because he loved the Zanzibar, loved the musicians he let play there and loved protecting the ethos of his venue. It was a place for new music to begin, thrive and develop.

Perhaps the finest legacy The Zanzibar will have is The Bandwagon era. A club night set up by Scouse heroes The Bandits which saw a legion of Merseyside music mavericks flourish all in the Zanzi – The Coral, The Zutons, The Basement, North Western Hobos, Tramp Attack, too many to mention – all learnt their craft and influenced a generation of music lovers.

The Bandwagon – the Zanzibar, Noel Gallagher and Liverpool’s iconic clubnight

For a few years the Merseyside music community was the centre of the universe – the national music press decamped in Liverpool and the Zanzibar, and Tony, were centre stage.

Oasis and  Noel Gallagher adopted Liverpool as their second home. He didn’t give one. It was just another day in music. And always planning the next night.

The Maybes? followed and another generation of listeners were born.

Sound City saw the likes of Deerhunter, The 1975, Courtney Barnett and loads more play The Zanzibar.

They played there – and not another bigger, more plush venue, because The Zanzibar was *the* Liverpool venue.

In 2013 we finally had our first ‘sit down’ with Tony.

We told him we would like to give him the GIT Award Inspiration Honour.

Previous recipients were people that ran The Kazimier and the following year the people behind the Hillsborough Justice Collective single.

For two hours, over coffee and chocolate digestives, we spoke at great length about music, the city, the way gigging had changed, music press, his life in music and so much more in between.

In the end he said he didn’t want to accept the award – because the Zanzibarwasn’t about that’ and it was so much more than him – it was about Colin Cheers (his skipper for so many years), his staff, the bands and those that came to the club.

It was the first and only time we saw Tony get slightly emotional.

He truly loved Liverpool, was hugely proud of its music and musicians.

He was stubborn beyond belief – but it was because he was arsed.

Today’s a really sad day for Liverpool music. Rest in peace Tony. You were truly loved.

Tributes pour in for The Zanzibar’s Tony Butler – here’s a selection – we will be updating this story

Tributes from Facebook:

Steve Powell (musician): “Lots of the local music community on here talking of Tony Butler and the impact he’s had on them personally and on Liverpool music as a whole. Just about everyone who’s played in Liverpool has graced the Zanzi stage at some time or times, many being given their first live performance opportunities by Tony. He created a grass roots venue as proper as they come, and always spoke of the importance of new bands being given the chance to play. Hard to walk past that door without stopping for a natter, or having a brew in that mad little office. Never changed. Rest easy Tony.

Marc Jones (promoter): Good night Tony my old friend! Used to do so many nights and gigs with him! First SoundCitys! Surreal Madrid gigs and many many other bands! But loved No Fakin there! What a night with the likes of Fingathing! Just amazing! The Pete Wylie specials and of course the Bandwagon nights which were one of the great Liverpool indie scenes! The number of bands that made their debuts there or did astounding gigs..Big Ups jumps to mind! Tony sometimes your bite was as bad as your bite but deep down you were a big softie who loved music with a passion seldom matched! Never really got the credit he was due and that did hurt him! Im angry with myself because life has got in the way of seeing him as much! But he was a great promoter and championed Merseyside & national music like no other! RIP Tony Butler.

John Johnson (photographer): Such sad news to hear of the passing of Tony Butler. A true gent and always encouraging of what I did even before I really knew how to do it. Sleep well mate. That little part of Seel Street will never quite be the same xx

Phil Hartley (musician): Thank you and Goodnight Tony Butler. Gutted to hear about your passing mate. A true Hero of Musicians in these parts. Since my early band days and forays into crazy electronic music back in the mid 90s Tony always gave us a platform for our ideas wether it was gigs rehearsals or even recording he would help any way he could, you will be remembered with love, admiration and eternal fondness and gratitude by us all. Rest In Piece Mr. Butler

Boyan Chowdhury (musician, The Zutons): The news of Tony Butler passing away has just hit me. This man gave my first band our first gig, in the Zanzibar and he came up to me after with his usual “Fuckin’ hell mate! That was fuckin’ great! You should do some more fuckin’ gigs here.” I came to realise that “fuckin’” was probably his most used word and was his term of endearment. As a young lad, those words from him meant a lot and still do today. He was like the glue that kept a burgeoning music scene going. He gave my mates jobs. He let bands rehearse in the Zanzi. He just loved watching everyone get there shit together and never took any credit for his part in making us what we are. There are many bands after and before us I know he has help but with Tramp Attack, The Coral, The Bandits, The Stands and The Zutons he helped create an amazing era which we all know wouldn’t have happened without Tony and his autonomous Zanzibar. Hope you’re having a boss time mate. RIP Tony

Jane CaseyRIP Tony Butler – in he words of Kurt Vonnegut. ‘The only proof he needed for the existence of god was music.’