INTERVIEW BY PAUL EVANS
Sometime in January 1983 I had my personal Bowie ‘Starman’ moment. Thursday’s at 7.30pm were a pretty religious experience for me at the time. I’d be sitting in front of a portable TV, fearing if I moved I’d interfere with the reception of the wire aerial, the picture would fade out and I’d miss Top of the Pops. A TV programme which was one of my few visual gateways into live(?) music. It was a hit and miss programme, but a must watch in the hope of catching a good band performing live. On this particular Thursday, performing “The Cutter” Ian (Mac) McCulloch, Les Pattinson, Pete de Freitas and the Arabic, reverb drenched guitar of Will Sergeant had me in an instant. My eyes and ears were opened, my hair was cut, an overcoat was found and my love of Echo and The Bunnymen began.
With the impending start of a European and USA tour and with the recent vinyl re-release of the bands first four seminal albums Crocodilles; Heaven up here; Porcupine and Ocean Rain I take the opportunity to have a quick chat with Will Sergeant, the bands iconic guitarist about the past, the present and the future.
I open our chat by mentioning to Will that my phones auto correct changed the band’s name to Echo and the Funnymen. He laughs “yeah, that’s good” “I got that all the time when I was writing, the autocorrect you know. I had to add it to the dictionary”. The writing Will mentions is his biography “Bunnyman: A Memoir”. A book focussing on his early years and the early days of the band whilst they were still using a drum machine. I begin my questions at this most obvious, obvious starting point.
When you had the drum machine I can’t think of too many bands using them at the time.
“Metal Urbane, from Paris. They used to have it at 200mph.”
“Probably Cabaret Voltaire. Eno had one, that was when I first spotted it. Early Kraftwerk. You think how are they making the drum sounds? A lot of the Kraftwerk stuff they made the drums themselves. They had that funny little drum kit that one of them had built. They were like boffins weren’t they?”
“OMD borrowed the drum machine and used it on one of their songs, but I can’t remember which song it was. I think it was on the second album.”
I recently saw a Rock Family Trees programme about the Liverpool Eric’s scene in the late 70’s and you described Ian as being quiet. Which, given his infamous reputation I thought was a bit strange. Was he quiet?
“He was pretty quiet at first, he’s always been funny and quick. Quick with the comment you know”. “I think he grew into that Mac the mouth thing” “If people keep telling you you’re great. I don’t know how it works really for a lot of singers. I’m the Shadow Man”
You’re coming more to the front now though aren’t you?
“Only because I don’t want to be left out of history really”
What’s the secret of doing what you’re still doing with Ian? What’s changed?
“Well, you know we don’t hang around together or anything. I see him on tour, that’s it”
“I’ve started branching out. I’ve done a bit of art, I’ve done some solo records and I’ve done the book”
“The studio’s not as much fun as it used to be when there were four of us. That’s not the same anymore”
“We used to be all throwing in ideas together.”
When you started? Did you ever think you’d still be doing it this far in the future?
“No, I didn’t think I’d be doing it next week! It was just a thing to do. To be kind of cool. I loved music so it was an interesting thing to do and it seemed like punk had opened the doors and the fact that you could do it even if you were terrible at playing. That didn’t matter, it was just the attitude and we wanted to sound like this”
I always think Will has offered something unique with his guitar playing. He’s created iconic sounds that, at the time, no one else thought about doing. The use of the reverb drenched vibrato arm in The Killing Moon for example.
To me a lot of what you do musically is sonic sounds.
“I’m not like a proper musician. I don’t know where all the notes are. I have to figure it out. Someone will say it’s Bb. Bb? I call that A# (laughs). Bb is A#, but it throws me.”
“I’ve been bluffing it for 44 years, “that’s not bad that is it?” (laughs)
“We didn’t want it to sound like the other 70s stuff that was floating around, The Eagles and all that rubbish. That’s what it was, the door kicked open and we went through it. It was the same for millions of bands in that period. Wait a minute. You don’t have to go to music school for 10 years and know how to read music to be in a band? That was the way it was sort of portrayed with all the progressive rock. That came from a classical standpoint. All of a sudden you didn’t have to do that anymore. The biggest thing around for people into the underground music, was Genesis with Peter Gabriel, Emmerson Lake and Palmer and all that sort of stuff. There was always the pop stuff and Tamla going on, but that was just icing. Something that you weren’t that bothered about. I quite liked some of the Motown stuff”
Your early influences seem to be the Prog rock, Bowie and Eno. Were you into anything else? Northern Soul?
“I wasn’t really a Northern Soul kid at the time, but I quite liked the Tamla records, because they just sounded great. It was that weird Wall of sound thing, you couldn’t quite figure out how they got the drums to sound like that. It was great. It was big. It was massive when I was at school, everyone had Tamla Motown Chartbusters volume 6, volume 5 and all that. They were great records I’ve still got quite a few of them”
It’s a retrospective time for the band with the re-release of your first four albums on vinyl. What moments stand out from recording them?
“It was amazing. It was all new to us and I was interested in tape recorders and things like that. All of a sudden you’ve got 24 tracks and it blew your mind. And the quality of the sound and the way it was recorded with big 2” tape, it was all fascinating to me”
Are you proud of the records?
“Yeah, yeah I love ‘em. There’s a couple I’m not so proud of (laughs). One’s I wasn’t that involved with, so it’s probably a selfish thing. There’s some I wasn’t a major part of. The first four or five, Siberia, Evergreen, Flowers I was a major part of. What Are You Going to Do with Your Life? And Fountain I didn’t like them ones. (laughs)
Do you think they’ve stood the test of time?
“I think the first four definitely. They don’t sound particularly 80s. There was a particular 80s sound floating around at the time which was the big snare drum and we kind of didn’t do that as much. Maybe on Lips like sugar. That was the producer we had”
With a long tour coming up, I guess it’s daunting to be playing live again?
“It’s one of them. It’s daunting now, but once we’re into it, it just becomes normal”
“We’re rehearsing today, tomorrow and the day after. That’s a bit daunting. (laughs) We’ve been in the rehearsal studio for about a week and a bit, well 2 weeks and we’ve production rehearsals today with the PA”
“The more you play the songs, the more you become comfortable with them. I haven’t played those songs since 2019 and although a lot of them are ingrained in you there’s still little bits that you do live you’d forgotten about and pop up again. It’s a hell of a lot of stuff to remember for somebody who’s got a terrible memory (laughs)
For some reason I imagined that you didn’t rehearse?
“Well we never normally. It’s just that it’s been 3 years. Also, we’ve got a new keyboard player and he had to learn about 29 songs and mess around with his keyboard so all the bits and bobs are in the right place. It’s not easy, but he’s good. It’s the lad from Doves. Martin (multi-instrumentalist Martin Roman Rebelski). He’s only been at it a couple of weeks. He plays with Hooky as well”
How do you find playing the old songs?
“The old ones, they’re the ones that you feel comfortable with. It’s new ones that trick me. We’re possibly going to do a couple of new ones. I go to the studio, do a few guitar bits, then 2 years later you’ve got to try and remember what you did. You listen to the tapes or whatever, the mp3s and you think what am I doing there? (laughs). You’ve got to figure it all out. Get the sounds on your guitar and the pedals. A lot of the time it’s hard to remember” (laughs).
Are you working on new music with The Bunnymen then?
“Yeah, yeah. Well Mac is”
Have you done everything you’ve wanted to do? More solo records? More artwork?
“That’s more for my own entertainment, a way of getting the creative or lack of creative output. I’m always doing music. I was doing something for my mate last night in Los Angeles. He’s doing a film soundtrack for a TV series”
You seem a very creative person, not just musically, but visually.
“It’s just I’ve got to be creative. I’m a lot less creative in the band than I used to be. You feel a little frustrated so you put it into something else.”
One of the first times I saw the band was at the Manchester International in 1985. You performed a set of covers, which included lots of Doors songs. I’d never heard of the Doors really until then so thank you!
“The others didn’t like the Doors, I was the only one who liked them, but I played it so much they got used to it!”
Before we both say “tarah” in our Northwest accents, I ask Will one final question that’s been bugging me for years. Did Miles Hunt join Ian and himself on stage at the Reading festival in 1995?
“It’s possible. We did Red Rocks in America and John Denver came on and I think we did a Doors song. (Laughs) No one can remember it really. There were no photos.”
A bit of research and it looks like John Denver did join the band to perform “Soul Kitchen”. It’s well remembered for someone who says he has a terrible memory!
ECHO AND THE BUNNEYMEN TOUR 2022
Tue 01 SHEFFIELD City Hall
Wed 02 LEEDS O2 Academy
Fri 04 BOURNEMOUTH O2 Academy
Sat 05 CARDIFF St David’s Hall
Mon 07 LONDON Roundhouse
Wed 09 DUBLIN Olympia Theatre
Fri 11 NORWCH UEA
Sat 12 GATESHEAD Sage
Mon 14 LIVERPOOL Philharmonic Hall
Wed 16 MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Thu 17 NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Sat 19 CAMBRIDGE Corn Exchange
Sun 20 BRISTOL O2 Academy
Tue 22 LONDON O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Wed 23 NORTHAMPTON Derngate
Fri 25 MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Sat 26 BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy
Mon 28 GLASGOW Barrowland
Tue 01 GLASGOW Barrowland
Wed 06 BEXHILL De La Warr Pavilion
FOLLOW ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN