Echo and the Bunnymen were spawned in the creative and fertile hub of Liverpool’s late-70s punk scene, borne from oft-discussed ambitions eventually called out. The three original members, who ‘didn’t really know what they were doing’, chose to perform — sink or swim — in support of Teardrop Explodes, and became cult icons; post-punk pioneers.
Guitarist Will Sergeant recalls the time, 1978: ‘It was at Eric’s, the Liverpool punk club at the time. Everyone played there – The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones – pretty much everybody. It was just where you went. I lived eight miles away and sometimes I’d walk home because you just had to be there.
‘I’ve liked music since I was about 11-years-old. One of the first bands I was into was Roxy Music. That was one of my total inspirations. Eno at the back with a tape player and a joy stick. He didn’t have a keyboard, he was just messing around with a tape player and I thought: I can do that.
I’ve never really been bothered to learn how to play anything. I just seemed too hard.
‘With the whole punk thing, anybody could start a band and anybody did. There were loads of bands that came out of Eric’s – Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Pete Wiley, Julian Cope – it was a source of culture’, he says.
‘Every week we’d talk about the idea of starting a band, and it just sort of… Teardrop Explodes were going to do a gig and they asked us to support them, but we didn’t really know what we were doing. We just knew E and A (on guitar), and had a drum machine ticking away in the background. Les said he’d play bass. We didn’t even know what bass was’.
And that, as they say, is history – Echo and the Bunnymen was born – Ian McCulloch on vocals and guitar, Sergeant on guitar and Les Pattinson on bass.
And they swam.
‘(At the Teardrop gig) we’ve gotten up on stage; we’d never heard Mac sing… We started the drum machine, I was playing one string on the guitar and I was crapping myself. He started to sing and, from god knows where, he was amazing. He’d made up all these lyrics… It was 12-minutes long, which for punk, was pretty prog’, Sergeant says.
‘When we came off stage he came running up and we were like: ‘that’s amazing’’.
And they weren’t the only ones. The band impressed a few other people that, and the subsequent nights, and were invited to record a song.
‘We were still thinking it was all a bit of a joke’, Sergeant says of this time.
‘We did a song for a label, and it was ‘single of the week’ and everything. It was less than a year from our first gig to ‘single of the week’. It must have only been six months at the most’.
It was vindication for the band that had rapidly begun to believe their own hype.
‘We just thought we were the best band in the world and that we were the only original thing coming through’, Sergeant remembers.
‘It was punk passion. We just wanted to be cool. That’s what it was all about’.
But with that passion and ambition and initial success, came resentment from their own, as well; a trait Liverpool was well known for.
‘Everybody used to go and watch everybody else, but it was generally to slag them off’, Sergeant says.
‘That was kind of normal. Liverpool had a very bitchy vibe then. There were certain bands that we quite liked… I’m trying to think of one… (laughs). We didn’t like The Smiths, we hated them. We thought we were the best and nobody else was worth worrying about.
‘It was an exciting time; but I wasn’t excited’, he says.
‘I was a little miserable turd. I was like: everything’s rotten. I wasn’t enjoying it at all.
‘That’s one of my biggest regrets… Everything seemed fake (at the time). But it’s only now that I can, kind of, accept it. I actually go to America on my holidays now’.
Echo and the Bunnymen had initially signed to Sire records (‘We signed to Sire. We didn’t know anything about labels. We ignored the industry stuff. We thought they were all idiots’.) before moving to Warners ‘because Sire spent all their money on someone else…’
It was on Warners that the band recorded their debut 1980 album ‘Crocodiles’, which became a UK Top 20 hit.
‘We couldn’t really play’, Sergeant recalls, ‘but it sounded alright in the end. I can just about play it now (laughs)’.
The band’s cult status was followed by mainstream success in the mid-1980s, as they scored a UK Top 10 hit with ‘The Cutter’.
‘‘The Cutter’ was something we’d had floating around for a while’, Sergeant recalls.
‘It was like a drone-y thing at the start…
‘We went to London to record it as a single and we got news that our Liverpool flat had been broken into, so I went back home and Brody did my guitar parts. I wasn’t even on it’.
But within 10 years of the band’s creation date, things were on the outs, with funding singer and guitarist Ian McCulloch leaving the band.
‘I’m the only one that’s never left’, Sergeant says.
‘We sort of carried on (after McCulloch left); it was a dig at Mac.
‘We’d gone ten years and he decided to leave. We weren’t going to stop; we’d done a lot of work.
‘But that was obviously never going to work and we got slagged off. It might have been different if we’d changed the name… We developed into a bit of an electronic thing, and I was just floundering around, not doing anything.
‘Some friends said we should get back with Mac so I phoned him one night.
‘We pretty much hated each other at that stage. (Being in a band) is like working in a sausage factory: you don’t have to like the person you stand next to at work.
‘(Now) we’ve got a strong working vibe going on. We’ve all grown up a bit’.
And the new and reformed line-up – comprised of Sergeant, McCulloch, plus Gordy Goudie on guitar, Stephen Brannan on bass, Paul Fleming on keyboards and Nick Kilroe on drums – is due to grace us with another album in 2009.
‘Yes, I’ve been told it will come out this year’, Sergeant says of the album.
‘It’s nearly done, it just needs mixing.
‘It’s called The Fountain’.