❉ James Collingwood talks to the Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist about his life and his new memoir.
It’s not too over the top to call Will Sergeant – guitarist with the hugely influential Echo and the Bunnymen – a musical force of nature. A modest musical genius maybe? Take it from Johnny Marr, quoted on the back of Will’s new memoir Bunnyman, who says, ‘When I first heard Will Sergeant I knew it was a new time for guitar playing. He’s one of those people that music fans know is just great’. Or Richard Hawley, who says, ‘Will has all the colours of the rainbow at the end of his fingertips’.
His memoir is a brilliant evocation of his often-brutal childhood, his musical influences and the birth of the Bunnymen. I spoke to Will about his life.
I’ve just finished reading Bunnyman and it’s a brilliant book. When and how did the book start?
I started before lockdown. I’ve been doing the liner notes for rereleases of Bunnymen records and I enjoyed it. I met somebody who got me in touch with an agent and I took it from there really.
Remembering and also putting your childhood down on paper must have been difficult?
Bits of it. The aggro and everything. But you can’t pretend, can you?
No, it’s best to be honest. When it comes to the Eric’s stuff (iconic Liverpool club) you write about that brilliantly. I knew a bit about that but there was a lot of stuff I didn’t know about. Did you see the clip of the Bunnymen playing on Granada’s ‘What’s On’ that they recently unearthed – with the drum machine?
On the Guy Garvey (From the Vaults) thing? Yes that was our first telly thing. I write about that in the book. There were all these people and I was swearing (when the drum machine didn’t work). It was like ‘here’s Echo and the Bunnymen!’ and it just started you know. It was just a nightmare.
Did you just do one song on that show?
Yeah. Pictures On My Wall.
So going back to Eric’s. It was a completely original scene, wasn’t it? Was it a mix of punks and hippies at the time?
In Erics? Well, there was the odd hippie. It was just people into alternative music and weird music. That bloke Chas who I write about…he was a proper hippie. He had like loon pants on and all that stuff. Nobody was bothered. He sort of drifted in now and again. I don’t know if he was getting in for nothing or not. Strange character. We used to talk to him. It wasn’t just hippies. It was mainly punks
Were your mates going there before you?
Well, what is was – I used to work in Liverpool. I just went into work and saw a poster for this gig and thought ‘I’ll go to that’ and I just bought a ticket and went. I didn’t know anybody but I was just going to gigs all the time. I just went to Eric’s on my own. Paul Simpson (future Teardrop Explodes) who was at our school in the class above us was there and Les Pattinson (Bunnymen bass player) who was in my class was there. So I had people to talk to. Then I started going every time I could because I was in town anyway. Never had any money… I had a job but it was like 11 pound a week or something.
So, once you were known there and a face there they let you in regularly?
What was the set up of Eric’s like? Did they have bands on during the week?
Yeah, there was a band on every couple of weeks before I started going. I didn’t start going until ‘77. The club started in 1976. But it wasn’t going every week it was like a one off. You’d see a band and have a couple of weeks off. It was only after the punk thing exploded that they could put things on the Friday and Saturday. Sometimes Sunday. So, Thursday, Friday and Saturday but not every week. When Julian Cope had that party, that was on a Wednesday.
What did that involve?
it was out first gig. When we did the version of Monkeys. That was a party for Julian Cope’s teacher training college.
Was it on Penny Lane that you and the Teardrops rehearsed together?
No, it wasn’t on Penny Lane were we rehearsed. It was a place called Prospect Vale. We were mates with the Teardrops Paul Simpson and Gary Dwyer. This guy Yorkie lived with his mum and he had a basement. The Teardrops rehearsed there. Yorkie later became the bass player with Space – remember them? He was into avant garde music and everything. We were ready to pay him but we never did. We’d always scarper.
You write really well about the gigs. Seeing Joy Division and Iggy for example. The Iggy one was packed wasn’t it?
The Iggy one was ridiculous. You could not move. 600 people in a 300-capacity place. He did that whole crowd surfing thing that he did. Sweat dripping like water.
Is it true Eric’s was a bit of a dive then?
Yeah. It smelt of sewers. Pretty bad. But it didn’t matter. That wasn’t why you were there you know. You were there for the people and you were there for the bands and your mates and all that. There wasn’t a scene you know?
In terms of music, you were more into the Manchester bands like the fall weren’t you? Were you mates with the Fall then?
Yeah, yeah, we were mates. Mac (Ian McCulloch) was mates with Mark E Smith.
Yeah, I’ve seen the letter on twitter. Did Mac roadie for them?
He might have moved a guitar! If they were playing, we would go down to the soundcheck and they would let us in to watch. We didn’t stay mates later. Funny bloke (Mark E Smith)… Definitely a funny bloke.
Then you saw Joy Division?
Yeah. They were amazing. It was obviously another level. How are they making that sound? It was so different to everything else but it was still a sort of punky thing you know. Dunno – it’s weird. I saw them a couple of times in Manchester I think they were supporting either Iggy Pop or the Fall.
And you write about the festival in Leigh – The Zoo/Factory collaboration? That sounded good.
It was amazing. There was hardly anyone there. Most of the crowd was made up of the bands that were on. And it was just on this scabby bit of waste ground with this scaffolding stage. There may be some pictures on Kevin Cummins website. There’s one picture were you can see there’s hardly anyone there and lying on the ground is Bill Drummond in a jumper and next to him is Les.
And you say there were people walking through it from work?
Yeah, it was just people coming home from the mines. Miners’ hats on and blackened faces going home for a shower or whatever!
Was there a lot of crossovers between Zoo and Factory? Tony Wilson on the one side and Bill Drummond/Dave Balfe on the other?
I know Bill was friendly with Tony Wilson and at one point Tony was saying to Bill ‘there’s another way of doing this you know – don’t sign to a major.’ Bill was like ‘you’ve got a good job at Granada Studios and we’ve got nothing though’. He was a good fella tony Wilson though. Promoted the whole movement of new bands on programmes like So it Goes. The North West’s John Peel!
You’re still into your bikes and scooters aren’t you? You write about your motorbike in the book.
Yeah I’ve just bought another scooter in Bridlington. I was thinking – there’s no pockets in a shroud. Better have some fun while I’m still here!
You were into prog, weren’t you? A lot of bands from that era pretend that they weren’t but you never hid it?
Yeah well, I was 13 or 14 at that time and that’s what was happening. They were the underground bands of the time. Yes weren’t all over the radio and that. Peter Gabriel-era Genesis were a really good band. He used to wear a fox’s head. I like anything that’s got a bit of a show involved. Tull were one of the best bands going. Different time signatures and bluesy stuff, but with a slight British folk tinge which was unusual. Led Zep were amazing. I was too young for the early concerts, but I went to see them in 1975 and they were mighty.
Were you always experimenting with sound even before the Bunnymen started?
Yeah, cassette players when they first came out. Used to dick around with them. Try to reverse things etc.
Do you still do that?
Yeah (laughs) playing around with sound. None of it’s commercial.
You still put things out though, don’t you – as Glide?
I’ve done another album as Glide. Doing it is the most interesting thing. Then there’s getting it pressed and all that – because really, I’m a one man band with that. Burning Shed records is interesting. It’s like a label for underground stuff. They host people’s sites. I’ve also been working with this bloke Kelley Stoltz an American singer songwriter. He was in the Bunnymen for a bit. Big Bunnyman fan. You can only concentrate on one thing at a time sort of. I’m not like a Johnny Marr character where people remember the name. He’s a nice bloke. He’s got it sussed.
I love the way the book goes up to just before the Bunnymen started taking off. It ends when Pete (De Frietas) joined. It talks about your musical development up to then?
Yeah, they’ll be a next one.
I’m always into music. I went to football a bit when I was younger but all I was really always into was listening to records. Playing them over and over again. We weren’t musicians to start with. It’s like with Pete It’s only later on that you realise how clever and innovative he was. He was the best drummer in the world. He could do anything. The power of him…the power was incredible. He’d wear a suit onstage and at the end he’d look like he’d been in the canal. The power and intensity of his drumming was just amazing.
Was it true that you and Mac rehearsed together with the drum machine for months before you heard him sing?
I heard that he COULD sing but it didn’t seem to matter then. It was punk rock – just doing something interesting and creative and you could just do it. Didn’t have to be virtuoso – just bang out a few chords. We played a lot early on but we only did 10 or 11 gigs with the drum machine. Because we did loads of gigs, we got really tight. That was Bill Drummonds thing. Playing loads. He did the same with the Teardrops at the Pyramid club. A bit like the Beatles in Hamburg. It was kind of like that..but with a theory.
Your albums still sound fresh. Heaven Up Here, Ocean Rain, Crocodiles etc.
I hadn’t listened to them for ages until I did a couple of Tim’s Listening Parties. I was surprised. It’s good. (Tim’s Listening Parties) are hectic though. You have to be prepared. You come off and at the end of it and your knackered. It’s like you’ve done a gig.
❉ ‘Bunnyman: A Memoir by Will Sergeant’ is out on 15 July 2021, published by Constable/Little Brown in hardcover, Ebook and audiobook (read by the author). RRP: £20.00 (Hardcover/Ebook).
❉ James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.
Header image: GETTY.