❉ Will’s memoir is a brilliant evocation of his often-brutal childhood, his musical influences and the birth of the Bunnymen.
For many people who were young in the late seventies and early eighties Echo and the Bunnymen were the coolest band on the planet. With their classic albums (Crocodiles, Porcupine, Heaven Up Here, Ocean Rain) and their four charismatic members, the Bunnymen emerged from the Eric’s club scene in Liverpool and became one of the most important bands of the era. Central to this was Will Sergeant’s distinctive and seminal guitar sound. In the words of their manager Bill Drummond, “Will Sergeant’s guitar lines are seared across the soul of a generation.”
Will’s memoir details his childhood in the ‘60s and ‘70s and takes us up to the genesis of the Bunnymen – when they were told by Sire record boss Seymour Stein to ditch their drum machine and get a drummer!
Growing up in the Merseyside/Lancashire village of Melling, Will’s childhood is sometimes hard and the memoir pulls no punches on recollections of his family and school life. Raised by a father who had “zero empathy” (possibly due to a wartime head injury) and living through the post-war, Cold War era (in Will’s words ,“the Cold War is my favourite kind of war”) the book also details the gigs, music and experiences that shaped Will’s life and eventually lured him to the record shops and night life of Liverpool. Encounters with “Kirkby skinheads”, mad schoolteachers, irate Liverpool chefs and no-hoper careers advisors are written about brilliantly, as are ouija board shenanigans and the joy of riding motorbikes.
Working in a dead-end job at Binns’ department store in Liverpool, Will visits record and clothes shops, goes to gigs and eventually rocks up by chance at a venue on Mathew Street called Eric’s. It is here that he finds the community of ex schoolmates, punks and eccentric characters that lead to the formation of groups like Big in Japan, Teardrop Explodes and the Bunnymen themselves. The descriptions in the book of people that play at Eric’s is breath-taking and makes you long for a time machine. Pere Ubu sound magnificent, Iggy Pop plays a cramped, sweat-drenched gig and Will drags people from the Eric’s bar to see a mesmerising performance by a transformed Joy Division.
Will often makes funny comments on modern life in the book (not for him the trend for hugging or the gentrification of modern festivals) and the book has hilarious chapter titles such as ‘Quatermass and the Hit’, ‘Zookeeper And Supernatural Elsie’, ‘Frozen Chips And Pasty Nightmare’… There are brilliant descriptions of early gigs and venues (an early Quo/Slade double bill, Zeppelin) and Will’s early love of prog rock, Eno and experimental music (Will later experiments with technology and sounds under the names Weird as Fish, Glide and on Themes For GRIND, all well worth checking out.)
Towards the end of the book, a chat with Eric’s regular Ian “Macul” McCulloch leads inevitably to the two of them strumming guitars at Will’s dads house and rehearsing for months with a drum machine called a Mini Pops Junior. With settings such as ‘Rock 1’, ‘Rock 2’ and ‘Bossa Nova’, the machine sometimes malfunctions leading to a Bill Grundy-esque accidental swearing session on the Bunnymen’s first television appearance at Granada. If you want funny stories about an irate Annie Lennox or a rather forward Granada TV presenter, you will not be disappointed with this part of the book either.
The book purposely ends at the point when the late Pete De Freitas joins the band and the Bunnymen are about to take off with their first album. I’m sure another book is planned. This gripping memoir ends with the tantalising self-aware lines: “Great opportunities are being handed to us on a plate. If this keeps up. And we are not careful, there is a good chance we could turn into a gang of arrogant pricks.” This is a great read that should appeal to Bunnymen fans and non-fans alike. I can’t wait to read the sequel.
❉ ‘Bunnyman: A Memoir by Will Sergeant’ available from 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.