Echoes: Will Sergeant talks

❉ Bunnyman Will chats about his memoirs, touring during the Cold War, Kurt Cobain’s cardigan, recent projects and more.

There was a balance on Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here. We were all involved. It changed during the Grey album but the best tracks on that like Lips Like Sugar are all of us. Yeah it’s a weird one. It’s a weird band to be in. it’s not your normal thing.”

Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant’s new book Echoes is the second part of his well-received memoirs. The first volume, Bunnyman, dealt with his childhood and teenage years, the Eric’s scene in Liverpool and the early days of the Bunnymen. Echoes follows on to document the Bunnymen hitting their creative stride with the albums Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here. I caught up with Will to talk about the book and other recent projects. 

Hi Will. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The one thing that comes across early in the book is that when Pete de Frietas joins, that’s when the music really seems to take flight. It’s the last piece in the Bunnymen jigsaw and his drumming makes a difference. 

A massive difference. With Pete’s drumming you could sort of drop things down and it would still be trucking along.  Pete would know how to deal with it in a percussive way. We could leave gaps and holes in things. Or sit back on things and it would still be moving. It’s what drummers and bass players do isn’t it?

Did Pete just fit in straight away with you, Les Pattinson and Mac?

Yeah. Les was like a machine anyway. it just sort of happened. They were an amazing team really. Sad the way it’s gone. 

Is there any chance of Les coming back or is he doing his own thing now?

He’s quite happy out of it. He’s very realistic, Les.

There’s a very funny bit in the book when Pete auditions in Yorkie’s (Dave “Yorkie” Palmer)  basement, with Gladys (Yorkie’s mum), coming down and shouting “Turn the drums down!” in his face, and you write about how loud Pete’s drumming was.

Yeah, we’d been watching bands in Erics and you were pretty close up to the volume there. Before that it was gigs at the Stadium and the Empire. They’re loud but this was in a confined space. It was only about twelve foot square or something. When Pete used to go onstage he used to wear suits and he’d come off and every inch of that suit would be sopping wet. Not just a patch. He was just the fittest person I’d ever met in my life. He was great.

There’s a picture in the book of what the basement looks like now isn’t there? 

Yeah. I called up Yorkie and went round there. It looks the same. It’s got some spray paint on the wall where it says “Bunnymen ingrates”.   It’s when we didn’t put Yorkie on the guest list when we were playing somewhere like the Grafton or somewhere like that.  He’d got a cob on and sprayed it on the wall for next time we came down there. 

Were some of the early gigs quite dodgy? You mentioned the one with Madness and Bad Manners which was Pete’s first gig as your drummer. Was that a one-off?  It didn’t seem to fit the pattern of your shows.

Yeah, it wasn’t our idea.  We were so fresh you know. We were brand new to the whole thing.  We didn’t think it’s a dodgy bill, we just thought “Yeah we’ll do that”. We’d sort of seen Madness anyway. Those gigs were dodgy but they weren’t life-threatening. There was a bit of edge to it. I got really angry on stage, (yelling) “Do you want to hear us or not!”.  So then there were more bottles!

I listened to Marc Riley’s Parallel Universe and he mentions a similar thing where the Fall were barricaded into their dressing room.

In the seventies and the eighties there was a lot of skinhead activity. There were gangs and they’d all wander round doing nothing. There were no jobs and all the rest of it.  What are they gonna do? Skinhead gangs would fight with other skinhead gangs. They’d just like a ruck but it didn’t seem to involve anyone getting killed. That’s the difference today.

What was the first Bunnymen gig where you thought, “We’re soaring now”?

The very first gig we did. That sort of cemented something in me that was like, “Wow, this is actually real”.  I was never thinking “We’re gonna be big” or we’d get in the charts or on Top of the Pops. That was never of any interest and it still doesn’t interest me particularly. The only reason why we looked to do that is so we could do another one. One thing leads to another. I love music. I love being creative. That’s the main thing. 

I said in my review of the book that it comes across that you are a music lover. Soaking everything up.

Yeah, I love buying records. I’ve just got a record by Liz Fraser and Damon Reece called Sun’s Signature. I had it a while ago but Damon sent me some stuff. Still buying records. I generally do still buy sixties and seventies stuff though because that’s my period. When you first sort of become aware of and enamoured with music when you’re thirteen or fourteen that’s the bit that sticks with you really. It doesn’t matter if it’s seen as uncool. I really like Alice Cooper for example but only the really early stuff. 

When I was thirteen and fourteen, it was you lot I was into (laughs).

Everything’s connected. I think I said this in the first book about cavemen in a cave. Imagine they’re drumming away and a few people join in and it keeps going and going and the next thing you’ve got Shostakovich.  Further down the line it just gets built on and it doesn’t matter which route it takes.  It’s like fungus mycelium under the ground spreading around and triggering stuff all over the place. And it’s all to do with that spark of creativity. 

It’s probably the same for kids nowadays.

Yeah. Me now, I’m kind of on the periphery of all that. I’m like the old rotten fungus that’s moulding away on the tree remembering Hawkwind (laughs). You know what I mean. Every now and then a little sparkle will come to my attention. I’ve picked up on the Lazy Eyes from Australia. They’re kind of modern-ish psychedelic with prog thrown in. I like the Black Angels and a few other bands. They’re all generally that noisy guitar stuff that drones on for ages and you can trance out to it. 

An interesting part of the book is when you describe recording Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here and you talk about being open to ideas and putting them in the “Bunnymen pot”.  Using new sounds such as recorders and the recorded sound of a dredger for example. 

Yeah. Once you’ve gone into the studio you realise there’s more to it than bass, drums, guitars and singing. Basically, you’ve got this huge technical palette. Plus, having listened to old sixties stuff they were no strangers to strings or French horns or whatever. French horns were a big thing to us because Scott Walker seemed to have a lot of French horn stuff going on in the background on his records. Some kind of echoey thing. We were always trying to get some kind of French horns on there. We didn’t get many on there but that was kind of one of my things. 

There was a balance on Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here. We were all involved. It changed during the Grey album but the best tracks on that like Lips Like Sugar are all of us. Yeah it’s a weird one. It’s a weird band to be in. it’s not your normal thing.

Were the producers such as Ian Broudie open to those suggestions?

Yeah, Ian was a massive record computer. He knows loads of stuff and rare records for example. 

He was a top musician at the age of about fifteen wasn’t he?

He looked like he was about fifteen but I don’t think he was. He was probably about eighten when he was in Big in Japan. But he was obviously on a different level to us. There were a few bands with good guitarists but they were playing kind of Rolling Stones-y rock and roll riffs because that’s what they’d learnt. I was always trying to avoid all that. 

But that’s a good thing because then you’re original, aren’t you? 

I think if I think about it too much and analyse it too much it’s going to start going away.  I just wander around the fretboard and see what pleases me and fires some sort of feeling inside. That’s what it’s all about for me. And I do that with everything. I do that with painting. I do it with the writing. I just set off and off I go. It’s not like I have to sit down and think about it for ages. I just start pottering along.

What other guitarists influenced you? Not necessarily that you wanted to play like them but had some sort of influence?

(Phil) Manzanera (Roxy Music). He doesn’t get mentioned much but he’s a big influence. Obviously, Hendrix just because he could do mad shit with the guitar. Wilko Johnson was one of my big heroes. He was influenced by the guitarist out of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, wasn’t he?  The nearest I ever got to Wilko was on the track Crocodiles but I wasn’t doing it like he was doing it with just his fingers. But I still managed to get blood all over the guitar. We used to go at it like crazy. 

In the book you describe going to Berlin. 

The war fascinates me. My dad was in the war.  When I was a kid, I used to watch All Our Yesterdays or World at War. It fascinated me the stuff that went on. Amazing times when everyone pulled together. It was only a few years before that time really. In the war my dad found a big pile of iron crosses at one time, and they were all melted together. Given out to young recruits to face down a tank or a bazooka or whatever. The Germans were on the retreat in Italy. My dad’s mob were finding all these iron crosses at the sides of the road and they were all put in a big heap. They were made out of crappy metal and they melted them all. Poured petrol on them or whatever. It was like stuff you see on the telly but it actually happened. You can imagine Hitler giving out them iron crosses to them young kids! 

What was Berlin like in the early eighties when you visited it?

A game of two halves.  And I’m so glad I went through to the other half.  It was like New York or something on the West side. It was like this little island in the middle.  On one side there were these neon signs and fancy shops and great big wide streets and everything was nice and clean and tidy.  Mercedes all over the place. You go on the train and you go through stations that are under the “no man’s land”.  Well, it isn’t actually “no man’s land”. It’s their land. They call it the killing zone. 

There are these stations that are just disused and suddenly there would be like a dim light and you’d see some old papers blowing around or whatever. It was like no one had been down there since the war or since when they built it. It was mad. You came up and it was like the war had just finished. Big pockmark bullet holes in all the buildings. Nobody around. We never saw anybody.   Me and Jake had a day off and we just went through to the other side.  it’s in the book. It was fascinating. Like seeing this other world inside our world. 

Was touring America for the first time a great experience?

It was just amazing. The first thing that hits you is the heat. You get off the train or the plane and with the heat and humidity you can just tell you are in a different place. That’s what hit me at first.   Hustle and bustle everywhere. The airports were set up a lot easier. You used to be able to check in from the kerbside. It was all set up for air travel. We didn’t travel by air much on the first tour though. We had sleeper buses. They are good but after a few weeks on them you wanna kill everybody (laughs).

Were the gigs in San Francisco and New York good? 

Yeah. New York was amazing. It was so run down in the early eighties. Bill Drummond said it was like a mediaeval city and I can totally see it. There were so many people on the periphery of society walking around and dragging shopping trolleys around with their clothes or cardboard boxes in them. It’s gone back to being like that now.

It was a bit dangerous too. We used to wander around all over the place. We were told not to go to Alphabet City but we went. That’s where CBGB’s was. 

Did you go to CBGBs?

No. I don’t know if it was still open at that time. I think it might have shut. 

What was it like returning to Liverpool after going on tour. Had things moved on?

It felt weird. We’d realised there was a world out there that was not just Liverpool. You couldn’t explain it to people. I never used to say ‘we did that, we did this or we did the other’ because It was like poking someone in the eye who was stuck in Liverpool. I felt lucky to do all this stuff. I’m still lucky now. We go to America in November for example.

On YouTube there’s loads of clips of the gigs at Futurama and the Hacienda. Do you remember those well?

Yeah, when we did the Hacienda Courtney (Love) came with us. I remember we did Fuel which is the B side of The Back of Love. When Fuel was originally recorded it was done in a backroom/bedroom I had at Broudie’s flat on a four-track. It was when we were kind of open to things. A bit more experimental and eclectic. 

Also, with Broke My Neck. We did that in Norway. With B sides it was like, “You’ve got a day in the studio and you’ve got to make a B side.” We came up with Angels and Devils that way as well. 

On Fuel we used a marimba. I had loads of stuff lying around in this back room in Broudie’s flat and I had a weird marimba. There’s a drum machine on there as well but it was a Drumatix drum machine. It wasn’t Echo, it was this new one we’d just bought. It had a bass line thing as well. They’re dead rare now and go for a fortune.

Yeah, your B Sides are brilliant and Fuel is one of the best ever.  You’re using different things and experimenting and it sounds good.

I think a lot of it comes from soundtrack films. John Barry or something. The Ipcress File and all that stuff. it’s got interesting sounds going on.

The first four albums still sound great. Did you listen to them back when writing the book? 

I did, yeah. Just so I could remember recording them and what we were doing at the time.

I suppose you spot bits that you think could have been better even though we as listeners wouldn’t hear that?

Oh yeah.  You’re never satisfied. You come back thinking, “Why couldn’t we have done that louder” or “The guitars sound thin.” You start off with a sort of vision in your mind of what you want it to be like and it’s never ever like you want it. It’s never exactly the same. The next record I want to do with AV8 – I’ve got a thing in my mind but it probably won’t ever end up like that.

When you’re in the studio do you change things around and develop things from what’s in your head?

Yeah coz a studio is like a blank piece of paper isn’t it?  A demo is a sketch.

I found it funny in the book where you talk about the condition “demo- itis”. “Never give demos to mates – they’ll say that’s the best version!”

That’s happened so many times, that.  “No, I prefer the demo!”.  You spend thirty thousand quid on a record and they go “I prefer the demo” (laughs). Drives you nuts. Why it drives you nuts is because secretly underneath you agree (laughs). You’ve just gotta move on and just forget about it. One new hurt to heal (laughs).

Do you prefer recording or do you prefer playing live?

I’m not really involved in recording now. I go in and do a bit here and there. I’ve been sidelined. But playing live? I love playing live and we do the great old ones anyway. We only do one or two new ones. I’ve got no problem with it really.  

So, the next book will be about the Porcupine and Ocean Rain years? 

Yeah. One thing I have done is for the next book, I’ve got a huge list of stuff that I wanna get in there. A lot of stuff happened between Heaven Up Here and Ocean Rain. For example, I went on holiday to Russia. It was the proper Soviet Union when Andropov was in charge. That was an interesting time and that’s going to be in it.  

This trip was in 1983/1984 in winter/new year. Weirdly there’s a bloke called Tan who works with Bill Drummond quite a bit. And he was on that holiday with us. It was kind of done via Liverpool Polytechnic. 

How long were you over there for?

Two weeks.  £200 quid for two weeks. We never ate. We stocked up on this black bread stuff and boiled eggs and cucumbers. That was it. Me and Les were flirting with vegetarianism. We were taken to meet some young communists at a party but it was all formal. It wasn’t like, “Off you go – here’s Russia, go and play out”. There was none of that.

 Every day we had sort of politically motivated tours and visits. We went to where Lenin was exiled, and we went to the mass graves in Leningrad from the siege of Leningrad. It was all political stuff and we had a chaperone. This woman was dead glamorous and sexy. She wore a fur coat and she lived in the Winter Palace. A bus pulled up at the Winter Palace and she comes out the door. They’d nicked it off the Royal Family or whatever and used it for offices or flats for people high up in the politburo. Me and Les and Jake did escape and got on the tube. The amazing underground they have there with chandeliers and stuff all over the place.  It was 5 Kopecks to go anywhere. Less than 5p!

Is the story of the mohair cardigan worn by Kurt Cobain on Nirvana MTV Unplugged going to be in the next book? It’s a great story

Well basically Courtney Love and my girlfriend at the time were friends. I left my cardie there and Courtney nicked it. I wasn’t bothered because it had a burn on it. If you go online there’s a picture of it for sale for 33,0000 dollars! It’s got the burn mark on it. You can’t see it when he’s playing because the guitar was in the way but it’s definitely my cardigan. I asked Courtney.

Yeah, he points at it and goes “mohair” doesn’t he? 

The weird thing is I bought that in America. In Buffalo in a second-hand kind of vintage clothes shop. That’ll be a good story.  It’s just weird. She became good mates with my girlfriend but I sort of broke up with her and I just left it there. 

Was the other American girl called Robin?

Yeah. I still keep in touch with Courney and Robin. It was weird in Liverpool with these American girls walking around. It was unusual. It was when things were pretty dour with bin men strikes and things as well. I’ve got photos of my girlfriend in the flat and there’s a photo of me on the wall wearing that cardigan.  

The gig where you supported the Stones at Anfield a year or two ago, what was that like?

That was odd (laughs). My amp fell over. It’s up there on YouTube. My amp fell over and I didn’t even notice. The roadies are panicking behind. They’d left it on wheels, and it was quite windy. The wind blew it and it toppled over. 

We had a weird sort of meet and greet with the Stones. We were told, “The Rolling Stones want to meet you and Mac”.  So, we went to this big room – the canteen – and we stood there for about ten minutes thinking, “what’s going to happen?”.  We were wheeled out into this corridor where the Liverpool sign is. We stood there and then Mick came from one side of the corridor and Keith and Ronnie came from the other side and just said “How’s it going?” We’d done the gig by then. Mick went “How’d it go then?” (Mick Jagger impression). We just went, “Yeah great”. Keith mumbled something. I couldn’t understand a word he said. And that was that. Fifteen seconds. 

They took a photo and fifteen seconds later that was over with. That was it. We tried to get the photo off them to put on our website. They only gave us a really low-res copy. Like it’d been done on a phone. A really shit photo. They wouldn’t give us a good copy. It would have promoted them on our site. We’re not going to sell it or anything! What are we gonna do with it? Weird. 

Do you ever get offers to do soundtracks for films and TV?

You know what? That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s one of those things where you can’t get your foot in the door unless you ‘ve been tried and tested. I have been over to America and did a couple of things with Adam Peters, who did the string arrangements on Ocean Rain and played with us on various other things. I’ve been over to his studio and helped him do a little bit.  He’s just done a soundtrack to a TV series called Shantaram that streams on Apple. I helped him a little bit with that. Not much – just odd little bits here and there. 

Did you get a credit on it?

No I didn’t (laughs). I’m not even on that IMDB thing. Apparently, you’ve got to do that yourself. I don’t know how it works. The Bunnymen have been (heard) on loads of films, not just Donnie Darko. (EATB song credits on IMDb list a range of TV series including Yellowjacket, Misfits, The Americans and Stranger Things)

What music are you listening to at the moment? I sometimes see your tweets about records you’ve bought.

I bought a couple of Herbie Mann albums recently. It’s just nice in the background while you’re writing. Also Richard and Linda Thompson’s I Saw the Bright Lights Tonight. You know what? I’ve heard this before but I think Tom Verlaine is a big Richard Thompson fan as far as I can see and is trying to play like Richard Thompson. I’m trying to play like Tom Verlaine so there’s a little line for you. Some of Bright Lights could be off one of Tom Verlaine’s later albums. That Fairport song A Sailor’s Life off Unhalfbricking as well. That sounds like Television to me… I don’t know if it’s been documented but I think Tom Verlaine must have been a Richard Thompson fan. 

There’re a few Ocean Rain gigs coming up are there?

Four gigs with The Liverpool Philharmonic. We’ll be playing the album and will be doing a few other songs as well. The album’s only nine songs.

I’m not always into when groups play a whole album live but with that album I bet it’ll be great.

I’d also always wanted to do the whole of Porcupine live too but that never seems to be on the agenda. Porcupine is mainly in D (laughs). Every song starts with D. 

Will you be doing more solo stuff in the future?

I’ve just recently released that last one, Assemblage 3 and 4, which was recorded ages ago. It’s with  AV8 records. They seem to do a lot of stuff with The Coral.  I’d had this stuff done for about five years or something and I put that out. It’s like an electronic thing. The next one is going to be guitar-based.

 I can sort of see it in my head but I won’t know until I start doing it. In my head it’s like a big washy thing with sparkly bits. All guitar and possibly minimal as well.  I’ve got an electronic autoharp now, which I’ll use. It’s got a pickup in it. I use it on Killing Moon now in the chorus when we play that live.

What else have you got coming up? Obviously, you’re doing in-stores for the book.

Yeah, they will just keep coming in now. It’s weird, a book. When it comes out you get an initial thing, an initial reacton, but it carries on for a bit. With an album it’s forgotten about in a couple of weeks. A book grows through word of mouth. “Oh I’ve got that, I’ll get that as well”. It’s slightly different to records. I want it to sell ‘cause I wanna do another one. Eventually I’d like to do some sort of fiction. I’ve a few ideas.

That will be interesting as you can obviously write. 

Yeah I’ve got better at it from doing it more and more as well.

I’m also trying to get some of my paintings to an exhibition in Germany. A load of lads from Liverpool are going over there and taking some of my stuff to this gallery. 

I’m doing the Laugharne festival as well. It’s in Dylan Thomas’s hometown. Really looking forward to that. We did that a couple of years ago and it was great. They take over the whole town. Every little school hall and church or whatever. It’s not just music. They have films on and stuff but there’s also loads of “heads” hanging around like Alexei Sayle and Stewart Lee.

❉ ‘Echoes: A Memoir Continued’ by Will Sergeant, published by Constable/Little Brown, RRP £22 (Harback). ISBN: 9781408719305. Click here to order.

 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.  His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1

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