❉ Will’s second book describes the first full flowering of the Bunnymen’s creativity and coolness.
“You get the sense of Will’s horizons expanding and the tours feeding his love of clothes and music. You also get the sense of the band getting better and better… Despite being at the heart of the coolest band on the planet, the music fan from Melling comes across in these pages. You really get the impression that for Will it is all about the music “
If, like me, you enjoyed Will Sergeant’s first memoir and you’re a big Bunnyman fan, then you’ve probably been looking forward to reading this latest book for few months now.
In Bunnyman, his first book, Will Sergeant wrote in fascinating detail about his childhood and the early years upstairs at Eric’s. The book ended as Will entered his early twenties at the point just before Echo and the Bunnymen’s debut album Crocodiles was recorded and released.
This second volume of Will’s memoir, Echoes, describes the first full flowering of Echo and the Bunnymen’s creativity and coolness, spanning the recording of the magnificent first two albums: Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here. There’s also plenty of detailed recollections about the early gigs and tours and various amusing encounters en route with “Planty” and Ray Manzarek (Will being the only Zep and Doors lover in the band), Macca “from Liverpool” in George Martin’s AIR Studios, and a brief encounter with Simple Minds in Australia with both bands blanking each other.
At the beginning of Echoes we find the Bunnymen still using the drum machine with the two settings (Rock 1 and Rock 2) – a piece of equipment (famously named Echo) that often caused on–stage technical mayhem for Will and was later nicked. Things change when “Big” Bill Drummond and Dave Balfe give in to a suggestion from Sire Records svengali Seymour Stein and the mind-blowingly obvious decision is made to get a real drummer – a human!
In fact, when drummer Pete de Frietas joins the band is a real turning point. Will writes of the early Crocodiles recordings and the profound change that this final piece of the puzzle made. “The power of Les and Pete can carry everything along… A new element is being added: space, space to breathe . This leaves Macul to fit his dark poetic vocals in with a rock-solid background, and it gives me room to drift about within the parameters of the tune during the parts that are not strictly formulated.”
The description in the book of well-spoken southerner Pete being auditioned in the band’s “praccy” basement (owned by Dave ‘Yorkie’ Palmer and his formidable mum Gladys) is hilarious and with his powerful drumming the Bunnymen had now transformed into a real creative force. There also comes a point where Ian McCulloch becomes plain ‘Mac’ rather than Macul.
The first chapters of the book describe the early gigs. Pete de Frietas’s first gig as drummer is on an unlikely bill that included Madness and Bad Manners and was disrupted by right-wing thugs. The filmed Buxton concert saw the last appearance of the camouflage outfit-wearing Bunnymen before the transition into “Bleak Northern Overcoat” era.
Tours of Belgium, Australia, East/West Germany, and the USA follow, with Will soaking everything up like a sponge. . His chronicles of the life of a touring band are illuminating and evokes the excitement of their first visits to the USA, the edginess of crossing the iron curtain for gigs in East Germany and the bizarre “Wee Scottish Tour” of the Hebrides organised by Bill Drummond. You get the sense of Will’s horizons expanding and the tours feeding his love of clothes and music. You also get the sense of the band getting better and better.
The accounts of the recordings of the albums are fascinating. Recorded at places like legendary Welsh studio Rockfield the band, particularly Will, seem to have a strong sense of what is and isn’t cool and what sounds good and what doesn’t. By the same token, they are also shown to be open to input from collaborators and producers such as the fantastic Ian Broudie. At one point Will suggests no cymbals be used on Heaven Up Here whilst recorders, mud dredger sound samples and those plastic tubes you used to swing around your heads as kids are used to enhance the music!
The book is also full of marvellous meanderings. At one point accosted by famous Jesus advocate Bono (‘out of the U2′), Will muses for a few paragraphs questioning why Jehovah’s Witnesses smile so much and later gives us some wry pearls of wisdom on such topics as demo-itis: “Beware of giving out copies of demos to mates, as inevitably, it will get back to you that they think the demo is better than the finished record.”
Despite being at the heart of the coolest band on the planet, the music fan from Melling comes across in these pages. You really get the impression that for Will it is all about the music and the book draws to a close with the recording and release of the magnificent The Back of Love– with its Jacques Brel-esque vocals and Bernard Hermann/Psycho stabs surely one of the best singles ever. It’s safe to assume that we will see a third volume from Sergeant picking the story up with Ocean Rain to the further adventures of the band. Meanwhile I’ve been playing Heaven Up Here and Crocodiles on repeat.
❉ ‘Echoes: A Memoir Continued’ by Will Sergeant (Constable Books) is published 24 August 2023, RRP £22 (Harback). ISBN: 9781408719305
❉ 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