“Echoes: A Memoir Continued…” by Will Sergeant (published by Constable)
Further adventures of a Bunnyman are heaven up here
Surprisingly, this new volume covers only the first two albums of the five they made before the schism in 1989, when we had thought it was probably going to include the whole period. Well, it does mean there’ll be a lot of detail, and secondly the publisher has presumably approved a third memoir to continue the tale. Sergeant, in his earthy scouse way, ended the first book: “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.”
Did they? Here we go, then. It is August 1979 and after Seymour Stein , the head of voguish Sire Records, has seen the formative three-piece play at London’s YMCA, he lets it be known he would be interested in signing them if they get rid of Echo, their temperamental electronic beatbox that gives them the rather limited rhythms Rock 1 and Rock 2 (if it’s working properly) and replace it with a proper drummer.
Enter Pete de Freitas, an 18-year-old student at the posh Downside School, near Bath in Somerset run by Benedictine monks. Pete is a southerner who speaks well and has polite manners, a quiet and easy-going lad, and he the family have a lovely house in Goring-on-Thames village and he has a forthcoming place at Oxford University.
But Pete is cool too, and he travels to Liverpool for an audition in a damp basement, which he easily passes. It’s up to Pete if he’ll join the other three and he decides to give it a go, to leave his privileges for an uncertain future with these rather rough scouse weirdos who are learning to play their instruments and have written only a few songs. Alongside Will are singer and rhythm guitarist Ian McCulloch and three-string bassist Les Pattinson. They’re more into egg sarnies (sandwiches) than Pete’s higher tastes.
But it works, perfectly. This is September 1979 and Sergeant describes de Freitas as a thunderous force of muscle, precision and speed who will become an inventive, influential and musical drummer. The book is full of Sergeant’s dry scouse humour – “Pete had already been part of two bands with his schoolmates back at Downside. First was a punk outfit; with all the punk anger that switched-on public schoolboys could muster… ”
The Bunnymen start to evolve. With Pete on board the dynamics of their fledgling songs change, Sergeant writes. Four different minds are coming together from different angles to create a unique sound. If one person were dictating it all, it would be predictable, boring and dull. They are all in control of what they are adding to the songs. Pete and Les are a reliable safety net for Will to sloppily ramble about and get creative on guitar.
Their first gig minus Echo and with Pete is at the Electric Ballroom in London in October 1979. The skinhead audience is there to see ska bands Madness and Bad Manners, and they bottle the Bunnymen off the stage after just a couple of songs. But the Bunnymen are paid their fee, and early on they decide to stop playing support spots, even if it means fewer gigs.
Things are moving fast. Growth is becoming unstoppable. “We can exude a genuine attitude,” says Sergeant. The Bunnymen don’t want to go down the cheesy route. “Music that is easily digested is easily shat out too; it becomes boring and bland.”
Sergeant is juggling the band, who are getting more gigs, with his day job as a comis chef at Binns department store in Liverpool. He quits the job. The band get their first roadie. Les gets a fourth string. Their decision to share publishing royalties equally creates a strong bond.
As a fellow who has barely been out of Liverpool, Sergeant and the Bunnymen embark on their first trip to Europe, to play Plan K in Belgium. With typical humour and honesty, Sergeant says he is not in the least erudite, and the Belgian promoters’ perfect English is likely better than his.
Echo and the Bunnymen start to receive mentions in the English music papers. And yes, Will is “starting to gow into a peculiar mix of arrogant prick and self-doubting knobhead”. He feels slightly uncomfortable that the band is becoming flavour of the month in the music press, which he acquaints with selling out.
He confesses to being awkward and ungrateful at times – “What a cunt I was,” to put it bluntly. “My idea of success was creating, cool, innovative, timeless music, not chart psoitions and becoming a household name kind of deal.” They’re not doing it for fame or money. Also, Will doesn’t like to play seated venues, as they are more sterile.
The Bunnymen world is going to expand beyond all his expectations. The first album “Crocodiles” is recorded at Rockfield Studios in rural Wales and their aversion to being steered in a poppy direction flares up, Mac grabbing the producer by the throat. It’s released in July 1980 and quickly hailed as a classic debut.
There’s the camouflage-clothing-and-stage-set phase; the mystery tour to play at Buxton Pavilion Gardens in Derbyshire in January 1981 keeps them close to their fans, who are brought to the secret venue in coaches. There are odd encounters with a spaced-out Hawkwind, Ginger Baker and his dog, (Robert) “Planty”, Ray Manzarek (Will being the only Led Zeppelin and Doors lover in the Bunnymen) and plenty of others.
The second album “Heaven Up Here” is released in May 1981 and goes top ten. Trips are made to Europe and the United States. Berlin “looks like not much has changed since Adolf and Eva’s wedding day”. Sergeant takes us on the tour bus and sightseeing. New York is on its arse, the city of “Taxi Driver”, “Mean Streets” and “Midnight Cowboy.” In Australia they cross paths with Simple Minds but both bands ignore each other, being musical and attitudinal opposites.
The Bunnymen were different in lots of ways and that’s why we loved them. Which other band played in small places in the far north of Scotland, allowed their fans to tape gigs and swap the cassettes, and used Peel Sessions on BBC Radio to workshop songs still under construction?
Sergeant hates press things such as interviews and photo sessions, where he is a moody sod with a bad attitude. “This fame stuff is unpleasantly addictive. I have alway tried my best to avoid it. Am I getting caught up? After all, here I am writing a memoir shouting out, ’Oi, Look at me; I’m over here; don’t forget me; Look what I’ve done’.”
Well, it looks like a third book must be on the way. This second volume ends up: “I have had some moments of arrogant prick-ery but so far I’ve managed not to succumb to the full-on status of total wanker.”
We Bunnymen fans are glad for the exceptional music they gave us, and Sergeant allows us to relive and add to that happy experience all these years later.
See The Budapest Times’ review of Will Sergeant’s first book, “Bunnyman: A Memoir”