Over the years there’s been a few books about the Liverpool post-punk scene and Echo and the Bunnymen in particular but, until now, none of the Bunnymen have directly told their side of the story.
Guitarist Will Sergeant’s first memoir ‘Bunnyman’, published in July, is therefore a welcome arrival to the existing reading list.
Despite the title, it’s a book that actually features the Bunnymen only in the closing chapters and only for the duration of their early three-piece incarnation. The majority of the book focusses instead on Will’s upbringing in Mellon on the outskirts of Liverpool. (Will doesn’t pick up a guitar with any purpose until we’ve reached page 187 of the 336 page book whilst a certain iconic singer doesn’t make his entrance until around page 200).
It’s an, at times, hair-raising tale peppered with evocative detail of growing up in a working class household in the 60s and 70s and it doesn’t shy away from the less desirable aspects of Sergeant family life. Will admits it will seem grim to most folk but shrugs it off as just the way things were in those days.
The stories of growing up are intertwined with Will’s increasing obsession with music. Initially his interest is sparked by the records of friends and family but as he gets older the power of live shows makes a huge impression on the teenager. It’s a strikingly honest journey through so many acts (Status Quo, Genesis, Zeppelin etc) which would become anathema to post-punk purists just a few short years later.
However, Will’s musical education takes on another dimension when he decides on the spur of the moment to go to (now) legendary Liverpool club Eric’s (to see XTC) and his life would never be the same again.
Will meets former school-mates Paul Simpson and Les Pattinson on his first visit, and inspired by punk, the club quickly becomes a home for like-minded individuals. Initially it’s a place to hang out but things start to happen as the bands formed by members move from the imaginary to the real.
It’s the efforts of his contemporaries, particularly Simpson and Julian Cope, that finally convince Will to write his own music and a lifelong partnership is formed when Will invites Ian ‘Macul’ McCulloch to jam at his house.
The move from practicing in a parlour to playing gigs in public, in response to an offer from Cope to support the Teardrop Explodes at Eric’s at their first show, seems almost too fantastical to be true. In fact, it would make a great one-off TV drama.
Somehow, in the space of 4 days they acquire a bass player (Les Pattinson – who’s never played bass before and doesn’t own a bass) and hold a single rehearsal – that the singer doesn’t attend! Will also insists that neither he or Les had heard Macul sing before the show. Yet, remarkably, that first show is a triumph, moving the members up a couple of levels in the Eric’s hierarchy.
The early days are not without their glitches (often involving “Echo” the temperamental drum machine and on one occasion a scary Scottish singer!), yet the inexperienced band pass milestone after milestone with apparent ease – a TV debut, an independent single and a Peel session are all negotiated safely – yet Will is unable to offer any insight into the band’s meteoric rise. Even a deal with a major label lands in the band’s lap before the volume’s end.
The book finishes with the Bunnymen about to ditch the drum-machine forever and recruit drummer Pete de Freitas … and one of the best closing lines in any rock book ever!
There’s no doubt that this is Will’s version of events which means that his recollections are different on some familiar stories to previous accounts. There’s also a fair amount of details that I wasn’t aware of (Macul apparently wanted to ditch the guitar and only sing from very early on).
The book doubtless also reflects Will’s relationships with different scenesters and, as a result, there’s a couple of omissions from the book that stand out. In fact, one key character in all the other accounts I’ve read is conspicuous by his absence whilst another (who does feature in the book) is omitted from the thanks at the end.
Nevertheless, it’s an enthralling and funny book which throws new light on the birth of the Bunnymen. It almost goes without saying that it’s an essential read for anyone with an interest in the band.
The great news is that Will has apparently already started work on volume 2 – according to an online interview with John Robb, the book will feature the band’s unstoppable ascent (my words) through Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here. Which leaves plenty of scope for future volumes. Hopefully.
Over to you, Will.