Entertainment Music

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Fate, still up against Ian McCulloch's will

Liverpool's Echo & The Bunnymen once claimed to be the greatest band in the world who settled for cult status, writes Barry Egan

Ian McCulloch: ‘My dad died the same day I left the Bunnymen’. Photo: Getty Images
Ian McCulloch: ‘My dad died the same day I left the Bunnymen’. Photo: Getty Images

Courtney Love lived in Liverpool in the early 1980s where she worshipped a local deity; from whom she claimed to have stolen most of her stage moves.

"I ran into him again not too long ago at this hotel," Courtney said in an 1994 interview. "He walked in dressed in his tennis whites, and, you know, he's aged a lot, like great beauties do. And he saw me and he gave me this look like, 'What the f**k are you doing here?'"

Ian McCulloch - for it was he - has been giving the world that same look all his life it is worth pointing out. He probably got that look from his late father. "He was like Eric Morecambe meets Bill Shankly. I've turned into him, totally. I always think you can get away with anything by being a cheeky little bastard."

The wickedly gobby McCulloch, aka Mac The Mouth, vocalist with Echo & The Bunnymen, once called his band's record Ocean Rain "the greatest album ever made".

"But yeah," he reflected recently, "when you've got the greatest songs in the history of time, the greatest band in the world and the greatest singer, you're obviously talking about it as a masterpiece.

"I listen to Ocean Rain more than What's Going On by Marvin Gaye."

Their debut album, 1980's Crocodiles along with Heaven Up Here, in 1981, are almost as sublime as Ocean Rain. Mac would not disagree. "How can you not sell the first three Bunnymen albums? It's like, how can you not sell the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh's Sunflowers and The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch?"

Despite writing some of the greatest ever pop songs - The Killing Moon (All together now: 'Fate/ Up against your will'), The Cutter, Rescue and, of course, Ocean Rain - Ian did also once say that he had effectively settled for cult status early on with his band from Liverpool.

"I kind of like it, because at the end of the day, we don't have as many millions as U2's got, but I don't know whether I'd ever use them. All I know is that I'd be still going to the football on a Saturday, still liking pubs to drink in."

All these decades on since he formed the band in October 1978 with guitarist Will Sergeant, bassist Les Pattinson and a drum machine called Echo - Pete de Freitas soon arrived on drums - the post-punk pioneers are still going as a hugely influential cult band who have influenced everyone from Coldplay to Liam Gallagher to Courtney Love.

The Scouse legends have had many ups and downs along the way. After a gig in Japan in 1988, when the band had effectively split up, Ian's father died while the singer was on the flight home. "My dad died the same day I left the Bunnymen, April 26, 1988. I'd told him that this gig in Osaka was going to be the end of it for me," he told the Observer in 2003. "My dad was in hospital in Liverpool and I knew he was dying before I went on stage. I'd been crying my eyes out, but I thought, 'What a cool, cool dude, to say 'I'll get out now. You've got to do the last one on your own'. Not that he guided me through life, but it was too coincidental."

In 1989, Pete de Freitas, only 27, died tragically when his 900cc Ducati motorcycle crashed; he was on his way to Liverpool from London.

Their former manager Bill Drummond once summed up Echo & The Bunnymen's career as "Lies, deceit, hatred, hotel floors, cocaine dealers, transit vans, acid trips, broken amplifiers, American girls, service stations, loss of innocence, corrupt road crews, missed opportunities, vanity, broken promises, shit gigs, bad sex, crap mixes, late VAT returns, petulance, incompetence, petty rivalry and Pete de Freitas dying."

You could also add the 2011 incident onstage in Glasgow when Ian chucked a beer bottle in the general direction of Will Sergeant before walking off. "I don't want to talk about it too much but I took my feelings of isolation on to the stage," Mac The Mouth said in 2013.

"It was all my doing. I felt like I didn't know anyone and it just spilled over. I can't undo it, but I'd have paid hundreds and thousands to see that gig. In a way, it was the best gig I've ever done. But it wasn't funny. It was heartbreaking. We're great friends now. We give each other man hugs when we meet. For Will to actually come to me and do that was an amazing moment. I'm probably easier to be around now."

Echo & The Bunnymen play The Olympia Theatre, Dublin on October 12.

Sunday Independent

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