This piece was inspired by a recent lengthy article written by Bill Drummond, penned in the aftermath of the death of Pete Burns. I’ve never hidden my admiration for the author believing him to be a true genius whose contribution to arts, music and culture won’t really be appreciated until long after he’s no longer with us; this latest piece of writing (click here) is up there with his best.
It was the fact that he mentioned the one-off band in the photo accopanying the article were playing Paint It Black that jogged my memory and got me thinking back to a gig played by Echo & The Bunnymen at Glasgow Barrowlands in December 1985 for they ended what I’ve long considered to be as great a live performance as I’ve ever seen with a rendition of the Rolling Stones number.
More than 30 years on and I’ve often wondered what exactly it was that made that particular gig so special. I know that some of it would have been the fact that I was there on a date with a girl who I had long been besotted with and that she too was a big fan of the Bunnymen. We had a great time but we didn’t see each other again for a few weeks as the gig was just a couple of days before Xmas and we both had plans to spend time with our families in separate parts of Scotland and being an era well before the likes of mobile phones, the cost of longish distance phone calls was something we kept to a minimum. In the end, we went out just one more time in early 1986, both realising it would be better to stay friends than fuck things up completely.
So it’s not entirely the memory of a short-lived romance that makes this gig a highlight. I’ve always thought that it was down to the majestic nature of the set, combined with the fact the band were probably at their peak and that it was in the best music venue known to mankind anywhere on the planet. That and the fact that I was blown away by the fact they did such a storming final encore of Paint It Black before sending us all home.
There’s folk who now collate set lists from gigs of way back and put them on the internet. I’ve dug in and looked up that Barrowlands gig. It turns out to have been the final gig the band played that year and it was on Sunday 22 December and so they were obviously determined to go out in some style. The full set list is evidence:-
With a Hip
Heads Will Roll
Lips Like Sugar
All That Jazz
The Back of Love
The Killing Moon
Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
Angels and Devils
Thorn of Crowns
Do It Clean
Over the Wall
Paint It Black
It’s almost as if I’d been asked to come up with a set list of my own and the band played it there and then. I just know that it was a gig where I didn’t stop dancing from the first minute to the last, all the while trying to look cool and dignified for the goddess I was next to. And probably failing – after all, when Pete De Freitas was in the house, none of the rest of us stood a chance.
I know that on many an occasion over the past 31 years I have come away from a gig believing immediately afterwards that it is the best I’ve been to; but by the time the following morning comes around and I’ve replayed it in my head and compared it to that 1985 night in the Barrowlands it then just comes up marginally close but not quite good enough.
The one funny thing about the night is that over the years I’ve tended to be able to recall something about the support acts at the countless gigs I’ve been at but I’ve a total blank on that particular evening. It may well have been I didn’t get along in time but that’s unlikely as anyone who knows me will testify that I always insist on seeing the support act ‘just in case they are any good’. It is simply the fact that the Bunnymen that night blew everything else out of the water.
Sadly, not from the Glasgow gig, but lifted from the Crystal Days box set and a set played on 25 April in Gothenburg, Sweden where the band acted as their own support by playing a set of ten cover versions before coming back on and playing their own stuff.
Listen in particular to Crocodiles which comes in at a storming 6 mins plus which is more than twice the length of the studio version. It was, in those days, that way for Mac to ad-lib all sorts of lyrics and for the band to really go for it and get the crowd going crazy towards the end of sets.