I’ve been inspired to write this as a belated (by one day) birthday gift to my friend JJ, and on account of her going absolutely bonkers on Facebook in the aftermath of Echo & the Bunnnymen playing in Glasgow in early August. She was full of lust and longing, advising anyone who tuned in that she would ‘happily be Ian McCulloch’s slave – sexual stuff, tea and biscuits, anything he fancies really’ while dragging her friend into the conversation by saying she could have ‘sloppy seconds’. Given that she is normally such a quiet and fairly reserved person, certainly any time I’m ever in her company, then I thought I must have missed the gig of the century. But talking to a couple of other folk who were also there, it seems it was a decent enough night but not close to the heights they hit back in the 80s (as recalled in this previous post).
The previous Bunnymen ICA was composed at 35,000 feet as I crossed the Atlantic en route to Canada. This is being written up as what seems like the entire Atlantic has fallen on Glasgow these past few weeks.
Just so that you know, none of the songs on Vol. 1 were allowed in this time, so there’s no space for Show of Strength, Never Stop, The Killing Moon, Zimbo, A Promise, Heads Will Roll, Over The Wall, All That Jazz, The Cutter or Ocean Rain. Nevertheless, there’s still loads of room for another ten songs of quality and distinction – all of which have been taken from the period when at least three of Ian, Les, Will and Pete were involved.
Seriously, I didn’t squeeze this in last time round? Maybe it was early evidence of me losing my way, losing my touch or whatever. But I hope you sympathise…..
The band’s second single and it took them to the outer reaches of the pop charts in reaching #62 in May 1980. That’s coming up for 40 years ago. FFS……………………………….
2. Thorn of Crowns
Cucumbers, cabbages, cauliflowers, men on mars and April Showers. I’m still not sure how a long-forgotten Scottish duo from the 80s, who released just the one magnificent single before disintegrating, found their way into the lyrics from one of the highlights of Ocean Rain, released in 1984.
Oh and for what it’s worth, Bunnymac has had a laugh at everyone who tried at the time to throw some light on what the song was about. He was fed up with his lyrics being dissected and analysed constantly, so he decided to come up with something fairly nonsensical wrapped around a more typical lyric and sit back to see what was written about it. The critics couldn’t help themselves and had a go at him for dumbing things down…..
3. Paint It Black (live)
The first ICA featured a live track – Zimbo – which was taken from the b-side of the 12” of The Cutter and was the live rendition of the track All My Colours as played at the WOMAD Festival in 1982, accompanied by the The Royal Burundi Drummers.
This time round, it’s just the band, as captured a their absolute peak with a show in Gothenburg in April 1985 that was broadcast on Swedish national radio. The cover of the Rolling Stones track was a staple of the live shows at that time, and I recall being blown away when it was performed at the Glasgow Barrowlands. It took until 1987 before it was commercially available, and even then it was stuck away on the b-side of a limited edition 12” release of People Are Strange, the cover of The Doors song that had been recorded as part of the soundtrack to the film The Lost Boys. Thankfully, it was included within the 4xCD boxset Crystal Days, released by Rhino Records in 2001, which is why I can include it here.
4. Nothing Lasts Forever
The death of Pete de Freitas in 1989 was a game-changer although nobody really admitted it at the time. It does really beggar belief that Will Sargeant and Les Pattinson felt they could release an album in 1990, not only without their drummer but without their charismatic singer on board, and nobody really took the band seriously at the time. McCulloch disparagingly referred to them as Echo and The Bogusmen.
Seven years on and everyone had kissed and made up. And just before the Britpop bubble finally and inevitably burst, they pulled off a comeback that seemed impossible, thanks to a more than decent set of songs on the album Evergreen, all of which were preceded by the single that took them, deservedly, back into the Top 10 for the first time in more than thirteen years. Many young kids hadn’t ever heard of Echo & the Bunnymen, thinking they were just the latest in a long time of newly emerging British groups coming along in the wake of Blur, Oasis, Pulp etc. re-igniting a love for and interest in guitar-led pop songs. They were the very lucky ones who could then go and explore the back catalogue while the rest of looked in the mirror, despairing that we could no longer do much with our hair, that our raincoats no longer matched our chest sizes and our black jeans were stupidly tight around the waist (assuming you could get them over your thighs). Nothing lasts forever indeed……………
Seriously, I didn’t squeeze this in last time round? Well, I’ve done it now, so I’m all smiles.
1. Seven Seas
Many years ago, I had a conversation with a friend during which I moaned that Seven Seas was one of my least favourite Bunnymen 45s on the grounds that it was untypically fluffy and disposable. My friend then asked why it was that I had no such issues with The Lovecats, a track which is unarguably even more untypically fluffy and disposable than anything else released, at least to the point in time the discussion was taking place, by The Cure.
My response that the latter was great fun to listen to and so obviously had its tongue in its cheek was met with a look of disbelief accompanied by the one-word answer as a question – ‘And?’
I had painted myself into a corner, more or less admitting that the music snob in me had dismissed a great bit of pop on the grounds that one of my favourite bands shouldn’t lower themselves in such ways. All of which led to a fresh appraisal of Seven Seas and all these years later, coming to the conclusion that it would make a great opener for side 2 of ICA 2.
2. The Back of Love
The critical acclaim for Heaven Up Here (1981) was huge, with NME naming it album of the year, and this was in an era when such things were incredibly important. Funnily enough, it was the album which made manager Bill Drummond despair as he identified immediately that the band was heading in a direction he didn’t like, ready to make music that would be embraced by the masses.
Things were relatively quiet in 1982 other than the release of what felt like a stand-alone single, one that took the band into the higher end of the charts at #19 and very much increased their public profile. It’s a fabulous few minutes of music, and my only excuse in not including it the previous ICA was a lack of room.
3. With A Hip
I hadn’t realised, until doing a wee bit of research for today, that Heaven Up Here enabled the Bunnymen to enjoy a Top 10 album in the UK far earlier than either Simple Minds or U2, both of whom would hoover up huge audiences as the decade unfolded. As mentioned above, Bill Drummond was concerned about the potential direction that the music was taking and he soon bailed out. But here’s my theory was to why the Bunnymen never became arena/stadium gods.
Anthemic tunes need anthemic, sing-a-long lyrics, preferably around a catchy chorus. Nobody really wants to stand among 10,000 plus like-minded souls and sing about stealing bananas from the grocer’s shop.
If I ruled the world, I would make it compulsory for With A Hip to be aired at all indie-discos. It’s impossible not to want to dance to it in a way that you end up throwing your arms and legs into shapes and arrangements that will, for those of us in our advanced years, lead to a visit to the physio the next morning to get things put back in place.
The 1997 comeback album sold really well, going Top 10 on the week of its release. The interesting thing, a few years later, is that I began to see a fair number of copies for sale in charity shops for nothing more than a few pennies. As I mentioned above, the comeback coincided with a time when Britpop was about to be no more, with the main cause of death being the failure of Oasis to meet expectations with the release of Be Here Now.
Five or so years later, and I reckon a lot of folk, having decided to dismiss the majority of music from the era as having no little artistic merit or monetary value just scooped up a lot of CDs and gave them away. Evergreen didn’t deserve such a fate – okay, there wasn’t anything else as outstanding as the comeback single, but there were more than a few very listenable numbers to be found on the album, including this, the title track.
5. Villiers Terrace
A location in which people roll around on carpets, bite wool, pull string and mix up medicine. Mac had been told all these things but when he got there are saw it with his own eyes, he couldn’t quite believe it. Mind you, it didn’t stop him drinking some of the mixed-up medicine and to his horror finding that, in addition to it being of dubious taste, it also left him in a daze for days.
Mac has also claimed that the song has nothing to do with any drugs den in Liverpool and that the lyric was inspired by Hitler going mad in his bunker at the end of WW2. And still there’s folk who still argue that ingesting acid does no harm……
One of the band’s oldest and most loved tunes. It also displays the influence of The Doors, albeit it’s a wonky almost out of tune piano that’s used to great effect rather than a vintage organ as deployed by Ray Manzarek. Any other band of the era would have killed to have written something as majestic as this and would have, without question, released it as a single. The Bunnymen were content to stick it away on the second side of the debut album while I’ll bags it as the closer this time round.