ECHO & The Bunnymen are heading out on their spring tour, opening with two Yorkshire gigs at Sheffield City Hall tomorrow (1/2/2022) and Leeds O2 Academy on Wednesday.
Billed as “celebrating 40 years of magical songs” – although the Liverpool band formed in 1978 – the 20 dates book-end the February 18 vinyl reissue of the Bunnymen’s first compilation, 1985’s Songs To Learn & Sing.
Available on heavyweight black vinyl and a special-edition splatter vinyl, complete with an exclusive seven-inch pressing of debut single Pictures On My Wall/Read It In Books, the resurrected compilation follows last October’s vinyl re-issue of their first four studio albums, Crocodiles, Heaven Up Here, Porcupine and Ocean Rain, also on black or limited-edition coloured vinyl.
“It’s about making the albums look good,” says guitarist Will Sergeant, who remains at the core of the Liverpool post-punk legends with singer Ian McCulloch. “There’ve been versions out there, like the ones with hard cardboard sleeves a couple of years, that I did some liner notes for. I just got a few copies…with a bit of scrounging!
“There’s loads of Bunnymen records I haven’t got. I never get sent anything! People come up to you and ask you to sign records, and you think, ‘I’ve never seen that one before’.”
Sergeant notes the resurgence in buying vinyl, but says: “I’ve never given up on vinyl. You wouldn’t throw out old photo albums, so why throw out your vinyl? I’d never sell them.
“There was this bloke with all the original Beatles albums on mono, selling them for nothing at a car-boot sale, and I said to him, ‘what are you doing, selling them for that’, and he ended up putting them back in his car!“
He is delighted by the Bunnymen’s ongoing reissue programme, “I’m made up that they’re being brought out on vinyl, as I love it, though all I know is that they’re being re-released. I’ve not really been consulted, though I’m sure they’ll have been tarted up a bit!”
The album sleeves, revelling in their return to the 12-inch canvas, bring back memories for Sergeant, now 63. Like the freezing-cold day in 1982 they shot the cover for 1983’s Porcupine at Gullfoss, the ‘Golden Falls’ waterfall in southwest Iceland.
“It was 30 degrees below! I think Bill Drummond had been there as a kid, going to Iceland on a fishing boat. We just went there to do the album cover. It was the middle of winter, and we had to get up at two in the morning, setting off across the tundra in these four-wheelers. It took all of three hours to get to the end of this glacier.
“I was wearing a parka and some boots, and Ian had some ‘ladies’ slippers from with little knots on them and fur inside. He used to call them his banana boots ’cos they went yellow.”
The sleeve image looks spectacular, but doing the shoot was “mental”, says Sergeant. “There was a 200ft drop just two feet away on this ice cap. If we’d slipped, we’d have been down in this chasm,” he recalls. “But I’m glad we did it. The great thing is that it’s real. It’s not photoshopped. We really had to go to these places.”
Next came Ocean Rain, the 1984 masterpiece trailered by McCulloch’s advert boast proclaiming it to be “the greatest album ever made”. “We shot the cover in an old slate mine in Cornwall. Jake Riviera, the big cheese on Stiff Records, had this cave on his land at the bottom of his garden, and the photographer, Brian Griffin, had worked with Jake and knew this place,” says Sergeant.
“We were always looking for natural settings. We’d done the sea, we’d done the woods, we’d done the glacier, so we said, ‘let’s do a cave.”
Once in the cave, at Carnglaze Caverns, Liskeard, they decided to use the rowing boat in there. “It’s naturalistic, but the way Brian lit it makes it look likes the water curves round the tunnel. Beautiful.”
Sergeant has always loved the look of vinyl, the size of the album sleeve, that all contributes to the iconic status of classic albums. “The good thing about records, if you have a collector’s spirit, is that you want all of it: all of The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Roxy Music, so it’s great that vinyl’s coming back. Not just for the old collectors, but the young hipsters.”
Looking ahead to the tour, Sergeant says: “It’ll be pretty much the greatest hits and maybe a couple of new ones. We’ll decide the day before.
“We did start recording new stuff, but the pandemic put the kybosh on that, so the momentum was lost. We’ll see.”
He did use lockdown, however, to bring his book, Bunnyman: A Memoir, to the finishing line for publication last July (and subsequently in the United States in November on Fairman Books, musician Jack White’s publishing house).
Sergeant’s memoir recounts how he grew up in Liverpool in the 1960s and ’70s, “when skinheads, football violence and fear of just about everything was the natural order of things, but a young Will Sergeant found the emerging punk scene provided a shimmer of hope amongst a crumbling city still reeling from the destruction of the Second World War”.
“I’d already started writing it, in 2019, I think, but the first lockdown helped me to concentrate on it, doing it every day for nine months, then it took time to find the photos – there aren’t a lot, as the book focuses on my time as a kid, growing up, and the first year of the band before Pete [drummer Pete de Freitas] joined, when we had a drum machine. The next book will be about what happened after that,” says Sergeant.
Reflecting on his back story, he says: “I remember a lot of things from when I was a kid, because we had a bit of a tumultuous childhood, with a lot of violence and heaviness in the house because my parents didn’t get on.
“I didn’t keep a diary, but with the Bunnymen, every day is a diary day because people keep details and lots of it has stayed in the memory – and it’s the bits that you remember that are important.
“My big thing is truth. I don’t like people who lie. That’s why there are lots of truths in the first book that some people would have left out.”
Echo & The Bunnymen play Sheffield City Hall tomorrow (February 1) and Leeds O2 Academy on Wednesday. Box office: gigsandtours.com/tour/echo-and-the-bunnymen.