Tag Archives: Echo And The Bunnymen

INTERVIEWS // That Joke Isn’t Bunny Anymore (1991)

Of all the indie bands from the early 90’s that I interviewed as staff writer and Music Editor for college rag The Printed Image, very few of them actually made it into a written article. One of the rare ones that did was conducted with a fellow called Noel Burke, who was in the musically unenviable position of having stepped into the shoes of Echo & The Bunnymen‘s departed singer Ian McCulloch.

To be fair to him, he did a sterling job of fighting his corner in what has since proved to be a losing battle, that of making his own mark in a very difficult situation. As a fan of the original band, I was actually quite taken with the tunes that the Burke-led Bunnymen came up with too, although they didn’t really do the name justice in this fan’s eyes. Still, respect was given to him for trying.

This interview was one of the times when I was left with a tale to tell from getting it that was almost equivalent to the subject itself. As best I can remember, I took the bus from Cardiff to Bristol where the band were playing that night. It was cheap option and as I was knee-deep in usual student debt, a train wasn’t really going to be on the agenda. Befriending a couple I met on the back of the bus who were also heading to the same show, I may well have gotten my mind a little befuddled with whatever they had with them to pick themselves up or slow themselves down and duly shared with me.

Having been into the Bunnymen for a few years by then but gotten into them after their heyday, it was the closest I’d got to seeing one of their shows. There were at least two of the original members of the band playing and ‘two out of four is better than none’, I thought to myself.

After the show, I went backstage to talk with Noel. By then, the band were not getting anything like the press they’d received in their heyday and given that he was new to being a Bunnyman, seemed glad to have someone want to know what he had to say – even if it was some big-haired ‘A’ Level student that wasn’t likely to give them a great deal of exposure in his rag.

Noel bought me a beer too, which added to the sense of congeniality I was feeling about the evening. He was a very pleasant subject to interview and we spent quite a while talking. Might have even had another beer together too.

Once it was all over and the tape recorder was switched off, I bid my farewells and exited an empty venue. Not really that aware of the time that had passed, I got to the bus station only to find that I had missed the last one back to Cardiff.

No money for a hotel. No desire at all to sleep on the streets of Bristol. Too tired by the exaltations of the evening, I wasn’t of a mind to try and stay awake wandering around the darkened streets until the first bus of the morning. There was nothing for it but to hitch back to Cardiff.

I don’t remember a great deal about the journey back now, but I know that hitching after midnight in a deserted city doesn’t equal prime chances of being picked up. I had to wait a good couple of hours to get a ride, probably from some night-shifting trucker that saw it as a way to break up the tedium of what he was doing. It would have been somewhat close to dawn by the time I got back home, so there certainly wouldn’t have been any college gone to the next day.

I’d barely ever dream of hitching these days. Suppose it’s something that if you ever do it, and I’ve certainly done it enough in my time to not want to have to do it again now, you can tick it off your list of things to experience in a lifetime and leave it at that.

Ian McCulloch eventually rejoined a reformed Echo & The Bunnymen. Noel left the band in 1992 and became a teacher. He later got back together with his first former bandmates St Vitus Dance and released an album called ‘Glypotheque’ in 2008.

That Joke Isn’t Bunny Anymore

In 1987, Johnny Marr left The Smiths and, thankfully for the band’s sake, they split up after considering replacing Marr. Imagine now if Morrissey had left and the band had continued, with a replacement for Morrissey, under the name of The Smiths. To say that they wouldn’t have been the same would have been an understatement. Neither would The Wedding Present without David Gedge. Or Happy Mondays without Shaun Ryder. Or Echo And The Bunnymen without Ian McCulloch.

Ian McCulloch left Echo And The Bunnymen during an American tour in 1988. Bravely, Will Sargeant, Les Pattinson and Pete De Freitas decided to soldier on, still carrying the Bunnymen flag. A replacement for Mac was found in Belfast-born Noel Burke. They received further setback when drummer Pete De Freitas was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash (the new album ‘Reverberation’ is dedicated to Peter) the following year.

Will and Les made it clear that it was their intention to persevere under the moniker of Echo And The Bunnymen. Initially, Mac hit back, suggesting that they rename themselves Echoes Of The Bunnymen. Last year, 1990, the new Echo And The Bunnymen album ‘Reverberation’ was unleashed in the face of adverse criticism. I only remember reading one good review and that was only a good review, whereas in the past an Echo And The Bunnymen album should have received an excellent review. The main problem that most writers seemed unable to come to terms with was the name. They didn’t seem to look further, to the music on the album.

Having said this, ‘Reverberation’ is actually an excellent album. Noel Burke is a rare find indeed and a very talented songwriter. Unfortunately, this is possibly the worst light he could be seen under, for he will constantly be living under the shadow of Ian McCulloch, a daunting prospect. ‘Reverberation’ on the other hand does not stand up very well against the real Bunnymen albums, such as ‘Heaven Up Here’ or ‘Ocean Rain’. One wonders whether he is being himself in his song writing or just a pale imitation of Mac.

I’ve talked to a few people who say it’s not the same and I say it’s not meant to be the same. I’ve got my own preoccupations with singing, and lyrically I’ve got enough to be going on with myself to worry about what was going before.

I see it as an integral part of the band. Obviously, a frontman has certain duties and in the whole scheme of things, the spotlight’s on you. It’s silly denying that, but as far as anyone else in the band is concerned, songwriting or whatever, everybody’s got an input and that has always been the way with the Bunnymen. It was like that when Mac was in the band. Will and Les did a hell of a lot of the songwriting. Mac wrote the lyrics and he did his own vocal parts and that’s exactly what I do with the band.

Previously to the Bunnymen (Mark II), Noel had been in a band called St. Vitus Dance who had split up and Noel had moved to Liverpool, getting a job at Waterstone’s book shop. This is where Will and Les found him after having decided on him as a replacement for their departed singer.

Burke had been a fan of the band up to ‘Ocean Rain’. Had they been amongst his influences as a member of St. Vitus Dance?

I saw them in Belfast. There was a bomb scare and we had to go out into the freezing cold for about an hour before we were let into the gig, so they were dead late, but it was good. I enjoyed it. At the time, I wasn’t even in a band. I liked them, but they wouldn’t have been an influence. Lyrically, it was people like Costello and Cathal Coughlan, out of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions now. Musically, it was mostly 60’s type stuff, like The Zombies and Wire. Basically, it was the same sort of thing as this band in that it was very democratic and everybody had different tastes. I’m only speaking from my point of view. Everybody had a different input.

Although a lot of their live set consists of the new songs that they have written together, a selection of old songs have crept in, such as ‘Silver’, ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘Bedbugs And Ballyhoo’. Having been a fan of the band, surely it would have been strange for Noel to have been playing those songs?

It’s not that weird because I’m so familiar with them. Obviously, I prefer to play the songs that we’ve written, but as far as the old songs are concerned, they’re Will and Les’s songs and they were Pete’s as well. He was in the band when I first joined.

For Will and Les, this is like a new band. There is one respect though in which they are not a new band. They have kept the name, which is going to invite criticisms and comparisons to Mac’s Bunnymen.

I’ve got a theory about that. The people who are going to compare will be about the same age as myself, about 27, and they’ll be looking back to what they were doing when ‘Heaven Up Here’ or ‘Ocean Rain’ were out. People have fonder memories of an album because it’s buried in their past and they’ll associate it with losing their virginity or whatever. I don’t think it’s fair to compare it on those terms because it’s something you know and love and it changes. Certainly people are going to have a lot of preconceptions and be sceptical. I would have had that attitude. If I had been an outsider, I would have said that it’s bound to be crap. I think that people, when they look back in a year or so, they’ll think it’s a really great album. I think it is a pity it has come out in such circumstances. People look at it in its historical perspective now and see it in this so-called ‘bad light’.

Once the fans have been won over, the next hurdle is the press, who can destroy a band’s career and haven’t been too warm to the new Bunnymen yet. Does Noel get upset by the press reactions?

Who gives a shite? There’s room in the world for everyone. The music press only tend to be interested if they think there’s going to be a slanging match and we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to come out and slag Mac off. My philosophy in life is ‘those who can do, those who can’t work for the NME’. I know loads of people who work for the NME who were in bands who never did anything. So they got into the NME with a chip on their shoulder.

So, provided Echo And The Bunnymen don’t take too much notice of those cutting journalists, what plans are there for the future?

I just want to do as many weird and wonderful things as possible. I want to put out loads of singles. I want to do stuff outside of the band. Everybody wants to do stuff outside of the band. We’ve all got such diverse interests. I don’t mean anything like a solo career, but working with other people. Maybe singing or getting into production. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing.

There is a question that is always asked of Paul McCartney or George Harrison. It is, in fact, asked of any band members or bands who have gone their separate ways. Are there any plans for a reformation?

I don’t think that (Will and Les) have any regrets. It’s just that things went the way they did and I think they’re happy now. The whole thing had soured and they weren’t getting on. It was like a marriage and everyone had got used to each other but they weren’t getting on and it was a question of who would send the boat out first and Mac did; he left. I don’t think they’ll ever want it the way it was. I know for a fact that they don’t see it now as second best.

Since I interviewed Noel, the band have been dropped from their record label. Time will tell if they win the press back over. Bring on the dancing reviews.

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Filed under 1991, Features, Interviews