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.