herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

Echoes of great days and past glories

Given that every second UK rock act emerging these days seems to have the benefit of an expensive private education behind them, it's rather sad to think back to the days when smart, uppity working class young men were the mouthpieces for their generation's gripes and concerns.

John Lydon, Morrissey, Mark E Smith and Ian Curtis were all at the forefront during punk and, more importantly, post-punk, but when it came to attitude and belief in his band's supremacy there were few who could hold a candle to Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen.

Having banded together with Julian Cope (latterly of The Teardrop Explodes) and Pete Wylie (Wah! Heat) in The Crucial Three (imagine the ego clashes in that rehearsal room), McCulloch teamed up with Will Sergeant (one of Britain's great unsung guitar heroes), bassist Les Pattinson and eventually drummer Pete DeFreitas to come to the forefront of what was then a thriving Liverpool scene.

The Bunnymen's 1980 debut album Crocodiles signalled that a new decade was being met with a new spirit, as McCulloch & Co merged elements of 1960s psychedelia with the energy of punk and forged a new sound in the process. Possessed of a superb baritone croon and a truly fantastic haircut (never to be underestimated), Mac was a gift from the gods for the media, becoming pin-up material for Smash Hits but saving his best bile for NME, Melody Maker and Sounds.

Always believing the Bunnymen were the greatest band on the planet, he was scathing when it came to the workmanlike efforts of U2 - "music for thick brickies" as he put it - and believed, rightly, that Heaven Up Here (1981) and Ocean Rain (1984) were the work of far superior musical alchemists.

Unfortunately, not possessing U2's work ethic meant the Bunnymen didn't put in the hard yards in the States, never bothering the Top 50, but then again, Bono and the others never came close to songs as great as The Killing Moon, Never Stop, Rescue, Seven Seas, Read it in Books, The Cutter, A Promise, Villiers Terrace, Pictures on My Wall or All That Jazz.

With the core duo of McCulloch and Sergeant still helming, the Bunnymen are a superb live outfit. While their most recent album Meteorites hints at past glories, one senses Mac knows the best days are behind him - not that he'd ever admit that. But what great days they were, as those heading to the Olympia on Wednesday will attest.

>GEORGE BYRNE

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