Will Sergeant - Echoes | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 27th, 2023  

Will Sergeant


Published by Constable

Sep 06, 2023 Web Exclusive
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And now to the meat.

After talking about his experiences of the Liverpool punk scene and his first tentative steps as a musician in Bunnyman, Will Sergeant ’s second book, Echoes, documents the making and touring of Echo and the

Bunnymen’s first two albums, Crocodiles and Heaven up Here. As many potential readers will know when picking up Sergeant’s new volume, these two legendary, still mysterious records are still talked about as benchmarks of British post-punk. We get plenty of anecdotes about their making too; including, for instance, Sergeant’s blood curdling scream on “Happy Death Men” and the entrance into the story of the genuinely great drummer, Peter de Freitas. We end with the recording of “The Back of Love”, their first big chart hit. We also get the assurance that as 1982 dawns and, despite the odd bit of surly cockiness on his part, Will Sergeant hasn’t succumbed to the cocaine-encrusted nobberdom fated for most of his contemporaries.

More than anything, though, this book is a trip through the eyes of a sharp, shy and dreamy guitarist coming to terms with his place in the world. Losing his virginity, moving out of the freezing family home and discovering new cheap places to eat in Liverpool all get the same billing as running from the Mafia at an aborted gig in Italy in 1981 and making classic alternative rockers such as “Rescue” and “A Promise”. Favouring a cut-up technique of flashbacks, quick changes of tense and a dizzying set of Scouse / Wool / Lancs colloquialisms, it reminds me of a lot of David Keenan’s brilliant fictions, such as This Is Memorial Device or For the Good Times. It could be those two titles’ real-life English cousin, putting its oar in.

Though Will Sergeant is justifiably proud of what he’s done, and as someone who has kept a great deal of the band’s history squirrelled away over the years, I wouldn’t see, or even read this as a history of Echo and the Bunnymen. Sergeant often points out the inconsistencies and annoyances of trying to make a coherent historical narrative: rock music history is a subject that is promethean; ever-changing, never-ending and subject to many viewpoints. More interesting is seeing how much the world has changed through these flashbacks he collects, an English worldview heavily reliant on the local mores and traditions of Liverpool, of one utterly ignorant of the European mainland and predominantly influenced by mass entertainment, with the sinister, Mcluhanesque influence of telly such as High Chaparral and Bill and Ben, the Flowerpot Men. In one photo, taken by Bunnies keyboardist and guitarist Jake Brockman as they gain entrance to the Residents’ studio in the USA, Sergeant wears a Residents Eyeball mask atop a Jetsons cartoon sweatshirt.

Sergeant often indulges in a gentle curmudgeonliness: “kids today”, etc., though I suspect, given his normally genial and inquisitive nature, this is more a rough-and-ready device employed to show how much has changed socially and culturally in the past half century. After all, it has been estimated that the Industrial North and North Midlands of England, and Scotland, witnessed as rapid a deindustrialisation as that in the former Eastern Bloc: everything done and dusted in less than a decade. We’d have to go back to the loss of Doggerland to find a parallel. It was a hell of a time to grow up in, with violence and make-do-and-mend attitudes to the fore. Snaffling up all the groovy threads and records on tour - and the gawping rapportage of New York or the band’s first Belgian gigs - is maybe testament to this.

For those interested in the band’s history as a whole, we do get some wonderful insights: Bill Drummond reemerges as a genuinely creative presence in their story. There are plenty of instances to pick, but the moment where Drummond chucks the Bunnymen’s tour money high into the air in a Liverpool bank is a startling revelatory passage; worthy of a scene in a film.

Another thing to latch onto is the role of Ian Broudie, more than a producer, more than a scenehead. Rather, Sergeant paints “Kingbird” Broudie as a mercurial figure who knows how to apply the creative chops when needed. It’s a fascinating pen portrait. Speaking personally as a long-standing fan, it’s also great to see the large cast of characters who played various roles around the band get the spotlight: the theatrical Bristol-centric biker crew such as Martyn Atkins, “Big Bill” Butt and the aforementioned Brockman. Sergeant obviously pines for the times when Echo and the Bunnymen were a gang of creative crazies, touring their wyrd viewpoint around the world, with their incredible stage sets, strange psychic energies and brooding, beautiful, anti-rock.

Sometimes the book reads less the study of a legendary band than an investigation of character; the reader could, at times, think they were listening to Will on the psychiatrist’s couch. Back in the day, Sergeant had the reputation of having an especially sharp tongue in a very quick-witted and hard-headed band. And he does spend a fair bit of time looking back in regret at cock ups and misunderstandings with various people. But these moments maybe reveal what a steep learning curve Sergeant and the Liverpool elements of the band would have had at the time. In his telling, Liverpool often feels a mystic village far removed from a savvy, uncaring world; one increasingly battered by it. Though his reply to Courtney Love’s request that he teach her guitar made this old git lol. It is, as you say, “very Will”.

We await the spines of the Porcupine with impatience.


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