The origins of this renowned Liverpool-based band can be traced back to the spring of 1977 when vocalist Ian McCulloch was a member of the short-lived Crucial Three with Julian Cope and Pete Wylie.
Initially, the trio of McCulloch, Will Sergeant, and Les Pattinson was augmented by a drum machine that they named “Echo”.
After making their first appearance at the famous Liverpool club ‘Eric’s’, they made their vinyl debut in March 1979 with Pictures On My Wall, produced by whiz kid entrepreneurs Bill Drummond and David Balfe (also the keyboard player for Teardrop Explodes).
The production was sparse but intriguing and helped the band to establish a sizeable cult following. McCulloch’s brooding live performance and vocal inflexions were already drawing comparisons with The Doors‘ Jim Morrison.
After signing with Korova Records (distributed by Warner Brothers Records), they replaced “Echo” with a human being – Pete De Freitas.
The second single, Rescue, was a considerable improvement on its predecessor, with a confident driving sound that augured well for their forthcoming debut album, Crocodiles (1980). The debut LP proved impressive with a wealth of strong arrangements and compulsive guitar work.
The album was recorded over three weeks in June 1980 at Rockfield Studios in Wales. Tight, jarring and urgent, with most songs clocking in at under three minutes, this was basement music, every number a dark gem.
After the less melodic single The Puppet, the band toured extensively and issued an EP, Shine So Hard, which crept into the UK Top 40.
The next album, Heaven Up Here, saw them regaled by the music press. Although a less accessible and melodic work than its predecessor, it sold well and topped numerous polls.
Porcupine reinforced the band’s appeal while The Cutter gave them their biggest UK hit so far, reaching #8 in January 1983.
The same year Sergeant released a solo set, Themes For Grind. In January 1984, they reached UK #9 with The Killing Moon, an excellent example of McCulloch’s ability to summon lazy melodrama out of primary lyrical colours. The song was a turning point for the band.
The epic quality of his writing remained perfectly in keeping with the band’s grandiloquent musical character. The accompanying 1984 album, Ocean Rain, broadened their appeal further and brought them into the US Top 100 album charts.
In February 1986, De Freitas left to be replaced by former Haircut 100 drummer Mark Fox, but De Freitas returned the following September. However, it now seemed the band’s best days were behind them.
The uninspired title Echo And The Bunnymen drew matching lacklustre performances, while a cover version of The Doors‘ People Are Strange left both fans and critics perplexed.
This new recording was produced by Ray Manzarek, who also played on the track, and it was used as the haunting theme for the cult movie The Lost Boys (1987).
Yet, as many noted, there were simply dozens of better Echo And The Bunnymen compositions that could have benefited from that type of exposure.
In 1988, McCulloch made the announcement that he was henceforth pursuing a solo career. While he completed the well-received Candleland, his bandmates made the unexpected decision to carry on without him.
Many audition tapes were listened to before they chose McCulloch’s successor, Noel Burke, a Belfast boy who had previously recorded with St Vitus Dance.
Just as they began rehearsals, De Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident. The band struggled on, recruiting new drummer Damon Reece and adding road manager Jake Brockman on guitar/synthesizer.
In 1992, they entered the next phase of Bunnymen history with Reverberation, but public expectations were not high, and the critics were unkind.
The Bunnymen Mark II broke up in the summer of the same year, with Pattinson going on to work with Terry Hall, while Sergeant conducted work on his ambient side project, B*O*M, and formed Glide.
McCulloch – whose solo career had stalled after a bright start – and Sergeant eventually reunited in 1993 as Electrafixion, also pulling in Reece from the second Bunnymen incarnation.
In 1996, an announcement was made that the three remaining original members would go out as Echo And The Bunnymen once again. McCulloch, Pattinson and Sergeant completed a remarkable comeback when Nothing Lasts Forever reached #8 in the UK charts, and their new album, Evergreen, was released to widespread acclaim.
Pattinson left before the recording of their second new album, a remarkably mellow set from a band not normally associated with such a concept. McCulloch and Sergeant parted company with London Records later in the year, and the following year’s mini-album Avalanche was an Internet-only release.
The full-length Flowers, picked up for release by Cooking Vinyl Records, marked a return to the trademark Echo And The Bunnymen sound, with Sergeant’s guitar work to the fore.
Keyboard player Jake Brockman died in a motorcycle accident on the Isle of Man in 2009. He was 53.
Pete de Freitas