Echo & the Bunnymen are undoubtedly one of the most important indie bands ever to have emerged from the UK. In the early 1980s they were one of the few bands that managed to combine critical adoration with a level of commercial success that saw them release five consecutive top-20 albums in seven years.
It is the first two of these, Crocodiles and Heaven up Here that the band will be performing on tour this December and these albums represent a very different, if no less exciting, band from the orchestral pop of Ocean Rain, which they previously toured in 2008 and 2009.
Crocodiles and Heaven up Here often do not get the credit they deserve yet they rank amongst the outstanding statements of post-punk to come out in the 1980s. The albums are raw, dark and clearly the work of young men yearning for change (“Let’s get the hell out of here/Going up/Going down”). As with so much great pop music there is a yearning to escape in early records, particularly the magnificent ‘Over The Wall’, which comes across as Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ in the dark.
Will Sergeant, the only man who has seen every incarnation of the Bunnymen, describes the band that made Crocodiles as “moody bastards. That album was coming from a dark place. We were still a bunch of teenagers, emotionally at least. So we were always fighting, I remember one time Mac [Ian McCulloch] had David Balfe [Crocodiles producer, Teardrop Explodes keyboardist and all round music mogul] by the throat over something or other.” The recording process of both albums seems rather different from the experience of other bands: Sergeant remembers “standing on top of an amp thrashing away, fingers bleeding”.
You sense that Sergeant misses the scrapes and sense of urgency that comes from being a younger band free from expectations and this is something he readily admits. “Who doesn’t miss being young. Everyone gets a bit nostalgic over these things. Perhaps that’s why we’re playing these gigs?” And this certainly will be a nostalgic experience for fans of the band. Rather than playing around with these 30 year old songs this will be a classic experience, like being back in the 1980s only without the awful clothing, hair and people.
“We’ve rehearsed it all to try and get a similar sound to before,” Sergeant says, “we’re even trying to recreate the old light-show. We used to have branches around the stage like British Sea Power; I think we’ll do that again.”. You sense that the band are getting wistful for the glory days when they represented one of the most unique bands in the country. Sergeant remarks about how it is like being in a “gang” again.
The only concern with this latest tour is that, by playing these 30-year-old records, Echo & the Bunnymen have given up on trying to broaden their fan base.
But whilst Sergeant admits this is more of a reward for older fans he questions how the band can get their music heard by younger people without any clear outlets: “Back in the day you had John Peel and everyone listened to him. I don’t think there’s anything like that to bring people together any more.”
It is a shame that there are no mediums outside Radio 2 that are going to play Echo & the Bunnymen but this should not discourage people from going out and finding the classic albums that they are currently touring with. The chance to see two great albums being performed back-to-back is an opportunity not to be missed.
Echo & The Bunnymen play Oxford’s O2 Academy on 6th December.