Echoes (Constable, through Little, Brown)
“THIS TRACK IS FAST AND FURIOUS, and I’m flaying at the strings like a crazed nut job. I’m trying to keep up with the incredibly fast drums and bass. I catch my finger on the metal strings. Now blood is splattered Jackson Pollock-style all over the guitar, but I’m a brave little soldier so I carry on through the immense pain. You must suffer for your art.”
In that description by Will Sergeant of recording the title track from Echo And The Bunnymen’s album, Crocodiles – with Sergeant imagining that he is his hero, the wild-eyed mad genius Wilko of Dr Feelgood, “about to kick off big time” – is a neat summation of the strength and weakness of this, his second memoir set in and around the rise of a Liverpool rock band which straddled psychedelia, post-punk, the escape from ‘70s grimness and a template for swaggering certainty that would find full flowering a decade later down the road a bit in Manchester.
Sergeant’s dry Liverpudlian-adjacent humour and associated lack of interest in taking himself too seriously underpins a lot of his storytelling. He often comes reluctantly to admitting a good guitar part, an adventurous conceptual move, as if to acknowledge that is the kind of grandstanding that would see him mocked, if not kicked, around Melling, the Merseyside township where he lived with his father until several years into the Bunnymen career.
Self-deprecation can be funny, his recognition of the narrowminded and sometimes pigheadedly stupid “purity” of his loves/hates is unsparing, and Sergeant’s dry-eyed appraisal of big talkers and low talkers around them brings some punchy humour. But less amusing are the I’m-an-everyman examples, such as the frequent explanation of pretty obvious and not particularly imaginative nicknames for everyone involved in the Bunnymen circle, that makes for a surfeit of quotidian detail.
Musically, there is a similar tug-of-war between fascinating intricacies and everything-in-a-box minutiae, as if Sergeant is pitching to the converted then remembering civilians will be reading this too, and along the way underplaying the very specialness of his talent that makes the band and therefore this book, important.
It’s a hard line to manage in a musician’s biography of course and his editorial decision to lean more towards relatively detailed information on the recording process but a far lighter touch on the songwriting, is a reasonable one for most people, I’m sure. I though would have liked a more even distribution.
(Echo And The Bunnymen)
This is a pattern, or an issue or an outcome, which crops up again and again through the 300-odd pages. But maybe some of that is because he thinks he and we have been there before.
Whereas Sergeant’s first memoir, Bunnyman, in 2021 (Echoes is subtitled “A Memoir Continued…”) gave more time to a difficult childhood of marriage breakdown and abandonment, the after-effects of war and the very present effects of alcohol and fractious communication, all while exploring the birth of the band, this book focuses on the mechanics of such a birth and the period up to the second album.
This means, for example, that band members are more sketched than filled in and the nuances of the development of their sound and style is skimmed, but travel tales and some encounters with famous figures are given substantial airings, even if they can meander to their punchline-free end.
Eric’s, the club from which, as legend and a reasonable amount of truth has it, sprang the scene which included the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and others like early Bunnymen associate Ian Broudie, features in dispatches regularly. But so do dead rat-infested venues in Belgium, small halls in Scotland (part of a mad and yet successful idea of their manager “Big” Bill Drummond), the soon to disappear Cloudland in Brisbane and Ritz in Manhattan.
Some scarifying, and indeed scary, moments on the road (the inevitable death-skirting crash vividly told) enliven matters but these can occasionally be let down by more pedestrian engagements. Likewise, having bared the family soul last time, there is an almost gruff setting aside of intimacies, whether with his father or girlfriends and partners.
Both books were written by Sergeant rather than told through a professional writer, and his turn of phrase, strong authorial voice and unfiltered intimacy make that a strength. But another hand, or the stronger presence of an editor, might have tightened and help focus the telling, and kept a certain type of reader front of mind.
Maybe the third volume – for surely there will be at least one more – will address some of that. I hope so because there already is a lot to like in Will Sergeant’s story.
Echoes is in stores today.