Into Books Review: Bunnyman – A Memoir by Will Sergeant

Book: Bunnyman: A Memoir
Author: Will Sergeant
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group

Cards on the table, Echo & The Bunnymen were without doubt the coolest band to emerge in the 80s, they had the look, the hair, the clothes but most importantly the tunes and the sheer gallusness to bring it all together and pull it off. Central to that was – and still is – Will Sergeant. His evocative, unique guitar playing sparked sonic shards of electricity on an astral plane which helped shape the sound of The Bunnymen.  

So when news filtered through that Will Sergeant was to publish his memoir, I had both a sense of excitement but also trepidation – would it live up to the expectations or crash and burn like so many tepid memoirs/  autobiographies that have preceded it? The latter is undoubtedly an issue with bland, fact-based attempts at life stories that are usually ghost written and merely tell the reader, in the main what they already know. 

Not so ‘Bunnyman’.

What we get here is a clear sense of Sergeant’s early life, as a kid growing up in the Merseyside village of Melling, a few miles from Liverpool through to the incubation of the seminal band that would become Echo & The Bunnymen. 

The book is such an easy read, it flows and elicits a feeling of being in the room with the author, listening to his life stories which are told with self-deprecating wit and down to earth honesty. Sergeant is forthright in his views and the book is all the better for it. For example, his and his siblings relationship with both parents was difficult and those passages are undoubtedly raw. His dad, perhaps as a result of head injuries suffered in World War II, had little in the way of empathy for his wife or children. When his mum left home, there is little thought given, life just went on. Added to this, growing up in the Liverpool area in the 60s and 70s is in itself challenging. The remnants of the city, badly bombed by the Germans remain vivid in the memory, poverty is rife and school difficult with a raft of teachers swaying from sadistic to being just not bothered, save the occasional exception.  

Tales of local gangs and no-go areas will resonate with many reflecting on their teenage years. Elsewhere, the detail when talking about the fashion of the day is particularly enlightening, a love of motorbikes, going to the match and then, of course, the journey into discovering music. 

Listening to music on the radio, watching Top of the Pops, finding friends who ‘get it’, reading the music press and hanging about record shops, it’s all here and written in such a way you can’t help but get swept along with Sergeant’s musical journey. Discovering Hendrix, Bowie and later the Velvet Underground are all important milestones and then come the live gigs. First ever gig is Status Quo supporting Slade at the Liverpool Empire and the day is laid out from what to wear through to the gig via the bus and the pub where the 14 year old Sergeant has a quick pint! The build up to Quo hitting the stage is summed up thus: 

After about twenty minutes or so, the crowd start to grow restless and a slow handclap begins. The claps are joined by a stomp. This time all are joining in – even me. It’s all part of the ritual that I get to know and love. Back then, it is a very real and pleasant feeling. It starts with butterflies in the stomach, then a deep apprehension swells up, fed by the atmospheric murmur of a full house, which is rising to a frenzy. The lights go down and the bass and two guitars of Quo kick off…… I’ve never heard volume like this before, it’s incredible. 

Other gigs follow including Dr. Feelgood and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, all quietly planting seeds in the mind of  the young Sergeant. 

On leaving school, a job as a short order chef in Liverpool store Binns is obtained which initially is great fun and provides an income to sustain that interest in records but also to attend Eric’s, the legendary Liverpool club which hosted bands that would further Sergeant’s musical education including Pere Ubu, The Fall, Iggy Pop and the then little known Joy Division. Of course, the club is attended by others who would go on to form their own bands including Julian Cope, Paul Simpson, Holly Johnson and Jayne Casey.

While this is going on, Sergeant is learning guitar and eventually hooks up with a young Ian McCulloch, known then as Macul. The pair play and rehearse together on their guitars for months and while Macul is said to be a singer, no actual singing takes place during these nascent sessions. An opportunity then arises to support their friends band, The Teardrop Explodes with Les Pattinson joining four days before the gig on bass despite never having picked up the instrument in his life. Somehow, it works and the band continue to develop and play live albeit with regular issues experienced with the drum machine Sergeant has to master and count in while also playing the guitar. 

Amusing tales of those early days are in abundance here, particularly a run in with a very irate Annie Lennox of The Tourists and an incident after the same gig where the band’s van was stolen. The Leigh Open Air Pop Festival: Zoo Meets Factory Half-Way sees Bill Drummond’s Liverpool bands including The Teardrop Explodes, OMD and Echo & The Bunnymen share the same stage with Tony Wilson’s Manchester bands such as A Certain Ratio and Joy Division. Sounds great but a variety of factors at play means this isn’t quite the success it should be. With coalmines surrounding the area, the sight of miners, covered in coal dust taking a short cut through the festival field after a hard day’s graft is a strange distraction. 

The book finishes not long after an early John Peel session, an encounter with music mogul Seymour Stein who wants to sign them and on the penultimate page, the first mention of a certain drummer, Pete De Freitas. 

A great memoir providing insight into the young life of Will Sergeant who proves not only to be the guitar virtuoso we know him to be, but also a vivid and captivating storyteller. Let’s hope there’s more to come.

Bunnyman; A Memoir by Will Sergeant is out now and can be purchased HERE.

 

John Welsh
@welshjb

Links: 

@Will_Fuzz

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