At Home With… Will Sergeant
Beginning with their 1980 debut, Echo And The Bunnymen have released many vinyl classics of their own. Jennifer Otter Bickerdike takes a tour of guitarist Will Sergeant’s collection…
The Pretty In Pink movie soundtrack introduced all kinds of exotic music to this writer’s Californian ears. Mysterious, beautiful tracks by British bands that so succinctly seemed to capture the endless possibility of youth. I used to argue with one of my best friends, Brett, about which was better – The Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain or The Smiths’ Strangeways, Here We Come (my obsession at the time). These songs, these albums, have travelled with me around the world, taking on different meanings, shades of nostalgia and that same evolving idea they encapsulated all those years ago.
When we arrive at Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant’s house, it’s a beautiful, sunny day. Potted plants and herbs line the wood deck, with a sprawling garden behind. The front door is massive and gothic, as if it could have been lifted straight from the pages of Bram Stoker. We’re not surprised when Will reveals that the residence was once a mausoleum – Killing Moon, indeed. We settle down with our cuppas, and get down to the business of talking records, Lost Boys and top tips for a beautiful yard. Music played a big role in Will’s life from an early age. “I’ve been collecting records since I was a little kid,” he explains. “My life is represented by my vinyl! My first vinyl memory was probably when I was about 10, 11. I used to hang around with this lad called Richard. His brother had the Magical Mystery Tour gatefold double single. He also had an album by Gustav Holst called The Planets. We were fascinated by it. It’s all about the Solar System; each planet has its own section on this orchestral LP. Later on, I started watching Top Of The Pops. We used to record it with a Grundig tape player; we’d put a microphone in front of the telly and record the whole show, then play it back.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Despite that classical adventure, Sergeant reveals that Rolling Stones compilation Gimme Shelter was his first solo vinyl purchase. “I actually went to the store to buy Who’s Next by The Who,” he confides. “It had just been released, but had sold out. So I came home with the Stones instead.
“I used to go shopping with my dad on a Saturday. I would go into NEMS (North End Music Store), which was run at the time by Brian Epstein’s family. Another one of my first purchases was The Velvet Underground double album with Nico [Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground Featuring Nico]. It’s got that great picture of the Coca-Cola bottle on the cover. I bought it because of the sleeve art; I’d never even heard of the band, but I just loved that Warhol-esque image. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it, it was unlike anything else.
“I even did a talk about that record at school. One bloke came up and did a presentation on butchery. He had a load of knives on him and an apron. It was like something out of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Then I follow that by doing my report on The Velvet Underground! On the back of the record cover, there was this big spiel about the band. I just copied and read from that! When me and Mac (Bunnymen singer and songwriter Ian McCulloch) sit down and play guitar together we sound like The Velvet Underground; or, I should say, we try and sound like them! If me and him were sat in here now, in our minds, we’d just think ‘Velvets’.”
It is easy to be in Will’s company, and forget how influential the Bunnymen have been. Talk turns to the heyday of the North’s indie scene, with the rise of punk and post-punk in the 1970s. “Buzzcocks were a big band for me, when I was 20 or so. I still have all of my original records and a bunch of other stuff from that time period. I used to go up to Penny Lane Records, right by where I worked as a chef.
“I bought that first Joy Division 12″, An Ideal For Living, there. They had loads of them in the cheap rack… nobody knew they were going to become big. I remember exactly the first time I saw the band. It was at Eric’s in Liverpool. I used to go there every night it was open. It didn’t matter who was on, we all went. “It would be about ’78, ’79, probably a Thursday night. Joy Division were playing, but nobody was watching them – no one had heard of them then. I watched them from the front. I went back to where everyone was hanging out and said: ‘You’ve got to have a look at these guys, they’re amazing!’. I got really into them, we all did. I saw them at Eric’s another time, when Ian Curtis had one of his turns. They had to drag him off and put him in the dressing room. Hooky finished the set and did the singing.”
Echo And The Bunnymen went on to play shows with their Mancunian cousins. “Ian was amazing as a frontman, but he was very quiet,” Sergeant recalls. “We’d done gigs with them and he never said anything to me. We played with Joy Division a couple times: once in the YMCA in London, and once at a Zoo/Factory Halfway Festival. Zoo Records were from Liverpool and Factory Records were from Manchester. Somewhere down the A580, they found this field and set up a gig there.
“The festival was a big flop – maybe 100 people showed up. When Joy Division went on, the sun was setting and it was freezing! Everyone was making fires out of crap that they found lying around; that’s all you saw, little fires dotted about and sparse people scattered randomly around.”
Echo And The Bunnymen have enjoyed three decades of popularity, with a seemingly ever-youthful Dorian Gray-esque audience. Being featured in movies and television shows is the ‘unlock’ for their multi-generational appeal, and Sergeant explains humbly that the continued use of Bunnymen tracks is simply down to the songs being “atmospheric”, therefore able to “suit different films”.
From 2001’s indie cult classic Donnie Darko using The Killing Moon to Netflix hit Stranger Things employing the band’s track Nocturnal Me to provide extra tension in 2016, soundtrack placement for their music has continued to create new audiences for the band.
“It started with teen films in the 80s,” says Sergeant. “Being on movie soundtracks is what really broke us in America. Having Bring On The Dancing Horses in the movie Pretty In Pink in 1986 changed everything.
“All of a sudden, we were doing places with a few thousand people rather than clubs, which was good! We were then asked by director Joel Schumacher to do a cover version of The Doors’ People Are Strange for a new movie he was making called The Lost Boys. I don’t think Ian wanted to do it at first, but then Joel phoned him up and persuaded him to go for it.
“We got Ray Manzarek to work with us. He produced and played on it; he taught me how to play it, because I’m crap at picking up other people’s songs. We recorded it in Kirkby, Merseyside. It was great; I’ve still got photos of Ray somewhere.”
We move into one of Sergeant’s reception rooms, where a stunning jukebox, bought for £50, regally takes pride of place. Sergeant has just had it serviced, and it’s now working perfectly. “Nobody wanted them then,” he says. “They were just junk.”
Sergeant believes passionately that the current renaissance of vinyl is here to stay. The importance records hold in defining individuality is apparent when Sergeant talks about specific tracks or experiences tied to his record collection. “Records are time capsules, aren’t they? They’re just waiting for you to get them out of their covers and put them on the record player and bring them back to life; all of the things you were doing when you first heard that record, or for the years you’ve been playing that record, it’s all there. CDs are just so shit, aren’t they? You can’t wrap a memory around an MP3, or go into a shop and have the ritual of buying them.”
“I went to buy School’s Out by Alice Cooper the day it came out,” he continues. “We all got up on our pushbikes and we cycled to Walton Vale. It was probably about five miles, but it seemed like a long way when you’re a kid. I bought it and brought it home. It was a full event. Now, there is no experience, no ritual, with streaming and MP3s. When someone asks what you did that day, no one will say: ‘Oh, I just went on iTunes and downloaded some crap record, and I got fed up and deleted it because I needed space on me phone’. It’s nonsense.”
These ideas are underscored with Sergeant recalling a stroll through a car-boot sale a decade or so ago. “There was this bloke there and he was selling ALL of his Beatles records – on mono! I said to him: ‘What are you doing? That’s your youth you’re selling mate, why are you getting rid of them? And you’ve priced them dead cheap!” I could have got the lot of them for 20 quid, but I didn’t. He put them back in his car in the end!”
Sergeant is now preparing for the October release of the Bunnymen’s 13th studio album, The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon. He’s also sharing some favourite tracks on a radio show he’s curating. “I’ve also always fancied being on the radio, so I’m trying to do that right now. I have a show called Space Junk Radio, where I play different records from my collection.”
As we wind up our interview and leave the house, Will gives us one final piece of advice: “Start collecting vinyl, and put your dreams into them.”
And how does he maintain such a lush garden? “Oh, don’t overwater your plants!”
Songs to Buy and Keep…
We asked Sergeant to pull some of his favourite LPs from his large collection. He had a hard time picking between so many beloved records: “It’s so hard, I could probably do this 20 times and have a different set of records each time.”
The Velvet Underground And Nico