Will Sergeant (seen here on the right), an English guitarist best known for being a member of Echo & the Bunnymen, chats with Kevin Cooper about his love of art, the late Rik Mayall of The Young Ones fame writing a letter to Dear Mr Echo, his book Bunnyman: A Memoir and their forthcoming tour of the UK in 2020.

Will Sergeant is an English guitarist, best known for being a member of Echo & the Bunnymen.

Formed in Liverpool in 1978, the original line-up was vocalist Ian McCulloch, bassist Les Pattinson and Sergeant on guitar. In 1980 Pete de Freitas joined as the band’s drummer but he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989.

Since 1980 the band has released thirteen studio albums with different line-ups, but with Sergeant being the constant member. In 1983 they scored a UK top ten hit with The Cutter and the album which the song came from, Porcupine, hit number two in the UK album chart.

In 1994 McCulloch and Sergeant began working together under the name Electrafixion and they released one studio album called Burned in 1995. In 1997 Pattinson rejoined the duo, meaning that the three surviving members of the original Bunnymen line up were working together again. So rather than continue as Electrafixion, the trip resurrected the Echo & the Bunnymen name which remains today even though Patterson left again in 1998.

McCulloch and Sergeant continue to tour as Echo & the Bunnymen releasing an album of reworked orchestral versions of older material and two new songs, titled The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon in 2018.

Sergeant’s first solo work, Weird As Fish, was first released in 1978 but only seven copies were made. It was officially released twenty five years later. His first formal solo album, Themes For Grind was released in 1982.

In 2013 Sergeant and Pattinson formed Poltergeist with former Black Velvets drummer Nick Kilroe and they released Your Mind Is A Box (Let Us Fill It With Wonder).

In 2021 Sergeant published Bunnyman: A Memoir, the first part of his autobiography covering his childhood and the formation of Echo & the Bunnymen up until just before they replaced the drum machine with Pete de Freitas

Whilst busy promoting their forthcoming tour of the UK, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good morning Will, how are you?

I’m pretty good thanks Kevin, how are you?

I’m good thank you, and before we go on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No worries, it’s a pleasure.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to say that life, at the moment, is treating me pretty well actually. I have got my book out, Bunnyman: A Memoir, and I am pleased to say that it is selling really well. So all in all I have been doing alright really.

I have to say that you have made me feel really old today.

Oh god, why? (laughter).

I have been looking back to see where and when I first saw Echo & the Bunnymen and it was at Rock City here in Nottingham on Saturday 13th December 1980.

Wow, so you were a late comer to the party were you (laughter). We had been going since 1978, so where were you (laughter). We have always loved playing Rock City; it’s a great venue. It always has a good vibe in there and that’s what it is all about for me, it’s all about the vibe.

As you have mentioned, the band were formed back in 1978, some 41 years ago now. Back then could you have ever envisaged that you would still be doing it and still be as relevant today?

No, I didn’t, I didn’t even think that we would last five minutes. In fact, I didn’t even think about it. For me, it wasn’t like, ‘this is going to be my job forever’ it was more like, ‘well, this is pretty groovy, this is cool, let’s do this’ (laughter). Don’t get me wrong, I totally believed in it, but as I say, I was never thinking that we would still be going now. It’s crazy, but we are (laughter). It is still crazy, but it has kind of become normal for me now.

Liverpool, as we all know, is steep in musical history. Could you feel that when you were starting out?

Well, what can I say, everyone is aware of The Beatles, together with all of the Merseybeat stuff here in Liverpool. You couldn’t really get away from it, and at the time I was pretty cheesed off with it.I once said in an interview that I hated The Beatles (laughter). Every time that you did an interview, they would mention the sodding Beatles. Then, they started calling us the sound of the new Merseybeat and I just thought, ‘just shut up and change the record’ (laughter). It was a bit annoying but, I have nothing whatsoever against The Beatles; they were brilliant. It was just my punky angst at the time. But yes, in answer to your question, yes, you are totally aware of the history simply because everyone mentions it all the bloody time (laughter).

(Laughter) you should think yourself lucky as down here in Nottingham we have Jake Bugg, The Sleaford Mods and Paper Lace. What a musical heritage that is (laughter).

Paper Lace were pretty good weren’t they? (laughter).

They most probably were almost fifty years ago now (laughter).

I can remember Billy, Don’t Be A Hero; that was them wasn’t it?

Yes, it was and don’t forget The Night Chicago Died (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I remember once a lot of people went to see Paper Lace thinking that it was THE Carlos Santana playing the guitar with them. What a shock they had (laughter).

We need to get back on track otherwise people will accuse us of having far too much fun (laughter).

(Laughter) okay I suppose that you are right; so let’s go for it.

How have you managed to keep yourself busy during lockdown?

Well, I had already started writing my book, Bunnyman: A Memoir prior to lockdown, so lockdown enabled me to really concentrate on that. I finished the book in around nine months. What took the majority of time was getting all of the photographs together and organised, proofreading the book and seeing just how many bloody spelling mistakes I had made (laughter). I’m hoping that it is all going to be correct by the time that we get the paperback out (laughter). It’s incredible; I gave it to my daughter and before she had read the first page, she was telling me, “that should have a comma there and that should be a full stop”’. I just sat there and thought, ‘oh Christ’ (laughter).

Was the book something that you wanted to do or something that you felt you needed to do?

What happened was I knew that the record company were talking about the reissues and everything, but a different record company had already licensed and re-released the first four albums, a while back. They had released them in fancy cardboard covers, complete with booklets and all that. I had done the sleeve and liner notes for those four albums, and it was that which had given me a little taste for writing about the band. It’s a brilliant thing to be in a band so I thought, ‘why not write about it and tell my side of the story’ and so you now have my side of the story.

Will there be a volume two?

Yes, there will, in fact I am working on that right now.

Putting you under pressure, will it be out for Christmas?

(Laughter) give over; maybe next Christmas (laughter). The first book stops in 1979, and it is mainly about the times when I was a kid. It is almost like a social history type of thing, telling the story of what it was like being a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s. It’s all that sort of stuff.

The book eventually managed to find itself on The Sunday Times best seller list. Just how did that make you feel?

Being totally honest with you, I was chuffed to bits. That was what the publishers wanted from me from the outset; they wanted to see the book on The Sunday Times best seller list. It’s all about selling units and they can now put that on the front cover of the paperback. I was made up. The book was at number four; it really was crazy, and it was unheard of (laughter). When I got the email telling me, there was a picture of it. I simply couldn’t believe it.

You have mentioned the first four albums being reissued, so I have to ask, do you still listen to your own work and if you do, would you agree that they have all stood the test of time?

That’s a good question because no, I don’t (laughter). However, have your heard of Tim’s Listening Party. It is hosted by Tim Burgess from The Charlatans, and he hosts Tim’s Listening Party on Twitter, and it’s massive. What you do is you get your record, everybody lines up with their record ready to go on, you put your record on, and as the record is playing, you tweet comments about what it was like to record particular tracks, or what we were doing at the time together with any other nuggets of information relating to the album. Everyone listens to the record, and I have to say that it is really cool. So, in this case, I had to listen to them again (laughter).

When I knew that I would be involved with Tim’s thing, I listened to them a couple of times and I have to say that I was quite chuffed. I thought that they sounded great (laughter). At the time we tried to avoid all of the current fads, things like the big snare drum reverb sounds, the DX7 synthesizers with the horrible fake bell sounds over everything. We tried to avoid all of that as there was a hell of a lot of that going around. We were, in fact, anti-synthesizers and we only ever used one on Over TheWall, but all of the other little weird sounds are generally me, playing my guitar in weird ways; bowing it with a pair of scissors for example (laughter).

We did all kind of mad stuff like that. It was all new to us, for us it was all a kind of learning sort of thing. It was great as all of that side of things really did fascinate me. Compressors for example, it was a totally different world. Who the hell knows just what a compressor does (laughter). Obviously, we do, because we are in that world now. What the hell is a noise scape? It’s all crazy stuff that you have never heard of but are needed for recording.

Out of the four albums, do you have a favourite?

In the past whenever I have been asked that question, I would always say that it was Heaven Up Here, but I really did like Porcupine when I played it the other day. There were a lot of great sounds on there, together with a hell of a lot of great little moments. I have to say that there are some great arrangements on that album. Having said that, it is difficult to choose really. I recently ran a competition on my Twitter account; I told readers that those four albums were like my children, so please don’t ask me to choose one over the other. However, I went on to ask them to vote which album they thought was the best one, and Heaven Up Here just pipped Ocean Rain by a couple of points.

Are there plans to reissue any more of the albums?

Yes, there are. There are plans to reissue Siberia together with a few of the other later albums. They are trying to make them as close to the originals as they can, so they will be released in facsimiles of the original covers. Whatever was on the cover back in the day is exactly what you will get. It is great to get them out there once again but this time on vinyl; that’s the key. We have been asking for years why these albums are not out there on vinyl, and I am pleased to say that the record company have finally woken up and are eventually happy to do that.

Have you considered the kids thirst for cassettes?

Yes, we have, and I have to say that includes me (laughter).

(Laughter) are you really?

Yes, I am. I bought three (David) Bowie cassettes the other week while I was attending a scooter rally (laughter).

I thought that I was the only sad bugger with a cassette player in the house (laughter).

No, you are not alone; I have about five of them. Let’s just say that I need help. I must have about eight record decks and a jukebox scattered around the house (laughter). I always say that if I was a plumber I would most probably have more than one spanner (laughter).

The question begs to be asked, did you buy a mini disc player and recorder?

(Laughter) yesI did, and a DAT tape machine.

I always thought that the mini disc was fantastic.

So did I. I must also tell you that I have got five reel to reel tape recorders (laughter).

Have you got a Teac?

(Laughter) I have got two Teac’s, a couple of Akai’s and two 1960’s Ferrographs. As I said earlier, I need help (laughter). Did you ever see that picture of John Lennon in his studio? He has got a small home studio setup and he has got some of the tape recorders that I have got. It actually looks as though he is standing in a cold war bunker, Army green, industrial looking and dead heavy (laughter). Brilliant they are; they still sound amazing. It is so very difficult to replicate that sound.

It’s only now that people are accepting that cassettes have a really warm bass feel to them.

People moan about all kinds of stuff, don’t they; crackles on the records, yes, they crackle, just get it on the bloody turntable (laughter). Its music locked up until you finally release it. Music is locked in those grooves until you release it. I play vinyl all the time. You could say that playing vinyl is my hobby.

We need a more level playing field though when you can buy a new CD for a fiver while a vinyl album is costing you thirty quid.

I take on board what you are saying but, you know what, can you remember when CDs first came out. They were fifteen quid and vinyl albums were £2.99 or something around that number. We were then fed the bullshit that they were really difficult to manufacture, and then everyone found out that they coast just a few pence. It was at that point that they dropped the price of CDs to a tenner. The big release that I can remember coming out on CD was Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits.

Yes, it did. Funnily enough, I have spoken to a few members of the band, and they all tell me that they were in the right place at the right time as they were sponsored by the manufactures of CD players.

Were they really?

Yes, they were. They also told me that, in their opinion, without the CD, Brothers In Arms most probably would never have reached the cult status that it did.

Did they really, well that’s very honest of them.

Back to your good self. Your guitar playing is pretty much the sound of Echo & the Bunnymen. Did you set out to achieve that, and I’m thinking of Dave Davies of The Kinks who went out to create his own sound.

The simple answer to that is that I didn’t know any other way to play the guitar. It was kind of because I had taught myself and to be totally honest with you, I am doing it all wrong really (laughter). I have, over the years, found my own little route. I never really wanted to be a technical guitarist. I like experimenting and finding ways in which I can make it sound more impressive than it actually is (laughter).

You are going back out on tour here in the UK on February 1st next year. After the past two years that we have had, are you looking forward to it?

Yes, I am looking forward to it, but I have to be honest with you and say that I am looking forward to it but with a huge slice of trepidation. We haven’t played since 2019 and my fingers are all soft now. Whenever you play tour after tour, the end of your left-hand fingers goes like rock but now they are all soft. So, I really don’t know just how I am going to cope with it. What I do know is that after a few gigs my fingers are going to be killing me. I just hope that at least some of my muscle memory is still there because that is what I am relying on (laughter).

Taking you back if I may to 1987 and the movie The Lost Boys. You contributed to a cover of The Doors’ People Are Strange to the official soundtrack. Just how did that come about?

The director of the movie, Joel Schumacher wanted us to do a version of People Are Strange. He really wanted that song to be in the movie, but he wanted a newer and more current version of it. Deep down, Joel Schumacher was a bit of a Bunnymen fan (laughter). It was one of those times when it got suggested and I went, “yes, okay, that sounds great” whilst Mac (Ian McCulloch) just kept saying “I don’t want to do it” (laughter). After a while Joel Schumacher phoned Mac and talked him round and as they say, that was that. Ray Manzarekflew over from the States to show me how to play it, but that song really was uncomplicated for me (laughter). So, we all went up to Kirby to record it, and it was great.

When you listen to the song, it really could have been written for you and Ian couldn’t it?

Yes, I totally agree with you on that. It is one of those songs that use the reverse double loopback and I totally love The Doors. I was always the big Doors fan in the band, where the others really didn’t like them in the beginning. However, I played them so much in the van that the torture almost became a pleasure (laughter). As I say, I loved The Doors so their influence can always be found in whatever we did and do. We used to get compared to them all the time, so I suppose that we created a weird sound that was close to that of The Doors so when we did a Doors track, we fitted in quite nicely.

Didn’t you have a surprise guest at your very first gig over in the States?

(Laughter) how do you know about that? Our very first gig over in Los Angeles was at the Whisky A Go Go where The Doors started out. We did six shows over there, and at that time we were very much the flavour of the month. It really was great and to top it all off, Ray Manzarek actually came down to see us play. That was really cool.

When people are saying that you are one of the most influential bands of the 80s does that bring with it any extra pressure?

Who says that (laughter)? Let me tell you, people don’t say it in my pub (laughter). All I get shouted at me is, “are you still trying to play that bloody guitar” (laughter). Most of the fans say, “are you still bashing them fucking drums” (laughter). They really have no idea which is just the way that I like it.

Okay I will try another one. When people are saying that you have influenced the likes of U2, Moby, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead amongst others that must make you feel good?

Yes, I have to say that feels great. It’s weird because I got quite a few of these people to do a little blurb thing for my book and every one of them was really nice (laughter). They all wrote something really complimentary. It’s weird because on this Twitter thing that I am on, Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) sent me a message. He said, “I have just written a book and I have mentioned your album Heaven Up Here and the influence that you had upon me.Would you like me to send you a copy?” I’ve never met him, or anything like that but I actually had a copy of the book which I gave to my children. I sent Flea a picture of me reading the book, with a note saying, “how dare you interrupt me while I’m reading” (laughter).

How is the art coming along?

To be honest with you, I’m not doing as much art as I should be. I went through a bit of a collage phase, and I was doing lots and lots of collages; but that was just to keep myself sane. I don’t sell them; I just did them for the pleasure of doing them. It was good fun, and I stuck a few photos of them up on Twitter. But yes, I really do need to get back into the painting. The problem is that I have got so many other things going on at the minute, hobbies, interests, dogs, motorbikes, scooters, gardening, and bloody records (laughter). I hardly get any time to do anything. At least I can say that life is never boring (laughter). I have also started going out on long walks, which I have to say is great.

What was the first record that you bought?

It was Voodoo Chile by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. I bought it when it first came out and it was cheap; I think that it was either six shillings or ten bob, something like that. Hendrix had just died and so the record companies and shops didn’t want to be seen to be cashing it. They released Voodoo Chile as a tribute to Jimi; they kept the price down as they didn’t want to be seen as money grabbing bastards (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live?

That was Status Quo. They were amazing but in recent times they have become more of a dad rock band, but back in the day, they really were the bad boys of rock.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

It is always the same one. It is The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack. That song was my wife’s favourite, and she always told me that it meant something to her the first time that she saw me. She passed away seven years ago now, and whenever I hear that song, it gets to me every time.

Taking you back to the early 80s and the TV series The Young Ones. We had Rik who was played by the late Rik Mayall writing a letter to Dear Mr Echo. What did the band think to that?

We all thought that it was great. It was a sort of seal of approval almost. I went to see The Comic Strip in London with my brother, and we saw them all when they were doing 20th Century Coyote. Alexi Sayle was the compare, and French and Saunders were doing their thing. I remember waiting in the foyer during the interval and one of them walked past, and I was thrilled to bits to be recognised as Will from Echo & the Bunnymen (laughter). Ade Edmundson looked at me as he was walking by, and whispered to his mate, “oh that’s Will from Echo & the Bunnymen” (laughter). It was being performed in the old Raymond Revue Bar in Soho.

It was my brother who was into it, but I have to say that I really did enjoy it. I had never heard of them, but he took me down there. It was good to see it early doors before any of them became really famous. We actually got Ben Elton to introduce us when we played our gig at the Royal Festival Hall.

On that note Will let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great.

Thanks for that Kevin; you take care and I hope to see you somewhere along the tour. Make sure that you stay safe.