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Three Songs No Flash

Songs Not Learned Or Sung: Echo And The Bunnymen Bomb In Glasgow
The Quietus , September 30th, 2011 05:33

Our man in Glasgow Neil Cooper was looking forward to Ocean Rain live on Wednesday night. What he got was a very public meltdown from Ian McCulloch

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When Liverpool's most grandiose post-punk scally-delicists released their fourth album, Ocean Rain in 1984, it was advertised as the greatest ever made. Despite this provocative hyperbole from their manager Bill Drummond - something he would perfect during the career of the KLF - it wasn't, but it was the sound of a very good band at the peak of their powers. It was also the last time the original four members ever sounded so special or produced a work that was both so fragile and so heartfelt.

To hear Ocean Rain live then, complete with The Cairns Strings sextet bolstering original vocalist Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant should be something indeed. Indeed it should be an event on a par with the original Crystal Day concert in 1984. This was an all-day magical mystery tour around Liverpool including a bike ride, breakfast in a diner and the inevitable ferry cross the Mersey, before a three hour concert at St George's Hall; all of which demonstrated just how far the four piece had come from cutting their teeth at Eric's.

The cellar club cum social experiment called Eric's run by Roger Eagle, Pete Fulwell and Ken Testi on Matthew Street, was a stone's throw from where the equally underground Cavern club had been filled in and had a car park built over it. In Liverpool at least, it was the epicentre of punk, post punk and synth pop, and provided a shelter of sorts for every freak in town. Echo and the Bunnymen, OMD, The Teardrop Explodes, Pete Burns' Nightmares In Wax, the legendary Big In Japan and Pete Wylie's Wah! were just some of the success stories to stumble out of its sweaty interior, blinking into the light of success beyond the confines of the club.

Thirty years ago Eric's was closed down following a police raid during a Psychedelic Furs gig; but not for good. A new theme park version of the venue, built on the same site, has opened its doors. In terms of authenticity it is in keeping with the similarly rebuilt Cavern Club which stands across the way on the tourist trap of Matthew Street.

But would Ocean Rain played live 27-years after the St George's Hall show be a similarly grotesque act of nostalgic vandalism? Or would it tap into something bigger perhaps - a spirit of vindication for all the dole-queue dreamers of Thatcher's Britain who found their own way to the stars with this album as the sound track?

Glasgow is the ideal city in which to see the show given that this was where the first-generation Bunnymen ended it all after a show at Barrowlands. The concert is in two halves, the first, a hits set and then, the album we're all in attendance to hear.

Immediately, however, alarm bells begin to sound and it isn't because of the band. During opening number 'Rust', Will Sergeant stands to one side as diffident as ever, lit by a bedside lamp as he carves gloriously minimalist solos from thin air. He provides an understated sheen to the generic melancholy of this second-generation Bunnymen anthem. It's Ian McCulloch who appears off-kilter, his delivery... faltering. Despite constant signals to the sound-man, on the song's conclusion Mac indulges in a rare moment of near humility when he admits his performance to have been “a bit shaky... one point off the ten”. Sadly the score is set to get considerably lower over the next two hours.

'Rust' is followed by a bombastic version of 'Pride', b-side 'Stars Are Stars' and then more recent material. McCulloch tries to encourage the crowd to stand up, threatening to sing 'Donald, Where's Your Troosers?' before muttering how The Beatles were actually Cockneys and then moving on to an impromptu impression of "Jim Morrison impersonating Sid James". It appears Mac may been drinking. He rambles on at length about cake. He has been given chocolate cake which he does not like. It is the 16th birthday of one of his string section. His slice of cake had a candle on it. Something else that he does not like. This diverse monologue will at various points in the evening cover allotments, how Glasgow Barrowlands saved his life, how Geordies sound like knobheads and how he nearly got expelled from school for setting his hair on fire. And some of it will be conducted in a Scottish accent.

During 'Bring On The Dancing Horses', 'Bedbugs and Ballyhoo' and more recent fare a steady flow of booze flows past McCulloch's lips. And, while the band sound ever more urgent on Never Stop and Rescue, the front man pretty much ruins the latter with a barrage of verbal diarrhoea that one might associate more with Jimmy Tarbuck or Stan Boardman rather than a rock legend.

As for the singing, when McCulloch's not missing the high notes, it is pretty much left to the audience to fill in the gaps. And 'The Cutter', 'The Back of Love', 'Nothing Lasts Forever', 'Lips Like Sugar' are conspicuous by their absence. One hopes they and all the rest will be saved for the encores. But there is to be no such luck.

The Ocean Rain set itself starts well, ushered in by the triumphant opening flourish of 'Silver', and for a few minutes the elegant majesty of the album sounds reborn as it soars into the woozy drama of 'Nocturnal Me'. The poppier tracks rein him in awhile, but the loose-knit, proto-Grinderman fury of 'Thorn of Crowns' allows him to indulge himself in an increasingly infuriating fashion. Always one to believe his own self-deifying bullshit, McCulloch's patter grows in turns tiresome, self-indulgent, self-pitying and self-aggrandising. Then it becomes aggressive, offensive and downright abusive. Things start getting really ugly when he starts threatening hecklers with violence, perhaps not getting the fact that the aggrieved objects of his derision might feel somewhat short-changed by the debacle considering they've shelled out forty quid for a ticket.

Then, remarkably, it gets worse. Even the laptop working the filmed backdrop messes up. Yet, all the while the band power on regardless, through a botched opening to 'The Killing Moon', which McCulloch blames on the audience clapping out of time. The full version of the song is even more painful, making one wonder why McCulloch introduces it as “the greatest song ever written” if he's then going to talk nonsense over it about how Liverpool and Glasgow have the best accents in the world.

'Seven Seas' is a mess, which, again, the audience do most of the vocal work on while the band attempt to salvage something from it. There are flashes, especially on 'My Kingdom', when the Mac of old comes into view, but largely this is sad, self-parodic stuff. “Sorry about my appalling behaviour,” he slurs, “but I can't remember what I did.”

'Ocean Rain', the album's title track, and most beautifully heroic song, collapses before it starts. People are angry now, and McCulloch, a sneering, nasty drunk, his voice shot, taunts them even more. For a moment it looks like something might kick off, but after assorted threats, McCulloch stumbles offstage, unable to get it together, like it's everyone else's fault. He comes back on, but he shouldn't have bothered.

He says something about receiving bad news but if this is the case, then why did he, or anyone else involved, let the gig go ahead? He attempts yet another stab at 'The Killing Moon'. He barely sings a note of it, opting instead to furiously try and explain the song's meaning, babbling about death in-between sparring some more with the crowd.

If all this wasn't troubling enough to watch, McCulloch, still looking for someone else to blame, ambles over to Sergeant, berating him for something he apparently didn't know about, but which the band – or was it the audience? - did. After lobbing a bottle at his band-mate of more than thirty years, McCulloch leaves the stage for the final time.

As things peter into a sense of disappointment and anti-climax, perhaps Sergeant is pondering throwing his lot in with former Bunnymen bassist Les Pattinson. He came out of musical retirement to join a re-ignited version of their early eighties support act, The Wild Swans. Currently knocking them dead in the Philippines, it should be remembered that the sole Wild Swans release during their original, all too brief life-span, was bank-rolled and produced by original Bunnymen drummer, the late Pete de Freitas.

Sergeant has played live with The Wild Swans already in Liverpool, and also features on the band's just-released album, The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years, an album which possibly says more about Liverpool than any other recorded.

As far as McCulloch is concerned, his gobby bravado - much like his shades - has always been a front to hide his shy vulnerability. This side of him only fully came out on the band's 2001 Flowers album, an uncharacteristically reflective mid-life statement. Whatever is troubling him tonight however, one can only hope its an anomaly or something that can be straightened out easily by friends and family.

If it's not serious, and is just a bad night on the piss, then shame on McCulloch - he's old enough to know better. He needs to have a word with himself and remember that all of his rock & roll heroes were either dead or clean by his age. The posters in the foyer for a forthcoming sixties revival tour featuring first generation Merseybeat groups Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Searchers may look like incongruous cabaret compared to McCulloch's display, but at least they know how to keep it professional.

As for Echo and the Bunnymen, the band and the Cairns Strings were awesome, and deserve medals. The band's singer, figure-head and auto-didactic genius, alas, cut a tragic dash, however fascinatingly, horribly watchable he remained. Like the man said, bring on the new messiah. For now, at least, this one is seriously all at sea.

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Mr Person
Sep 30, 2011 11:15am

Rumour has it that much of the evening's debacle was initiated by the fact that, at some point early on in the proceedings, Ian took it upon himself to steal and imbibe the band's entire supply of narcotics, leading to both interpersonal tension and excessive inebriation.

However, I saw Ian perform in what appeared to be a relatively sober state earlier this year, and there was much tone-deaf intoning, petulant sulking and berating of those around him. The Glasgow performance does not seem to be that much of a departure from his usual standard.

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Mark Aitken
Sep 30, 2011 12:07pm

Any chance of making the video for The Killing Moon public please?

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Sep 30, 2011 3:31pm

It wasn't much better in Manchester the week before. Having been to a few, I for one will not be going to any more of these down memory lane events. Dont normally mind funding these bands as payback for the great times when they were in their heyday. But not to to be treated like a mug at the same time.
Oh, and lose the Liam Gallagher / football hooligan look Ian, it makes you look like a stupid prick.

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Sep 30, 2011 3:43pm

Never managed to see them and, from this article and the comments, I've missed nothing.

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Sep 30, 2011 4:09pm

You do wonder why they're still at it these days. As they [criminally] have not made as much out of this game as inferior bands like U2 I'd suggest that it's mostly a matter of paying the bills.
That said, I've seen them twice in the last year and enjoyed it very much, especially the Crocodiles / Heaven Up Here gig.

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Rob Strong
Sep 30, 2011 4:44pm

One wonders exactly what personal evil Ian McCulloch has perpetrated on the writer and publisher of this piece. A depressing read for sure, and obviously he needs to make amends, but whoever took the decision that he needs to be hung, drawn and quartered for this needs to take a serious look at their own life.

The guy's apologised, he's said he'll sort it out, he may well have some deep-seated personal problems. This kind of public flogging should surely be reserved for Tories?

The Quietus, I expect far better of you than this kind of slop.

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Gilbert Grunt
Sep 30, 2011 5:30pm

Bad day at the office methinks...I seen the mighty Bunnymen last year and they were ace...guitar heroics from sergent, and although Mac didnt reach the high notes of yore he was still in great voice, adlibbing doors lyrics and generally being cool as fuck. And they played the best song ever written..

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Mark Eglinton
Sep 30, 2011 6:17pm

In reply to Rob Strong:

Rob - how can you criticise the author and site for calling somebody on their shit? If a normal person - working in bank or at Starbucks etc pulled this kind of shit : abusing customers and not doing their job, they'd get the sack - deep-seated personal problems or not. Musicians shouldn't be immune from criticism if they're behaviour warrants it, any more than you or I should be.

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Rob Strong
Sep 30, 2011 7:03pm

In reply to Mark Eglinton:

Mark, you're right, of course. Please don't think I'm saying he should be immune from criticism.
That said, there's a level of personal bitterness in the tone of this piece which troubles me greatly. "Rock star plays crap show" - so what, it happens every day. Fine, have a moan about it, but a wholesale character assasination on, let's not forget, one of the 'good guys', seems excessive. Unless he's actually inflicted some deep personal wrong on the writer of this piece, in which case I apologise unreservedly.

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Sep 30, 2011 7:53pm

The Bunnymen were one of the very first bands I saw live, way back in 1984 on the original Ocean Rain tour, & Mac couldn't reach the high notes then either...

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Mark Eglinton
Sep 30, 2011 8:02pm

In reply to Rob Strong:

Fair comment and I have no idea whether there's any personal angle here - sounds unlikely.However, it does sound that this particular evening goes way beyond 'normal' bad-day-at-the-office type music performances and regardless of whether he's considered one of the better types in the industry, the moment any artist gets pissy with the very people (seemingly without provocation from what the piece describes) who have paid 40 notes to see a shitty show, then there's a big problem.

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Sep 30, 2011 8:12pm

I always find that these bands, which I've loved for so long, and their current shows can be such a crap shoot. Saw the Bunnymen 10 years ago on a Friday night and the crowd basically slept through the entire set. Not the bands fault, Ian wasn't being an a** like it sounds like he was in the show above. It just seemed like everyone was wiped out from the week at work. Sad, sad indeed. That's why we have to try to remember them when both we and they, had that youthful vigor.

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Sep 30, 2011 8:40pm

Mac did behave badly but haven't we all at times! I've seen him be rude or arrogant with the audience before but his singing voice made you forget that. I think it was tragic to see an icon in meltdown and I just hope he's ok and comes back and does a great concert for us soon. Why didn't someone stop him when it was so obvious he couldn't continue?

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Sep 30, 2011 9:15pm

Just a series of twists and turns of..... the troublesome gremlins of alcohol, I hope he catches the thin rope of recovery.
All the best, Alan.
Appology in Scots press.. (link below)
Nice journalism... Please find attatched.. Appology..

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Sep 30, 2011 9:26pm

In reply to Jackie:

I totally agree Jackie,
That was a sad sight I'm pretty sure he new it was not his finest hour and he was clearly hurt by Wil's lack of interest in whatever caused his chargrin.
Whatever it was? 30 years surely must mean something..
Will we ever find out...Why?

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Rob Strong
Sep 30, 2011 10:44pm

In reply to Mark Eglinton:

Out of curiosity - did the writer of this piece pay for a ticket?

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Sep 30, 2011 11:19pm

In reply to Rob Strong:

His review suggests he may have...;-)

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Paige K. Parsons
Oct 1, 2011 5:01am

I've seen the Bunnymen dozens of times in The States over the past 25 years, and their last two performances here in San Francisco - May 2011 & Oct 2010 leave no doubt in my mind that this-week's Glasgow performance really was as piss-poor as described. In May, McCullough also had problems with the lyrics for Killing Moon, and chose not to sing. Last October he was completely pissed and had a tantrum at the lighting guy, vulgarly cussing him out in the middle of a song for having the lights too bright.

He also failed to show up to the soundcheck at their Radio City Ocean Rain Gig in 2008 because he was out drinking. The band were quite irked, but one of them told me that unfortunately it was par for the course.

It's terribly sad because Will and the other guys in the band seem like stand-up blokes.

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John Doran
Oct 1, 2011 1:02pm

In reply to Rob Strong:

Nah, I'm not down with all this Johann Hari, he's one of ours so he can do what he wants bullshit. At The Quietus we're all about supporting the good guys but at the moment he isn't a good guy he's taking 40 quid off people who have less money than him who look up to him and then pissing in their faces. And speaking as an alcoholic with drug issues I sympathise with him and hope he gets himself sorted out if that's what he wants but it's simply no excuse. If you can't handle your drink and drugs then it's time to stop.

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Neil Cooper
Oct 1, 2011 5:21pm

Thanks for everyone's comments, but, for the record, there was nothing personal going on in my review, and, no, I didn't pay for my ticket, but a lot of people did.

I've never met Ian McCulloch or any of the Bunnymen, unless you count shaking Will Sergeant's hand at a Glide show in Gloucester a few years ago. I have interviewed McCulloch on the phone, and found him to be witty, laconic and charismatic. Again, that was a few years ago.

I have no axes to grind against McCulloch. He's made some of my favourite records, and I wanted the Ocean Rain show to be as special as it should've been. When he lost the plot, it went a whole lot further than the normal funny stuff he comes out with. It was ugly, and was upsetting to watch, and to write about.

If McCulloch's got stuff going on, I feel for him,and I hope he can sort it out in private. But I'm not prepared to excuse some of the things he said and did last Wednesday night out of some kind of sentimental loyalty. That would be dishonest.

McCulloch messed up, and he's apologised. Let's move on, and hopefully McCulloch can make the Bunnymen great again.

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Dale James
Oct 1, 2011 11:17pm

In reply to Rob Strong:

Hello Rob,

I was there on Wednesday night and to be honest Neil Cooper is just telling it like it was. It's a very good review of what actually happened.

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Dale James
Oct 1, 2011 11:19pm

In reply to Mark Eglinton:


Your dead on mate. Totally agree!!!

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Dale James
Oct 1, 2011 11:27pm

In reply to John Doran:

Hello John,

As like Mark's previous comments, I agree with your point!

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Oct 1, 2011 11:32pm

In reply to Neil Cooper:


Excellent review mate! It was quite a mixed bag of emotions on Wednesday night. First humour, then bemusement, leading to confusion, building to impatience, reacting with shock and feeling insulted, generating anger and finally sadness!

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sandra mcquarrie
Oct 1, 2011 11:50pm


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sandra mcquarrie
Oct 1, 2011 11:52pm

In reply to Mr Person:

i saw ian do his solo gig at union chapel and he was a gent,sober, entertainig and faultless. saw the bunnymen 24/09/11.. another story x

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Oct 2, 2011 1:04am

Strange but true. channel-hopping late-night TV in a Dublin hotel room, and an ad comes on for a documentary about a history of ceramics. The music they're playing? Silver...

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Bill Baird
Oct 2, 2011 10:41am

I was at the bunnymen gig on Wednesday. I paid £80 for 2 tickets and was extremely disappointed with Ian's antics to say the least.

Having had said that I thought the band and the string section were excellent and the sound quality in the Royal Concert Hall was exceptional.

It was just so sad to see Ian have such a public meltdown, it was like watching an old mate making a very public fool of himself and there was nothing a could do to sort it for them.

Nevertheless I remain a huge fan and I for one am more than happy to accept Ian's apology however I'll be looking for an absolute belter of a gig the next time the Bunnymen vist Glasgow.

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Oct 2, 2011 4:38pm

In reply to Bill Baird:

As Tibor Fischer once said of a bad Amis novel it was like watching your uncle masturbate in a playground. Mac is clearly a very advanced coke addict. This is what, and this is all, he is now. Threatening violence upon members of the audience at a show in Glasgow is the behaviour of someone who doesn't wish to see next Christmas. I've seen Mc Culloch in Glasgow maybe four times over the last few years and it's generally the same vibe. The man is a travesty. This was the worst yet. Death or mammoth, enegertic contrition are his sole ways out.

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Oct 3, 2011 3:57pm

This review is spot on. McCulloch was a disgrace.
I have seen the Bunnymen several times when they have been awesome, and McCulloch solo at Oran Mor on Glasgow last summer but I have never seen anything as bad as Wednesday - he was shocking. And racist. And a coward. and then blamed everyone else.

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Henry C.
Oct 3, 2011 11:01pm

Very sad to read all this. Heart and soul I love this band but its hard to keep encouraged when Ian in particular seems to be mired in a slough of personal and musical despond. Saw them in Melbourne a few years ago and they were merely alright - great to see them but quite a plodding evening of nostalgia. The Glasgow review seemed very balanced and was written by someone who obviously gives a damn but wasn't prepared to let it slide. Echo and the Bunnymen, as they currently stand, are a sorry contrast to the likes of Julian Cope and Robyn Hitchcock, both of whom I've seen in the last couple of years, and who both strike me as creative musicians entering a rich mid-life as artists and people. I really hope Ian can sort himself out.

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Oct 8, 2011 5:10am

Mac is depressed. He is losing his hair, his looks, his voice...all the things that made him.. and he is a melancholic it's gonna be like this...unless of course he learns to accept the aging process... and work on his act...I'd rather listen to me tapes and CDs...

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Voodoo Billy
Oct 9, 2011 9:34pm

Liverpool last Friday was a classic. Shame the knobhead who wrote the 'review' above wasn't there to witness it.

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Oct 15, 2011 6:16am

In reply to Mr Person:

Exactly. I saw the same from him the last few times. He's become very rude and obnoxious and his performances... what little there are between his mumbling and drinking, have been complete messes, filled with lots of aborted attempts, stumbling vocals, and audience abuse. Sad to say, Mac has really fallen from grace and even this whole Bunnymen Nostalgia act is not enough to save him in many fan's eyes.

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Nicole Don
Oct 21, 2011 5:49pm

I was at this show and it was actually far worse than described here. Despite the valiant efforts of die-hard fans to coax Mac out of his hissy-fits, he acted like a spoiled brat. This was my very first Echo & the Bunnymen show (I missed the hayday, I'm afraid, as I'm only in my teens), and I was so disappointed, as they are my favourite band. It was horrible to see somebody you've always looked up to as the idiot they are. I still love the music, but I am no longer a Mac fan.

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Will Scott
Nov 18, 2011 12:03am

In reply to Nicole Don:

The band has now provided the following statement:

‘Ian and Will are sorry that you didn’t enjoy the concert, a view not shared by the vast majority of people in attendance.’

I kid you not folks this was the opinion of Messrs McCulloch and Sergeant of the night at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.Despite most of the audience leaving following the first strop and the fact the concert was eventually abandoned.Talk about treating your fans with contempt.Memories of the Barrowland wiped out by a sad night compounded with an even sadder response from the band.

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