Echo And The Bunnymen: Ian McCulloch On Jesus, Smack and LFC

The greatest Macca to come out of Liverpool pulls up a bar stool with AP Childs and shoots the shit about accidental heroin use and PiL, before agreeing to our steak cookery challenge . . .

Over ten years ago Bill Drummond summed up Echo and the Bunnymen’s career as “Lies, deceit, hatred, hotel floors, cocaine dealers, transit vans, acid trips, broken amplifiers, American girls, service stations, loss of innocence, corrupt road crews, missed opportunities, vanity, broken promises, shit gigs, bad sex, crap mixes, late VAT returns, petulance, incompetence, petty rivalry and Pete de Freitas dying."

Despite the recent tragic death of former keyboard player Jake Brockman, the band themselves — or rather, Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant — seem to be running on more of an even keel these days. Further to 2005’s positively received Siberia, Echo and the Bunnymen are set to release the powerful and uplifting The Fountain, their fifth studio album since a triumphant comeback in 1997. They’ll accompany this with a UK tour starting on October 12th, and are also headlining the inaugural Dubai Sound City festival — a showcase spectacular of British music — on November 7th.

Never backward in coming forward, The Quietus caught up with the inimitable Ian McCulloch for a few light ales. Mac the mouth is seemingly overjoyed with the new album, excited for the future and is on buoyant form. He is indeed high on life.

How do, Mac, first things first. When we’re growing up and we knock about with all our pop fan mates, we hear all the myths and the urban legends about mystical figures in popular music. Stuff that never really gets confirmed — which is probably for the best. Now (indulge me, readers — this one’s for me), back in the mid-80s I had a friend whose sister told me she was going on holiday to Salou. On confirmation that she referred to the shitty Spanish holiday resort near Benidorm, I asked why on earth she had chose to go there. The reason, she told me, was because she wanted to find her idol Ian McCulloch who was holed up there going cold turkey off heroin. Have you ever been to Salou, and more importantly have you had a smack habit that forced you to make dubious holiday choices?

Mac: I’ll go on the record. I’ve never even fuckin heard of Salou, never mind been there. Where the fuck is it, in Spain, man? Nor have I had a smack habit! I’ve never even taken it. Actually, I may taken it once . . . yeah . . . in Germany! I got caught short with a load of scag heads there and inadvertently took it. Can’t remember much about it though. But if I had to do cold turkey for something like that I wouldn’t go there. I’d rather go to fucking Skeggy. A good pop myth though . . . just shame it involves me.

And another myth shattered. I quite liked the thought of you going for a paddle on a grim Spanish beach in the 80s with your black mac on sweating the poison out. Still, nothing lasts forever, eh? Saying that, ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ is one of my favourite pops records of all time. Do you think the new stuff, the current album, surpasses that?

Mac: Everyone has their best stuff. And I will always strive to continue to do my best stuff. But it takes on different shapes. The context of where your art is positioned is always changing. You move on. So parts of the new stuff will surpass parts of the old stuff because you are a different person. You approach things differently. It’s the same when you listen to music. Five years after you last listened to something you are a different person so you will no doubt get something different out of it. You have to. Personally, I’m a better writer and a better singer now. But whether or not the new album surpasses that of ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, I don’t know. All I know is that the effort definitely did and that usually means things pay off. The Fountain is all about new ideas. I needed to do stuff differently. Different musicians. Different producer. It’s totally different but still can be recognised as the Bunnymen and that’s a fucking great achievement.

So The Fountain producer John McLaughlin was used specifically to bring something that Hugh Jones couldn’t? Or was it just an availability thing?

Mac: Definitely not because of the availability thing. I wanted something very different as I say. Believe it or not, I like the stuff he did with all those boy band combo outfits, like Busted and Five. He definitely brings something different to the party. He’s a good lad. This album was exciting to make and that’s partly down to what John brings.

One of out favourite tracks on the album is ‘Shroud of Turin’. The guitars on it sound fantastic. Tell us about the track.

Mac: You like the fucking guitars? What about the words? What about where I’m talking to Jesus, man? I talk to fucking Jesus in that record, and you like the guitars?

OK, what brought on the chin-wag with Jesus then?

Mac: It’s conversation with Jesus. It’s tongue-in-cheek really, but I suppose it’s just another way of praying. I based it on a gig I did in Rimini at a club called the Transylvania, and I saw this image of Jesus’ face in the monitors. I stopped the song and said to the audience if you all want to file past you can see the Shroud of Turin. It’s also a play on the word urine you see, as he pissed his kecks on the cross. Oh that urine stained shroud in Rimini. Yeah man.

OK, fashion question; if Jesus wore a mac or a coat that was black and long, what label would be on it?

Mac: La Redoute. I got rid of my last one for 20 quid I think. And it had gone the way of ciggie burns.

And would he hang around rainy northern bus stops waiting for public transport?

Mac: No, he’d get a fucking cab. But I like this. See, we’re being light-hearted. Jesus should sometimes be taken less seriously. Examined from a not so pious viewpoint. Jesus belongs to the everyman . . . and the everyman loves and needs humour. I mean TV is fucked isn’t it. Simon Cowell, X Factor and all that demeaning rubbish. It’s sad that we can’t bring the likes of Picasso, Mondrian, Shakespeare even, to the common man via prime time TV. It gets the occasional half hour here and there. It’s a disgrace. All great art can be easily reached and can be understood. It’s not to be feared. And it’s all laced with humour. Shakespeare wrote for the man in the street. Instead we get Simon Cowell peddling this hopeless dirge in the name of talent TV.

Who can save British TV?

Mac: Alan Yentob. He needs to make more programmes himself. Imagine is always brilliant. The Private Life of a Cortina was his doing and Cracked Actor is fucking amazing. To capture Bowie in that state, high not only on drugs but high on his mad career was truly great television. David Bowie in the back of a limo singing along to Aretha, high as a kite. And there’s Yentob and a TV crew in the back of the car with him. Formidable. And even that still managed to maintain a level of comedy too . . . because Bowie is a funny fucker. TV needs more Alan Yentob.

What about the South Bank Show closing its doors then?

Mac: Don’t give a damn. I hate that Melvyn Bragg! What a divvy. He’s just one of those Northern imbeciles, isn’t he? Did you see that South Bank Show about Morrissey? It was just rubbish. And when he referred to The Velvet Underground as the Velvets. Fuck off, they’re called the Velvet Underground not the Velvets, how dare he! And besides, they never had the Bunnymen on the South Bank Show.

Do you like the Culture Show?

Mac: It’s about time they had us on it. The Bunnymen are Culture. Can they not see it? But where the fuck does that Lauren Laverne get off? Where does she get off presenting a programme about ‘Culture’ when she was in that fucking abysmal band Kenickie! And there is another Northern imbecile too . . . can’t remember her name but she’s starting to resemble a pterodactyl.

So who are your comedy heroes?

Mac: My Dad, Bill Shankly, Alan Yentob, Eric Morcambe and even Lou Reed.

Metal Machine Music wasn’t funny even though it was considered to be a joke. I took mine back.

Mac: Yeah I know, I took mine back too. I think parts of the record were made of wood too. At least that’s what I told the shop assistant. [Pair of philistines — Ed]

You once said that football was the only time you like being part of 40,000 people. What’s it like going to see Liverpool play these days?

Mac: I gave my season ticket away to Peasy [Mac’s Manager]. But it’s more an issue I have with finding the time than actually going off the actual game or indeed the club. I’m a Liverpool fan and that’s that. But yeah, there’s only Carragher and Gerard I can relate too on the field. And sadly that’s it. That’s the way it is now and we all have to deal with it. I don’t want to appear that I’m lamenting the golden age, and all that, it’s just I could identify with the entire team when I was a kid. I knew who they were and where they came from. And if you told them they were playing shit they would understand you.

You reformed at the arse end of Britpop and released Evergreen, and despite your solo endeavors, you’re still doing it as the Bunnymen; it even looks like you’re going to outlast bands such as Oasis. Are the Bunnymen going to remain a going concern?

Mac: Definitely! Yeah, we will do more records. When we got back together as the Bunnymen for Evergreen it was obviously a calling kind of thing rather than just a reunion. And we have proved that. The Bunnymen, despite the problems, get better and better. We go from strength to strength.

What are your thoughts on the latest Oasis split?

Mac: I feel sorry for Noel. After all, it was his fucking band man. Looking at it, it seems like he’s been bullied from all those behind the group. What do you do when that happens? He’s had to walk out on his own band. But Noel is a good songwriter and he’ll be OK. He’s got projects . . . the rest of the band . . . well that guy from Ride, I like him, he’s OK. At least the rest of them have still got him if they want to continue together.

Looking forward to the PiL shows?

Mac: What’s that all about? Some great celebration for what? They’ve only done one album haven’t they? [Eight studio albums and two live albums to date — Ed]

Finally, you’ve been quoted as saying you’re a great cook. You even once said the band nearly split because of culinary differences. The Quietus are budding foodies, exotic and otherwise. Would you like to share your top recipe with us?

Mac: Did I really say we nearly broke up because of culinary differences? I’m fucking good, aren’t I? Yeah my best recipe is steak au poivre. But you have to use red pepper corns, OK? None of those green, pink and black things. This is a red dish all the way man. The best steak to use is either rump or good sirloin so you can give it a good bashing. Fillet is too tender for it. And you have to get one of those cheap tea towels; you know the ones with the squares or checks on? You wrap the meat in the tea towel and you batter it on a wooden chopping board or a door or something. Batter it until the towel is blood red. Always remember this is a red dish. And you must use Brandy too.

Do you burn the alcohol off the brandy?

Mac: No. Never! But smash the pepper corns up with a mallet. Use shallots and bang it all in to a heavy bottomed, iron frying pan.

Rock ‘n’ Roule! I think we’ll have to film you for a cooking spot on the site. It could be the start of something good, even a second career for you.

I would only be too happy to do it. Get it organised.

Echo and the Bunnymen’s new single ‘Think I Need It Too’ is out now on Ocean Rain. The Fountain will follow soon

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