Ian McCulloch began his career in 1977, as one third of the Crucial Three, a bedroom band which also featured Julian Cope and Pete Wylie. When Wylie left, McCulloch and Cope formed the short-lived A Shallow Madness with drummer Dave Pickett and organist Paul Simpson, during which time such songs as “Read It In Books”, “Robert Mitchum”, “You Think It’s Love” and “Spacehopper” were written by the pair. When Cope sacked McCulloch from the band, A Shallow Madness changed their name to The Teardrop Explodes, and McCulloch joined forces with guitarist Will Sergeant and bass player Les Pattinson to form Echo & the Bunnymen. This early incarnation of the band featured a drum machine, assumed by many to be “Echo”, though this has been refuted by the band. In the 1982 book Liverpool Explodes!, Will Sergeant explained the origin of the band’s name:
We had this mate who kept suggesting all these names like The Daz Men or Glisserol and the Fan Extractors. Echo and the Bunnymen was one of them. I thought it was just as stupid as the rest.
In November 1978, Echo & the Bunnymen made their debut at Liverpool’s Eric’s Club, appearing as the opening act for The Teardrop Explodes.
Echo & the Bunnymen’s debut single “The Pictures on My Wall” was released on Bill Drummond & David Balfe’s Zoo Records in May 1979, the B-side being the McCulloch/Cope collaboration “Read It in Books” (also recorded by The Teardrop Explodes approximately six months later as the B-side of their final Zoo Records single “Treason”). McCulloch has subsequently denied that Cope had any involvement with the writing of this song on more than one occasion.
By the time of their debut album, 1980’s Crocodiles, the drum machine had been replaced by Trinidad-born Pete de Freitas. The lead single, “Rescue”, climbed to UK #62 and the album broke into the Top 20 at #17, following critical acclaim. Their next album, Heaven Up Here (1981), was an even bigger critical and commercial success, reaching the UK Top Ten (#10), although a single lifted from the album, “A Promise”, could only reach UK #49.
In June 1982, the Bunnymen achieved their first significant UK hit single with “The Back of Love” (#19). This was followed in early 1983 with their first Top 10, the more radio-friendly “The Cutter”, which climbed to #8. The parent album, Porcupine, hit #2 in the album chart. Now firmly established as a chart act, further hits followed with a one-off single, “Never Stop” (#15), and “The Killing Moon”, a preview from the new album featuring a dramatic McCulloch vocal, which became the band’s second UK Top 10 single at #9.
Following a PR campaign which proclaimed it “the greatest album ever made”, 1984’s Ocean Rain reached #4, and today is widely regarded as the band’s masterpiece. Single extracts “Silver” (UK #30) and “Seven Seas” (UK #16) consolidated the album’s continued commercial success. In the same year, McCulloch had a minor solo hit with his cover version of “September Song”.
Echo & the Bunnymen toured Scandinavia in April 1985, performing cover versions of songs from Television, the Rolling Stones, Talking Heads and The Doors. Recordings from the tour emerged as the semi-bootleg On Strike. Unfortunately for the band, Ocean Rain proved to be a difficult album to follow up, and they could only re-emerge in 1985 with a single, “Bring On the Dancing Horses” (UK #21), and a compilation album, Songs to Learn & Sing, which made #6 in the UK album chart. However, all was not well in the Bunnymen camp, and Pete de Freitas left the band. Their next album, the self-titled Echo & the Bunnymen (1987), was recorded with ex–ABC drummer David Palmer, but when de Freitas returned in 1986, it was largely re-recorded. Eventually released in mid-1987, the record sold well (UK #4), and was a small American hit, their only LP to have significant sales there.
In the United States, the band’s best-known songs were “The Killing Moon” and “Lips Like Sugar”. “Bring On the Dancing Horses” is well-known as one of the songs on the soundtrack to the John Hughes film Pretty in Pink. “The Killing Moon” was featured in the films Grosse Pointe Blank and Donnie Darko, and in Series 2, Episode 4 of the E4 series Misfits. The band also contributed a cover version of The Doors song “People Are Strange” to The Lost Boys soundtrack.
McCulloch quit the band in 1988 and de Freitas was killed in a motorcycle accident in mid-1989. After former Colenso Parade singer Oscar turned down an offer to take over from McCulloch, Pattinson and Sergeant recruited ex-St. Vitus Dance vocalist Noel Burke and drummer Damon Reece. Keyboardist Jake Brockman (a touring member of the band for several years previously, and a contributor to the 1987 album) was promoted to full member, and the five-piece recorded Reverberation in 1990. This did not generate much excitement among fans or critics, and the group was abandoned in 1993. McCulloch, meanwhile, had continued his solo career, with the albums Candleland in 1989 and Mysterio in 1992.
Echo and the Bunnymen at Paradiso, Amsterdam, in 2006.
In 1994 McCulloch and Sergeant began working together again under the name Electrafixion; in 1997 Pattinson rejoined the duo, meaning the three surviving members of the original Bunnymen lineup were now working together again. Rather than continue as Electrafixion, the trio resurrected the Echo & the Bunnymen name and released the album Evergreen (1997), which reached the UK Top 10.
Immediately prior to the release of the band’s next album, What Are You Going to Do with Your Life? (1999), Les Pattinson quit to take care of his mother. McCulloch and Sergeant have continued to tour and record as Echo & the Bunnymen, touring repeatedly and releasing the albums Flowers (2001) and Siberia (2005). The Siberia band line up was Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant, Paul Fleming (keyboards), Simon Finley (drums) and Pete Wilkinson (bass), Hugh Jones produced Siberia after previously engineering early Bunnymen albums. As from August 2009 the group’s touring incarnation comprises McCulloch and Sergeant along with Stephen Brannan (bass), Gordy Goudie (guitar), Nicholas Kilroe (drums) and Jez Wing (keyboards).
In 2002 the group received the Q Inspiration award. The award is for inspiring “new generations of musicians, songs and music lovers in general.” The band were said to be worthy winners as they have done much to promote the Mersey music scene. In a later interview for Magnet magazine, McCulloch said “It validates everything that we’ve tried to achieve—cool, great timeless music. It’s not like an inspiration award affecting the past, it’s affecting the current music.”
On 11 September 2006, Echo & the Bunnymen released an updated version of their 1985 Songs to Learn and Sing compilation. Now re-titled More Songs to Learn and Sing, this new compilation was issued in two versions, a 17-track single CD and a 20-track version with a DVD featuring 8 videos from their career.
In March 2007, the Bunnymen announced that they had re-signed to their original record label, Warner, and were also working on a new album. The band were also said to be planning a live DVD, entitled “Dancing Horses”, which also contained interviews with the band. This was released in May 2007, on Snapper/SPV. The live line up was Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant, Simon Finley (Drums), Paul Fleming (Keyboards), Gordy Goudie (Guitar) and Steve Brannan (Bass) .
On 11 January 2008 Ian McCulloch was interviewed on BBC Breakfast at the start of Liverpool 08. He was asked about new Bunnymen material and he revealed that a new album would coincide with their gig at the Royal Albert Hall in September. He went on to say that the album was, “The best one we’ve made, apart from Ocean Rain.”
In a 20 April 2008 interview with the Sunday Mail Ian McCulloch announced The Fountain as the title of the new Echo & the Bunnymen album with producers John McLaughlin and Simon Perry, which was originally due to be released in 2008 but was finally released on 12 October 2009. The first single from the album, “Think I Need It Too”, was released on 28 September 2009.
On 1 September 2009 former keyboard player Jake Brockman died on the Isle of Man when his motorbike collided with a converted ambulance. Brockman had played keyboards for the band during the 1980s.
In March 2010 Echo & The Bunnymen’s official website http://www.bunnymen.com was awarded the highly acclaimed SXSW 2010 Best Music Website Award. The award was presented to Peter Allen the bands webmaster.
In December 2010, Echo & the Bunnymen went on tour playing their first two albums Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here in their entirety.