The Echo & The Bunnymen guitarist on his distinctly un-punk inspirations: “What can I say, I love prog rock!”
Led Zeppelin IV
There was a bloke over the road who had loads of records: Jethro Tull, Taste, Cream, all the leftfield bands of the day. But it was Led Zeppelin that really stuck out to me. I’d heard all their other albums, but Led Zeppelin IV was something else. The cover as well, the knocked-down house and the picture of that geezer with the sticks on his back. The thing about Led Zeppelin, they didn’t seem like any other band – they didn’t put singles out, they weren’t trying to be pop, they were quite underground at that point. So there was a mystique involved. I sewed them symbols on the back of me Wrangler jacket, all that stuff.
For Your Pleasure
I went to see them when Eno was still in ’em. There was just something about them, wasn’t there? They were different: they were glam, but they weren’t the Sweet or Mud, they were a different kettle of fish. They had that art-school attachment to them which I liked. I think the first album’s amazing, but is my favourite: “In Every Dream Home A Heartache”, “Editions Of You”… I was left to me own devices a lot at home when I was a kid. My big brother and sister had scarpered and me Dad was in the pub every night, so I was watching all the weird films on BBC2 that they used to have. I think that influenced me a lot.
I was staying at me brother’s house – he’d moved to Pinner on the outskirts of London – and he had Strange Days. I’d never heard of The Doors, even though Jim had only died a few years earlier. They didn’t seem to be a big thing in Britain, even though I know they played the Isle Of Wight festival. But I just love Strange Days. It was otherworldly, and it had that great cover. After that I started buying all the Doors records, it was a bit of an obsession for a while. The others didn’t really like The Doors when we started out. I’d be playing the tapes in the van and they were like, ‘Not this again’. But because I was playing them so often, it kind of seeped in.
It was during all that punk stuff, but it just seemed better than the rest of it. It wasn’t just angry shouting. The way the guitars weaved in and out of each other… It was very simple as well, not a lot going on: two guitars, bass, drums and singing, that’s it. There’s no extra bits or synthesisers flying all over the place. I liked the cut of their jib and the way they looked, they had a mysterious vibe to them as well. I tried to nick their style. He [Tom Verlaine] does this weird thing where he wobbles his finger – duuung, duuung – and I do that quite a bit. To me they were like gods, the ultimate coolest band ever.
It was just so different, wasn’t it? A lot of the songs were vocalisations without words, and I thought that was great. It’s another extremely dark record – there’s quite a few Bowie fans don’t like that one, but I love it. We did a tour with Bowie in 1996 and I split me ale all over him. He came to our dressing room to say ‘good luck’. I opened the door and Bowie’s stood there. My hand stopped working and the glass fell on the floor and smashed, and all the beer went up his purple jumpsuit that he was about to go on stage in. Mac was laughing his head off: ‘You just bottled Bowie!’ The next day I went to say sorry and he was dead sound.
What can I say, I love prog rock! I still play Yes and ELP if I feel like it. I kept it quiet during the punk thing, I just tucked ’em away between me Wire records or whatever. Pink Floyd were a big band for me from right early on. I loved the whole Syd Barrett thing, I liked Atom Heart Mother and Ummagumma, but Meddle was the one I played the most. It’s another one that had no writing on the cover, which made it more like a work of art. They were still underground at that point. All these bands that are massive now, they were the freaks and weirdos at the time. It wasn’t like when people go and see The Wall now and it’s some sort of corporate event.
Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968
I got the reissue, on Sire. In Eric’s, they played The Strangeloves or 13th Floor Elevators. Norman [Killon] the DJ would pop in a few things like that amongst Penetration or Eater or whoever, so we got to know it all. Then I got into collecting all the psych compilations: Rubble, Pebbles, Chocolate Soup For Diabetics… it was almost like the worse-sounding recording you could find the better! It was more real somehow. That scabby garage-band sound was interesting to me. These bands might have done albums at the time but they only had one or two tracks that were any good – the rest of them were a bit ordinary. But Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” and things like that are just amazing.
THE LAZY EYES
It’s a terrible cover, but you should check ’em out. They’re really good and they’re only kids. When I saw them in Liverpool, they didn’t even have anyone mixing them – what you heard came off the stage, but it sounded great. They’re psych merchants with a real dreamy vocal style, but they’re tight as hell. The way they play, it’s almost like it’s sampled. They go in for quite a lot of guitar effects, or they’ll all start playing really quietly and then come back in, all that dynamic kind of stuff – dead good. “Where’s My Brain???” is a good one. And they’ve got one called “Cheesy Love Song” which is a bit of a cheesy love song.
Will Sergeant’s Echoes: A Memoir Continued is out now, published by Constable