Saturday night, February 5th, in the Welsh capital and the pubs were full of people watching the national sport of rugby, many pints had been sunk, but unfortunately for the locals, so was their national rugby side by the Irish. Pride and the party continued as I walked past one bar on the way to St David’s Hall in the main central shopping area for Echo & The Bunnymen. There was a lone bagpipe player taking requests and sure enough, he struck up the Welsh national anthem “Land of My Father’s” as I made way through the streets.
Cardiff St David’s Hall is one of those traditional concert halls which most large cities have in their centres that don’t just host ‘rock/pop’ gigs, and had undergone some refurbishment with four floors, with fans taking in a few drinks from the bars on each floor, while ‘Peasy’ (The Bunnymen manager) drew the short straw and had to man the merchandise stall on his own.
Inside the auditorium it was filling up nicely. It’s all seated with various sections of balconies on differing levels jetting out. On stage doing a DJ set was none other than Alan McGee, the owner of the once famous Creation Records, which spawned bands such as The Jesus and the Mary Chain; My Bloody Valentine, Oasis and Ride.
The stage was set for The Bunnymen, who are touring the U.K. for the first time since 2019, and there was a real buzz with everyone determined to have a good night, celebrating 40 years of this post punk band from Liverpool who have spawned 13 albums (one without singer Ian McCulloch).
Not that Will Sergeant has been quiet during the lockdowns, writing a bestselling book Bunnyman, which gave an insightful look into Sergeant’s life growing up just outside Liverpool, the Liverpool scene, and how the Bunnymen came together.
In his little studio/pod at home he has also produced regular pod/radio episodes of his show called ‘Spacejunk’ (https://www.mixcloud.com/sgtfuzz/) and also grown a large following on Twitter, but also taking part in Tim Burgess’ ‘Listening Parties’ discussing the first four remarkable Bunnymen albums.
The Gregorian chant that always heralds the Bunnymen on stage struck up, and more dry ice bellowed across the dimly lit stage with the mythical ‘bunnygod’ shining on the curtain backdrop.
Original members McCulloch and Will Sergeant (guitar) took the stage with the rest of the band (who remained largely in the background), with the focus on McCulloch in his long trench coat and Will Sergeant sporting a beautiful looking sky-blue Fender.
They opened with three tracks from the first two albums, “Going up”, “Show of Strength” and “All That Jazz”, with the latter finally finding a couple of people up out of their seats and grooving with Will Sergeant’s crunching guitars.
There was a rare airing (only played three times according to McCulloch) of “Flowers”, the title track from the 2001 album of the same name and a far psychedelic affair. McCulloch can be a difficult character, but this night he seemed in good form and throughout the evening gave off some great Liverpudlian wit. Following “Flowers”, he announced that it was, “Better than any Led Zep song. Sorry if there are any fans out there.” I am sure I saw a glare from Will Sergeant, who after reading his excellent memoir book Bunnyman (If you have not read it yet…get it), clearly has appreciation of bands like Led Zeppelin and even acknowledged to liking a bit of prog rock.
The Bunnymen started to conquer the restraints of an all-seated venue as more & more people started getting out of their seats to the popular “Rescue”, after which a jovial McCulloch said it was ok to stand and, “Come down front it’s fine,” said Mac, and everyone crowded down at the front for sing along to “Dancing Horses” the 1985 hit, which also appeared in the film Pretty In Pink.
“That’s better” declared McCulloch. He then proceeded to have a bit of football banter, with McCulloch’s beloved Liverpool FC being due to play Cardiff City FC the following day in the FA Cup. The crowd started to try and give a bit back shouting, “Bluebirds” (Cardiff’s nickname), to which McCulloch jokingly held out his hands in a passive manner saying, “Come on now…”
[reviewer would like to declare at the point that as a Bristol City FC fan, I loved that and would like to declare that, “Cardiff get battered everywhere they go,” and loved our recent 3-1 victory over them recently. (They also lost to Liverpool 3-1 if you are wondering what happened, faithful reader).]
Then came a couple of songs from the second record Heaven Up Here, with “Over the Wall” and the brooding and moody “All My Colours”. A few days previous, McCulloch had had to cut the Leeds show short due to having a bad back, and he made a few references to this. McCulloch at times has this impossible-to-understand deep gravely Scouse mumble, but I believe he mentioned that the bad back was due to over doing the “bevvies and shagging.” Can’t be sure though!
“Seven Seas” from Ocean Rain saw Sergeant bring out his “Teardrop” guitar, and he is without doubt one of the greatest guitarists of the post-punk generation. That was followed by more banter from McCulloch, who again referred to his back, and joked how “dangerous it is having a massage if they don’t understand you!”
“Bedbugs and Ballyhoo” from the 1987 record had been graced with The Doors keyboard man Ray Manzarek, but this night the Doves guest keyboard player Martin Rebelski had the opportunity to shine, with McCulloch afterwards declaring “What a song!” New song “Brussels is haunted” was well received, with McCulloch confirming it’s not about Belgian actor Claude Van Damme… but better than Steven Seagal!
Everyone was encouraged to sing along to “Nothing Ever Lasts Forever” from the 1997 comeback album Evergreen, which saw original bassist Les Pattinson returning for a while before leaving again to carry on building boats in Australia.
The place was rocking as the Bunnymen built towards a finale with their own “Blue Monday” in the shape of their 1983 hit “Never Stop”, and brought a big cheer before finishing with “The Cutter” from the 1982’s Porcupine, which brought mainstream success to the band and is always a crowd favourite.
Echo & The Bunnymen returned for a couple of encores with “Lips Like Sugar”, which saw McCulloch grabbing a towel, and with the lyrics, “Floats like a swan on the water,” I thought the lead singer was trying to produce a swan, like the one you see in hotel rooms made out of a towel, as he twisted it and tied it into knots. Either way, he was clearly disappointed with his effort as he right-foot shined it into the crowd. Cardiff may stand a chance vs Liverpool if McCulloch is upfront!
Ask anyone to name a Bunnymen song and most people will probably respond with “The Killing Moon”, which McCulloch modestly considers to be the best song ever written, even though Will Sergeant has said that the intro came from him just tuning his guitar.
The lights come up and John Leyton’s “Johnny Remember Me” played. The Bunnymen will always be remembered as one of the greatest bands to have walked this earth and they have possibly never sounded so good since the original days with Les Pattinson and irreplacible drummer Pete De Freitas. Catch them while you can.
Feb 7th: London Roundhouse
Feb 9th: Dublin Olympia Theatre
Feb 11th: Norwich UEA
Feb 12th: Gateshead Sage
Feb 14th: Liverpool Philharmonic
Feb 16th: Manchester Albert Hall
Feb 17th: Nottingham Rock City
Feb 19th: Cambridge Corn Exchange
Feb 20th: Bristol O2 Academy
Feb 22nd: London O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
Feb 23rd: Northampton Derngate
Feb 25th: Manchester Albert Hall
Feb 26th: Birmingham O2 Academy
Feb 28th: Glasgow Barrowland
Mar 1st: Glasgow Barrowland
Mar 19th: Antwerp – De Roma
Mar 21st: Cologne – Stollwerck CC
Mar 22nd: Berlin – Metropol
Mar 24th: Gothenburg – Pustervik
Mar 25th: Oslo – Rockefeller
Mar 27th: Stockholm – Berns
Mar 28th: Copenhagen – Amager Bio
Mar 29th: Hamburg – Markthalle
Mar 31st: Rouen – Le 106 Apr 1st: Paris – La Cigale
Apr 3rd: Utrecht – Tivoli Vredenberg (Ronda)
Apr 4th: Groningen – Oosterpoort
Apr 6th: Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion
Apr 20th: Leeds O2 Academy
May 7th: Focus Wales 2022 Wrexham
May 14th: Cruel World Festival Pasadena CA
May 15th: Cruel World Festival Pasadena CA
May 28th: Creaction Day
July 1st: Sign of The Times Festival
Nov 2nd: Frankfurt – Batschkapp
Nov 3rd: Munich – Muffathalle
Nov 8th: Besancon – La Rodia
Nov 9th: Clermont – Ferrand – La Coopérative de Mai
Nov 10th: Nimes – Paloma