Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions from
members of VilliersTerrace.com, an Echo and the Bunnymen fansite
and forum. Some of these questions and statements are rewritten
and combined to fit into an interview type format. I think
many fans are looking forward to this mysterious chapter in
Echo and the Bunnymen history.
In retrospect Reverberation is a quite
enjoyable album and a fine set of songs with good lyrics.
However hearing it for the first time just seemed wrong, like
hearing someone else sing for the Rolling Stones. The consensus
among fans was/is that if the name had been changed perhaps
this album would have fared better with fans and critics.
Others feel it tarnished the band's legacy.
VT: First of all, how were you approached
to join the band?
Noel Burke: It was about seven or eight months
after St. Vitus Dance had finished and I wasn't doing anything at
all musically - I was working full time in a bookshop in Liverpool
city centre. I got a phone call from Geoff Davies who ran, still
runs, Probe Records, St Vitus Dance's label. He said that Will had
been to see him, that he'd heard the St. Vitus album and was interested
in talking to me about doing something. Soon after that I met up
with Will, Les and Jake in the Philharmonic pub in Liverpool. A
rehearsal was planned but on his way up from London for it Pete
De Freitas was killed on his motorbike. I'd only met him briefly
once, about a year before when he'd been at a St, Vitus gig and
a few of us had gone for a few drinks after, but he seemed like
a really nice bloke and I felt awful when I heard the news. I pretty
much thought that was that for the band but a few weeks later Will
got back in touch and said they wanted to carry on.
VT: Before you joined the Bunnymen were
you a fan in any way and did you go see shows? Did you know the
songs of the back catalogue or have to learn them for singing them
live? Obviously the older songs already had their own identity but
did they let you put a little of your own spin on them or was there
a lot of "oh no, it needs to go lower there and you need to
articulate this better" sort of thing? NB: I'd seen the Bunnymen once, at Queen's University Belfast
Student's Union - sorry don't know the date but I think it was around
the time of Heaven Up Here. I'd bought the first two albums and
a few singles so I was fairly familiar with them. I still needed
to gen up on quite a bit, lyrics and that, but to be honest with
you it was something I didn't feel comfortable with. at all, singing
the old songs. I know Will and Les Had a fair bit of ownership on
them and had every right to play them but I didn't and I was well
aware that playing them was asking for trouble. The problem was
we just didn't have enough new material to fill out a show to begin
with so we didn't have much choice. As soon as we had enough new
material we started to phase out the old stuff. We put a couple
back into the set when we went to the States for the first time
but the end we weren't playing any at all. So I didn't have any
inclination to put my own spin on any of the older songs - they
were great songs, but they weren't my songs.
VT: Was changing the name ever discussed?
If so, do you recall any suggestions that were being tossed around?
If you could rename the band for that one album in hindsight what
would it have been? NB: It wasn't up for discussion - the decision to keep the
name had been made before I was approached and the proposition was
presented to me on a take it or leave it basis. I think they were
pissed off, felt they'd been undervalued, taken for granted and
they felt they had a point to prove. It was none of my business
and, personally, I wasn't oblivious to the fact that keeping the
name would go down with the music press and every hipster under
the sun like a fart in a spacesuit and I did make my reservations
known. But, when it came to the crunch, I could have declined the
offer and I didn't. Why not? Because I wanted the chance to work
with Will and Les, because I wanted the chance to write and record
an album backed up by a decent budget and because despite the fact
I was fairly convinced the whole enterprise was doomed from the
outset I was also pretty certain that I would have the time of my
life while failing miserably. I was right on both counts.
VT: There are exceptions of
course but most bands seem to have their glory days and then
fade back or breakup and sometimes that is a difficult transition.
Reverberation sales were poor, and so was Ian McCulloch's solo
material, as well as the Electrafixion album later. It's speculative,
but I don't feel anyone would have bought Ian's solo albums
or Electrafixion if they had been called Echo and the Bunnymen
albums either. Were the Bunnymen just past their prime when
you joined up anyway? Was the label even behind this release? NB: To this day I can't understand what Warners were
playing at. Right up to the time of release all the noises from
the record company in London were positive - but when the reviews
kicked in and it became plain that the whole thing was being
seen as a desperate attempt to make a fast buck then they walked
away at top speed. I think Rob Dickins, the MD at Warners Europe
had a soft spot for Will and Les - he'd signed them to Warners
as an A&R man - so I suspect he gave it a go for old times
sake - with the knowledge that he could bail out quickly when
the going got rough. But I'm speculating here. Was the band
past it's prime? Personally I don't think the grey album was
up to much, but then again neither did Will or Les - but, whatever
you think about my contribution to Reverberation, I don't think
you can fault Will and Les's playing on it. So I don't think
they were in decline at all - the circumstances weren't that
ideal at that time, you know?
VT: There is always much debate
whether this album even really belongs in the discography of the
band Echo and the Bunnymen. Typically the band gets broken in to
"the first five albums" then it jumps to the reformation
in 1997. Should it be there, in your opinion? Did you feel slighted
that at least "Enlighten Me" was not included on the Crystal
Days box set? NB: Not at all - let the dead stay buried as far as I'm concerned.
It's not an Echo and the Bunnymen album anyway - it certainly doesn't
sound like one to me - or it didn't last time I listened to it.
VT: How did members
of your band St. Vitus Dance react at the time to your leaving
that band? Were they upset with you or supportive? Did you ever
lobby to have a St. Vitus song in a Bunnymen live set? NB: St Vitus Dance was over a good eight months before
I was approached by the Bunnymen and it wasn't me who brought
it to a close so no, nobody was anything other than pleased.
A St. Vitus Dance song in a Bunnymen set? I'll get around to
answering that one when I stop laughing. It would have been
so incongruous - anyway I was always too worried that members
of the audience might shout that the old St. Vitus songs weren't
the same without Phil Freckleton on guitar.
VT: Do you feel this harmed your
musical career? Was that the reason for your absence from the music
scene? Did the experience sour the music business for you? NB: What musical career? When I was approached by the Bunnymen
I'd as good as given up. I'm the type of person who needs someone
urging them on - I'm not a good self-motivator - that's another
reason why I carried on despite misgivings about the name thing
- I knew I wouldn't have the get up and go to do anything off my
own bat. That's why, when my involvement with Will, Les, Jake and
Damon ended I just drifted back into civilian life - it wasn't a
case of a sensitive and wounded ego crawling off to his lair to
lick his wounds - it was just me going back to default mode. Getting
St. Vitus back together after all these years has only come about
because I've been pestered for years by the rest of them to do something
until finally I relented and remembered that I actually enjoyed
writing and playing live.
VT: Obviously rehearsals and some
local shows must have went really well before the tour, so it must
have been fun for everyone at one point. What was it like working
with Will and Les in the studio and on stage? By then they had become
quite seasoned musicians. NB: As far as I was concerned it was always fun - right up
to the end - I never had any illusions so I was never disappointed
and we all got along famously despite the shit-storm raging around
our heads. I learnt an awful lot from the others musically - their
approach to putting songs together was totally different to what
I'd been used to - Will in particular has a real genius for atmospherics
- there's so much texture to that album.
VT: What was it like being produced
by Geoff Emerick who of course was The Beatles engineer on Revolver
and Sergeant Pepper? How did that come to be? NB: Well, their last album had been produced half to death
- we were all agreed on that. Between myself and Will, our real
musical point of contact was 60's psych, Nuggets era stuff and we
wanted to update that kind of sound. I'd read that Geoff Emerick
had worked on Imperial Bedroom by Elvis Costello and that he'd been
kind of a facilitator, meaning that Costello had very definite ideas
as to how he wanted the record to sound but didn't necessarily know
how to put his ideas into practice. Geoff Emerick was apparently
very good at making sense of musician's garbled ideas in the studio.
Now Will isn't an Elvis Costello fan but I played him a song called
Beyond Belief from Imperial Bedroom and he was impressed enough
by the sound of it to agree to making an approach. Geoff Emerick
was a real gentleman - he was there to do the best possible job
for the band, according to the band's agenda and he was a real treasure
trove of ideas. He came up with this incredible tape phase effect
on the middle of a song called Devilment - it pans from one speaker
to another - really striking - he did it by running two reel to
reels of the song almost simultaneously. I won't pretend to understand
how it worked but the end results were impressive.
VT: How was the songwriting done
for Reverberation? Did Will and Les and the others already have
songs written when you joined the band or was it a group effort
from everyone in the long run? NB: If I remember correctly Flaming Red, King of Your Castle,
Freaks Dwell, Gone, Gone, Gone and Cut and Dried originated in ideas
that Will, Les and Jake had been working on on QBase or some computer
program like that. Senseless and Devilment began as jams during
rehearsals I think and Enlighten Me, False Goodbyes and Thick Skinned
World were from rough ideas that I brought in. I did my own lyrics
and vocal melodies. In the end though the songs were so thoroughly
worked over by everyone that no one would have felt comfortable
claiming a sole writing credit.
VT: Do you have a favorite song from Reverberation?
Has St Vitus dance played any versions of one of these songs? When
was the last time you listened to the Reverberation album? NB: My favourite song at the time was False Goodbyes and
it probably still is. Adam Peters did a fantastic job on that with
the cello parts he put down and Will's guitar playing is just fantastic.
I've no plans to dig up any of that material - I don't want anyone
shouting "Where's Will?" at the next St. Vitus gig. I
don't think our guitarist's fragile ego could take it. I lent my
last copy of Reverberation to someone - I don't remember who - a
few years back and they never returned it so I haven't heard
it since then. I never like listening to myself anyway, something
I have in common with the majority of Bunnymen fans.
VT: One Melody Maker review
said "Ian who?" regarding one of the first shows.
That must have felt good, not as an insult to Mac but as a strength
for you. "Enlighten Me" also did pretty well on the
US Modern Rock charts, which started charting albums in the
late 1980's. At #9, this single did just as well as any McCulloch
solo single and I remember seeing the video on MTV quite a bit
as MTV was much more of a staple by then.
Can you share some good memories of the earlier days? NB: I don't remember that review, perhaps I airbrushed
it from my memory. To be honest I don't recall receiving much
in the way of good news the whole time I was in the band - reviews
were uniformly bad - we even got a bad review for a London gig
in the NME from a journalist who had walked out after the support
band has finished. The review slagged us off for playing old
songs, which we hadn't. My good memories, and there are lots
of them, are memories of some great shows we played, especially
towards the end when we were really tight as a unit - I'll always
remember the camaraderie between band and road crew on those
tours. When I think back to those times I always think of us
laughing - I'm sure there were a lot more successful bands out
there who were a lot more miserable than us.
VT: Later on a tour, after there
was a power outage at a Bunnymen show, while you were singing "Silver"
you remarked something to the effect that it was "an act of
God" for that to happen. A fan recounted a show at which a
very drunk girl at the stage kept seriously screaming "Ian,
I love you!" between every song completely unaware that you
were not Ian McCulloch.
Did you ever *ahem* take advantage of any ladies who thought you
were Mac? NB: Anybody that stupid I tend to give a wide berth - although
I don't recall anyone actually speaking to me directly being under
that particular misapprehension. I tell a lie, in Liverpool there
was a guy called Ernie Wu, a Chinese bloke (surprise, surprise)
who owned this club called the Cosmos Club which we used to frequent.
A few years previously he'd owned a pub called The Monroe where
the Bunnymen had played an impromptu gig at the height of their
fame and I think he'd done quite well out of it. I had to stop going
to his club in the end because he wouldn't let me buy a drink there
- everything was on the house. This was despite the fact that Will,
Les and myself had explained at length that I was not the person
who'd sung in his pub. Considering a picture of himself with Mr.
McCullough took pride of place behind the bar it's doubly surprising
that the penny didn't drop.
VT: Do you remember the point
at which this stopped being fun for you? NB: After the last American tour I began to get a bit
tired of it. I'd been aware that it was a pretty pointless
exercise for a long time before that, but I figured that as
long as everyone else wanted to carry on and I was still enjoying
it myself then why not. Eventually I had to admit to myself
that I needed to work out what the hell I was going to do
with the rest of my life because it obviously wasn't going
to be this. At that stage it became awkward - not with Will
and Les - I'd been on at them to get back with Mac for ages
-- but with Jake and Damon who were still very keen and talking
about doing a tour in Japan. Personally I wasn't up for it,
wasn't up for anything really but I didn't say so - I suppose
I should have.
VT: You had a higher voice
in my opinion but were accused of being a Mac wannabe at times,
as if it were your fault somehow but this is precisely why
you were chosen, right? Will thought you had a Scott Walker
quality and your voice would work well with the Bunnymen back
catalog. In other words they wanted some difference but not
a complete change of voice. Will Sergeant admits that keeping
the band going had a bit of spite in it against Mac for leaving
to pursue a solo career. Was this "spite" something
that was obvious to you at the time? NB: Well, relations weren't good at the time, that
much was clear. I'm sure there was a bit of "we'll show
you" about it. In the end nobody showed anybody, did
VT: How did you deal with
the people that gave you crap for not being Mac? NB: Very few people ever did it to my face - there
was the odd heckler at gigs, but not that many, to be honest.
I just used to ignore it - play the songs.
VT: How were you told about
that the Bunnymen breaking up? NB: Will rang me, said he and Mac were going to do
something again - I think he felt really bad about but he
shouldn't have. I was practically dancing round the room after
I put the phone down. It was long overdue.
VT: When the Bunnymen finally ended was
there a sense of relief or a sense of failure or perhaps both? Any
grudges now or then against Will or Les for getting you involved
in this family squabble? Did you feel like the rebound boyfriend
in a way? NB: Just relief - I'd accepted it was going to be a failure
from the start so I'd kind of dealt with that aspect of things.
No grudges whatsoever - I got to see parts of the world I'd never
have visited otherwise, met some fantastic people, had a great time.
What's to be grudgeful about. As far as being involved in a family
squabble, I didn't feel particularly involved - it was their business.
They were always honest with me so I have no complaints
VT: Rumor has it that you
encouraged Will to return to work with Mac which resulted
in Electrafixion. Is this a fact? Have you followed the work
of the Bunnymen at all since they reformed after Electrafixion
or even Will's Glide material? NB: I think the first time I told Will his best bet
was to get back with Mac was some time during the recording
of Reverberation. Even at that early stage it was hard to
see another way forward for either of them. The only post
reformation Bunnymen things I've heard are "Nothing Lasts
Forever" and the Spice Girls collaboration. I have got
"Curvature of the Earth," which I really enjoyed.
VT: I've read that you were
a substitute teacher after the Bunnymen broke up. Is this
true? What did you teach? Tell us about that. Any good fan
stories surrounding that like kids having you autograph stuff
like Ocean Rain or calling you "Echo" or something
like that? NB: After my involvement with the band ended I trained
as a Primary/Elementary school teacher and that's what I've
been doing, full time, ever since. I'm afraid Echo and the
Bunnymen doesn't mean a great deal to the 10 year olds I teach
- which is probably just as well.
VT: Tell us what you are up to
these days. I understand St Vitus Dance is back together and also
released one CD of new material a couple of years ago, should we
expect a tour or new material? NB: We got St. Vitus Dance together initially for a one-off
show in Belfast, where we're from, in 2005. One thing led to another
and we ended up doing another album, "Glypotheque"
which is due out April 2008 . No tour, but individual gigs are a
distinct possibility - check our Myspace
VT: Are there any other bands you like
presently? What are your other interests? Where do you reside now? NB: Apart from the old stuff I've always listened to
lately I've been listening to Okkervil
not much British stuff, I'm afraid no hold on , Field
Music are excellent (I think they might be calling themselves School
of Language now). I'm into my history and I completed a masters
degree in it a couple of years ago but these days my main interests
are my two boys, aged 7 and 5. I still live in Liverpool although
half of St. Vitus now live in Belfast which makes rehearsals a bit
VT: and finally, to borrow from The Actor's
Studio questions What is your favorite curse word? NB: Feck.