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Fecko and The Bunnymen?

-Noel Burke speaks!

March 6th 2008 Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions from the forum members of, 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 they?

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 site!

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 River, Grizzly Bear, Calexico, 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 problematic.

VT: and finally, to borrow from The Actor's Studio questions…What is your favorite curse word?
NB: Feck.

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St Vitus Dance's first album for over twenty years, Glypotheque, will be released on 7th April 2008 on Probe Plus Records

Winners All
The Stakeholder's Lament
Gamblin' Man
Fevered Ego
Human Interest Story
Stupor Mundi
Not A Good Time
Seriously Listing
Whither Litherland

Buy Glypotheque on AmazonUK

You can also purchase the first
St Vitus Dance album
"Love Me Love My Dogma" at AmazonUK
The 1990 Echo and the Bunnymen album
is available at Amazon and Amazon UK





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