An echo of greatness: Echo and the Bunneymen return

Ian McCulloch’s Bunnymen are back with a new album that he says – with typical bravado – is a classic

Ian McCulloch was watching Pointless recently. He likes Pointless, and quizzes in general, particularly newspaper crosswords. The first thing he said to me upon our meeting today was: “The Independent? I like their crosswords; they’re hard.” Anyway, Pointless, the pre-dinnertime quiz show on BBC1. “They were asking for songs with the word ‘moon’ in the title, and seven people, maybe eight, came up with our song, ‘The Killing Moon’, and [co-presenter] Richard Osman goes, ‘Ah, Echo and the Bunnymen… whatever happened to them?’”

A livid McCulloch all but levitates in his seat.

“I’ll tell you what happened to us, you prick,” he seethes. “New fucking classic album out soon, that’s what.”

36 years since their formation in Liverpool, and McCulloch is still spouting fighting talk. He always has. In 1984, the man proclaimed the band’s just-released fourth album, Ocean Rain, “the greatest album ever made”, and last year, to accompany a solo tour, he announced: “To any newcomers to my music, and to avoid any confusion as to which Ian I am, I’ll be the one with the greatest voice in the history of time.” And now, of new album Meteorites, which he has already informed Richard Osman – albeit by shouting at the telly – is a classic, he says: “It’s what Echo and the Bunnymen are meant to be, up there in heaven, untouchable, celestial, beautiful and real. It has changed my life.” We meet on an overcast day in a Thames-side hotel, McCulloch no more than 45 minutes late. He sits before me, mock scowling, eyes concealed behind a pair of prescription sunglasses, and he laughs dryly as he admits that his repeated assertions of arrogance over the years are largely dispatched to offset any lingering self-doubt.

“I’m a Scouser, that’s how we talk, and I always did like a bit of lip. But I do set the bar high for myself. What’s the point otherwise?” He says he occasionally hears good music from other acts -–he loved REM’s Automatic for the People, some of Arcade Fire, “and that one that broke through for Elbow [2008’s The Seldom Seen Kid], though they still strike me as a band in search of a chorus” – but insists that no one really competes with his band in terms of verve, and wit, and style. His bar, he insists, is set higher than most. “I’m talking Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt. That’s the level of art we’re aiming for.”

And does he ever reach it?

The mock scowl no longer seems quite so mock. “Of course I do. What kind of question is that?”

The suggestion that Meteorites, Echo and the Bunnymen’s 12th album, has changed his life might not, it turns out, prove a hollow claim. Ian McCulloch is 54 years old now, and has recently endured the worst depression of his life. It was in writing these new songs that he managed to escape it. Little wonder so many sound quite so blue. “Where is the hope in me?” he wonders in the title track, while, three songs later, Is This a Breakdown’s disarmingly buoyant melody ultimately fails to obscure its author’s very dark heart. “What have you got to make my eyes bleed?” he sinisterly sings.

“Well, you know, behind the jokes, the joie de vivre, is a certain melancholy, yeah,” he concedes. “I’m pretty much a recluse these days. It’s not good. The more reclusive I am, the more withdrawn from life I feel. I’m reading a lot of Wilfred Owen.” Finding a small biscuit on the saucer beneath his coffee cup, he breaks off a piece and pops it into his mouth.

“I don’t really want to harp on about this too much, but that’s what the album is all about, that’s why it’s tinged all the way through with darkness. I got low. I’m better now. I’m just trying to find balance in life, though I’m not sure I ever will.”

His current personal circumstances may not be helping. In 2003, he split from Lorraine Fox, the mother of his two children, Candy and Mimi, now 21 and 18, while his most recent relationship – with former X Factor contestant Zoe Devlin, and which produced another daughter, Dusty, now four – ended recently. Delicately, I ask him why. He shrugs.

“I’m not the easiest person to live with. I just don’t understand not getting my own way. And I can’t understand anybody else’s viewpoint, but then who does? A Liberal Democrat perhaps, but not me.”

A generation ago, McCulloch was all strut and swagger. The man had a way with drama, and created some wonderfully visceral songs – “Rescue”, “Silver”, “The Cutter” – that ramped up his implacable cool, and helped power his band, in tandem with U2, to the brink of major global success. But then, during one of their biggest tours, McCulloch, no stranger to the rock-star tantrum, purportedly threw an almighty one, and quit. It was 1988. Suddenly, U2 were on their own.

“I never had a tantrum,” he says now. “I just felt if we carried on, we’d destroy our myth, and I never wanted that.”

Instead, he went solo, before eventually reuniting with Bunnymen guitarist Will Sargeant, and to hell with the myth: first on the side project Electrafixion, then a resurrected Bunnymen.

They may no longer be the force they once were, but the music remains convincing, and McCulloch is in as commanding voice as ever.

In person, he’s more broken these days, less invincible, but the vulnerability suits him; you warm to him. And if life has proved complicated, then the music, at least, has remained a constant. We talk about how little he envies U2 (“I never wanted to make platitudinous rock”), and how the OCD that has ruled his life for so long – he was diagnosed in childhood – is now being redirected elsewhere, less tap-tapping of flat surfaces than a mild addiction to quiz shows and crosswords. His living room, he tells me, is overflowing with newspapers (“even the Daily Mail”), each of them opened at the crossword, a pen never far from his hand.

His depression, he hopes, is behind him, at least for now. He’s working hard on keeping it that way, focusing on the positive: the new album, an upcoming tour, and the fact that continued reasons for living abound. One of which is the return to form of his beloved Liverpool FC.

“In terms of flair and accomplishment, me and the club are running parallel again. Liverpool have once again shown they are the best team to watch, and we have proved that we are still the best band to listen to.”

He laughs out loud, and for a sustained moment his face shines with a pure and radiant joy.

‘Meteorites’ is released on 26 May

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?