Will Sergeant has been at the top of the post-punk game for over 40 years. Here, he sits down for a chat about finding his way in the industry, clothes and cockroaches…
You’d imagine being the founding member of one of the most influential post-punk bands in Britain during the Eighties would take you to dizzying heights of arrogance. Not in Will Sergeant’s case.
The founding member and longest serving member of punk band Echo and the Bunnymen. Now 63, the working-class boy from Merseyside remains true to his roots - as delightfully modest. Set to tour the UK early next year, Will – who is stopping off at the O2 Academy in Bournemouth on 4 February – said he is glad to be touring again.
“When people say to you ‘aren’t you fed up with playing The Killing Moon all the time?’ I say no, it makes people happy in the crowd. It’s what it’s all about.”
Sergeant, a guitarist, formed the Bunnymen in 1978 alongside singer-songwriter Ian McCulloh and Les Pattison on bass – soon to be joined by the late Pete De Freitas on drums. The band enjoyed great success during the early Eighties. Their debut album Crocodiles, released in 1980, was described by NME as “probably the best album this year by a British band”.
The following year they released their first UK Top 10 album Heaven Up Here whilst simultaneously garnering the NME Best Album award in the process. By ‘84, the Bunnymen released their fourth studio album Ocean Rain – and by this point had firmly cemented themselves as a icon on the post-punk scene.
“It was a very exciting time, the whole punk rock era,” says Sergeant on our phone call. “It just blew everything away. There was a real do-it-yourself ethos that came about from it. It started from fanzines and making your own clothes. It was absolutely brilliant.”
Fanzines are magazines made by fans, usually when a band do not get much mainstream press attention. “Every city and band had their own fanzine, they were just cheap, stapled-together photocopies and then kids would go to the gigs and interview, say, X-Ray Spex. It was a real grassroots, creative kind of time.
“I look at the situation now and everybody’s got everything they ever wanted at the click of a mouse. It’s not the same… it seems too easy.
“For example, you couldn’t buy punk rock clothes back in the day; you had to make them all. There was a Vivienne Westwood in London, but they were ridiculously expensive. You couldn’t even afford to get on the train down there. You used to make your own stuff. We’d find girls who could sew. That’s how we’d make our clothes, we adapted them to fit the punk image.”
Everybody was poor and lots of people were on the dole. There still is now, but they’re all in university. It massages the figures. That’s why the government likes to send everybody to university, so there isn’t a gazillion on the dole looking for a job. Keeps them happy, shuts them up. When I was a kid, it was hard to get into university. It was a major thing. Now everybody goes. Then they come out with a big debt.”
Our conversation moved on to influences. Sergeant was inspired by rock bands from the Sixties such as The Doors, The Who and The Kinks. He sees some good in modern music, too, having seen Irish punk band Fontaines D.C. perform live before. “But I’m 63 now. I’ll only go to a gig if I have to or if it’s a band I liked as a kid.”
The guitarist has put a lot of thought into the theme of influence, saying “everybody influences everything.
“There’s a couple of cavemen banging some sticks together, then another caveman joins in. The next thing you know there’s a bit of a shin dig going on around the fire. Suddenly it develops and somebody comes down with a hollow bone and it makes a funny noise. It develops and develops then the next thing you know you have Beethoven.
“Everything is in a line right back to the first idiot that thought cracking a couple of bones together made an interesting sound.”
Despite his rock and roll life, Sergeant is clearly a man of good principles. For example, he would never go on I’m a Celebrity due to animal welfare issues.
“I think it’s cruel to the animals.” Just think – you’re a cockroach minding your own business and the next thing you know you’ve got Kerry Katona sitting on your head. It’s not fair. We need to protect the animals from the celebrities, not the other way round. They’re the rats.”
Will has a busy few months ahead so I doubt he’d find time to be on I’m a Celebrity. There’s the upcoming tour to mark 40 years of music and he is currently writing the second part to his memoir.
Will admits the latter is “gonna take a while to finish – it took nine months to write the first part, which people say wasn’t that long. I thought it was long.”
It looks like he won’t be hanging up his guitar up just yet . . .