Shot By Both Sides
Of the Crucial Three, my least favourite was always Ian McCulloch. I loved Julian Cope because he looked a bit wayward, sounded like he was always on his way to somewhere strange, maybe in space somewhere, inner or outer. I thought the Teardrop Explodes were magnificent folly. I loved Pete Wylie because he wrote the most amazing Pop songs, because he managed to write anthems and still stayed the right side of Rock popmposity. I loved the fact that the Mighty Wah! always looked and sounded so stridently out of step whenever they approached the charts, no matter what point in time it happened to be. But more than anything I guess I always loved the magnificent sense of, if not failure exactly, the sense of not quite making it Big that Cope and Wylie seemed to epitomise. Seems they went so far, and hit the brick wall of Music Business expectations; proceeded no further because they weren't prepared, or weren't able, to change who or what they were to fit with those expectations. Which is maybe a million miles from the truth, but whatever.
Then there was Ian McCulloch and Echo and the Bunnymen. Why did I never really like Echo and the Bunnymen? I guess there were several reasons: there were the Doors and Jim Morrison references of course; something bound to make me recoil in distaste. There was McCulloch's haircut, a ridiculous quaffed spiky top that just seemed too contrived and besides which was impossible to maintain even a close approximation of, even with a couple of cans of hairspray a day. There was Mac's mouth; McCulloch always spouting about this or that, always shooting off his mouth and never really making much sense. And there was the simple fact that Echo and the Bunnymen were actually kind of popular. And there's nothing the British hated more at the very start of the eighties than popularity and success, right? Right.
In school there were always the handsome and the pretty and they were so far out of orbit they didn't exist. Then there were the key personnel of the 'hipster' brigade, the ones so cool and unpopular they were even more popular than the handsome gang, or so it always seemed to me. These were the ones who fancied they knew more about what was really hip and what wasn't than anyone else. They always hung out in the record store on a Saturday afternoon and they followed the fashions even more religiously than anyone else. In the early 1980's they all started to wear overcoats. Echo and the Bunnymen were fashionable. They all talked about 'gothic darkness' and carried copies of Heaven Up Here. I thought it all seemed like pretentious bollocks and like I said somewhere else, I never owned an overcoat. So there I was, stuck between the handsome gang in their legwarmers and the hipsters in their overcoats; shot by both sides.
So I never liked the Bunnymen much. Except Crocodiles which my brother bought in 1981 and which I played a fair bit for a couple of years, mainly because I didn't buy records myself in those days (architecture, bicycles, see another bit of writing somewhere else - anywhere else) but also because it sounded scratchy, edgy and like great Pop music ought to. But then came the aforementioned stuff about 'darkness' and the kids in school who were Bunnymen fans, and... well, you get the picture. And so even when they released killer Pop singles like 'The Cutter', 'Breaking the back of Love' and even 'Bring On The Dancing Horses' I proclaimed them, publicly at least, to be Crap. No questions asked, no prisoners taken.
Not that anyone else heard me, or would have cared even if they had. They were all too busy being as pretty and handsome in their awkward 'outsider' ways as the other pretty and handsome types. Only without the legwarmers. And with overcoats. Obviously.
All of which is by way of explaining exactly why I've been surprised to have been enjoying the Echo and the Bunnymen Live In Liverpool album recently released by Cooking Vinyl. Even if it is the Bunnymen live in 2001, a year in which you could quite rightly ask questions like, I dunno 'why?', 'still?', 'again?' and so on and so forth.
Of course Kevin and Bill Drummond are right when they suggest that 'no comeback has ever worked.' Drummond especially should know the truth in that one, after the ignominious and brief return of the KLF for the Millennium, but whatever. Haven't the Bunnymen been doing come backs for years though? Isn't it like part of the deal? Here comes Mac again to give it some mouth... or something. I don't really know. I don't know enough about the Bunnymen (hi)story, but I do recall there was that point in the start of the '90s wasn't it, where Mac came back sans Bunnymen with something called, what was that, Electrafixion? I don't ever remember actually hearing Electrafixion but I remember hating them anyway.
So the Bunnymen I guess came back again in 2001 and did some shows, and the results are on this CD, and apparently on a DVD too, which I'd like to see just to check if Mac still has better hair than I do. Or just more hair. My guess is he does, or can afford to look as if he does. Or to have had some kind of transplant. And hair or no hair, Mac and this incarnation of Bunnymen sound really rather grand, and if it's not exactly the tetchy and tinny one of Crocodiles that I'd really love to hear again, then at least the SONGS are still there; they still sound rather rousing and I'm more than willing to admit it. To myself and to everyone else who cares to listen (probably as many as in 1982), but to myself most of all.
But never to the pretty boys and girls in the school yard in the overcoats. No never to them...
Speaking of comebacks, is the Pete Shelley / Howard Devoto Buzzkunst album a comeback of sorts? Maybe that titling is a means of disguising it. Maybe not.
Of course everyone knows that Shelley and Devoto were originally in Buzzcocks together, for the allegedly pivotal 'Spiral Scratch' single, and that Devoto promptly left the band because he found himself using twenty words to say something when perhaps even one was too many. Or something along those lines anyway. Of course Buzzcocks went on without Devoto and released some of the most perfect Pop singles ever regardless of time and context, comparable with anything by, oh, pick a name, any name, and those Buzzcocks singles are comparable with and/or wipe the floor with them... and Devoto, well Devoto went off and formed Magazine who made some of the most perfect Pop (Art) singles ever regardless of time and ... you get the picture, right? Right.
Of course post Buzzocks and Magazine, both Shelley and Devoto made other records, but no-one remembers much of those, except maybe the Luxuria records Devoto released, but even then, it was only as a kind of 'Isn't this good? He used to be in Magazine you know...'
Because it wasn't as good as Magazine. Or Buzzcocks.
But then, so little was. Or is. Or ever will be again.
Unless you are a lot younger than I am, in which case that sentence reads 'who the hell were Magazine anyway, and why are you so trapped in the past?'
To which the answer is, Magazine were a band who released some of the greatest singles ever, regardless of time and context, and ... stop making me repeat myself please.
Shot by Both Sides. I said it earlier. I'll say it again: 'Shot By Both Sides'. I never liked the Bunnymen but I liked Magazine, and no-one knew what I was talking about. Least of all me. The pictures on my wall were of Howard Devoto. He had no hair and he wore white trainers (perhaps he still does), which at least was achievable, if not exactly something guaranteed to pull the chicks. So whilst everyone else carried around copies of Heaven Up Here I carried a copy of The Correct Use of Soap.
Of course you did.
No really. And now I'm carrying around a copy of Buzzkunst.
Only no-one notices. (anything)
Buzzkunst is pretty good really. It has Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley on it. Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto are from Manchester and used to be in Buzzcocks together, for the allegedly pivotal 'Spiral Scratch' single. Then Devoto left the band because he found himself using twenty words to say something when perhaps even one was too many. Or something along those lines anyway. Of course Buzzcocks went on without Devoto and released some of the most perfect Pop singles ever regardless of time and context, comparable with anything by, oh, pick a name, any name, and those Buzzcocks singles are comparable with and/or wipe the floor with them... and Devoto, well Devoto went off and formed Magazine who made some of the most perfect Pop singles ever regardless of time and ...
you get the picture, right?
© Alistair Fitchett 2002