Book Club – Will Sergeant: Bunnyman

Will Sergeant: Bunnyman 

Highly respected amongst his peers, much imitated amongst his successors, it’s easy to imagine that Will Sergeant was born with a natural gift for playing the guitar. His stories of early battles with broken strings and a super lack of confidence in his musical abilities should give hope to anyone starting out, his anecdotes of life before the Bunnymen, at times stark and far from glamorous, an insight into the realities of growing up without the privilege many artists have to hand today.

From the outset, it’s apparent that Sergeant is bringing two things to his memoir. One, an extraordinary memory for detail and two, a brutally honest representation of that detail. With no complaints or consideration that it was anything other than the norm, he talks of his father’s control of the household with candour, managing to breathe some humour into the tales of an ‘angry loveless family life’, a home that he nonetheless remained in with almost dismissive stoicism, and where he and Ian McCulloch later had their first session to ‘mess about with guitars, see what happens’.

Sergeant’s discovery of music and its impact on him is beautifully documented throughout, and begins from an early age… ‘Summer 1963. I am four years old. The Beatles are some way through their bid for world domination. On our radio, they belt out ‘Please Please Me’. My sister Carole is in the house, singing along to the transistor radio, or ‘tranny’. Other than nursery rhymes, this is my first memory of popular music.’

As the years creep by, he compiles a covetous list of gigs attended and bands seen. From early Status Quo to Joy Division, via Bowie, Devo and X-Ray Spex, the descriptions of the sweaty clubs and sense of belonging on finding like-minded friends will bring nostalgia for many.

His accounts of record shops, fashions and youth subcultures are equally on point and will paint a picture for anyone who remembers the eras he writes about. He describes the 70s’ skinhead and mod troupes impeccably, noting, ‘Skins would storm through the metal fence opening at the top of the road, looking for fish, chips and trouble’, while the scooter boys appeared in ‘a flotilla of chrome lamped and decked out scooters, whiplash aerials flexing and flicking tiger tails‘.

Bunnyman takes us through to the formation, debut gigs and early success of Echo and the Bunnymen, as Sergeant, McCulloch and Les Pattinson form a perhaps unlikely trio with a highly volatile drum machine making up the fourth member of the band, until a human drummer can be avoided no longer and Pete de Freitas joins to complete the group. Record releases, label signings and the honour of a Peel Session take things up a serious level as the band stake their place as an important piece of the burgeoning Liverpool scene. 

It’s a story with much more to tell. Whether Will Sergeant will return with a sequel or leave the rest to be told through the myth and memory of fans and the music press remains to be seen. Either way, this is a compelling walk through a hugely exciting and influential period in music, join him for a veritable trip down Villiers Terrace and back again in time for the dancing horses.

Bunnyman is published by Little, Brown Book Group this Thursday 15th July 2021

You can join Will on Twitter for musings about music, scooters and cocker spaniels 

Review by Siobhan

13th July 2021