1978 in Liverpool, England
Core ’80s Band Members:
- Ian McCulloch (born Ian Stephen McCulloch on May 5, 1959 in Liverpool, England) – Lead vocals, guitar, songwriter
- Will Sergeant (born William Alfred Sergeant on April 12, 1958 in Liverpool, England) – Lead guitar, songwriter
- Les Pattinson (born Leslie Thomas Pattinson on April 18, 1958 in Ormskirk, Lancashire, England) – Bass guitar, songwriter
- Pete de Freitas (born Peter Louis Vincent de Freitas on August 2, 1961 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; died June 14, 1989 in Longdon Green, England) – Drums, percussion, songwriter
Along with fellow British post-punk bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Psychedelic Furs, Liverpool’s Echo & the Bunnymen pioneered a noisy but ethereal guitar rock sound that helped define early alternative rock, college rock and even indie rock for years to come. Ultimately, frontman Ian McCulloch and the rest of the critically revered quartet became one of the most beloved cult bands of the era in America. The band’s fusion of intricate, haunting melodies with trippy nods to psychedelia opened new doors for rock music, but more importantly the group’s output supplied some classic albums and songs to the breadth of pop music.
McCulloch began his musical exploits in 1977 in the Liverpool scene of the era, working with short-term collaborator Julian Cope (of later Teardrop Explodes
fame) in a couple of fitfully active bands. By the fall of 1978, McCulloch had formed three-quarters of the classic lineup of the band for which he would become best known. The group quickly developed an exploratory sound focused on the value of various musical textures, and by late 1979 the newly minted quartet had released a debut single and attracted the attention of independent label Korova. The group’s debut LP Crocodiles followed in the summer of 1980.
Peak Underground & Relatively Mainstream Success:
Echo & the Bunnymen’s momentum built slowly during the early ’80s, even in the band’s native U.K. Sophomore album Heaven Up Here continued to gain critical favor, but it wasn’t until 1983’s Porcupine that the group began to emerge as a viable chart threat. That record nearly topped the U.K. album charts, but perhaps just as importantly it yielded the band’s first Top 10 single there – “The Cutter.” McCulloch’s elegant vocals and rich melodic sense, however, arguably peaked on 1984’s Ocean Rain – specifically in what remains the most famous Echo & the Bunnymen signature tune of all. On “The Killing Moon,” the band creates a dense aura of threat but at
the same time utterly disarms the listener with its sheer beauty.
The Later ’80s & Band Adversity:
Although McCulloch & Co. released at least two more classic songs on subsequent albums (the transcendent “Bring on the Dancing Horses” and shimmering “Lips Like Sugar”), the group wouldn’t last through the decade in its initial, strongest incarnation. By 1988, leader McCulloch pursued a certain musical restlessness by leaving the band and launching a solo career. The following year, de Freitas died tragically in a motorcycle accident, and the remaining two members tried rather futilely to press on with replacement members into the early ’90s.
Resurrection & Ongoing Career:
Only a few years passed before McCulloch and Sergeant reconnected musically, initially eschewing the familiar band name and performing as Electrafixion. By 1997, the surviving original members had reformed to release 1997’s Evergreen, which brought Echo & the Bunnymen back to some measure of U.K. prominence. For the past decade or so, McCulloch and Sargent have recorded and toured with other musicians, releasing four albums so far in the new millennium. The most recent of these – 2014’s Meteorites – landed the group back on the U.S. album charts for the first time in more than a quarter century.