It’s 5pm and Ian McCulloch, the Echo & The Bunnymen singer, is sitting in the bar of a hotel in Kensington, wearing shades. He’s been on Bloody Marys since 12 noon to counteract the previous evening’s punishment. To say he’s had one hour’s sleep, Mac is amazingly lucid. He’s switched to Guinness for the interview. [2002 interview]
By Lee Gale
Who do you support?
Liverpool FC. I go whenever I’m home. I’ve got a season ticket, main stand, with a wooden seat, Kop end.
Do you still live in Liverpool?
Mmm [drinking pint].
Did you ever think of moving down to London full time?
The only place I ever thought of moving to was Paris. I like Paris but I’m a Liverpool lad, born in Toxteth. I just love it. It’s like petrol, you know, it’s the fuel. Liverpool people are so quick. They’ve got the quickest thought patterns I’ve ever come across in the world.
What was the first football game you went to?
I went with my dad. It was in 1967. I can’t remember what match. I should, but… I just about remember a Palace game because it was so shite. I’m terrible. I’ve got a mate who lived down our road, and he remembers everything, from like 15 years ago, who scored – you can see the goal in his mind. I think it’s a bit mad, that. It’s like, it’s over 90 minutes, or 120 minutes with extra time, and remembering all that signifies something weird.
You remember games in their entirety from when you were 12 or 13.
I know my favourite players and I know I was there. The fella in front of me at games, he goes at managers, “F***in’ sit down, you Irish homosexual,” especially if it’s Peter Reid who’s neither Irish nor homosexual. I feel great! I’m going out tonight… after one hour’s kip last night.
Has it been a full day today?
Yeah. But good! I’m enjoying it, and I like your vibe.
I suppose we’d better talk about music now that we’re here.
Can we just talk footie?
You’ve got Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland from Coldplay on board for your next album [Slideling], haven’t you?
Have you heard it?
Of course. Are they on your new track “Sliding”?
Yeah. Have you heard it?
I’ve heard the album a few times. What bits did they do?
Chris Martin did this harmony to the chorus. He’s so instinctive. I’m usually instinctive but I’m usually instinctively down the boozer. He goes, “Tell me if it’s a bit cheesy.” And he just does it.
Is Chris Martin a fan of yours?
Yeah, loves it. Only laterally. Manager of ours… manager of ours… I mean our manager – there’s two managers, see. Our manager gave him a boxset and he just got stuck into it. He came to see us at ULU about 18 months ago, and I think he enjoyed it even though I was out of my f***ing tit. It was one of the most bizarre gigs in my life.
I’m interviewing my heroes, one by one, ticking them all off, people like Peter Hook and Mani, and I always say to these stars, “Who is your hero?” and lots of them have said “Ian McCulloch”.
Really? Really? That’s lovely.
After listening to the likes of Mani and Peter Hook talk about you in such glowing terms, I thought I’d have to come and interview you today.
That’s lovely. I love Mani. He is the life and soul of many a party.
He’s one of the easiest interviews in the business – he just talks and talks.
His head is mad. [Looks at passer-by] Has he got yellow jaundice or what? Mani was at our first ever gig outside Liverpool, in Manchester. There were only about 50 people there. In those days, that was a good turn out. It was under an ice-cream shop. They were trying to launch this Tingle Tangle night and it was underneath Freddio’s Ice Creamio parlour, and for part of the ticket price, three quid, you got sausage and chips.
If you woke up one morning and said, “I’m going to get a supergroup together!” And you’re in it. Who else would be in your supergroup? And they’ve got to be alive.
Great question. Are we looking at a traditional four-piece or a bit of keyboards too?
You can have keyboards in.
I’d have Hooky on bass. No, I’d have Mani.
Mani’s more funky.
No, I’d have both of them. A double bass thing, cos I love both. Hooky’s so different, you know. I’d have to have both, especially after what you told me. Drums, I’d have, er… I’d have said Dave Grohl had he not done Foo Fighters.
Do you not like Foo Fighters?
Shower of shit.
Gone down very well with the press.
I know, they love it. Kids love it. I just don’t.
Were you a Nirvana fan?
Yeah. I thought it was the best drumming I’d ever heard in me life.
Shall we say David Grohl circa 1991?
No, because he spoilt it. Was it Reni or Remi?
Reni. From The Stone Roses?
Yeah. But the band’s getting a bit Stone Rosesy. I’d have him, probably, yeah. Or Stevie Wonder. Great drummer.
Extra sensory… ha-ha-ha! Guitar I’d have…
Nah. I like John Squire, though.
His solo album was awful.
I know, a bit weird.
Singing’s really odd.
Talk about peculiar. I heard it and I thought, “This is f***in’ terrible.” Like really bad words. “I walk down the boulevard”. And it’s like, no you didn’t, ha-ha-ha!
There’s no boulevards in Manchester.
Man-chest-orrr! Bangin’! On guitar, I’d have… oh, Jonny Buckland. And I’d have Chris [Martin] on piano.
Not Johnny Marr?
No. I like Jonny Buckland, the simplicities, and there’s no fancy shit going on. Jonny’s so lovely. And Chris on piano. I love Coldplay’s drummer as well, but I think the Chili Pepper’s drumming’s good.
Do you like the Chili Peppers?
I do, yeah. Mainly because I know they like us. They were doing a version of “Show Of Strength”.
Why did you do the 1998 World Cup record with the Spice Girls?
Erm… I had a song with Johnny Marr called “Feel My Soul” and it was a real sad song… [Looks at man at the bar] I’m sure he’s Norman Tebbit.
But whose idea was it to get the Spice Girls involved? It can’t have been yours.
It was the media’s. The FA started talking, they liked the song, loved the song, keep that “on top of the world” bit and change a little bit, don’t mention football, don’t mention anyone, don’t mention Bobby Moore.
If you’d just done it with Johnny Marr, football supporters would have accepted that.
Well Johnny wasn’t involved in it. John Power sang the demo, it was great and it sounded perfect. The demo was proper rocking, just like Velvet Underground. It was “Sweet Jane”, basically.
England fans would have taken it to their heart, but getting a girl band involved, we didn’t want to know.
But we were always fighting against. If we’d have kept it in that raw form, they’d have gone, “We prefer ‘Three Lions’, but nice try lads.” The minute… [thinks, then has a sup of his Guinness] It was the weirdest three months of my life, apart from when the bailiffs came round. That is Norman Tebbit, yeah. No, it’s George Martin. Greedy gannet! Erm… it just went… [plays with crisp packet] it just went… off. Life of its own. Going on the train, and my missus was like, “You’re alright with this, aren’t you?” And I’d say, “Everything’s cool, yeah.” But f***ing hell, it was a nightmare. It was the closest I’ve ever been to cracking up. Then I thought, “I don’t crack up. It’ll get me to the World Cup. It’ll be brilliant.” Did the World Cup song, didn’t get any tickets!
That’s shocking. Whose fault was that, the FA’s?
Were there not loads of seats that hadn’t been sold as well, a French mess-up?
I went to see the Rumania game and Colombia off my own back. Radio 1 asked me over. They asked me over to do a Mark & Lard thing, but still no tickets!
What more can you do than write a World Cup record to get free tickets?
It was so typical of me and The Bunnymen.
A very English story.
It was weird. On the train before that record came out, I was like… shittttt.
Look, a lot of people have forgotten about it. I didn’t remember till I was doing some research yesterday. I didn’t remember that you’d done it.
I was glad I did it, though, because I did it kind of in memory of my dad. He was a compulsive liar, but he played for Dundee United in the War. He was stationed up there. But he was a compulsive liar. The day of his funeral, his nephew told me he was on Everton’s books.
And he never told you that?
How cool is that?
Apparently you like a glass or two of red wine.
Every now and then.
Have you ever tried to stop drinking for any length of time?
Yeah. An hour. No, I did actually, about ’93. It was getting a bit messy in me head. It got fuzzy and I wasn’t me at all. There’s a way of drinking and maintaining who you are, you drink maybe a bit too much, but there were three years when I turned into Beelzebub. I kind of knew because people were telling me. I always said I had eight personalities – an octophrenic. And I knew that Mac Five was like a sabotage dude. A f***ing double agent.
Yeah. It’s good, innit?
Do you go through different yous during the night?
Mac One is the timid geezer who has got a bit of a headache. Mac Two is getting jiggy with it, he starts having a bevvy, but he’s not sexy. Mac Three is the best one. Has a few bevs, bit of this and a bit that, he can still twat the ball in from 30 yards, ha-ha-ha! Mac Four starts freaking out. Whining, you know, a scaredy dude. Mac Five steps in: “I can sort it out: I’m gonna report Mac Three.” So Mac Five just tries and bypasses it. Mac Six, he doesn’t know what’s going on – not really good at anything, but he’s still doing all of it. Mac Seven, he’s like the thing just before the volcano, trying to keep it all in, you know, out of his mind, but he’ll say, “I’m alright, don’t f***ing bother me, it’s cool, annyengannyenng [mad noise],” ha-ha, but Mac Eight, he is unbelievable. He is the Devil, and I don’t like talking about myself in the eighth person, but he’s a f***ing nutter. As scary as f***.
Does he scare you?
He doesn’t scare me, because I am him! But other people, best friends, my missus, tell me he’s scary.
Do you wake up say, “Oh no, what did Mac Eight do last night?”
Mac Eight doesn’t know anything. He’s had a whale of a time. I keep saying I haven’t been him for ages, then somebody goes, “What happened last night?” Mac Eight’s the Devil. But I love it so much. This is like fuel, boy [points at pint]. It’s like Hitler. I try and keep a Mac Three, maybe dabble a bit, but it’s them other little bastards like Mac Five and Mac Four – what a waste of time: “Wooo-wurrr, I’m in trouble…” F***ing no-marks!
Looking down the years, what’s been the biggest night out you’ve ever had?
I nearly died in San Francisco… My kids won’t be reading this, anyway. Early tour, 1983. We were doing a b-side for “Angels & Devils”, and we’d booked this gaff in San Fran. We’d played the night before in LA and met up with this f***ing dude who looked like an elongated Harrison Ford, with a red leather jacket and diplomatic immunity, from South America. Gets us all bongoed. We were queueing up, it was like a canteen, for the gear. Cheers! Here’s me dinner ticket, ha-ha-ha, and we’re all slashed to f***. We were the bugle men. And, you know, I can’t say I’m not proud of it. But San Fran was near-death for about three people.
Did you have to remain very still the next day?
It was a never-again moment. So we moved on to the next place. Then it was, “Can we get some more?” F***ing death gear. We arranged to borrow like an ounce or something. I’m sharing a room with the tour manager. Those were the days, only because me and him would have stayed up all night, you know, we never used the beds. Mick disappears to meet Harrison Ford. Harrison Ford comes in, in his jet. We’re in the studio, and it’s, “Oh no, he hasn’t arrived, where is he?” Mick, the tour manager, he turns up. I’m like, “Give it here, I’ve got to go the stude to write this f***ing b-side. And more importantly, record it. So give us a bit of the old doo-dah and I’ll get off.” Harrison Ford had only sold it to someone else and gone back to South America in his jet! He’ll be back later. I haven’t slept a wink for about a week. So he flies back to South America, and Mick, he hasn’t turned up for ages, and I’m in the studio and, “Come on, I’m dying here.” I can’t get hold of Mick. He’s gone down to meet a bloke. Harrison Ford turns up at 2am at the studio, with this bodyguard. He had another bodyguard in LA the night before but the bodyguard had to go to hospital because his eyeballs were rolling around his head, ha-ha! I didn’t know until that night. I said, “Where’s your other dude – Little Cheech?” He said, “Ah, the f***, heee’s a pieeece of sheeeet.” And he wasn’t even Mexican! He said, “His f***ing eyes were rolling around in his head, he had to go to hospital, the c***, so I had to hire this new guy, this twat.” And this fella’s standing there like Diego Maradona.
Did the first bodyguard go to hospital and actually say to the nurse, “There’s a problem, my eyes are rolling round inside my head”?
I’d go, wouldn’t you? So he’s got this new bodyguard and he goes, “This useless sack of shit,” and he’s got this briefcase full and we’re doing, easily, gram lines. Like, swoosh, ahhhhh. Bangin’!
What does a gram line do to you?
It makes you go f***in’ mad. And it hurts. And the back of your neck, in one, it’s like, “And tonight Matthew, I’m gonna be Stephen Hawking.” It’s a great story, but it gets worse. He goes, “That piece of shit over there, I’ve had to get him in from Philadelphia.” Which is like five hours away. And he’s like, “This walking dickhead hasn’t even worn a piece.” And I’m thinking, is that a good thing that he hasn’t got a gun, or a bad thing? Seven of these lines later, in about an hour, still felt a little bit moreish, ha-ha-ha-ha! I was in for a long haul, here.
Did you not get a little bit paranoid?
The palps, everything.
After seven grams, did you not think that everyone was laughing at you?
I was laughing at me. It was scary as f***, and then you realise… aaa-aaahhh-aahhhhhh, I’m swallowing me own tongue here.
Could you not feel your own tongue?
I should have done more in the right nostril. It was a bit lopsided. So I go back to the hotel and carry on. It’s like, I don’t know how many grams I did that night, but it was easy ten. I was bongoed. And this dickhead gun-man without a gun, his head’s spinning round. And this Harrison Ford’s saying, “This dozy c***, as soon as I get out of this, I’m going to have you shot with your own gun.” And he’s like, “I know boss, what do I do? I feel hot and sweaty?” And he says, “Go and have a cold shower, or is that a hot bath?” He couldn’t work it out. Whatever he did, Harrison Ford said, “You dozy dickhead, you should have had a hot bath.” He comes back in with the towel.
Did you feel like you were adrift on the ocean with no power?
And it’s blustery weather. And you’re scared of water and you can’t swim. So anyway, I went to my room that night and the tour manager wasn’t there. I don’t know when he’d turned up at the studio, still contemplating swimming with the feeshes. So I’m lying in bed, and I’m like, “This is it, the big f***ing woooo.” So I phone up my mate, and I said, “I think I’m gonna dieeee. Could you bring a wet flannel?” And he just mopped me brow, me feverish brow, for hours. And it’s like… it’s fair enough having one or two, but ten! And the following night, back on it!
Your hair was quite big in the Eighties.
It went mad. I’d started backcombing it. You just never know when a painting’s finished.
How long have you had this current style for?
My missus cuts my hair. She knows all the bits that need to be sorted. It’s not what it was, but I like it, the little tufty bit.
What clothing labels do you wear?
I like Diesel.
Do they send you free stuff?
Yeah. And Gary at Adidas, he sends me the largest f***ing trackies. They’re like coats. He promised to send me a leather tracksuit. He said there’s only three of them.
That kind of thing, yeah.
What new music are you listening to?
Err, Ron Sexsmith’s last album. And do you know Richard Hawley who used to be in the Longpigs? His album, it’s beautiful. I’m amazed – he was the guitarist in the Longpigs. And they supported us in America in ’97. And I got on with Richard – he was so like me. Trying to laugh off agony.
There seems to be some good Liverpool bands coming through at the moment.
Coral, I think they’re good. Crescent.
We saw a group called The Stands last week and they were good.
I believe they’re good, yeah. Is that Howie?
Howie, the singer, yes. He sent me his demo this week.
I haven’t heard them, but…
Do you go in for all this Pop Idol reality TV?
No, it’s shite. I just hate it. And I don’t even find it absorbing in a banal way. At home, they have the remote – I’ve got two girls and the missus.
Do the girls like Gareth Gates?
Kind of, yeah. I think my eldest daughter likes him, cos she fancies him, but I think she now knows he’s crap. They youngest, who’s eight, likes Iggy Pop and Gareth Gates.
What record in your collection would you guard with your life?
Erm, Leonard Cohen’s greatest hits.
Do you buy CDs or just keep to vinyl?
I get CDs now. I’ve got a record player that I got two or three Christmases ago and I still haven’t plugged it in.
What lyrics of a record, not including yours, have moved you the most, and however many times you listen to them, you never get bored?
Leonard Cohen, “Famous Blue Raincoat”. “It’s four in the morning, the end of December/I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better/New York is cold, but I like where I’m living/There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening.” Phhhhh… shivers. And some of Richard Hawley’s lyrics.
Do you agonise over lyrics?
Do you drink while writing lyrics?
I like spirits, whisky. I end up battered.
Have you ever had a beer belly?
You’ve always been quite thin, though.
Yeah. But I did in the wilderness years, Mac Eight. And all the other seven are going, “Come on, how’s about slimming!” And he goes, “Oh don’t be crap!”
One of your records was used in Donnie Darko.
“The Killing Moon”. I haven’t seen the film. I don’t like going to the cinema. Me arse kills. And you can’t have a bev. And the popcorn-crunching bastards. And old-age pensioners who’ve got in there for 10p to keep out of the cold. I remember watching The Man Who Fell To Earth and there was only me, my brother and these two old-age pensioners moaning” “He looks a bit weird.”
What does your average fan look like?
If there’s someone reading this and has never really been into your music in the past, but fancies diving in, what records should he buy?
My new album. And Ocean Rain.