Categorized | Live Reviews

Echo and the Bunnymen – Birmingham Symphony Hall (May 26, 2018)

Posted on 29 May 2018 by John Haylock

Echo and the Bunnymen are responsible for one of the greatest albums to come out of the UK post punk scene and equal to anything The Smiths, The Cure or Joy Division ever recorded.

The band’s second album Heaven Up Here remains a grandiose musical statement, a remarkably ambitious confection of envelope pushing songs that to this day remains a great big wonky wok of creativity, drugs and bravado.


Ian McCulloch and strings.

The big hits came late on Ocean Rain, Echo and the Bunnymen‘s next album which gave them singles and fame but it is Heaven Up Here that reserves them a special place in our hearts. With this in mind we popped over to Birmingham to see if this legendary act are still any good.

Thanks to Liverpool getting through to the final of the European Championships this gig nearly didn’t happen. As soon as lead singer Ian McCulloch spotted the date clash he promptly cancelled the band’s appearance. There followed a rather large fan backlash on social media, which duly prompted him to stop being an arse and get his priorities right.

Indeed his first words as he strode onto the stage was a mumbled “sorry about all the shite”. What’s this? A humble and seemingly contrite McCulloch? Wonders will never cease.

For a frontman who is famed for his petulance and vaulting arrogance this is a first. Also plain to see is a man who is clearly enjoying himself, despite the fact that his beloved Reds side were losing one nil at half time.

We thought he would be slightly aggrieved and in one of his moods at this dramatic turn of events for the Reds. Far from it. Perhaps the road crew had told him Liverpool were four up within 15 minutes to keep him placated. Whatever the reason, it was good to see him looking (relatively) healthy and, for a veteran performer, sounding rather good too.

Birmingham Symphony Hall is an amazing building, large, spacious and with wonderful acoustics. Its size was needed for this sold out gig, no mean feat for a band who haven’t troubled the singles chart for nigh on 30 years.

Whilst not quite the orchestra as advertised, the band were supplemented by a string quartet comprising three violinists and a cellist, which added a welcome extra dimension to the songs.

Together with his trusty sidekick guitar hero Will Sergeant, a propulsive drummer, an unremarkable rhythm guitarist and a bassist who at first sight I mistook for Tony the mechanic from my local garage, they tore into a cracking set.

Opening with a storming triumvirate of Rescue, Villiers Terrace and All that Jazz, this was a good start of oldies but goldies, which saw McCulloch dropping in lyrics from various  eras. I heard Bowie’s Jean Genie, On the Road Again by Canned Heat and Roadhouse Blues by The Doors – it was just like the old days but with more wrinkles.

The fiery tempo abated as we entered calmer waters. Nothing Lasts Forever was rendered perfectly, the quartet supplying added poignancy.

All My Colours Tonight performed stripped back, no drums as per usual, just guitar and vocals. Surprisingly it still works.

Bedbugs and Ballyhoo instigated the arrival of swaying women of a certain age, who know a good psychedelic singalong when they hear one. They love Ian and try to prove it with some middle aged gyratory action and pointing at him whilst singing Lips like Sugar, which looked more scary than sexy.

From that point on madness ensued. Two Japanese women behind me burst into tears as Bring on the Dancing Horses galloped across our ears.

And as for Seven Seas, it is such an iconic Echo and the Bunnymen tune it can do no wrong. With its not very ambivalent sex lyrics and cracking tune, the audience is theirs.

The Cutter keeps up the pace, then it’s all over apart from probably everyone’s favourite song Killing Moon, performed almost solo. Backed by just a debonair gent on piano, Ian valiantly muddles through. It’s a tough one for him though, as this track does expose his inevitable age related vocal wear and tear, but we forgive him especially as they reprise Never Stop as the very final number – a rocker in all but name. Then, ironically, they stop.

Minus one point for not doing Over the Wall.



Support for Echo and the Bunnymen tonight came from Nashville trio Enation. But don’t go screaming “yee-haw” at their gigs – these gents are more like a cross between Sigur Ros, U2 and with a bit of Nirvana in the mix.

Some jolly good rock action ensued – very intense and persuasive. Three numbers in they had sound problems, something feeding back, prompting mild panic among the sound guys. It took them quite a while to sort it, but to the band’s credit they soldiered on and were thanked for it by an appreciative audience.

Most of the tracks tonight were off their 2017 album Anthems for the Apocalypse.

Certainly not the end of the world for these chaps.

Words by John Haylock, pictures by Arthur Hughes.


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