Will Sergeant – a listener’s perspective

It does not happen as often as it used to, but I am sometimes still met with a quizzical face, when I mention that Echo & The Bunnymen are one of my favorite bands. I find this odd, as the band has been a going concern since 1978, recording and releasing albums, growing ever more popular with each release.  Their U.S. popularity hit its height with songs such as “The Killing Moon”, “Bring on the Dancing Horses” & “Lips Like Sugar,” all of which have been featured in television shows and feature films.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons for their success is the unique guitar playing of Will Sergeant. He is the only original member to have remained a constant in the band; they would not be the same, were it not for his signature sound.  Admittedly self taught, his playing avoids all number of rock cliches, in favor of melodic lines that mimic the singing or an aural soundscape that lays the bedrock, on which the other members of the band can build, or short jarring repeated hooks, bathed in reverb for maximum effect. 

The influence on Sergeant’s guitar style can, in many ways, be traced back to his music collection. He is well known as a record collector and has been purchasing records since he was a young man of 10 or 11. He has spoken in interviews of making early purchases of records by The Beatles & The Rolling Stones, as well as a double record collection of The Velvet Underground & Nico, which he says he purchased for the cover, an Andy Warhol image involving a Coca-Cola bottle. Various Sixties psychedelic and garage rock records, and also the debut albums by Roxy Music & Television, were also certainly staples in his collection, and can be heard in his guitar style.

Despite Sergeant’s high profile as a guitar player and composer in a unique Neo-Psychedelic Post-punk band, few people know of his solo recording and many side projects. Most of the solo work has been electronic, very different from his work in Echo & The Bunnymen. 

Sergeant’s first solo work was entitled “Weird as Fish,” a collection of instrumental pieces recorded at home. Drum machine, keyboards  and heavily-affected single string guitar work outs abound. Each piece is very minimal and repetitive. This was originally recorded onto seven cassettes, each with their own mix, and given away to friends. It was released to the world at large in 2003, when a copy of one of the cassettes turned up. 

Sergeant’s next two projects were film soundtracks: “La Via Luonge” and “Themes for ‘Grind’“. Recorded and released in 1982, “Themes for ‘Grind’“, consists of ten untitled pieces of dark, atmospheric, cascading music, invoking empty streets, abandoned industrial spaces, and a sense of movement or travel. This album was reissued in 1995 on CD, and the track “Favourite Branches” was added to it, which was originally released on a 12 inch single, the main side featuring “Himalaya” by Shankar & Bill Lovelady.

While these pieces were being released, Echo & The Bunnymen continued on, gradually becoming more popular, putting out their most well-received album to-date in 1984, “Ocean Rain.” Instead of going back to the studio, after the tour for that album, the band decided to take a one year sabbatical. In doing so, they stepped off the treadmill, an unusual step for a band of their stature — one that would prove to be a mistake, I believe. Had they stuck with it, building on their momentum, they may well have next recorded a masterpiece. Instead, we got a solo 12 inch single by Ian McCulloch, the singer, and nothing by the other members of the band. The sabbatical ended after only about six months, with the band returning to touring, their set heavily peppered with cover versions of songs by The Modern Lovers, The Doors, The Action, Television, Talking Heads, and The Velvet Underground. By the time they made it back to the studio, the grind of being in a band had set in, and they released what is my least favorite of their albums, a self titled album featuring the single “Lips Like Sugar”.

Not long after, Ian McCulloch left the band. The rest of the group stuck together, brought in a new singer, and released a few singles and one album. In retrospect, these releases are quite good, and might have found more favor with the public had the band re-named themselves instead of sticking to the name, Echo & The Bunnymen. The band eventually broke up in 1992.

I have no idea what Will Sergeant got up to in the next couple of years, but he re-surfaced in 1994 and 1995 in a new band, Electrafixion, along with Ian McCulloch. The band was louder and more of an out and out Rock band than Echo & The Bunnymen had been, and it was wonderful to hear Will Sergeant playing roaring loud hard-hitting guitar, stemming from his youthful love of late sixties acid rock & The Stooges.

As the band progressed, playing shows after the release of their album “Burned,” more and more Echo & The Bunnymen songs crept into their set — until the point that Electrafixion ended, and Echo & The Bunnymen re-formed. 

1997, around the same time as the reformation, Will Sergeant released an album entitled “Space Age Freakout (Live at the Bubblebath Liverpool),” under the name Glide. This was an atmospheric, chilled-out collection of electronic pieces with minimal beats and vocal samples, many of which probably come from various science fiction films.

In 2000, an album by Glide entitled “Performance” was released, which was a live recording from 1999.

Glide often opened for Echo & The Bunnymen, and I was lucky to have seen just one such performance in Portland at the Aladdin Theatre. 

Will Sergeant continued to release albums under the name Glide. In 2004, he released “Curvature of the Earth”, on which he plays all of the instruments. The album is much more centered around guitar, rather than electronic music, as had been prior Glide albums. And in 2013, he released “Assemblage One & Two,” two long electronic pieces. The piece, “Assemblage One,” can be heard on my radio show each week, as the music, over which I speak during all of my mic breaks. 

Sometime around 2010, Will Sergeant began to appear around Liverpool, playing records from his collection. Initially calling the night “Korova”, the name was later changed to “Friction”. These nights would be filled with Sixties psych and garage rock, as well as Krautrock, Northern Soul, Electro & Prog. In addition to vintage records, contemporary records by The Black Angels, Wooden Shjips, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre might also have been played. 

The DJ nights no doubt led to his current Mixcloud, “Spacejunk Radio,” on which he plays records from his collection along with some commentary; a unique and wonderful view behind the curtain to what makes Will Will.

Also around 2010, Will Sergeant began to exhibit some of his artwork, abstract pieces with vibrant color and motion, despite the fixed moment captured in the paint. Examples of Sergeant’s artwork can be seen on his web site.

In 2012, Sergeant released one of my favorite records he has ever produced:  an album of all acoustic instruments, entitled “Things Inside”. This is a gorgeous collection of acoustic guitar, with subtle psychedelic effects, enhanced by percussion and keyboards. Here is a link to one of my most well liked tracks from the album, “Toy Piano Mantra:”

He followed up this acoustic foray with a return to rock, in the form of extended prog rock instrumental music, under the name Poltergeist. For this project, he reunited with Les Pattison, who had been the bass player and one of the founding members of Echo & The Bunnymen. The music on the album, entitled “Your Mind is a Box (Let us fill it with wonder)” is cinematic and flowing, each piece filled with heavy psychedelic guitar lines, melodic bass and drums. Thus far, this is a one-off project, but should not be written off, as it shows Will Sergeant as a singular talent.

It has been a few years now, since Sergeant has released a solo or side project, but his work with the band, Echo & The Bunnymen, continues; they have recently released an album, on which they re-recorded some of their classic tracks “ The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon,” with the promise of an album of all-new material promised to be recorded in the upcoming year. 

Hopefully, Will Sergeant will find a time and place in his schedule to concentrate on his solo work as well, as his past releases have given me and those of us who discovered them so much joy.