Part 1 – The Recording
This is an extract from the forthcoming feature-film on Liverpool’s Post-Punk scene, The Revolutionary Spirit.
It’s the dawning of 1983. Two bands are standing at the precipice of super-stardom, the world is theirs for the taking: Echo and the Bunnymen, arguably the greatest band to emerge from Liverpool, and Dublin’s U2. The former have been music-press darlings for close to 3 years but have yet to reward their major label, Warner with their promised Top 10 single. Despite their press adulation and filling venues across Europe they are in danger of being dropped.
This is the story of how Echo and the Bunnymen achieved their first Top10 hit, The Cutter, which was released 40 years ago today, on the 14th of January 1983.
Bill Drummond: Co-Manager of Echo and the Bunnymen
Dave Balfe: Co-Manager of Echo and the Bunnymen and keyboardist with fellow Liverpudlians, The Teardrop Explodes.
Will Sergeant: Bunnymen Guitarist
Les Pattinson: Bunnymen Bass Player
Mick Haughton: Echo and the Bunnymen’s Press Manager
Mick Haughton: They were a big band. They were a much bigger band than people ever, ever realise, at that time. And the pressure was on to do something a bit more commercial. And the Bunnymen being The Bunnymen, they went away and made Porcupine
Porcupine was to be their 3rd album but rather than delivering something more commercial it was initially rejected by Warner for being too uncommercial.
Bill Drummond: It was a desperate thing. How the fuck do we get it? Yeah, it was real pressure to get the Bunnymen inside the top10.
However, from the sessions, one song did appear to have hit potential but needed further work.
Will Sergeant: I think The Cutter was a bit of a drone off. It just kept going on and on throughout that day, for ages.
BD: I went behind their back and got Dave Balfe in.
WS: He snuck in the studio
Dave Balfe: I saw the cutter when Bill brought it to me. It didn’t have a dynamic range and what it really needed was a climax of course.
BD: I am lying on the floor in the darkness. Balfe is adding a keyboard part to the middle eight of the cutter by the Bunnymen. Balfe knows what a tune is and we know our Beatles, The Bunnymen don’t know we are doing this. I have been unfaithful to women in my life. I have lied to women in my life. I have never lied to the Bunnymen. But here I am. Or there I was being unfaithful to the Bunnymen, adding parts to their record, and not telling them – lying to them until it was too late. And the record was being pressed. But this was the second time I knew what a hit should sound like. It needs to have a middle eight that takes you somewhere else.
DB: …and of course it did and it also gave it size and it suddenly became epic in that middle section. And it also made the rest of it seem grander for just being less grand and hitting that big thing and also it was the release… it was it was the orgasm.
BD: Rob Dickens (Warner Exec) agreed to come up to Liverpool, he had a cassette player and he played it to each of them in turn on the headphones so they didn’t hear. I didn’t even realise what he was doing. That’s a real political move. So he played it to them. And Mac really liked it and Will was last… Will put it on, listened to it, it gets to the middle eight and he hates it and takes it off and walks. Walks, doesn’t say anything. And that’s it. That’s the end of the band. Will and I can joke about it now but I thought that was it.
WS: When you’re so precious over something that you’ve created yourself. You don’t want anybody else coming along with a paintbrush and going ‘oh, what about putting a bit of red here?’ That’s what it felt like. So it was like, frig off you know?
Les Pattinson: We went round Bill’s house at tea time as he’s having his meat and two veg, you know, with the wife, it’s like, ‘Bill, what have you done? What are you doing putting trumpets on the cutter?’
WS: He told us it was trumpets, but I think it was Dave and his synth and we were dead anti synthesiser at the time. He said it was trumpets, because he probably thought we we could live with that… And it’s a hook. I actually play it now on the guitar live. It sounds great, you know?
LS: And yeah, you listen back to it. That’s what you remember mostly.
The Bunnymen had their hit. The 20th January is a key moment in the history of the Bunnymen and U2 when both appeared on Top of the Pops. As history has shown, U2 were the ones to break out to the huge, international prize of superstardom but by first taking a cue from The Bunnymen’s series of band versus nature album covers and cleverly adapting that to American audiences, with their cinematic desert imaginary.
The Bunnymen instead chose to remain true to their spirit animal. In hindsight, it never really could be possible for this strange, quixotic but phenomenally talented group to undertake what would be required to elevate U2 to US superstardom. What made them was their unwavering ability for lack of compromise which was diametrically opposed to U2’s desire to be the biggest band in the world.
Their futures on that date can be viewed as a Venn diagram: Post-Punk outsiders with the world at their feet/Epic widescreen mainstream success/Crossing the precipice to America. For one brief moment though, the world was theirs for the taking. With The Cutter they proved they could have the glittering prize if only they wanted. The ability to achieve something and deciding not to do it is what gives and gave The Bunnymen their power. They stayed true to their punk roots, only they could undertake a tour mapped in the shape of huge rabbit ears; playing a pub in Skye on one night (and giving the fans a lift to it in their tourbus) while playing a packed The Albert Hall the next.
BD: On the 20th of January 1983 the Bunnymen are on Top of the Pops performing The Cutter with this band from Dublin doing a song called ‘New Year’s Day’, the singer from the band from Dublin swaggers into the dressing room. He wants the Bunnymen to do a two month tour of America with them. He says that together, they can break America. And that is the way to save the world and that together, they can save the world. And I tell him, I hate America. And I tell him that anyway, The Bunnymen are going off on another tour of Europe. I thought it was far more vital to play village halls than to high school losers in designer outfits in fucking Austin, Texas, or whenever. Well, I was in denial about that. And what I am still in denial about now is that if you break America, you break the world. And anyway, what I did not see but I was thinking… on Top of the Pops you’ve already sold out to the man. Not that I knew then where or what this man was.
LP: It was that kind of purity that you have, the musical morals that you have from being punks.
Echo and the Bunnymen on Top of the Pops
U2 on Top of the Pops
The Cutter 40th Anniversary Part 2 – The Video and Artwork
“A band has to have a myth” – Bill Drummond, Echo and the Bunnymen’s co-manager.
To accompany The Cutter, the band would continue their progression of the man-against-nature imaginary used as cover-art for their previous releases. Framing was a hugely important part of how the band would be presented to the public and The Cutter (and subsequent album), Porcupine would be their most ambitious endeavour yet, taking them from forest and beach to the very far reaches of the frozen North.
This is the story of how The Cutter music video and vinyl artwork was created.
Will Sergeant: Bunnymen Guitarist
Les Pattinson: Bunnymen Bass Player
Bill Butt: Bunnymen (and later KLF) lighting and video director
Brian Griffin: The legendary photographer who shot their first four album sleeves.
Brian Griffin: Iceland, this was Bill Drummond’s idea.
Bill Butt: It was a waterfall, Gullfoss, which is frozen in the winter. We all turn up in Iceland and got off the plane, and I thought ‘their luggage looks a bit light’ and they pretty much look like they are dressed for a rehearsal room rather than for where we were, which was basically the Arctic. So we lent them out a lot of our gear which is why me and Brian Griffin were so cold, because they had half our gear on underneath.
Will Sergeant: Yeah, we were just freezing our goolies off. It was absolutely fricking freezing.
BG: My coat was solid. I took my coat off and ‘crack’. It cracked my coat.
BG: And I asked the Bunnymen to go on this ledge,
WS: He just went (impersonating Brian Griffin’s thick Birmingham accent) ‘Could you get down there please? ‘We went ‘yeh okay’. We’ve just clambered down on this like glacier. Life threatening really, not because of the cold because we were dispatched on the edge of this glacier.
Les Pattinson: It’s a 400 foot drop. Dangerous as anything. No safety wire, no nothing
BG: And of course Mac was in the car keeping warm. ‘Go and get Mac’. I had to wait 10 minutes for him to walk, freezing to death waiting for him to come to this shoot.
LP: Mac decides to take the commando soles off his boots that he’s got because he thinks they look shit. And so he’s just like, you know, Torvill and Dean on ice and a 400 drop down there so we’re all like hanging on to him.
BG: You cant like stand, you could blow off your feet. You can’t walk as the wind is so heavy and it’s treacherous because you want to hold on to something.
WS: We were shoving each other around and tripping each other up and messing about like kids being bit stupid. We were all crapping ourselves.
BB: I was filming there on a on a clockwork camera, a Bolex because the batteries wouldn’t work properly in an electric camera.
BG: Bill Butt comes over to me – ‘Brian, I’ve double exposed all the films. You think it would be all right?’
BB: Some of the images are double exposed because I was so cold. I kept reloading the same bit of film into the camera several times over. Which is not advisable normally but it worked out all right. Never miss a shot, eh? Bloody cold!
BG: The next thing that’s clear in my memory is having to leave Iceland. It was just incredible.
LP: We’re all in the plane and it was like a snow storm.
BG: The blizzard started to arrive. Blizzards like you have never seen then Bill said ‘we could have done it in Scotland’. Why didn’t we do it in Scotland instead of coming up here? We’re in our seats, strapping ourselves down, the wind lifts the aeroplane and is starting to rock and they’re spraying all the wings, the fuselage.
LP: They were defrosting the plane at one end by the time they got round it it had frozen again. I think they did it three times and then they decide to go for it.I had my Walkman and one earphones in my ear and the other in Will’s and it’s ‘The End’ by ‘The Doors’ and I’m thinking ‘shit this is a bad idea you know’.
BG: They started and the engines are getting really warm and the aeroplane is shaking with it with the thrust of the force. It goes down the runway and I pray to God…So we survived Porcupine and The Cutter.
WS: It was great. It was like a proper adventure.