Incendiary interview Les Pattinson; part 1

I must admit, I wouldn't mind starting playing the Bass again, from a session musician side of things, y'know. I love the recording side of it. But, as for live work, I think it's a young man's game… I think as a band we were about youth, and all the Bunnymen fans have grown up. But, of course, we're still collecting awards for Coldplay!

 

 

(courtesy phill nicholls)

 

Echo & The Bunnymen took rock music to strange places during the 1980s, releasing records full of mystery and atmosphere, and playing in weird and exotic locations anywhere from the Isle of Skye to Rio De Janeiro. Their tight-knit allegiance and musical integrity secured them success on their own terms and a devoted cult following.

In 1988, after the release of their biggest selling album, known as 'The grey album' - as a reference not only to the front cover but also to what some consider to be the sound of the music within - singer Ian McCulloch left to pursue a solo career. The rest of the Bunnymen carried on without him, but after the tragic death of drummer Pete De Freitas, and a critically derided 6th album with Noel Burke on vocal duties, the Echo & The Bunnymen name was finally laid to rest in early 1993.

A few years on Will, Les and Mac re-united and 1997 saw the magnificent return of Echo & The Bunnymen with the excellent Evergreen album and Top Ten hit Nothing Lasts Forever. However, during the recording of the follow-up album, (1999's What Are You Going to do With Your Life?) Bass player Les Pattinson decided he had to leave the band.

In March 2006 Incendiary spoke with Les - who has now returned to his long-time passion of boat building - about highs and lows with the Bunnymen, the importance of mystery, and the easiest way to empty a dancefloor in Cuba...

 

So, in true Bunnies tradition, "go on, tell us a story Uncle Les"

 

IN: Starting at the very beginning, before the Bunnymen, where did the idea for 'Jeff Lovestone' come from?

 

LP: My Heart! There was a guy called Geoff Love, who did stuff on TV with Max Bygraves. The thing was it was all from the days of Erics, the legendary nightclub in Liverpool; everybody used to come up with names for bands. It was the whole mystery... people would be in these bands and if they did just take that initial step and write a song, that'd be great, but the whole thing about it was you had to have these great names to start with, to create this interest, and if you could follow it up with music, it'd be brilliant. One of the names I had was "The Jeffs", cos one of my old best friends at school was called Jeff, it just came from one of these drunken talks we used to have in the girls toilets at Erics, Me, Will and Mac..

 

IN: The Girls toilets? Where the only mirror was?

 

LP: Yeah! So it was like, "Oh I've got a band, let's do it next week" they'd go "oh, what's it called" y'know - I'd say "The Jeffs" and they'd go "Oh right, what are you gonna be called then Les?" and I said "Jeff of course, second name Lovestone". So it just came from there y'know, that was it. He's still there somewhere... It progressed from The Jeffs and went into The Love Pastels. It was weird 'cos the Bunnymen and the Teardrops used to rehearse together, we had a rehearsal place at a guys house called Yorkie, who is the bass player for Space, or used to be, so we used to deal with his mum, and it was dead funny, as soon as we got loud his mum used to bang downstairs, like "Get that fucking music down!". It was just the most suppressed atmosphere you could ever have.

One day Mac wasn't there, and I don't think Will had turned up, and it was just me, Julian Cope and Mick Finkler I think it was, and we just started jamming and there were all these real psychedelic songs coming out - Apples from France, The Balloon Man will Know, Mr Tunbridge Wells, there was about an album full that just came out in about an hour while we were waiting for Mac, who was always more than an hour late anyway. It was great!

(I have to say that I loved The Jeffs idea so much that I requested that my name on a stag tour five years ago was Jeff Lovestone. I even have the T-shirt to prove it! – ed)

The legendary Yorkie in the legendary basement (courtesy Les Pattinson) 

 

IN: Did you always get on with Julian OK? Mac seems to have fallen out with him a lot in the past?

 

LP: Yeah... Mac's just in and out with people. Sometimes he gets on with them, sometimes he doesn't. He has a big falling out do, then he makes up with them, and its all best buddies again.

I think the rivalry just went mad, I think he just had to separate himself from that Liverpool scene. Not the Liverpool scene exactly but that...I don't know...Julian was an easy target wasn't he, cos he didn't really come from Liverpool but they were a Liverpool band, and then Julian went his totally hippie-fied way, and he became an easy target even though he was a moving target, y'know. I don't know...we were great friends at one stage, although when you look at the scheme of things, we were probably only friends for about two weeks really.

 

IN: You knew Will Sergeant from school?

 

LP: Yeah, I was in the same class as him, and he was just Mr Music Freak! It was all Status Quo...and after the psychedelic stage it was like Piledriver, you know that album, and other weird stuff. Basically, I don't think he'd found his musical identity then, but it was probably better than mine! I was probably into the David Dundas stage of, y'know, "Pull on my blue jeans" and all that shit... I must admit I did like David Bowie, but everyone in our school did.

 

IN: Was Bowie your first major musical influence?

 

LP: Yeah, I think so. There was a lot of stuff that my dad used to get. I used to love Andy Williams and all that, although I'd never admit it at the time, and Bacharach and Tony Hatch, Downtown, stuff like that. I still reminisce about songs like that. I had a great childhood, and that was all part of it, music like that.

 

IN: What was it like to be in the studio making your debut album (Crocodiles)? Was it fun or was there a lot of pressure?

 

LP: I felt guilty. It was fun, dead easy, 'cos none of us knew what we were playing, but we all had this driven enthusiasm of how we wanted to make noise and make songs, and it worked. The reason I felt guilty was that I'd come from a real working class background, and if I wanted to make more money, I'd do overtime and everything was relative. Then all of a sudden you were doing something that you really liked and felt real natural, just making a noise, and it was being paid for by a record company and there was no comeback. If you got it wrong and it didn't sell, you didn't have to give them the money back or anything it was just really weird. We were just sitting round... most of the songs were like first takes, me and Pete would be in there, and within a couple of days we had all the backing tracks done, so for the next two and a half weeks we were just sat around doing nothing! Playing on our motorbikes, thinking what's going on? Y'know...

If there was something we couldn't play live, we didn't want it on the record. We wanted to get that element of mystery and suggestion, which I think is the biggest thing about music; that makes it good, it suggests stuff that isn't there. And when you put something on it that you think you hear, it sounds shit, y'know, it fills it out too much. You've got to have mystery, and gaps and holes through songs.

 

IN:  sat down once to learn your bass line for A Promise, and was amazed when I discovered that it's just three notes. It sounds like there is a load going on in that song, but the bass and guitar lines are really simple...

 

LP: Yeah that's what I love to do, I love to get these bass lines, that revolve, and every sort of like 3 times in a loop they change the whole... Even though it's just 3 notes everyone's playing, they're all playing it at different times and it's like, all of a sudden you've got a combination of like 9, 12 or whatever, y'know... The simplest things, the simplest ideas are the best.

 

IN: What was your first impression of Bill Drummond?

 

LP: I didn't trust him! That was my first impression. Here's a lad who had ventured out into Liverpool, and we'd met all these people from record companies and that, and we'd heard all these stories. Like watching cliched rock programmes at the time about how people had got ripped off; y'know... who'd written great songs, there was a lot of paranoia. But, I liked him, I really did like him, it was a hip thing, but there was half of me that really wanted to fall for him and his ideas and the way he did things, and there was this other half that we all had; like this caution - we didn't want to lose control of what we had, but we didn't know what we had! We were naïve, none of us knew what was going to happen, and here was a guy that would make us work. To be fair to Bill, in hindsight, he's probably done things that were great for us, but at the time it was like...I think he put trumpets - or him and Dave Balfe - put trumpets on The Cutter and we were thinking "What the fucking hell have you done that for?" y'know...

 

IN: You had no idea he'd done that?

 

LP: No! But fair do's to him, he did say that "this is it, but if you don't like it, I'll get rid of them". It was one of them things where, it was strange, it was like someone taking your photograph and it didn't look like you, it wasn't us. But so many other people at the record companies were saying "Oh, this is fantastic, it's going to be great, it's going to be a massive hit, blah blah blah", so you didn't know what to think. If you stick to your guns, you might gain a bit of respect, but you might also get the backhand where people think your fools for not getting the best sound you can.

 

IN: Balfe wanted keyboards on Crocodiles too, didn't he?

 

LP: Yeah, he was like a cat, he just wanted to piss on everything! No, he wasn't that bad, but we really... our ideas of managers were different, it's like someone getting a girlfriend when they're young, you think, this is great, she'll do for now until I meet someone better, y'know? The thing about Bill Drummond is, looking back, he was legendary, he was great, but it did take me a while. I think Will knew him a bit better and trusted him a bit more but I didn't trust him, but I grew to trust him, maybe that was part of him knowing what I was about as well, how far he could push it, and I think in the end we did meet head to head and saw things together. He respected me, and we respected each other.

 

IN: Would you say Bill added a lot to the mythical status of the Bunnymen?

 

LP: I would say he helped us get it, I think we all wanted that. We didn't want to be just another band touring, quite the opposite. He had a friend, Bill Butt, who added quite a bit to that mystical side, he would help us achieve it y'know. These guys were all a bit older than us. Bill Butt, who did the lighting and directed Shine So Hard and other stuff, he knew how to get stuff done weird and he wanted to do more avant garde stuff, and we wanted to be totally avant garde, y'know.. But they were kind of like good levellers, in the fact they'd say "You just can't do that, this is the best you're gonna get, it'll be weird enough!"

 

IN: Some of the earlier gigs seemed almost Prog, with the lighting and smoke...

 

LP: Yeah... we weren't confined in any way, but we didn't want to lose grip of it, give it to people like Dave Balfe to take away, cos they'd destroy it - what we had - but really we still didn't know exactly what we had. Its like the old cliche about Bunnymen interviews, like me and Will doing it is like a chemical reaction, 4 people, from almost 4 different backgrounds, Me and Will maybe not, but different musical taste definitely, and it was these 4 chemicals mixing together... we didn't know what we had, but we knew which way to stir them.

 

IN: There's a poem of yours on the song Over the Wall. How did that come about?

 

LP: It was one of those things that I did so that people in 20 years time would ask me what it was all about! No; it was different every night... it was just another part of the mystery. To me it's a very, very hypnotic song, and I could never sing over a bass line. I've always had drums and bass in my head, so this is one of those rare opportunities where it's just a melodic thing, with the rhythmic thing going round and round, where I could actually talk over it and add something. Mac's going off on a high thing, and I'm doing this poem, so that's how it developed. I just went up to a mike and did it. The reason I had a mike was that Mac wanted me to do backing vocals, but I was crap at singing, I was too busy concentrating on rhythm. I'm just one of these people that, well - inside my head was just the beats and rhythms going on and conversations didn't come into it. Well, that might be different if I saw a pretty woman in front of me, but that's what it was!

 

IN: What was the poem about?

 

LP: Basically it was about when you're a kid, and you don't want to go to sleep. It was spooky, you know the way you see things in the curtains, stuff like that, it was about the Sandman, and instead of him throwing sand in your eyes, to make you tired, he starts talking to you and you go into his world, it was all pretty bizarre.

 

IN: I'd love to read it, have you got it written down somewhere?

 

LP: No! Mysteries you see...it's all there... Every one had a different ending every night, that's why I can't remember it but, I'll have a listen to one and filter it all out, so I can hear it!

 

IN: I've read that you weren't always particularly keen to get out on tour, is that true?

 

LP: We used to hate touring and being away from home 'cos it was always working and you really got the shit end of the deal y'know? Out all night, which was great but, staying in hotels all the time, and we hated that... Maybe it was the punks in us, but we really hated that rock n roll lifestyle. You'd be with roadies that were like, 10 years out of date. Actually, they still are now! It's never gonna change, but we hated the whole of that scene. Playing live was fantastic, used to love it, but it was all the in-between stuff, that's why we used to dress all the roadies... you know we got them wearing the camo stuff and all that. We tried to change everything as much as we could but we didn't like touring. It just became incredibly boring. We were really aware of that, the bigger places you play - great, but there was a balance between how well you could push yourself to perform to how well it would go down with your stagecraft and the size of a place, y'know? So we were really conscious of that, and we wanted every gig to be special, we really did. It really hurt if we played a shit gig. If McCulloch sang out of tune, 9 times out of 10 he knew about it, even though he'd be drunk, and there'd be this bravado like "Oh, that was great wasn't it?" And it'd be like, "well not really, no". We were like a good football team; we wanted to be at the top, but with the minimum amount of games!

 

IN: Did you enjoy seeing different places at least?

 

LP: Yeah, we loved all that side of it. Actually, there was quite a nice compliment... Will was round at our house here about 3 years ago and I hadn't really seen him for 2 years, I was asking him "How's it going?" and he said "Oh, it's alright... I still miss me best mate though, when we go shopping". I didn't realize what he was saying until later, and for Will to say something like that, 'cos he's not a lovey-dovey kind of guy, and I suddenly realized when he left, that must have been really hard for him to say, y'know? But we used to go out shopping. We'd be bored on tour, so when we were in America we'd buy these radio controlled cars for like $300 each, and build them in the hotel instead of going out every night. Mac would go out every night and blow all his money, and me and Will would be in the hotel room fine tuning these radio controlled cars! We'd go out and race them. I think it was to take our minds off playing in front of these huge audiences, our whole day was making sure we had our batteries charged for these cars, so in the sound-check, which would get a bit mundane, we'd race all these cars, and the road crew would join in with us, it was great!

 

IN: I've read that there were differences in 'on-tour' habits within the band. Mac was describing how you came offstage after the shows at the Albert Hall (in 1983), and the first thing Will did was have a bacon buttie! Is it true you used to take things like frying pans on tour?

 

LP: I think there was a frying pan at the Albert Hall! I've got loads of photos, I must have about 10,000 photos of the life of the Bunnymen, and there's one or two of that...

I think the last time Will did that was when we were on tour without Mac, in the early 90's and I've got pictures of Will with this camping gaz stove, outside the bus in Seattle, with it resting on a fire hydrant, frying up in the street y'know, it's looks bizarre.

(Will and Les suffer post bacon butty withdrawal symptoms after Mac's insistence that the band live a more rock and roll lifestyle)

 

IN: Was it the case that you and Will, in particular, seemed to share an attitude or humour, which Mac didn't always appreciate...

 

LP: Well I don't know really..I mean Mac used to be great. If you wanted to get drunk and have a laugh with famous people and bring them down to your level, Mac has such a talent for that, it's unbelievable. But every single night becomes a bit of a drudge, y'know? I mean - say we were going over to Italy, or somewhere like that, we'd... not take in the sights exactly but, we'd meet as many local girls as we could, and soak in the atmosphere. We did feel privileged, we didn't just want to think "Oh, where are we tonight, bloody, y'know, Florence, what are we doing here?" can't wait to get home kind of thing - it was like we used to take in the whole atmosphere y'know - and drop the odd mushroom when it was apt, stuff like that. It was amazing, for 20 years I had the privilege to have probably one of the easiest and best jobs in the world y'know. It was great, with the best people. It's just that it could become very monotonous, but we were very aware of that, and we didn't want it to be like that, we knew it was special, and we wanted to make it better.

 

IN: Did you speak to Pete during his time in America?

 

LP: Yeah, first of all, when he went, he would sort of seem quite lucid sometimes, then I'd just had my daughter, so I was at my mother in laws - ex-mother in laws now - and I got a phone call at 03:00am from Pete who wanted me to phone my dad to design a phone to speak to aliens. I was going "Pete, come on...come home, what are you doing?" an' all that, but there was no getting through to him, he just said "Les, I've got a machine in my hotel room here, I can turn the telly on, turn the lights down, I can put the radio on, I can set me alarm all from this one thing, so your dad the designer, if I gave him a phone, he could design a phone to speak to aliens". And he was deadly serious, so I was just... I felt a bit lonely in a way, maybe 'cos I was closest to Pete in the band, playing wise, and he should have been with us, it was just really bad.

 

He took an entourage over with him, who should have looked after him and brought him back, y'know... this guy, who's a drummer in a band, has made up this other band (The Sex Gods – ed), and was going to make this film, and it was all a big art project which everybody was into, they all got smashed on drugs and everything; so they probably couldn't have seen it, and maybe it was easier for me to see it from the outside, but y'know, if someone had been paying for my drinks all night at a bar, and they're on the floor, I would have helped them home, y'know. Those were my thoughts at the time. As I say, everyone was caught up in the whole thing, and on the outside, the whole Sex Gods thing, when you look at it, was fantastical, but from where I was it was real ugly, y'know.

 

IN: Why do you think he had to go in the first place?

 

LP: Well there was that time... Pete was great, I mean, Will would go along with everything unless it meant changing something that he'd written y'know, and I'd try and be very diplomatic, and what would happen is, like... Mac is like a kid, an ever evolving kid, so we sort of knew how far we could push Mac, and make the idea seem like it was his, and make him like it; and that way it'd be more productive, y'know, you could make headway. Whereas all of a sudden Pete would turn round and just say, "This is fucking shit!" y'know "Hold on; that is shite" and then, where we'd been wheeling Mac along on this idea, all of a sudden Mac would say "You're right! This is shit!" so it was all like a big game in a way, not exactly mind games, but Pete was a realist. He would all of a sudden just say "No, this has gone too far...it's crap" and we were always trying to retrieve it. In every song there might be a bit worth saving, but Pete was one for wanting to start again y'know, which was good, and I think Mac used to overrule him a bit, it was all about a power game, and for good or bad, Mac had his reasons and his ways, but he wanted, not the power of the band but to be seen as the lead singer in the best band in the world; not to be the boss, and there is a difference.

 

I think things sometimes grated on Pete 'cos he wanted to say look, "This is wrong", y'know. He did get his candle stubbed out once or twice. I think that frustration led to him having a bit of a breakdown. One time we were in Holland - in Utrecht I think it was - and Pete never used to have to try with girls, y'know, he was sort of like a natural, the girls would come to him and he'd hardly have to talk and he would end up with them, but this one time he'd been drinking, as we all had, and he became like an obnoxious uncle, who was after your girlfriend. It was weird, it was so out of character, that we thought something was wrong, y'know. He was just trying so hard with this waitress and failing, and he never used to do that!

But he came back, and he did change y'know...

I mean, I rate him as one of the best drummers in the world, easily, I wouldn't even put myself in the same league playing wise, he used to put in so much effort, and I used to try and get away with as much as I could, and say "this is for feeling" y'know. But he was just brilliant. He could play the simplest rhythm, and it'd be packed full of passion and power. He made me look good, and he was dead easy to lock into. People say we were the best rhythm section, but I must admit, I think 80% of it was Pete, he was great.

 

 

 Pete and Les

 

IN: What music do you like to listen to these days?

 

LP: I listen to stuff in the car mainly. One or two things; what have I got? A bit of Snow Patrol, I've got the Air album, Moon Safari. Just to chill out to, y'know. I've only got one of these CD changers that takes 6 CDs. I usually listen to a lot of stuff on the radio. I used to do a fair bit of driving at night, and I used to love the Blue Room on Radio 1, ... what it was, I needed a job a couple of years ago, so I started lorry driving in Scotland, and I used to set off at night, and put that show on, and I'd be like driving through all the Scottish hills, and the music, considering it was Radio 1, was anywhere from to Frank Sinatra to Glen Campbell, Wichita Linesman, y'know, and I'd have that on and put the volume up and be driving through the hills when the sun's coming up... and it was music to move you y'know, it was fantastic.

 

IN: What would you say is your personal favourite Bunnymen album?

 

LP: Ocean Rain. 'Cos of the way we recorded it and everything. It was in Paris and we took over this classical music studio, all these French superstars used to go there and record, cos of the vocal sound, that was the main reason. Mac talked the record company into it y'know, "We need somewhere special...somewhere to get that special vocal sound", y'know, "...All that romance in me voice". So we ended up going over there and recording the best backing track we'd ever done for an album in 3 weeks, he couldn't get his vocal and ended up doing it in Kirby in Liverpool! So it was kind of ironic, but it sounds brilliant. But all the strings, y'know and everything, it was like, it was just great. I'd just say that was one of the greatest moments we had. It was weird, 'cos we were placed in this foreign country and the engineer couldn't even speak English, so we had to describe to him the sounds we wanted with noises. It was the first one we produced ourselves too, and that was great, 'cos we got it the way we wanted it.

Me and Will took our pushbikes too, so we'd ride all over Paris on our pushbikes y'know, it was brilliant. We used to do a lot of recording in Brussels as well. Everyone says Belgium is a boring country, but it's fantastic.

 

IN: Brussels is one of my favourite places in the world...

 

LP: Yeah, it was the first foreign country we ever played. We played the Plan K, and we went out to these nightclubs after and they were open till about 6am, y'know, we couldn't believe it, whereas in England they were closing at 1 at the latest. It was fantastic!

 

IN: If Mac hadn't left to pursue a solo career in '88 do you think the next record would have still sounded like Reverberation, or gone further down the path of the 'America Friendly' Grey Album?

 

LP: It's hard to say... at that time we were all getting computers then. Ataris, with Q Base, that whole thing was evolving then, and to be fair, I think musically, when you listen to Reverberation, some of the sounds and songs on there are great. We liked Noel Burke as a person, but he didn't hit it as a replacement for Ian. I don't think we could have ever had a replacement y'know, but to be fair to the guy he tried his best, gave it his best shot.

 

IN: For me, Reverberation is an incredibly underrated album. The vocals were lacking, but the music is brilliant...

 

LP: Yeah, I think if you imagine Mac singing those songs, and Mac's lyrics over that music I think it'd have been fantastic.

 

Continued on Part 2 where Les turns into a dog... please go to here