Of Bunnymen and Wild Swans

I’ve written a feature in the June issue of MOJO about Pete De Freitas, the brilliant, inspirational drummer who helped make Echo And The Bunnymen one of the all-time great bands, and who died in a road accident on June 14, 1989, aged just 27.

The MOJO piece was a joy to write. Each person I spoke to – his friends and bandmates, and members of his family – was extremely generous with their time and memories. So many wonderful stories: some inevitably sad, but all of them touching and often very funny. Pete De Freitas seems to have been loved by everyone who ever met him. I wish I’d had time to talk to more people, and I ended up with far more material than I had space to use. Maybe one day I’ll put together a longer version.

During the course of writing the piece, I had the pleasure of talking to Paul Simpson, whose band The Wild Swans played with the Bunnymen many times; their wonderful single Revolutionary Spirit was produced by Pete, who also paid for its recording and played drums on it. “Thank God he did,” said Paul, “because it’s the dynamics of the drumming that give the song its exoskeleton.”

Hearing Revolutionary Spirit now takes me back to 1982 and my 16-year-old self listening to John Peel, when every record felt like a signpost to a new world. Like the Bunnymen, I imagined The Wild Swans were embarked on some noble truth-quest, and as Peel played the record (“Hmm… fades in…”) you sensed this was auspicious music. Both bands were from Liverpool, a city that because of The Beatles and its football teams had a mythic resonance, and this music only enhanced such romantic notions. Even then, I suspected the reality was a lot more mundane, but at that age it’s easy to feel you have nothing but dreams.

Paul reactivated The Wild Swans around 2008 and in 2011 they released an album, The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years. I’m ashamed to say it passed me by originally, but in researching the Pete De Freitas article I bought the beautiful vinyl edition and I thoroughly recommend it. This new version of the band featured a drummer named Steve Beswick, who had played in The Heart Throbs, a late-’80s group that featured Pete’s sisters, Rose and Rachel. Paul told me he wanted him because Beswick had based his playing style on Pete. Paul then recruited Les Pattinson, Echo And The Bunnymen’s bass player, with whom Pete De Freitas had formed such a distinctive and indomitable rhythm section.

The album takes its title from a song Paul released as the B-side of English Electric Lightning, a terrific Wild Swans single from 2009. It evokes the period during 1981-82 when Paul and Pete shared Julian Cope’s old flat together in Liverpool’s Princes Park: all freezing cold bohemian squalor, homemade bongs, listening to The Pop Group and Dr John, and the neighbours complaining about Pete driving his motorbike up three flights of stairs. As Paul says in the song: “I’m tired of living like a degenerate and I’m going to get my act together starting right now… Well, starting tomorrow, because I’ve just found the note Pete has left pinned to his door: ‘Paul, Jake riding up from Bristol tonight, I’ll knock for Mike and Paul on my way home. Ring Ged, Jerry and Hot Knives. Get milk and skins – gear’s in the tin. Love Pete’.”

Thanks to Paul, The Coldest Winter… put me right into their world.

The June issue of MOJO is still available.

About Keith Cameron

I am a journalist and author. View all posts by Keith Cameron

4 responses to “Of Bunnymen and Wild Swans

  • Tombstone1975

    THE SONGS OF THE WILD SWANS ARE MY LIFE:

    I love The Wild Swans now more than ever.I remember when their album”Bringing Home The Ashes”came out in 1988a critic from Jingle Music Magazine mentioned that the songs were monotonous but almost all New Wavers I know bought the album which just proves that there are times when its better to buy the album instead of listening to a damn music critic.What I like about them is that their songs have that TWILIGHTESQUE VIBE and go with the flow of the wind.Listening once again to their 2010 album”The Coldest Winter in 100 Years”which is for me The Best Comeback Album in Recent Memory and falling in love once again with the song”Poison”which talks about a guy waking up after decades in a coma and finding it in his heart to forgive his lover who kissed him with poison on her lips.I love the way Paul Simpson enunciates the word”frost”as if he was freezing because of the winter chill.Another favourite from that same album is”Darker Times”which talks about the past but is forward looking to the future.A very bright,positive and optimistic song by the group.NO OTHER BAND MAKES ME “NOSTALGIC “ABOUT THE PAST THAN THE WILD SWANS AND THAT IS THE ULTIMATE COMPLIMENT I CAN GIVE THEM.

  • Alasdair Dickson

    Thank you so much for this piece. I’ve been trying to track down a copy of the Mojo issue that contains your Pete De Freitas article for four years now.

    I only got into the Bunnymen in 1988, at the age of 14.The rhythm section of De Freitas and Les Pattinson is what really stuck out; they were like a machine.
    De Freitas fast became my hero, as I’d recently taken up the drums myself. Only a few months after discovering the band, immersing myself in all of their albums, I saw his death reported in the papers; I clearly remember trying to take this news in as I got ready for school. I was so devastated that I even wrote a lengthy essay in my English class about what he meant to me. His drumming adopted a different discipline on each album; on Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here, he was a thundering powerhouse but on Porcupine, a sparser style was emerging on songs like In Bluer Skies. By the time Ocean Rain arrived, he’d swapped stick for brushes; even today that seems unusual, to have an entire album where the drummer only uses them.

    • Keith Cameron

      Hi Alasdair,
      Thanks for getting in touch! To be clear: did you manage to get hold of a copy of the relevant issue of MOJO, or did you find it online, borrow it etc? If you need a copy of the mag I can dig around the office and hopefully find you one. Just let me know.
      I’m so glad you liked the piece. Of all the things I’ve written over the years, it seems that one has touched a lot of people. Such is the power of Pete… It was a real labour of love and could have been a lot longer but I was constrained by space. Maybe one day I’ll do a ‘writer’s cut’ and put it on my website. Hopefully before the 30th anniversary of his death!

      All the best,
      Keith

      • Alasdair Dickson

        Hi Keith,
        I’m very stoked to get this reply from you. Yes, I’m still after a copy of that Mojo issue and if you do find a copy, I’d be happy to pay you for both the magazine and the p&p. By the way, apologies for posting my comment twice! Had no idea I did this. The first posting contains lots of typos, just to add insult to injury ;^)

        With best midweek wishes,
        Alasdair,
        Coldstream.

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