Rumour has it that The Rescue Rooms were named after the first breakthrough Echo & the Bunnymen single, ‘Rescue’. Whether that is entirely true or not, the venue seemed the most appropriate location, and the song a fitting opening, for the Nottingham visit of Ian McCulloch’s UK solo tour.

Three more songs from the Bunnymen’s 1980 debut album ‘Crocodiles’ followed ‘Rescue’, as McCulloch was accompanied by Ian Broudie, who produced a number of early Bunnymen tracks. Without Broudie’s input, McCulloch would have cut a rather lonely figure on a Rescue Rooms stage which can sometimes seem disproportionately large.

Despite having recorded four albums of his own, the setlist passed without a single nod to Ian McCulloch’s solo career. Whilst this may have pleased the audience, it highlighted the notable absence of the rest of the band, particularly influential guitarist Will Sergeant. Regardless, McCulloch and Broudie translated the songs into acoustic numbers exceptionally, but the nature of the performance did keep the tracks from reaching their live potential.

What might have been lost in melody and atmosphere was, however, offset by the opportunity to hear the true ability of Ian McCulloch’s vocals; arguably the foremost instrument behind the Liverpool band’s success. In Nottingham, they came across as well as ever; crackling, but at the same time sounding crystal clear. McCulloch’s voice suggested a story full of life’s experiences, but at no point sounded tired.

Building momentum towards the end with the most recognisable songs of his career, McCulloch delivered delicate renditions of the luscious ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’ and the yearning ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, before introducing ‘The Killing Moon’ as “the greatest song ever written”. A statement met with agreement by much of the room.

As such a comment proves, it’s difficult to review Ian McCulloch without paying reference the side of his character which earned him the infamous nickname ‘Mac the Bigmouth’. He once observed, “I’m not a great mingler – I think most bands are rubbish”. Similarly insistent of his own superiority, he previously said of contemporaries U2, “No one ever says they’re influenced by them. That’s because there’s nothing there really”. On Thursday though, walking on stage 20 minutes late was about as ‘rock star’ as it got. This was disappointing from the post-punk legend, whose arrogant bravado heralded a way for the likes of Ian Brown and Liam Gallagher to follow. I’m usually the first person to argue that frontmen need not be arrogant to succeed, but, in this case, the moodiness of Ian McCulloch with his Bunnymen would have been more enticing.

Returning to the stage for an encore with a cover of ‘Sorrow’, McCulloch payed a worthy tribute to his first and foremost musical influence, David Bowie. But the final song of the night, the catchy ‘Lips Like Sugar’, cried out for Will Sergeant’s guitar lead. Thankfully those praying for a reunion can take comfort from the fact that the group are well and truly still together. In fact, you can enjoy the full Echo & the Bunnymen experience in the UK in April next year. Thursday night then, was only the warm-up.

Robert Smith (@robertdgsmith)

…Robert has been listening to Ian McCulloch – Slideling (Feat. Chris Martin)…

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