The Killing Moon, Echo & The Bunnymen

The Killing Moon is an iconic track by anyone’s standards, and I know that both Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant think of it as the best ever Echo & The Bunnymen song. So it was inevitable, when working on their album, ‘The Stars the Oceans and the Moon’, that we’d take a shot at it – but no small challenge to see what we could add with any new interpretation.

We were nearing the end of the recording process for the album with work taking place both in London at my studio and at the Dog House, where Ian was working with his long-time engineer, Andrea Wright (my namesake, but no relation!) coming up with ideas that Gavin and I could develop at our studio in order to meet the production deadline for BMG.

Late on in the process, we still hadn’t tackled The Killing Moon, and in some part, I think we all felt the song was both an amazing opportunity to do something wonderful, but also a potential pitfall – and we wanted to avoid doing anything that wouldn’t feel right or do it justice.

I spoke to my arranger friend Sam Swallow about doing a very stripped down, intimate version, largely piano and a small string section, a double-quartet kind of size. Sam went and worked on it for a while using a vocal Ian had done, and then we reconvened. At that initial point, I thought it was really good, but a little fast, so we slowed it down, and made it even more stripped-back sounding.

After a little more work we decided it could be really something. But Ian’s not always an easy guy to predict, and obviously he was very close to the song. I was a little bit unsure whether he’d like it, considering it was pretty different, very open and exposed.

But in fact, he totally loved it straightaway – and we decided to record it at Abbey Road – with Sam on piano, and our string section, and nothing else, no guitars, no beats, nothing.

The finished version created a massive amount of space for Ian’s vocal performance – which was spectacular, so emotional, full of a raw and intimate vulnerability.

When it came time to promote the album, that was the version of The Killing Moon that they performed on Later with Jools Holland. And I think it worked brilliantly.

An interesting coda was that I subsequently had another chance to do a production of the track when I did the Eighties Symphonic album for Warners. The album featured original recordings of a collection of eighties hits with the addition of a symphonic orchestra, again recorded at Abbey Road. So I had the chance to work with a copy of the original multi-track of The Killing Moon, and it was fascinating to see how it had all been put together, and then to try to augment what was there with a full orchestra.