Interview with Pete Wilkinson – talking Shack, Cast, Bunnymen, Aviator & more

Was very lucky to grab a chat with Pete Wilkinson, about his musical journey with Shack, Cast, Echo and the Bunnymen, and his latest Project, Aviator and the new album ‘All you haters’. You’ll may also know from my previous post that Shack’s Waterpistol is one of my all time favourite albums, so plenty of questions on that topic! Plus great gig stories. And news of work underway on the new Aviator album.

First of all I sought to delve into Pete’s musical influences. Your house is burning down – which three albums do you save?

I love this question so much. Almost impossible and far too many but I have three now:

1. Faith by The Cure. Released a month before my 12th birthday. My brother bought me this and I still have and play it to this day. The sound of this record is like getting into a warm bath, valium soaked and otherworldly. I love this record so much. When they toured this album me and my brother went to see them – the support was a short homemade film and then the band. I remember it so well – a cold winter’s night at The Royal Court, Liverpool, early 80s – bleak, freezing and just a perfect soundtrack.

Second album I’d save would have to be Ocean rain, Echo & the Bunnymen. Bought it the day it came out, went to the Crystal Day event in Liverpool. I think this album and band cemented my dream – I wanted to play music and look as cool as the Buns. I managed to play music but don’t reckon I reached the heights of coolness the Buns held during the 80s. Funny I went on to play bass for them – Dream come true. Such brilliant times and memories.

Album 3 I’d save would be Forever Changes, Love. I never tire of this album, always wanting to create once I’ve listened to it. A masterpiece. It somehow manages to be sweet with a dark underbelly. Perfect.

Next, I asked – What new music are you into right now?

Hard question this – very rare I discover a new band these days. Not through being snobby, I reckon I’m a little old and not that impressionable anymore.

I’ve bought these albums recently: Two hands – Big Thief, Ghosteen – Nick Cave. Always have a listen to Bill Ryder Jones’s records – Beautiful – Lyrically honest and brutal – My favourite guitar player.

Listened to Ed O’Brien’s solo record ( unsure 😐).

Plus – Aphex twin’s ambient albums (Although not current). Loving Doves new stuff .

Who was the biggest influence on your bass playing?

Easy. JJ Burnell. The moment I heard The Stranglers it was the bass I tuned into, hard not to right? Still listening to them and his playing.

You’ve played with many different bands, and lot of gigs – what was the one gig that stands out for you?

There are so many favourite shows I’ve played with all the bands I’ve been in. I’m going to list one from each band:

Cast – 3 nights at Royal Court, Liverpool and Shack, Islington Academy, London.

Echo & The Bunnymen, San Jose. The exact date escapes me but I’d say this would be my favourite. Open air festival. The Cure, Duran Duran and all sorts of other brilliant acts were playing. We played at dusk. I remember it just started going dark, sun disappearing, lights on stage going up. We played Killing Moon – I turned to look at the side of the stage, Robert Smith (the Cure ) was watching plus Duran Duran. The Buns were on top form – at the end of the show, last chord, Mac said loud and clear, 70,000 people, Thank you and good night, follow that ! The roar was incredible. His delivery of the last words, follow that! Perfect.

I next asked a few questions about Aviator’s new album – The lyrics and sound of the album is fairly dark in places – was it a state of the world feeling?

All you haters is a dark record and I think it was really a state and period I’d just come out of. Without going into to much detail I’d been sober for four years and was able to reach and remember, shall we say, more difficult times.

What music were you listening to when you made the album? I heard a lot Jesus and Mary Chain and Velvets in there.

A lot of Velvets, you’re right. Early Love, Message to you DC period and a lot of My Bloody Valentine. I love the distortion and harshness of MBV and the sweet vocals. Loads of John Lennon-Plastic Ono Band.

My favourite track on the album is AV8TOR – can you explain how you recorded that one and built up the sound?

The track Av8tor was a piece of music Paul Hemmings had written. It reminded me of Suicide. I did full lyrics for it but it didn’t work so we just did a Spaceman 3 kinda vocal for it. Worked much better with less vocals and more space.

Where next for Aviator? – hopefully some gigs next year?

The plan after the album was released was to do some shows but because of COVID we’ve had to put that on hold. Actually started work on a follow up to AYH . Same format. Paul Hemmings and myself. Digital 12 track, vintage guitars and keyboards. One takes and leave in mistakes.

I liked the remix that Andy Bell from Ride did of the Gift – how did that come about? Any plans to do any more remixes?

The Andy Bell remix of The Gift came about from meeting him at a gig I’d done in London. We have a mutual friend, Deano, he kinda made it happen after I thought it would be an idea for Andy to take a look at it. Think it worked well. As regards to any other remixes we’ve not given it much thought. Always up to suggestions.

Now, Shack and Waterpistol. How much did the band develop the songs in the studio or did Mick bring them in close to ready to go?

This is such a long time ago that I can’t really remember but a lot of the time Mick would have the song arranged. We were allowed to write our own parts. This was easy as I think with John, Ian Templeton & myself we had an intuition as to what the song needed. A lot of what we did was improvised. Such a pure & exciting way to work.

As it was recorded over a long period did you feel different influences came and went as the music scene changed around you? Were the Stone Roses a big influence?

When it came to influences re Shack we never strayed further than the obvious. Love, Beatles, Byrds . I remember being aware of The Roses but never felt part of anything. Shack were and are a different entity. No intent to be a part of something.

My favourite track from Waterpistol is Undecided – the harmonies and voices built up on the track – any memories of how that track came together? Did the whole band record the harmonies?

Undecided came about in a rehearsal room. Lots of weed smoked on a coke can and improvised. We all loved Miles, Coltrane so the whole feel has a jazz element. We’d play it for hours not stopping Must of sounded mad. Regarding the harmonies, they’d have been added in a day. No prep just go in and do it. Templeton has a fantastic ear for harmonies and an awesome voice.

I’ve heard that there is a lot of great unreleased material from those session and different alternate versions, including a funky Sgt Major – can you shed any light on this or talk about anything that might see the light of day?

As to there being other versions of songs I really can’t remember. There’s other tracks like DJ ACE and Elizabethan radiostar. Alternative take of Al’s Vacation. As for others I’ve no memory.

When the album was finished did you know you had something special?

The band kinda fell apart before it had finished so I didn’t hear it till the mid 90s so no, I had no idea we’d recorded a classic. Very proud to have been involved and can only hope it gets a release properly one day. The original art work is brilliant. Would love to see it .

Next up we move on to Cast. Something really clicked with Cast and the record buying public – what do you think the key ingredient was?

I’ve really no idea why it clicked with the record buying public. I suppose Oasis kicked open the doors for a lot of bands and the whole britpop movement worked really well for us. Just great time to have good solid songs with a great live band. People couldn’t get enough. Wonderful time.

Hope this isn’t a crap question – what was it like doing Top of the Pops?

What was it like doing TOTP ! It was a dream come true I’d spent my whole life waiting for Thursdays. Every time we did it, it always felt special, I never tired of it.

I clearly remember the first time I heard Finetime and loved the bass at the start – any memories of how that came about?

I’m sure John had the idea to do a WHO, Entwistle style part. I’m afraid he’d have to take credit for the verses. The rest, mid 8, chorus, I think I wrote. Really brilliant song to play bass along too.

Was the Britpop tag something that you liked, disliked or didn’t mean anything to the band? I’m thinking that by the end of the 90’s it became unhelpful as there was an expectation of a certain sound and made it harder for some bands to push in new directions and take audiences with them?

I don’t think it bothered us tbh. By the end of the 90s, though, I think it had run its course. Unless you were Blur, Oasis the end of the 90s spelt the end for a lot of bands including Cast. Why? I’m not sure, maybe our audience had grown a little and moved into something else. Who knows.

Did you want Cast to go in a certain direction for the later albums?

I’d have liked us to have gone into a more raw, rootsy direction but instead we tried drum machines, keyboards etc. I kinda think it backfired but it had to be done. We couldn’t of put out an album the same as the first three.

Lastly, The Bunnymen. Did playing with the Bunnymen have an influence on the sound of Aviator? – I can hear it in places.

Well yeah, they did but I’d say all the bands have had an influence on me – John’s ear for melody Mac’s cryptic lyrics and Mick’s ability to tell a story have all played a part.

They have an epic back catalogue – what songs did you enjoy playing live?

The Buns sure do have an epic back catalogue. I loved playing The Cutter, Killing moon, Dancing horses. The one I would absolutely lose my shit playing was Heads will roll – just glorious. I loved playing them all.

What was it like playing with Will Sergeant? – he has a brilliantly distinctive sound and style

Playing with The Buns and in particular Will Sergeant was just awesome. I loved that band so much. Hopefully I’ll dep for them again – it occasionally happens and it’s excellent.

With that Pete signs off:

Thanks for reading – listen – be good and stay safe
Love Wilko