Echo and the Bunnymen • Shine So Hard • Directed by John Smith • 1981 • Nacho Restoration
“Shine So Hard” is an abstract and fragmentary short film made in 1981, featuring Echo & the Bunnymen. It was directed by John Smith and produced by Bill Butt. In 2019 the film recieved a Nacho's Videos restoration.
Shine So Hard • Featuring Echo and the Bunnymen • A brief history by Nacho.
‘What became Shine So Hard was small in scale, but aimed to elevate the Bunnymen to something greater, and it was the first of many such ideas that kept raising the stakes’.
- Echo and the Bunnymen’s then-publicist Mick Houghton, from his book “Fried and Justified: Hits, Myths, Break-Ups and Breakdowns in the Record Business 1978-98”.
‘Capturing the elusive charmed spirit that hovers in and around The Bunnymen is like looking for the answer to the unsolvable Zen equation… It was with this in mind that John Smith and Pat Duval set out to make a film of the group, openly admitting that they had no idea what the final outcome would be. They became part of The Bunnymen crew, sharing meals, hotels and dreams, before allowing a scenario to evolve. As the group’s music deals more with the unknown than the explicit, such an approach seems entirely appropriate, though whether they have succeeded will only become apparent when the film is finished…’
- Ian Pye, on the set for the filming of Shine So Hard, published in the Melody Maker 24/1/81
‘Shine So Hard is the result of that dark day when Echo and the Bunnymen dragged camera crew and faithfully camo-clad entourage to the frozen wastelands of Derbyshire, finishing with a concert at the arctic greenhouse known as the Buxton Pavilion’. – Lyn Barber, Melody Maker, August 8 1981.
By mid-December 1980, Echo and the Bunnymen had concluded the tour promoting their debut album “Crocodiles”. There was to be a lull in live shows until April the following year, while the band rehearsed and recorded material for what would become their second album, “Heaven Up Here”.
However, Bill Drummond - Bunnymen manager / one half of Zoo Management / later of The KLF - hatched a plan for a one-off gig on 17th January 1981. It was to be a special event, a mystery show. Ads were placed in the music press, informing Bunnymen fans to write to Zoo to obtain free passes for the event. 500 lucky fans each received a ticket which stated: ”This is an official pass to enable you to participate in the shooting of the live footage for ‘THEY SHINE SO HARD’”, and “BE PREPARED. THIS IS AN ATLAS ADVENTURE”.
The secret location was stated as “Gomorrah”. But the venue was, in fact, the ornate Victorian concert hall at the Pavilion Gardens in Buxton, a quiet spa town in Derbyshire’s picturesque Peak District. Accompanying the pass was a map to Gomorrah. And for those without cars, coaches were available from London, Liverpool and other cities in the UK. for the fairly nominal fee of £5.
The event was to be used as the basis for a short film that was being commissioned by the band’s label, Warner Brothers. Bill Butt, the Bunnymen’s lighting engineer was the producer of the film: ‘Bill Drummond and myself knew it was time to have a Bunnymen video, but none of us wanted to do a straight promotion thing and we’d already considered a film. The idea of a mystery gig seemed to tie in with the film... And I thought it was important to get footage of the early gigs’. The film ended up being called “Shine So Hard”. It documents the event, which was to be an additional and final show of the Bunnymen’s apocalyptically staged “Camo Tour”. Dramatic back-lighting, a stage draped in camouflage netting, clouds of billowing smoke and the band all dressed in army surplus, produced what Ian Pye of the Melody Maker described as ‘A Coppola inspired vision of Armageddon’.
Originally Bill Butt was to direct the film. But at that time ACTT, the film union, was a closed shop, and to have a film distributed commercially everyone in the crew had to be a union member. So the young film director John Smith was chosen to direct. He was one of the very few young experimental / artist filmmakers in the country that had managed to get a union ticket, having directed a film when he was still a student at the Royal College of Art. Says Bill Butt: ‘I was going to direct and I worked out a basic skeleton, the place and the action. After talking to Pat (Duval) and John (Smith) and seeing how well they got on with the group, I began to take more of a background role… The thing is when anyone works with The Bunnymen, they fall in love with them because they’re just such likable guys.’
In the 80s, Butt would go on to direct several of the Bunnymen’s music videos, and the legendary, but unreleased KLF movie "The White Room". John Smith became one of the UK’s best-loved artist filmmakers. Since 1972 he has made over 40 films, video and installation works that have been widely shown internationally in galleries, cinemas and on television. In 2013 he won Film London’s prestigious Jarman Award. Many of John Smith’s films can be viewed at http://johnsmithfilms.com. According to Smith: ‘I had no connection with the Bunnymen or with Bill Butt. But my friend Patrick Duval, who shot and co-edited the film with me, had been an art school undergraduate with Bill a few years previously, and had remained in touch. Bill approached Patrick and asked him if he knew any interesting experimental filmmakers with a union ticket, and Patrick recommended me. I’d never made a music film before but decided to give it a go. I’ve got very fond memories of a week with the band in Buxton, shooting the film, which was quite an adventure for me as a young filmmaker.’
‘As I remember, Warners thought they were just going to get a short promo for one song. We somehow managed to stretch the budget (note: a provisional sum of £20,000 is mentioned in the Melody Maker feature) to make a 30-minute extravaganza.
‘Bill Butt and Bill Drummond decided on the location and basic framework for the film, which was individual vignettes of the band members leading into the concert in the later part of the film. Complete creative control was given to myself and Patrick (Duvall). We were provided with details of the band’s ‘characters’ (Mac is fussy about cleanliness in hotel rooms, Les likes gadgets, Pete is a bit posh and eats in restaurants etc.) and left to come up with the scenario to fit the location. Bill’s role was very much that of a benign producer who trusted us to devise and make the film without interference.’
During the filming there was heavy snow in the region that threatened the event. Firstly, the thick snow meant there were difficulties even getting the P.A. to the venue. Then, the band rehearsals were held at a studio ten miles away across some of the bleakest moors in the country, but as everything needed to be perfect on the night, it was a journey that couldn’t be avoided. Finally, when the snow melted, roads became flooded, which made it difficult for some of the fans to get to the event on the day. The unfolding drama was palpable.
‘By midday the fans had already started arriving, touring the little town. It appeared like a neo-military invasion – virtually everybody was wearing some permutation of street camo – and was too much for the normally hospitable landlords and shop owners who closed early…
‘The group and the entire crew sat down at one long table in the pavilion’s restaurant for a late lunch. It was like the last supper... The darkness drew in and everybody got very nervy.” ‘The group climbed on stage at six, half an hour late, full of a tension that seemed to filter out into the crowd.’
- Ian Pye, Melody Maker
‘Ain't thou watching my film…’, sang Ian McCulloch in the opening line of “Going Up”, the first song of the night. The set included most of the tracks from the first album and several of the newer songs, which would be released in a few months on “Heaven Up Here”. Freezing cold at the start the audience warmed up considerably by the end of the set, and the band returned for two encores.
Fans who were present at the show remember it fondly. Marcus Austin writes on Twitter:
‘A fantastic gig, still got the coach tickets to Gomorrah... Grand day out. The tea rooms, pubs, and charity shops in Buxton didn't know what had hit them ’
But by some accounts from the day, the show was rather anti climactic. ‘This was meant to be party … but the party never materialized. The cameras zoomed in from the side, each song ended with instructions to the cameraman from a disembodied voice offstage, and I got the feeling we were being used.’ - Journalist Chris Burkham, 1981. ‘The press hated it because they had to come up from London. They wanted it on their doorstops’. – Ian McCulloch, 1982.
‘ …the show passed off remarkably smoothly, yet it was far from a moving performance. It’s not that things didn’t work – the band were technically spot on… it’s just that the whole affair had a distinct feel of the artificial… the fans were cold and tired. Imagine traveling hundreds of miles in a coach only to have your beer confiscated, the local pubs shut to your custom, and nothing to do after the event except go back along the same grueling road. One fan rued, ‘I feel a bit let down’. What he hadn’t realized is that he was just one of many extras shipped in to play a very minor role in someone else’s movie… It was all executed quickly, there was no sense of real occasion just a determination to get it all in the can.’ – Ian Pye.
In fairness, the tickets for the event had not promised the fans a party, but merely the chance to be part of a shoot. The film crew was happy at least and Bill Butt was confident the event was successful.
Post-show, John Smith and Patrick Duvall got to work on editing the footage, and Bill Drummond and Hugh Jones (Jones would produce Heaven Up Here soon after) mixed the live songs at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales.
Warners released four of those songs as a soundtrack EP, in advance of the film’s release. “The Shine So Hard” EP, was released on the 10th April 1981, for the princely sum of £ 1:05. It peaked at number 37 on the UK Singles Chart, becoming the band's first hit single. ‘…we were surprised that we played well on it, that we were in tune and everything.’ – Ian McCulloch, 1981.
The “Shine So Hard” film was released on the 13th of August 1981. It was screened at London’s ICA for two weeks, and elsewhere in the UK. The British Film Institute September 1981 Monthly Bulletin declared: ‘John Smith’s film matches conventional, excellently shot material of Echo and the Bunnymen live with footage that attempts to locate the band in a context of more abstract imagery. Smith deliberately and jokingly, allows the two sections to collide rather than attempt to blend them… a rather arty, anti-Last Waltz joke.’ Lyn Barber, reviewing “Shine So Hard” in the Melody Maker in August ’81, was less impressed, opining: ‘…the film fails to achieve any real coherence or thematic unity…”. She did concede that it contained, “…a wealth of brilliantly photographed images”, and, “…the ambiance of the Buxton Pavilion lends added impact to the Bunnymen’s powerful stage presentation…’.
John Smith noted that ‘Warner's weren’t at all happy with the film, especially because you don’t get to see the band’s faces until half way through. It was all much too weird for them. I can still remember sitting in a preview theatre with some very irritated men in suits’.
In 1982, the limited edition of 500 home videos of “Shine So Hard” was released. These were (supposedly) only made available as mail order, for those with a voucher obtained at the show. Regardless, copies cropped up in record stores that year.
With Ian McCulloch leaving the band in 1988, the tragic death of Pete de Frietas the following year, and the group disbanding in 1993, “Shine So Hard” was in all likelihood largely forgotten and unseen. After all, these were the days prior to the proliferation of online video streaming and sharing. So unless one had access to one of the 500 copies of the “Shine So Hard” home video, or could attend one of the rare cinema screenings, there was no way to view it. In 1994, “Shine So Hard” was shown as part of a The British Film Institute (BFI) series of rock music films. Ian McCulloch was special guest at the screening: ‘You could look at it from the outside, and see it as pretentious, but it was for the fans as much as anything. It gave them a sense of belonging.’
In 2015 The BFI made a high definition copy of Shine So Hard from the original film. The BFI toured the film, along with other short films for the period: ‘This major touring film project is curated by William Fowler from the BFI National Archive. Speaking about the newly restored footage, Fowler said, ‘The Echo and the Bunnymen film ‘Shine So Hard’ was an important, unusual, quietly ground-breaking VHS tape released long ago, back in 1981. It presents stunning live footage of the band from a powerhouse gig in Buxton plus a playful, experimental build-up; all shot by the internationally regarded artist filmmaker, John Smith. The film has been restored, looking more splendid than ever.’ One of the screenings, at Home in Manchester, had a post-screening Q&A with John Smith and Bill Butt. John Smith: ‘Not only did I have the pleasure of meeting Bill Butt again after 35 years, I was impressed that there were a number of die-hard fans in the audience, who had been at the Buxton concert, a couple of whom had traveled from Glasgow to Manchester especially for the screening’.
Echo and the Bunnymen reformed in 1997 and are a popular touring act to this day with a considerable fan base. On Bunnymen fan forums the question is sometimes raised as to the possibility of more footage from the Buxton Pavilion show surfacing one day. Unfortunately, that seems highly unlikely: ‘I no longer have any other material relating to the film. The original rushes sadly ended up in a skip when I moved house many years ago!’ – John Smith.
Of all the great bands I loved as a young teenager in the early ‘80’s, it was Echo and the Bunnymen that really struck the chord I was searching for. The dark and majestic songs and aloof attitude and scruff-bag chic were balm for a lost soul. The Bunnymen held mystique for me back then, and a big part of that was their decidedly odd 1981 short film, Shine So Hard. I found it fragmentary and strange, vacillating from the beautiful arty vignettes of the four band members, to powerful Bunnymen performances of their moody and magnificent rock n’ roll.
However, I didn’t see the film when it was briefly screened and I didn't get a copy of its rare home video release. What I did see was a grainy second-generation copy of the video, on my parents small TV. But that was a woefully inadequate experience, and I’ve wanted to see a high-quality copy ever since.
Ask and thou shall receive – I had recently posted a video I made for “Zimbo”, from poor quality “Shine So Hard” sources, and in the accompanying notes, I asked the Bunnyverse for a good-quality copy of the film. Shortly thereafter, an HD digital transfer of “Shine So Hard” came my way. The video arrived while I was visiting my Mum. And so it was a beautiful irony - having waited 35+ years to have the definitive “Shine So Hard” experience, it was to happen where I had first viewed it as a teenage Bunnymen fan.
“Shine So Hard” did not disappoint. The music and performances are of course brilliant. The film is also a very well shot, paced and edited, and the sound design is fantastic. In the poor home video transfers, I hadn't noticed the many small and enjoyable details. For instance, with this new digital version I realised for the first time that the book Pete de Freitas reads during the filming is Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”. In Ian Pye’s Melody Maker feature of January ’81, Bill Butt says, ‘This is the sort of film that maybe Bowie would make’. David Bowie had indeed attempted something similar in ‘78 with his abandoned “Stage” movie. “Stage” was to be concert footage, cut with abstract secondary narratives. ‘...we had some great ambitions in the beginning to do some kind of surreal thing.’ Bowie said in 1979. But he had entrusted “Stage” to David Hemmings, who made a mess of the project, spent in excess of a rumored £100,000 of Bowie’s money in the process, and to date the film has never been seen. Two years after “Shine So Hard”, Bowie had the “Ricochet” film made, which again is quite similar in concept. Ricochet mixed concert footage, with staged scenes of Bowie exploring Asian cities. But by that point, Bowie’s music was no longer the avant-garde art-rock of yore. Whereas, the Bunnymen live performances in “Shine So Hard” still seem right at the cutting edge of rock.
I saw the band many times back in the day, and I can attest to their prowess on stage. The first time was at London’s Hammersmith Palais in late ‘81, shortly after “Shine So Hard” came out. I was 14 years old, and the show was sublime. Outside the venue after the show, a guy was selling giant “Shine So Hard” movie posters, from a stack he had on the pavement. They were going cheap: a quid each if memory serves. And I bought one. Traveling home on the train back to Surrey, was The Cure’s Robert Smith and his wife Mary. My friends dared me to approach them. I asked Robert if he’d been to the Bunnymen show. He said that he’d loved it. He also told me that if he wasn’t in The Cure, the only other band he’d like to be in was The Bunnymen. By the time the train arrived at the Junction station, I’d missed the last train back to my little village. So I walked the five miles home. It was a cold November night, and it was snowing. In an attempt to dress like Ian McCulloch in “Shine So Hard”, I was wearing my impractical floppy native-American style moccasins, which offered precisely zero protection from the snow. All the way home I was clutching the giant rolled-up “Shine So Hard” movie poster. That huge beautiful poster would adorn my bedroom wall for the remainder of my teens.
With acknowledgment to Chris Adams excellent book about The Bunnnymen, “Turquoise Days”, which was an invaluable asset to this essay.
About the Remaster
The picture quality of the "Shine So Hard" film transfer I received was generally very good. Nevertheless, I set out to improve a few issues, including correcting the transfer speed, which was running slow by about 5%. The primary improvement I made was to dub in the 2003 remastered versions of the songs from the “Crocodiles” album and the “Shine So Hard” EP. Matching all the abrupt little snippets of “Monkeys” correctly was quite a challenge.
I am very pleased and proud to have made a contribution to a film that meant a lot to me in my youth. And so here is John Smith and Bill Butt’s perfectly formed little masterpiece, polished and online for the first time, shining so hard.
Thanks for watching, hope you dig it!
“Shine So Hard” Credits:
Director • John Smith
Producer • Bill Butt
Director of Photography • Patrick Duval
Camera Operator • Mike Tomlinson
Editor • Patrick Duval • John Smith
Sound Recording • Peter Woods
2019 Restoration • Nacho
Pete de Frietas
Songs by Echo & the Bunnymen:
2. Stars Are Stars
4. Going Up
5. Over The Wall
6. All That Jazz
• Tracks 1 – 3 produced by The Chameleons • from the album Crocodiles • Released July 1980
• Tracks 4 – 8 recorded live 17 January 1981, by the Manor Mobile • Produced by Bill Drummond & Hugh Jones, mixed at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales date 16/17th February 1981 • Track 4 unreleased • Tracks 5 – 8 from the Shine So Hard EP, released 10th April 1981
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