Ian McCulloch and John Simm on their mutually appreciative friendship

Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch and actor John Simm were each other’s heroes before they met. Now they enjoy a creative – and boozy – friendship

HIS STORY Ian McCulloch, 56, musician

I first met John after a Bunnymen gig in Kilburn in 1997. I’d seen him in The Lakes and loved that he played a Scouser. He makes me laugh and I make him laugh more. When John played the Master in Doctor Who and there were millions of him laughing their heads off, he was playing himself.

We’ve both had dark days, but jokes help you get out of it. Drinking together has made us close; going on tour together was pretty messy. His band Magic Alex supported us, because I had heard some of their stuff and loved it. They’d watch us from between the stage and the barrier after their set. I remember once he was waving at me, spaced out. Backstage afterwards he said: “That was the best thing in the history of time” and I went, “Are you sure?” I’ve woken up next to John. He stayed at my hotel because he was too bladdered to go home. In the morning he was in a state – I was freaking out too, but it’s always nice to have someone who is freaking out more than you.

Once, he came to Liverpool and we went to a club. Someone said to him: “You’re John Simms, aren’t ya?” with the “s” – a joke to wind him up. John just said yes and then he said: “I knew your mum, Joan,” because Joan Sims was a Carry On actress. Now he’s saved on my phone as Joan’s Lad.

John’s quite shy and humble, while I just think I’m the greatest thing ever. When he recorded on my Sliding album, he was dead nervous because he was playing guitar as himself, not as Jimi Hendrix or whatever.

In the flesh he still looks about 22. It’s probably pickling yourself that does it – you preserve yourself like jam.

Echo & the Bunnymen perform at Liverpool International Music Festival, 27-31 August

HIS STORY John Simm, 44, actor

Ian was one of my heroes as a kid, but when we met, he grabbed me and said: “Oh my God – you’re my favourite actor!” which bowled me over. We were in our 20s and 30s, but it was like we’d met as teenagers. We used to listen to records all night at his place in Liverpool.

Ian thinks he’s the king of the Scousers. He was very disappointed when he found out I was a Man U fan. He’s a funny guy, with an added edge of rock star. I went to see him on Boxing Day one year and I thought he might have slippers on, but he opened the door in his shades. Then I found out he’s blind as a bat and they’re prescription. He came to my wedding and my wife walked down the aisle to “Lips Like Sugar”, because we both love that song. I remember seeing Ian’s head with his distinctive haircut and shades pop out behind her. He had his hand on his heart; he was moved.

The tours were some of the best times of my life. Magic Alex were unsigned, but he was a genuine fan. We’d spend the day in the pub then I’d struggle through the gig, but Ian would always walk on totally fine and sing like an angel. His voice is a thing of wonder.

He’s unpredictable though: when I was playing guitar with him at one of his solo concerts, at the last minute he said we’d play “Ocean Rain” and I had to hurriedly learn it in the corner with an acoustic guitar. Will Sergeant was in the crowd – I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous.

He often sends me mad, long lyrics by text. I can tell if he’s in a bad place: he’ll send a message and I’ll send one back to try to cheer him up.

John is in Three Days in the Country at the National Theatre from 21 July


Katie Forster

The GuardianTramp

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