Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Bill Drummond

Bill Drummond pictured last night at the Big Green Bookshop, Turnpike Lane.

A tall Scottish man with a Billy Connolly delivery, Bill Drummond firstly announced his age, 55, and that he believed in the death of recorded music. Launching his latest book,  The 17, based on the number of performers he needed to recreate the engine noise of his battered landrover, Drummond refused to talk about some of the more colourful aspects of his past. These include managing Echo and the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes (with the wonderful Julian Cope), starting the K Foundation and giving the Turner prize winner Rachel Whiteread, £40,000 (double the Turner prize winnings) for being the "worst artist of the year", and most notably burning a million pounds in cash.
Bill introduced his new book with two anecdotes which explain how he has got to this point. The first was a reminiscence about buying his first single 'Penny Lane' by The Beatles. However it was the 'b' side 'Strawberry Fields' that "opened a door" for him. 

"Let me take you down... because I'm going to..."
He then jumped forward to London year 2000 and browsing through HMV, one of the biggest music shops, which has about 300,000 titles for sale. He only felt a sense of ennui, not the excitement he used to feel when going to his local record shop as a youngster in Scotland. He returned home and attempted to cut up a CD with a pair of pinking shears. After a restless night, he woke with a revelation: from now on he would only listen to new music. Music by people who had never released a CD before. Drummond went to his local independent record shop and bought 5 or 6 Cd's of this ilk. He kept up this routine, buying between 1 - 6 Cd's a week, for 10 months.
Then he realised it wasn't working. He said:
"All the stuff was old. All of the new stuff was old stuff. None of it opened a door..."
Drummond went down to the bottom of his garden, where, in the time-honoured tradition of British men, he had a shed, locked the shed door and got out 'Pet Sounds' by the Beach Boys. By the last track, 'Good Vibrations' he was weeping. He even played air guitar. He made a new decision:
" for the next 12 months I will only listen to artists whose names begin with 'B'."
This included all genres of music...Beethoven, Bartok, Count Basie, Burt Bacharach, Back St. Boys. And he thought:
"For the next 26 years I've got it all worked out. I assumed that in 26 years time, I'd be listening to the 'A's'."
This worked pretty well for a couple of years. His family were happy. They always knew what to get him for Christmas and birthday presents. His kids would ask "What letter are you on now dad?". Then he made a couple of adjustments to this system; he would change the start date to January 1st and he would choose a letter at random from a bag. So he skipped forward and started on 'P'. 
But then he realised it wasn't working. It wasn't opening a door
Around this time Drummond took a trip in his Landrover; he loved the sound of the diesel engine, the different rumbles, the different frequencies. Deep within, it sounded like a choir:
"It sounded like 100 Vikings in my head. For 20 minutes, it was totally intense. This opened a door."
For the next 6 or 7 years he tried to make those noises into a reality. 
He also noticed that when listening to music on his iPod that he was skipping over his favourite tracks. Many other people were too. (I completely understand what he means). Another revelation: recorded music was the problem. Every medium has its era. Recorded music was a 20th century phenomenon. No more consumption. No more recorded music. Only participation.
By this time the hundred vikings had turned into seventeen. 17 builders or 17 electricians or 17 housewives it didn't matter. It didn't matter if they could sing or had any musical experience. He took different groups of 17 to New Music festivals all over Europe. There were some contradictions he admitted. Sometimes he used recordings to help create the sound. But he always deleted them afterwards. It is rumoured that Bill Drummond has also erased his entire back catalogue (of the KLF). 
In response to questions from the audience, Bill talked about the bagpipe bands that paraded around the town where he grew up.
"Nobody in their right mind would listen to bagpipe music on a CD. But, live, we would have followed that music anywhere. Church bells have the same effect.
This is Year Zero for music. There is very little difference musically between the music of 1977 (punk) and the music of 1964. Pop music doesn't change, just the technology."


  1. "the whole thing's just a compleate load of rubbish."
    well that' the bleadin' point in'nit
    jeenyuss that

  2. Just posted up your link Jim, thanks. He's so cool isn't he? Reminds me of Serge Gainsbourg who caused outrage when he set a 500 (about 100 dollars) franc note on fire on live tv in France.

  3. KLF are my favourite band of all time! It was only years later, when I read and fell in love with the book "Illuminatus! Trilogy" that I realized that he and Cauty had been so strongly influenced by Robert Anton Wilson.

  4. I made a tidy sum by selling my copy of the first JAMMs album after Abba threatened to sue him. But the fact remains: he's never made a good record, and all his post-Situationist posturing will never make up for that.

  5. When I was a pink, chubby kid, I used to go to a club called Eric's, in Liverpool (my home town). BD was, I think, one of the promoters there, and I worshipped him; here begins a long story that, as I'm a firm believer in never hijacking someone else's fabulous story, we don't need to go in to here. Suffice to say, thanks so much for the memories, ML. I wish, wish, WISH I'd have been revisiting them with you in the flesh; as it is, I can't thank you enough.

  6. AD, please hijack away...sounds like there is an interesting story there.
    I remember Eric's. When I was going out with the guy in Madness, we drove up there. For once the WAGs were allowed by Stiff records(Dave Robinson wanted to pretend that everyone in the band was five years younger and single) and we all had to sit in the back of the rusty old Bedford van.
    Eric's still had the Cavern atmosphere and I got some great pictures of The Specials and Madness. It was my first time in Liverpool and I was surprised that for scousers, we were all Cockney's, not just those with the accent.

  7. the truth is most likely that the money was switched with something that looked quite a bit like money
    but was not in fact legal tender
    aah the old switcharoo
    so ... were is it now then ?
    also jimmy doesn't know .
    but not outside of human experience.
    Occam's razor not withstanding.


I would love to hear what you think of this post! I try to reply to every comment (if there is a delay, I am probably away from an internet connection or abroad)