Pranks for the Memory- Library of Mu
- Library of Mu record:
- Title: Pranks for the Memory
- Date: 16 February, 1991
- Journal: Melody Maker
- Author: David Stubbs
- Type of resource: Interviews
- Status: text
- No. views: 7692
- Description: Full story of how Bill and Jimmy were arrested after defacing a Gulf war billboard. Later in the pub, after their release, they talk about grown men doing pop music, short attention spans and hiding behind the KLF myth, rather than being famous.
Pranks for the Memory
By David Stubbs (16 February, 1991, Melody Maker)
They can't help having hits, they can't
come to terms with fame and they can't
keep out of trouble! DAVID STUBBS
witnesses THE KLF's dawn scamming raid
and damn nearly gets his collar felt.
Mug shots: KEVIN WESTENBERG.
IT'LL all end in tears, I know it. There's no excuse for this sort of
tomfoolery. It'll all end in tears.
Your correspondent isn't at this point too clear about what's going to
happen, but vague details about what's being planned slowly emerge. Up
on Battersea Park Road, there's this large billboard and a poster
proclaiming the words "THE GULF: The coverage, the analysis, the
facts." It's an advert for a quality Sunday paper and, as far as pop
japemongers Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond of KLF, alias The Justified
Ancients of Mu Mu, alias The Timelords, who drove past it the other day
are concerned, this poster is practically begging to be tampered with.
What could be more appropriate, and in better taste, than to paint over
the "GU" of "GULF" a large "K" - "KLF," you see.
And so we find ourselves chez Jimmy at 10 am one morning last week, at
the mysterious "Transcentral" (as in "Recorded live at the
Transcentral" which is printed on the back of every KLF album sleeve).
Transcentral turns out to be a large and rather grotty squat in
Stockwell, where Jimmy has lived for 12 years. ("I hate the place.
I've no alternative but to live here.") There's little evidence of fame
or fortune. The kitchen is heated by means of leaving the three
functioning gas rings on at full blast until the fumes make us all feel
stoned, there's a bag of litter in the hallway that everybody trips
over going in and out of the place, as well as a very old motorbike
("We used to go to all our mettings on that thing. 105 mph in 80
seconds. We're lucky to be sitting with you today"). There are also a
couple of streetwise-looking cats conducting a permanent _jihad_ with
fur flying everywhere, and bits of crust from breakfast's toast still
uncleared from the table. And, pinned just above a working top
cluttered with chipped mugs is a letter from a five-year-old fan,
featuring a crayon drawing of the band.
In the midst of this genial, student digs-ish chaos, Jimmy is liberally
(and unnecessarily) splashing his coat front with paint to add
verisimilitude to the subsequent photo opportunity, and stuffing a
pillow up his shirt "to look rich and successful" for lensman Kevin
Westenberg. Bill is assembling extension rods to the paint brushes,
blithely whistling something tantamount to a "heigh- ho," like one of
the seven drarves about to set off on a merry day's work. And it's off
we go, in a two-car convoy.
Me, I'm oddly apprehensive. As we arrive at the spot, just beneath the
shadow of Battersea Power station, I concentrate on picking icicles off
my nose and blowing into my hands (it's brass-monkeys freezing), while
Jimmy and Bill set up shop on the pavement just beneath the poster.
With a remarkably cool and adept air, they then set to painting the
offending "K" over the "GU," working briskly but not hurriedly, with
Rolf Harris-like aplomb. Jimmy in particular displays a steady hand,
considering he's painting 15 feet up from ground level using two
extensions. Nice brushwork. Passing traffic slows as curious drivers
crane their necks, pedestrians predictably gawp.
Me, I hover on the peripheries. I'm staying well out of this. I've
got previous form - caught flyposting late at night seven years ago in
Oxford. A #5 fine coupled with some strong remarks from the Bench. I
don't want to end up in the clink by proxy as a persistent offender.
But it seems to be going well. Not a rozzer in sight coming from
either direction. With Westenberg frantically snapping away it's not
long before the dirty deed is done and Jimmy and Bill scurry round the
corner, dumping their equipment over the fence. Time for a couple of
quick shots of the boys in front of the defaced poster then it's back
in the cars and home again.
As is so often the case, however, over-confidence proves the undoing of
our heroes. Wouldn't it be great, suggest Bill and Jimmy, to have one
last shot of them proudly holding up their brushes in front of their
handiwork. And so they rush back and retrieve their brushes from their
dumping-spot, disregarding three insignificant-looking guys approaching
along the pavement. Jimmy and Bill have their equipment back, two
brushes mounted on poles. They pose, on the other side of the street
from the poster, their backs to it. Westenberg snaps. Meanwhile, the
three little guys stop, look at the defaced poster, the fresh splashes
of paint on the pavement, then look across suspiciouslyl at us. They
cross the road to meet us. They look like three geezers just out of
the pub - taking offence, maybe at this calculated slight to Our Boys.
Well, if it's a fight they want . . .
"All right, who's in charge here?" One of them produces a badge. Oh,
shit! Plain-clothes policemen! And each of them deceptively short.
When it came to the minimum height requirement they all must have only
just got their noses above the wire.
"You, get off that wall. You can stop taking those shots, now," their
leader indicates to Westenberg. Jimmy and Bill, reacting slowing, are
standing to attention, brushes on poles over their shoulders like two
platoon members from "Dad's Army" on parade, coats studiously splashed
with paint, Bill dressed like an AWOL accountant, Jimmy with a pillow
stuffed up his shirt.
Jimmy and Bill mumble explanations to the querying officers, who seem
to lighten up somewhat at the patent absurdity of the situation. Two
grown men covered in paint without the sense to make a dash for it -
not your usual sort of graffiti artists. Should give the desk sergeant
a good laugh.
"You're KLF? Yeah, I know you!" says one of the rozzers. [to Jimmy] "I
dunno why you wear those sunglasses. They're crap!" [fashion police?]
Pleasantries are exchanged before one of the policemen harumphs and
somewhat self-consciouslly gets down to the business at hand. "Now you
know, you really shouldn't have done that."
"Er-no," says Jimmy, doing his best to look ashamed of himself.
"They paid a lot of money to put up that poster. I don't think they'll
be very pleased about what you've done to it, do you?"
"Er-no," mumbles Bill, forcing his features into an expression of
"So I'm afraid you're under arrest for criminal damage. You'll have to
accompany me down to the station at Battersea Bridge."
"Can we drive down there?" asks Bill.
"No, you bloody well cannot! What do you think this is? You have to
come with us. I'm going to have to radio for a van."
And so, a few minutes later, a paddy-wagon turns up to to grab the
miscreants, accompanied, somewhat surreally, by two mounted policeman.
I wonder momentarily if the boys are going to be dispatched to the
station on horseback, but, unfortunately, it isn't so.
No-one expects Jimmy and Bill to get more than a caution this time, but
it's four anxious hours before they re-emerge from the station, where
it turns out they've been cooped up in separate cells, incurring the
wrath of the Chief Inspector who is inclined to believe that this whole
thing was some sort of publicity stunt. Eventually, the boys were
hauled up before the Chief Inspector, who issued them with a stern
reprimand, with Jimmy and Bill feeling like they were "up before the
headmaster," books proverbially down the backs of their trousers and
resisting the urge to snigger.
WITH the fetters struck loose they rejoin us in the pub, not
unnaturally looking a little fazed by the whole experience.
So, how do you feel? Repetant?
Jimmy: "I dunno what we feel. A bit stupid really. We shouldn't have
got caught. It obviously got round the station quickly that they had a
couple of pop stars in there. I could hear them laughing now and then
through the walls of the cell."
Bill: "I think they just left us in there to stew."
You've got three major hits behind you, two Number Ones, you're well-
established pop stars . . .
"So why do we insist on behaving in this stupid, infantile way?" breaks
in Bill with a guffaw. "That's what the inspector said. We're grown
men! We should have proper jobs!"
Well, all I was going to say that, given your success, it seems a bit
of a paradox that you should find yourself in the position of being
arrested for doing your own graffiti. It's a bit like Prince resorting
to writing himself his own Valentine cards. It's almost as if you've
got some sort of inferiority complex, that you somehow oughtn't be pop
stars, that it's either beneath you or above you. ("We shouldn't be, we
shouldn't be," murmur Jimmy and Bill in assent.) It's as if you feel
that, if you didn't hide behind the mischievously showy exterior of
KLF, you'd somehow be exposed as frauds who had no business making pop
Jimmy: "You see, we think Seal [elsewhere in Melody Maker, Seal's
"Crazy" single is at #18, and KLF's "3 AM Eternal Live at the SSL" is
#1] should be at Number One. His record deserves to be there more than
ours does. He's got it in there." (Points to chest.)
Bill: "And he wears leather trousers."
Jimmy: "Mind you, I don't why we say this because we put so much work
into what we do, 24 hours a day."
And you do make great pop records. "Real" pop records that have a
perfect right to be Number One. Yet, somehow, you give off this
feeling that it's all a cheat, a joyride. I used to hate the The
Timelords/KLF for their flippancy, their anyone-can-do-it-the-easy-way
perversion of the punk ethic. But with "Chill Out" and "What Time is
Love?", they got heavy, acquired gravitas, became a deserving cause.
If people make great records, whatever else they do becomes fine as
But I can't help thinking that Jimmy and Bill still feel themselves
unworthy to be pop stars, too self-effacing to endure the limelight
(same as you or I would feel). Check the "We're justified and we're
ancient" ditty at the beginning of "Chill Out," perhaps the most
diffident statement of pop intent ever. ("We don't want to upset the
applecart . . . ")
Bill: "We certainly feel like conmen when we're playing live. That's
because we don't feel we can give the audience anything of what's
essential about the records."
Jimmy: "Maybe we don't feel like we should be pop stars because we're
not just musicians."
Bill: "We've got a market stall as well!"
Jimmy: "Music's just one offshoot of what we do."
"The rest of the time we spend in prison cells," laughs Bill, drily.
"In other words, getting a Number One single is something that some
people really, really, really, really, really want, whereas we only
really wanted it. We have other interests."
YOU came late to pop, didn't you? maybe that's why you're a bit
self-concious about it.
Bill: "We're late developers. We should have been doing this when we
were 17 or 18."
Will you drop out of pop soon?
Bill: "I look forward to the day! If we're not careful, we'll still be
on 'Top Of The Pops' at the age of 70 - it's be bloody terrible!"
Jimmy and Bill have perfected the trick of having their cake and eating
it. They manage to draw a lot of attention to KLF, the logo, the pop
entity, via their scams and facetiously over-theatrical "Pops"
appearances, while remaining in the shadows, like the Was brothers in
Was (Not Was), shunning the notoriety and nuisance of personal fame.
Jimmy: "That's right. If it's 'Top Of The Pops,' we've got to be as
over the top as possible but we'd hate to be recognised in the street."
They'd even planned to shove someone else upfront for this interview as
spokespersons for KLF but couldn't get it together in time. Perhaps
KLF lie at the midpoint between EMF and The Residents, part pumped-up
logo pop, part enigma.
Bill: "We don't really understand what we are. We don't want to be
perceived wrongly but we don't learn our lessons in that respect."
Jimmy: "It seems to be part of the whole deal that people completely
misunderstand what you do."
Bill: "Not that we understand what we do either. Ha!"
It's still not clear that you have a particularly high opinion of
Bill: "Ummm . . . I defend our reasons for doing what we do. Jimmy's
prepared to say it's really good. I'm usually more cautious. It takes
me a fortnight to get into them. We always hate our records when we've
first made them."
AMONG the myths and preconceptions surrounding KLF (such as they are)
that Jimmy and Bill are keen to dispel is the one that, after three hit
singles, they're rolling in loot, hence their disposition to shower
audiences with Scottish fivers at gigs. They're not, they say -
although they own KLF Communications, they're too scrupulously
extravagant to show much of a profit margin.
Jimmy: "If we had good accountants, we could be rolling in it. We put
all the money back into the records. We don't keey anything for
ourselves. It's an expensive business. It costs a lot of money.
Record companies can afford to let a band go half a million quid into
the red and see if it happens. We can't."
Bill: "It's highly unlikely that we'll ever get rich. It costs a
fortune making albums, even singles. And, unlike a major record
company, we've no forward plan."
Not like EMI, who, by plugging singles by the likes of Cliff Richard
and Iron Maiden in a variety of formats and at a loss, merely see Top
30 success as an advert for the following albums, which are much more
lucrative. The KLF, for all their pranks, aren't this scheming.
Jimmy: "This record was like a runaway lorry. It was almost out of
choice. It went out too quickly, it went in too high, it'll all be
over next week - what happened?"
What's great about KLF is that, unlike any of their pop contemporaries,
they enjoy twin musical careers above and below ground, on the one hand
storming and scaling the charts with the likes of "What Time is Love?",
while also producing excellent, ambient, experimental albums like
"Chill Out" in the sod-'em spirit of the avant-garde. There's also the
great "Waiting" video and they're about to put together the soundtrack
for a German movie, "The White Room."
Jimmy: "That's because it's our record company and we'll do what we
like." Bill: "I honestly think that that's what most bands would do in
our situation. Chop and change, it's quite normal. It's like, some
days you feel like a curry, other days you feel like eggs, bacon and
chips," he says, drawing a pertinent culinary analogy.
After four years, do you still feel you're getting away with it?
Bill: "I don't think so. We pay the price."
You're hard on yourselves.
Jimmy: "Yeah. I think if we wanted to make it easy for ourselves we'd
sign to a major company, sign a deal for a million quid and make all
the compromises. Because whatever bands say, you're always completely
compromised when you sign to a major label. I know that, if we signed
a band, we wouldn't let them behave like us, doing what the hell they
wanted, that's for sure!"
Cover (sepia): Cauty's profile in Large Russian Hat, blowing (unseen)
smoke from (unseen) cigar.
pg 28 (sepia): Panoramic shot of Cauty (same pose as cover) with cigar,
across street from billboard with painted-over "K".
pg 29 (color): Two small photos, each with Cauty and Drummond across
street from billboard.
That's that. Tune in next time when Vanilla Ice blows up a bus,
There are 4 comments for this record
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Posted by Guest on 2004-12-20 12:18:31
"the soundtrack for a German movie, 'The White Room.'"
What made it German, I wonder.
Posted by Guest on 2009-09-28 10:33:45
Posted by Guest on 2011-11-10 10:00:03
There was a rumour of German bankers financing the white room project
Posted by Guest on 2013-04-08 16:29:05