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: 7767
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 contrition.

"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 records.

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 well.

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 yourselves.

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!"

------------------------------------- Photos---

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, that jackanape.


There are 4 comments for this record
You can leave a comment below.

Posted by Guest on 2004-12-20 12:18:31

"the soundtrack for a German movie, 'The White Room.'" German? 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

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