Money To Burn- Library of Mu

Library of Mu record:
Title: Money To Burn
Date: 25 September, 1994
Journal: Observer
Author: Jim Reid
Type of resource: Interviews
Status: original
No. views: 19435
Description: Unable to think of a better idea they decided to burn the million pounds. They decided to make this low-key but still invited a freelance journalist. This is his full story.

Money To Burn

By Jim Reid (25 September, 1994, Observer)

The K Foundation do art scams. They left a dead sheep outside a pop awards ceremony, faked corn circles and gave £40,000 to Rachel Whiteread. Now they claim to have burnt pounds 1 million... or have they? One journalist accompanied them. This is his account of the events. Judge for yourself.

In the back of a Senecca mark 3, four-seater aeroplane, lie the remains of one of the most peculiar stories of the year. Peculiar because pretty much everyone who comes across this magazine is going to have trouble believing a word of it. Peculiar because every last dot and comma of what is to come is the truth.

Besides myself there are three passengers in the plane: Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond, formerly of the KLF pop group, now the K Foundation (an art foundation), and Alan Goodrick, known as Gimpo, former artillery man in the Falklands war and a rock group tour manager.

Behind us is the bulk of our luggage. Rucksacks, hold-alls, nothing flash. And two new Gabriel suitcases. One is empty. One contains the ashes of what was formerly u1 million. Cash. Twelve hours earlier the K Foundation had burnt the money, 20 tight bundles of £50,000. Twenty thousand £50 notes up in smoke. For no apparent reason. And, it must be said, to no great surprise.

The £1 million was burnt without ceremony in an abandoned boathouse on the Isle of Jura, in the Inner Hebrides, between 12.45am and 2.45am on Tuesday, 23 August. It was a cold night, windy and rainy. The money, practically all the former chart-topping duo had left in their account, made a good fire. When the fire had gone out, all that was left was the cold and the rain and the ashes. The sense in all this was not quite so tangible. This story has a tortuous plot, a lot of blind alleys and more than its fair share of miscalculations. It is the story of how far Cauty, Drummond and an idea will go.

If what the K Foundation did was art, and I am not the person to judge that, then this piece is the beginning of the art work. Without this article none of it ever existed. Before I explain, consider this. How would you watch £1 million burn? With anger? With horror? I could tell you that you watch it at first with great guilt and then, after perhaps 10 minutes, boredom. And when the fire has gone out, you just feel cold.

The trail to the burnt million starts with the 1994 K Foundation Award and ends in the abandonment of a putative art exhibition. I first met the K Foundation last November, 10 days before their award of £40,000 for the artist responsible for the worst body of work in the preceding 12 months. It was given to Rachel Whiteread, who won the Turner Prize on the same night.

I'd known Bill Drummond for 12 years, but it was the first time I'd met Jimmy Cauty. Shortly after the award night, the pair hired me to write the catalogue for their upcoming exhibition Money: A Major Body Of Cash. The exhibition was to consist of seven pieces, all involving various amounts of cash nailed to, tied to or simply standing on inanimate objects. Nailed To The Wall, a work featuring pounds 1 million in mint pounds 50 notes nailed to a wall, was to be auctioned (reserve price £500,000), and five of the six remaining works sold, by postal bid, for half their monetary value. This offered the K Foundation a possible £555,555 loss, or if Nailed To The Wall became art (ie, was sold for more than a million), a possible profit. As a satire on the art market it was cute. If £100,000 could cost you £50,000 and £10 a fiver, was £100,000 greater art?

Presumably both pieces, employing the same 'idea', had the same artistic value. Or was money the only value in art?

It was an extreme example of the kind of provocative act for which the pair had gained a reputation. Cauty and Drummond promoted themselves as the KLF by creating fake corn circles and spending £70,000 taking 50 music biz insiders to Jura to take part in a pagan-like ritual. They announced their departure from the pop world by leaving a dead sheep outside the ceremony at which they'd been voted the best British Band, and then deleted their back catalogue. In the lead-up to the K Foundation Award, they spent £125,000 on a series of cryptic advertisements, one telling us to 'Abandon All Art'.

What Cauty and Drummond were primarily concerned with was money: money as art, art as money. The possibility of meaning beyond money. To challenge the power of money. And if none of that makes sense, maybe that was the intention.

But would they be able to shoe-horn their commentary on money into the art establishment? Jayne Casey, director of the Liverpool Festival Trust and an old friend of Drummond's, provided their first chance. 'The Tate, in Liverpool, wanted to be part of the 21st Century Festival I'm involved with,' says Casey. 'I suggested they put on the K Foundation exhibition; at first they were encouraging, but they seemed nervous about the personalities involved.'

A curt fax from Lewis Briggs, the gallery curator, informed Casey that the K Foundation's exhibition of money had been done before and more interestingly. Setbacks like this have an invigorating effect on the K Foundation. They change their minds. 'The thing about knock-backs,' says Cauty, 'is it forces you to come up with better ideas.'

'We wanted to take a container with Nailed To The Wall in it all around the world,' says Drummond. 'We'd go through the former Soviet Union by train, take the container over to the US by boat, go across America in a truck and then sail back to Liverpool. Money goes instantly around the world, we wanted to take it by hand, we were celebrating the end of cash.' But they were not taking into account the extremely un-nostalgic view of money in the more lawless parts of the former USSR. No company would handle the project. By May they had switched their attention to Dublin as a possible site for their exhibition, specifically Kilmainham Jail, where the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were executed. However, no sooner had they slated August for an opening than they rejected the idea of an exhibition.

'Jimmy said: 'Why don't we just burn it?' remembers Drummond. 'He said it in a light-hearted way, I suppose, hoping I'd say: 'No, we can't do that, let's do this...' But it seemed the most powerful thing to do.' The money, according to Drummond, was always going to go. Now it was going to be disposed of in one event. Sizzle, gone.

The K Foundation have no particular regard for their financial security, but their relationship to that million is more complex. Cauty and Drummond tend to dismiss their past work. The million may have come from a critically-acclaimed music career, but to them by now much of it seemed like a failure. Perhaps burning the money is a purgative.

If the pair have ducked the trappings of traditional fame, the feeling persists that all the angles, all the lavishing of money on aborted projects, comes in the quest for something longer lasting. Little things like immortality. And to get there you have to constantly up the ante. Neither of them is a rebel. If anything, they are romantics. Drummond, former manager of Liverpool rock bands Echo And The Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes, is tall, square-jawed and bespectacled. He lives in the country, keeps four cows in his field and likes bird- watching. Cauty, who at 17 had produced the best-selling Athena poster, The Hobbit, is a slight, quiet chain-smoker who lives in a rambling inner London house. He owns a Saracen Armoured Personnel Carrier and dummy AK47.

Drummond and Cauty do not wear designer clothes or visit fashionable clubs or restaurants. Neither cultivates famous friends or does interviews. As pop stars they were virtually anonymous, rarely being the focus of their videos, never in the tabloids on a supermodel's arm. Partly this is because they are old enough to know better ' Drummond is in his early 40s, Cauty is 37 ' but it's also because their success has financed new ideas rather than sports cars.

They have nothing to promote, yet over the past year they have spent £1.25 million following an idea simply because 'they had to'. This might be lunacy or ego tripping of the highest order, but it is what they meant to do. 'The money was never ours,' says Drummond. 'It was the K Foundation's, it was never intended for personal use. Originally we were going to invest the whole lot in some capital growth fund and spend it all on one big event, maybe at the millennium.'

But even the burning of their remaining fortune was not without its Byzantine twists and turns. The plan was to write to Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery, offering Nailed To The Wall as the 1995 K Foundation Bequest To The Nation. If the gallery accepted the award they could show it as an exhibit for 10 years and then sell it, but not deconstruct it.

The letter, which was never sent, would have amounted to no more than a ransom note. Because if the Tate decided not to accept the gift, and it is reasonable to assume they would not have, the K Foundation's aim was to burn the work.

Deciding to cut out the middle man, they chose Bankside power station, the future site of the Tate Gallery extension and an imposing building downstream from the South Bank, as the venue for their unique bonfire. A poster campaign was also planned for the capital. Posters were to appear on 15 August bearing the legend 'The 1995 K Foundation Bequest To The Nation', under which would have been an image of Nailed To The Wall on an easel and two flame-throwers lying on the floor. On 24 August a new poster would go up, exactly the same as the first except that this time the work would be burnt. But the power station was not available, and with just four weeks to go before the event Drummond and Cauty booked a rubbish dump at Rainham Marshes as their site.

With the plans finalised, we went to meet a gallery owner who had expressed interest in exhibiting the remains of Nailed To The Wall the day after it was torched. An austere man in his early 40s, he had been trying to determine if there was artistic meaning in the K Foundation's plans, but he was undecided. Similar actions had taken place before, although never with such a large quantity of money. He also believed the spectacle around the event may damage its impact.

'In the end, whether or not it had a chance as an art work was not as important to them as actually doing it,' says the gallery owner. 'The last thing I said to Bill was for them to absolve themselves of the dilemma. Put the money in a position where it couldn't be touched, where it is effectively being slowly burnt. And transfer the right to destroy it to someone else. Someone could buy the right to destroy it or they could postpone that right indefinitely. But they needed the cathartic experience of destroying it, which was a self-indulgence, and weakened it as a work of art.'

'We had nothing better to do with the money. Even if it's not art, it's the most important statement we can make,' said Drummond. 'We needed to express something about money and we wanted to push it through art. But after a while we thought: 'That's not possible.' We were trying to make it fit in.' One week before the exhibition the plans changed again. There would be no public burning, no press or TV "it just seemed like a PR show for the media" and just one witness to their act. At first Cauty thought of Damien Hirst, but instead they picked me. All I was told was that Drummond would be phoning me on the morning of 22 August.

Drummond phones at 9am on the 22nd and advises me to take some sturdy footwear. There will be one more person on our journey, Gimpo, who I have not previously met. Gimpo is waiting for us at Cauty's house. A well-built man, he is wearing a greyish turtleneck, Levi's and black boots. The K Foundation are also in walking gear, army surplus and Levi's, their normal clothes. Cauty and Drummond buy two suitcases in central London and then we set off across the river. 'We have to pick the money up from a company called Ratedale,' says Cauty.

No one bank holds £1 million in cash, so the K Foundation have hired a security firm to pick up the money from a NatWest bullion centre in Kent. We enter an industrial estate near Gatwick airport and stop outside a modern warehouse block. Cauty and Drummond get out of the car and ring the bell by door number 19; they are carrying the suitcases and their passports. About five minutes later they emerge with two security guards, one severely tattooed. They laugh at the condition of Cauty's motor. 'Has that got an MOT, then?' one of them asks before walking back to his office, shaking his head.

The suitcases are put in the back of the car and Gimpo is told where to drive. The car moves through straggly bits of Sussex and Surrey countryside before we reach Redhill aerodrome. We are met by Hugh, our pilot. All I know is that the journey will take two hours and we are going west. Drummond keeps playing with the door of the Senecca and debating whether he should just fling the suitcases out of the plane. We land on a runway that juts out into the sea, Islay airport in the Inner Hebrides. A hire car is waiting for us and we take off round the island for Port Askaig and the ferry to nearby Jura.

Jura is well known to Cauty and Drummond. Three years ago when they were still the KLF they staged one of their more spectacular myth-making coups here. They landed 50 music biz insiders from around the world on midsummer's day, dressed them in yellow robes and led them across the island to a 60ft wicker man they had constructed. Everyone was told to throw their money on to the wicker man and the whole lot was set on fire. Naturally it made great copy. A film of the event called The Rites of Mu was made. 'When we were looking at the film,' says Drummond, 'we thought: 'That's where we should go and do it...' Going to Jura follows something through.'

We stay at the Jura Hotel and have battered haggis for tea. The plan is to get up early tomorrow and climb one of the Paps, the triple mountain range that dominates the island, taking the suitcases with us. At this stage I have not seen what is inside them.

At 10 in the evening Cauty wants to revisit the site of the burnt wicker man. We make our way down a rough track; it is pitch black. Gimpo parks the car and leaves the lights on; we can just see in front of us. Cauty and Drummond scour the area for remains of the burnt wicker man. To the left of us is a disused boathouse and the sea. It is raining. After 15 minutes we make our way back to the hotel.

Around midnight we all go to bed. I sit down and start to make order of the notes I've been taking all day. Half an hour later there's a knock on the door. It's Cauty and Drummond. 'Come on, we're going to do it now,' they say. They are both holding a suitcase. Why now? 'Do you remember Christmas when you were a kid and you just couldn't wait for morning?' says Drummond. 'There's just a time when you instinctively know it's right,' says Cauty. 'I think it's important we get off the island as quickly as possible.' We get in the car. Now it's really raining. 'We're like clowns here...' says Drummond. 'Yeah, like showbiz celebrities,' says Cauty. Gimpo just drives, but there's real tension for the first time on the trip. Earlier in the day Drummond could bet Cauty £500,000 to jump in the sea; now all the bets are off. 'This just feels better,' says Drummond in his blue kagoule, 'going out in the night when it's pissing down with rain.'

We pull up in front of the boathouse and Cauty and Drummond take the suitcases out of the car and put them inside the rough stone building. The floor inside is earth, there are wooden rafters just below the ceiling from which hang two rope swings. To the right at the far end of the room is a basic fireplace.

Gimpo leaves the car lights on and he and Cauty get to work. Gimpo drags a piece of scaffolding from round the back of the building. There are two triangular bits of cloth attached near the top of the pole, one white, one perhaps blue, but it's too dark to tell. To these Gimpo adds two survival flares that Cauty had bought the day before. Below the two triangular cloths Cauty is tying a large piece of aluminium foil, a survival blanket. Now Gimpo and Drummond have found a wooden drum, a relic from the burning of the wicker man. The pole is hoisted up into the drum which is laid on its side and the lights and flags flutter and blink over the stormy night. Inside the boathouse Drummond is tying the two bags on to the ropes. A picture is taken. Then the bags are untied and opened. A million pounds looks like so much that my first instinct is to feel very guilty. When you see a million packed into 50 grand bundles, plastic bags tight around each bundle, you begin to feel as if you've stolen it, as if someone's going to put the collar on you. Maybe that's what Cauty and Drummond feel when they look at what remains of their fortune.

The money is not beautiful, and it is only intimidating for a while. It is impossible, looking at it, to imagine what you might buy with it. Four bundles for a nice flat in Chelsea, the whole lot for a lifetime not working. It doesn't look that impressive. The next thing you feel is the need to do something, not to let it just stand there. Because, of course, I, like anybody else with healthy appetites, want it.

Lying on the floor in its proud plastic packages, the money represents power. But it is a power that is painfully vulnerable. Cauty separates two fifties from a bundle, hands one to Drummond, and taking his lighter, lights them both. Despite the rain and wind outside, the money is going to burn. In fact, nothing could burn better.

Drummond is standing to the left of the fireplace throwing fresh bundles in, Cauty is to the right, screwing up three or four fifties at a time. After five minutes their actions become mechanical, almost like it is peat or coal that they are fuelling their fire with. But this is going to take some time. 'Well that's OK,' says Cauty, rolling a cigarette. 'It'd take a long time to spend it. Can I spend an hour out of my life to burn a million quid? (Drummond laughs)... All the time you say about things: 'I haven't got the time to do that.' Well, I've definitely got time to do this.'

The fireplace is a rough affair. Occasional fifties get wedged in crevices above the fire before they eventually fall down to be destroyed. Cauty is poking at the fire with a stick, moving the bigger bundles into the heat. Whole blocks of 50 grand remain resolutely unburnt: singed, charred, but perfectly legal. We have a bottle of whisky with us and it is passed round as if nothing could be more natural than burning £1 million on a remote Scottish island in the middle of the night. This is the truly shocking thing about the evening. It almost seems inevitable.

It took about two hours for that cash to go up in flames. I looked at it closely, it was real. It came from a bona fide security firm and was not swapped at any time on our journey. More importantly, perhaps, after working with the K Foundation I know they are capable of this.

Only Gimpo and I know what it is like to see that money go up in flames. Whether the act has a greater 'purity' because we are the only witnesses, or whether, without public confirmation, it is meaningless, is something I do not know. But with such a high profile as pop scamsters, the K Foundation have, by burning the money privately, demonstrated that they do not care if they are believed.

What is interesting now is whether the burning of £1 million becomes legend or is swept away with tomorrow's news. 'I don't think people should find out about it; nobody would understand,' says Cauty. 'The shock value will spoil it really. Because it doesn't want to be a shocking thing; it just wants to be a fire. That's what I realised when it was happening. It's like any other fire.' 'It proves nothing,' says Drummond. 'It doesn't matter why we've done it... Any meaning in it will have to do with how people react to it.'

We're talking in almost complete darkness now, the only light in the boathouse is the small red light on my tape recorder, a few embers; the last remains of the K Foundation's fortune sparkle in the darkness like stars in the black, black galaxy above the rainy Scottish night. The front of the boathouse by the open door is a boggy mess, Cauty's symbolic flagpole is still twinkling across the sea that lies directly in front of us, the aluminium sheet fluttering furiously in the wind.

Two days later, Cauty destroyed all video tape and photographic evidence of what they had done. 'The art works not in the action, but in the void of what it is,' said the gallery owner. 'The dilemma that anyone receiving the information is put in... that, if anything, is what embodies the art work.'

When we got back to London I spoke to Lionel Martin of the K Foundation's accountants, Martin Greene Ravden. He confirmed that the money has been debited from the K Foundation account, though he didn't know what the money had been used for.

Seven days later, Drummond received a phone call from a Constable McEwan of the island of Jura police. Burnt, charred money had been found washed up on the beach. 'A considerable sum', he said. 'Is it anything to do with you?'


RWANDA - 2,702 kits which will feed a total of 810,810 people
DIANA - Her grooming for 6.25 years
HOMELESS - B&B accommodation for 68 families for one year in London or 106 families outside London. Or the cost of 12.5 new family houses.
STATE NURSERY PLACES - 565 full-time places for one year
EDUCATION - Grants for 254 students in London or 313 students outside London
HEALTH - 40 transplants, 55 kidney transplants or 250 hip replacements
LAW AND ORDER - 71 new constables
LE MANOIR AUX QUAT' SAISONS - 5,555 meals at a la carte average costs
SOCCER - Two sponsorship contracts between Eric Cantona and Nike
THE OBSERVER - Two million copies (if you buy the Guardian on Saturday)


There are 18 comments for this record
You can leave a comment below.

Posted by Guest on 2005-02-18 12:35:29


Posted by Guest on 2005-11-14 04:39:00

Jim Reid is a cunt though

Posted by Guest on 2007-03-14 05:25:00

why is he a cunt? he doesn't come across as a cunt in this. i think its a powerful statement, to burn our motivation. trying to get my head around it now...

Posted by Guest on 2007-11-04 09:13:37

2007 november 21st no music day...were still here mate..just nothing to do until 2010 or simon cowell stops his crap shows.

Posted by Guest on 2007-11-21 12:15:26

doesn't matter

Posted by Guest on 2008-01-29 05:28:20

they were right. they say: we didn't burn any leaf of bread to feed the starving children. we just burned paper. why are people mad? They were right. If you think it is evil. you have a point, but think again.... Every day rich fuckers do the same DAY after DAY. All the britneys, 50 cents, paris hiltons, beckhams of the world. They THROW away the same million pounds every day or month on more worthless clothes, cars, and houses. Fight them.

Posted by Guest on 2008-03-16 03:55:03

I bet was to purge themselves from all the strings that seperated the boys from eternity.Reminds me to stop deleting every tune I create.....might have a hit or something....I'm sick of working....I can identify so much with this......

Posted by Guest on 2008-03-16 03:57:19

You know what is totally stupid regarding wasting money???....the hip-hop rappers who wear tons of gold and diamonds that was and still is,dug up by their kin over in the blood mines of Africa and further....some stupid people out there in yo! land....

Posted by Guest on 2009-01-12 10:53:12

This is research. The KLF's money burn will forever serve as a valuable datapoint, supporting or countering many arguments in the great future debates of mankind.

Posted by Guest on 2009-09-04 06:16:48

what a waste of money.

Posted by Guest on 2009-09-13 18:27:38

i lit up a fart once

Posted by Guest on 2009-09-13 18:46:11

you want to see ancient art, check this out burning one million pounds, do you think they regret it? or did it happen. definately mystifying because it is a statement whether or not it even happened. did you know lead from car exhausts was gathering in deposits on the sides of roads and tunnels and poisoning everyone, making us go mad... now we have unleaded fuel and crime rates dropped at the same period the leaded fuel was fazed out in every country. krazy leaded fuel

Posted by Guest on 2009-09-23 22:40:47

Posted by Guest on 2009-09-27 00:13:08

yes, what a waste of money

Posted by Guest on 2010-08-23 06:11:11

It was theirs to burn, but it was a terrible waste of money in my view because so much good could have been done with that.

Posted by Guest on 2010-09-02 17:47:08

If the money is theirs and they dont want or need it the only question left is morality. It is in the opinion of others on whether they should have done something else with the money and not theirs. What is the difference between throwing away something you bought and never used against their burning of a millions pounds in cash, same principle, different value.

Posted by Guest on 2011-03-09 12:06:01

So much is wasted, effort, time, this is it to the waste of a life spent marketing junk...litigating for the corrupt...failing to act, watching crap...and so on. Money can be used for evil purposes as well as good, so perhaps burning it is the middle course.

Posted by Guest on 2011-06-03 16:52:30

Certainly a thought provoking "stunt". I don't agree with their philosophy behind the act of burning the money, but it was their money to do as they wish. Perhaps they felt a lingering sense of bondage to the money with constant demands about how to spend it or invest it. And burning the money was an easy way to free themselves of this burden. Maybe this is understandable but I have found it easier to deal with having money in my life than not having money and ending up in bondage to debtors. Almost twenty years later, I really wonder how they feel about this?

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