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By Dave Simpson (20 May, 2004, Guardian (G2))Why is ex-KLF prankster Bill Drummond travelling the country making people soup? Dave Simpson finds out
It started like this: in May 1998, Drummond, whose culinary training consists of watching his mum in the kitchen, made soup for a "rabble of people" in a house in Botanic Avenue, Belfast. In January 2003, he made soup for some folk in Ewart Road, Nottingham. Then, in June last year, he took a map of the British Isles and drew a line across it, so it cut through Belfast and Nottingham and ended up at Ipswich. Drummond's promotional flyers explain: "He made it known that anybody living on this Soup Line was welcome to invite him to their home to make soup for their family and friends. If asked why, Bill Drummond is likely to answer, 'Because it is a friendly thing to do.'"
So it is that I find myself in Belfast, hooking up with half of Britain's biggest-selling pop act of the early 1990s, in a battered old Land Rover stuffed full of onions.
We're headed for Dungiven, where Kevin Keane is one of a couple of dozen Irish respondents to Drummond's invitation. As we drive, Drummond admits he fretted about the Guardian's request to go along. "I'm careful now about how I interact with the media," he explains, chastened by the way the KLF's provocative art statements came to be viewed as publicity-seeking opportunities. However, he clearly enjoys talking about the Soup Line, which he describes as "a lifetime commitment", and is visibly excited as we arrive at Keane's terraced house.
Unlike most of Drummond's soup beneficiaries - such as last night's elderly couple, who ended up singing traditional Irish songs with Drummond despite previous worries that their guest could be a poisoner - "Kegsy" Keane and his dozen or so young pals know who Drummond is, and they certainly know their onions when it comes to the KLF. "We spent the week digging out old videos, like the Brits," grins Kegsy, a shaven-headed twentysomething for whom soup forms only part of the weekend's considerable liquid refreshment. "It's a bit weird to see the bloke who machine-gunned Georg Solti in your own kitchen."
"Did you really burn a million quid?" asks Kegsy's sleepy-eyed, equally slurring brother, Euge. "Er, it was probably about £900,000," replies the chef, gamely. "A lot of it went straight up the chimney. We heard there were people scrabbling around for £50 notes for days."
Still, Drummond is not here to talk about the KLF, and soon enough is chopping away at parsnips with the diligence of Gordon Ramsay. As he chucks tins of haricot beans into the vat, he admits: "It's not haute cuisine." None the less, Drummond has complex theories about soup. In his book of short stories and essays, 45, he writes: "You can lose yourself in making soup. The imagination can start to spiral into uncharted regions; reality can become bearable, even enjoyable. You can find yourself as well." He even refers to the "perfect way of bringing a community together" pioneered in the 13th-century soup communions enjoyed by the Church of Scotland. "Did I say that?" he asks. "Well, you can get very pretentious about soup!"
Drummond takes care to include a special ingredient that reflects the spirit of each occasion. Helpfully, in honour of his Scottish roots, someone has brought a bottle of Buckfast, a 15% proof fortified wine popular with Glaswegian street drinkers. Drummond takes a sup, looks rather disoriented, and pours the stuff into the vat. This is going to be a memorable soup. However, it very nearly isn't a soup at all, as Drummond, now cradling a beer, is distracted by his mobile phone, wanders into the garden and returns to find a kitchen filled with smoke. "Shite!" he cries, dashing back in to hurriedly transfer the unburnt soup into a bigger vat. "It's survived!"
Disaster averted, there is a two-hour wait for the soup to cook, during which Drummond attempts to justify the Soup Line. He talks, slightly sheepishly, about it being his own personal ley line, and denies that it's a conceptual piece. ("It's not something that can be sold or generates money.") Ultimately, though, he admits he's not really sure why he's doing it.
"I know I have a problem. You know where you wake in the middle of the night with some idea, but you think better of it in the morning? That bit - the rationale bit - doesn't happen to me. Sometimes I think, 'Let's just act on it,' and maybe some reason will come along afterwards. Obviously, there's one major thing where I haven't worked out the reason." He's referring, of course, to the money incident. So is the soup-making one way of banishing the tag of "the man who burned a million quid"?
"If we had ever guessed the shadow that would be cast over us ... " He doesn't need to expand. Which is why most of Drummond's concurrent little "jobs" go unpublicised, such as www.mydeath.net, a website where people can post suggestions for their funeral, inspired by two friends who died of cancer and had "really crap funerals".
Soup is served. As Drummond ladles the brown beany substance into bowls, accompanied with bread and cheese, there is something of that mythical community spirit he wrote about in 45. Drummond is even coaxed into a first-ever live performance of the KLF's Justified and Ancient, with Kegsy taking the Tammy Wynette role and Euge banging soup vats as drums. This could be art-wank, material for Drummond's next book - or, perhaps, a tiny act that makes the world a better place. "The beauty of this is that it doesn't have to be Bill Drummond," slurs Euge, getting philosophical. "Anybody can visit anybody and make soup!"
· To ask Bill Drummond to visit your home to make soup, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Note that Drummond breaks the kontract in this interview!
Yeah he broke the contract, i have the pictures to prove it! Kegz