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By Nancy Banks-Smith (30 August, 1995, Guardian)
A YEAR ago Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty of the pop group KLF burned pounds 1 million of their own money in a boathouse on the Scottish island of Jura. This week, on the anniversary of the incineration, they came back and showed an audience of islanders a video of them doing it. "We feel we should face them and answer their questions."
"Did you get a grant for it?" was one question. The likeliest person to throw cold water on a bonfire of the readies is a Scot. The film was a surreal 63 minutes, shot by their roadie, Gimpo, who had not made a film before. The fact that no single word was intelligible caused some criticism from a drunk at the back.
It had, I confess, its moments, such as the Queen clinging to the back of the fireplace until, like Joan of Arc, the roaring flames reached her diamond halo.
Three years ago, KLF deleted all their records, left pop and put pounds 1 million in a foundation to support struggling artists. They found that either the artists did not want their money or they could not stomach the invidious job of choosing and discarding.
They still can't say why they decided to burn it. "We could have bought anything, but out of all the things we could buy burning always seemed the most exciting" (Bill). "It looked good burning" (Jimmy). "Sometimes it is almost impossible to put the creative thing into words" (Bill).
Their lawyer confirmed it was not illegal. Their accountant (whose face I would like to have seen) arranged for the Bullion Centre to issue a million in notes. It filled two suitcases. "We were very paranoid," said Bill. "I wasn't paranoid," said Jimmy. "I was,' said Bill. "I kept looking out of the car window to see if we were being followed." They flew to Islay in a chartered plane,and the rest is ashes. Or, possibly, art.
Gimpo's video was spur-of-the-moment. They are going to show it in a Glasgow pub on November 5. Then in Dublin, Bristol and London. In bookies at a quarter to six, just as the punters are coming in for their winnings. In the Stock Exchange, if they are asked.
The BBC is making a documentary of all this for Omnibus. I will not dwell on the bitterness of coming to a remote island to get away from TV and finding myself in a TV film. I was, however, cheered to see the BBC being stuck with a sizzling bar bill at a Jura hotel. Jimmy ("I was a bit drunk") bet an islander that if he would burn some of his own money, he, Jimmy, would pay his bar bill. The man burned a Scottish pound note. His bar bill was pounds 164. "Are you," asked the BBC, the bill trembling in their hand, "going to do this everywhere?"
The most disturbing aspect of the whole thing is that Gimpo now wants to go into films.
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