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By Charles Shaar Murray (26 February, 2000, The Independent)
From trashy chart hits to the immolation of a cool million, this pop prankster brought magic to the music biz.
by Bill Drummond
Little, Brown, pounds 12.99, 361pp
POP MUSIC," writes Bill Drummond, "has become like a cancer that has spread through my whole body and is now affecting my brain." Having been responsible for some seriously bizarre interventions into the pop culture arena during the last 15 years, no one can accuse him of not fighting back against the disease.
Similarly, he would be acquitted on all charges of not having led a reasonably interesting life. Bill Drummond is a Scotsman, born in South Africa. His first words were in Xhosa, Nelson Mandela's native tongue. He trained as a fine artist in Nottingham, relocated to Liverpool and constructed stage sets for Ken Campbell's adaptation of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! before getting involved in the Merseyside punk scene - first as a member of the allegedly great lost combo Big In Japan and then as manager of 1980s post-punksters Echo And The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes.
However, his management techniques were decidedly unorthodox. Identifying the Bunnymen with Iceland and Teardrops with New Guinea, and realising that they were connected by a ley-line that passed through Liverpool, Drummond concocted the wizard wheeze of attempting to persuade the bands to play simultaneous concerts in those locations while he stood over a manhole cover in Matthews Street.
The gloss soon wore off management: following the Liverpool arrival of a young, LSD-laden Courtney Love, "Julian Cope had discovered drugs. His ego was going nova. I should have shot him. Instead I was pretending to manage his band."
Dumping management, Drummond attempted to audition as singer for Killing Joke, cut a solo album, and then made his mark on the early history of the rave scene by joining forces with fellow troublemaker Jimmy Cauty to form the Kopyright Liberation Front. As sampler-delic guerrillas, they scored several hits under several names (KLF, The Timelords and the Justified Ancients of MuMu, the latter appelation derived from Illuminatus!). Then they realised, much to their horror, that they'd made rather a lot of money. So they burned it.
"I'm still not cured of wanting to make the grand - but at the same time private - gesture," claims Drummond. Their most celebrated stunt was immortalised on film as Watch The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid.
Which they did, one damp dark night on the Isle of Jura, except that it wasn't quite a million quid. At least two of the journalists invited to view the event liberated some of the wedge before ritual immolation commenced. Whether they spent the money or framed it remains unclear. "It wasn't just the money that got burnt; it was also the bridge that we could have trotted over any time we felt like it for a fiscal graze in the green pastures of success."
Still, in the words of the poet, things may come and things may go but the art school dance goes on forever. This book was written between late 1997 and early 1999 as "snapshots of the world from where I was standing - from early in my 45th year to well into being 45"; and the package echoes the dimensions of an old-fashioned 45rpm seven-inch single. Walk-on parts include Peter Green, Robbie Williams and the late Tammy Wynette.
This is all highly appropriate for someone who "gave the pop industry a helping hand by borrowing marketing strategies directly from the art business - we knew about corporate identity, commodification, logo is all, death sells, the common touch, ambivalent irony, contextualisation, appropriation. We knew about Art."
And pop: all Drummond's activities walk the cultural ley-lines between conceptual art and commercial pop; between left politics - there's a fine, splenetic account of his attendance at the first Labour Party Conference after the election - and mysticism.
Drummond is many things, and one of those things is a magician. Many of his schemes - one example is described as "a private joke that's so private I don't even get it myself" - involve symbolically- weighted acts conducted away from the public gaze and documented only by Drummond himself and his participating comrades. Nevertheless, they are intended to have an effect on a worldful of people unaware that the act in question has taken place.
That is magical thinking. Art is magic, and so is pop. Bill Drummond is a cultural magician, and 45 is his logbook. Shelve alongside Brian Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices. Hail Discordia!
Charles Shaar Murray's life of John Lee Hooker, `Boogie Man', is published by Viking
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