Special K- Library of Mu

Library of Mu record:
Title: Special K
Date: April 1995
Journal: GQ
Author: William Shaw
Type of resource: Interviews
Status: text
No. views: 10871
Description: Long history plus Interview conducted at the Cushendall Tower - Drummond is depressed that Bible hasn't sold, and that he pissed off his KLF fan base and lost his source of power.


Special K

By William Shaw (April 1995, GQ)

On September 25, 1994, the Observer newspaper reported that an organisation calling itself The K Foundation had ceremonially burnt £1 million, note by £50 note. The K Foundation had achieved brief notoriety in 1993 as the donor of an alternative Turner Prize for the year's worst work of art. But the burning of the million had been carried out without any fanfare.

ON AUGUST 23, THE K FOUNDATION'S members, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, had lit the fire in a deserted boathouse on the Scottish island of Jura. The only witnesses to this monumental act of destruction were a rock group tour manager called Gimpo and a freelance journalist friend. There were, conspicuously, no press releases, no videos, no photographs.

In the last week of August, the Jura constabulary discovered remains of charred £50 notes washed up on the island's shoreline. The burnt notes were real enough, and there appeared to be hundreds of them, with wildly varying serial numbers. Fearing some ghastly, bungled, drug-linked crime, the police began an investigation. Someone at the station remembered the recent visit in a private Seneca plane of two eccentric one-time pop stars from a group called KLF They had carried out unfathomable rituals on the island before: on one occasion Drummond and Cauty had arrived with 50 members of the world's music press whom they had persuaded to dress in ceremonial robes to witness the burning of a huge wicker man. The event had cost some £70,000.

So, to eliminate the two from their inquiries, a Constable McEwan telephoned Bill Drummond to ask if, by any chance, he knew anything about the incineration of a considerable sum of money. Should he be able to enlighten them as to the origin of those charred notes, no prosecution would ensue: they simply needed to know.

"Well," ho-hummed Drummond. "Yes. It was us." Thus reassured, Constable McEwan doubtless replaced the phone as amused and bemused as the rest of us: just why did they do it?

Many still don't believe that Drummond and his sidekick Cauty could possibly have burnt the money. The charred notes were simply a sleight of hand, a bizarre conjuring trick, to promote some future project. But anyone who has followed the career of William Ernest Drummond can believe it. From his years managing Liverpudlian post-punk groups to becoming co-creator of number-one groups like The Timelords and KLF, right through to his K Foundation "art terrorism", Drummond has been driven by impossibly vast ideas and ambitions. An experimentalist in the best Sixties art-school tradition -motto: "Express Yourself!" - he is impulsive, obsessive and extremist full of obscure moral passion. Over the years his schemes have brought him wealth and penury, fame and ridicule; They have also brought him close to death and insanity.

I am driving from London to Northern Ireland with Drummond in his C-reg. Volvo. In person, he is hardly the man you might expect from his iconoclastic reputation: well over six feet tall, he is intense but somewhat tweedy and politely genteel for his 41 years. He has always despised cities and lives with his girlfriend, two dogs and four cows in rural Buckinghamshire, swapping tips on pasture and feed with neighbouring farmers. He listens to Radio 3, collects landscape paintings and is an avid bird-watcher. He is aesthetically conservative aand radical by turns: much of his art contains both elements. Drummond is no longer much interested in the burning of the million pounds, just as he is no longer interested in his chart-topping pop career. He has moved on. The project that has taken him over is his new publishing house, Curfew Press, which for symbolic reasons is housed in the 200-year-old tower that stands in the centre of the village of Cushendall, County Antrim, our destination.

Drummond is the son of a west-of-Scotland Presbyterian minister. He had been a carpenter, a trawlerman, a drop-out art student and an itinerant. Then, on May 5th 1977, he began a seventeen-year love-hate relationship with the music business when he founded a group named Big in Japan, which featured a singer called Holly Johnson but was never big anywhere. In 1978, he left the group to form a record company, Zoo, with the keyboard player of The Teardrop Explodes, David Balfe. From 1979 he acted as manager, producer and publisher for The Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen, remortgaging his house and throwing himself into the task with a vengeance - even if he claims he never fully understood why people liked either group.

In the Eighties, Drummond became a consultant A&R man with WEA Records in London. At WEA he worked with an arrogant and supremely talented producer called Pete Waterman, and was impressed by the latter's firm belief in Just Giving The Kids What They Want. This populism would serve Waterman well as he established his PWL empire and launched the careers of Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue, Sonia, Rick Astley and a galaxy of clean-cut teen stars. Drummond's life takes abrupt turns. On July 21, 1986 he announced his resignation from WEA in a ringingly quixotic press release. Its tone was typical of his grandiloquent turn of phrase: "I will be 33.5 (sic) years old in September, a time for a revolution in my life. There is a mountain to climb the hard way, and I want to see the world from the top... "

Drummond released THE MAN, a solo album of pleasingly witty though staunchly uncommercial acoustic rock, then began a partnership with the guitarist from Brilliant, Jimmy Cauty, a one-time illustrator (who had drawn the bestselling Athena poster of the Hobbit). Cauty is a long-haired and quietly spoken chain-smoker: a leather-jacketed misfit, he has carried his adolescent rock obsession into adulthood-

Taking their name from an obscure book of American hippie science fantasy, Robert Anton Wilson's The Illuminatus Trilogy, Drummond and Cauty called themselves The Justified Ancients of MuMu and released an album called 1987: "What the Fuck's Going On?, relying heavily on that new technological piece of devilry, the sampler. Unfortunately, one of the samples for the album was gleaned from Abba's "Dancing Queen". The Swedes took it badly, insisting that the albums be destroyed. Drummond and Cauty set off to Sweden with all the pressed copies of the album to plead their case with Bjorn and Benny. When they failed to achieve an audience with the songwriters, they ceremonially burnt a pile of the records in a field in Sweden, and dumped the rest in the North Sea. It was the first of their grandly futile but - to them at least - richly symbolic gestures.

Drummond had always found the idea of pure teenage pop intensely romantic. He and Cauty decided to emulate Pete Waterman's success and try to manufacture a number one. Using samplers again, they welded the Dr Who theme onto Gary Glitter's "Rock 'n' Roll (Parts I & 2)" and created a pop Frankenstein. The monstrous result, "Doctorin' The Tardis" by The Timelords, topped the charts on June 4, 1988 and went on to sell a million copies. Pleasantly surprised by their own success, Drummond and Cauty wrote the book of the record: The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way). It was a brilliantly scabrous and accurate dissection of the mechanics of hit-making. Excited, they repeated their success as KLF - the Kopyright Liberation Front. During the band's brief life, they delivered five top-five singles in the UK, two US top-tens, plus number-one hits all over the world. But elaborate videos left the two band members almost totally anonymous as, like schoolboys forming their own gangs, they invented endless pseudonyms for themselves while the names of their groups multiplied. They worked impulsively. At an early stage almost every penny earned was poured into a bizarre film called The White Room (also the title of KLF's hit album). They spent between £250,000 and £500,000 on the film, whose scripting could best be described as "loose", and which was shot when and where the impulse took them. It has never been released.

But by 1992, Drummond was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His distaste for the machinery of pop was at war with the creative populism of KLF. Increasingly exhausted and depressed, he thought he was supping with the devil. KLF had become bona fide pop miracle workers. After a successful collaboration with Tammy Wynette, they were deluged with calls from other waning stars who wanted to share the KLF magic. It was all spinning way out of Drummond's control.

In the spring of 1992, KLF were nominated for a Brit Award, which they were to collect at the music industry's annual self-serving ceremony. Drummond planned to cut up a dead sheep on stage and fling it symbolically at the audience as KLF performed their international hit "America (What Time is Love?)". On our journey to Antrim, Drummond confesses something more horrific. In a frenzy of loathing, he had also planned to sever his own left hand and fling it at the audience. He had even bought a meat cleaver for the job. Instead on the night, a nervy-looking Drummond merely sprayed the audience with ear-splitting blanks from a vintage sub-machine gun. Like so many of Drummond's statements, it missed: the half- cocked performance was dismissed as a mere prank. Drummond left the stage that night to the announcement, "KLF have left the music business."- an echo of the famous statement "Elvis Presley has left the building". The sheep, bought from a slaughterhouse for the aborted stage performance, was dumped, to tabloid horror, in the lobby of the hotel where the awards were staged. Yet KLF's departure from the music business wasn't quite complete. Drummond briefly threw himself into a final project, a thrash-metal album called THE BLACK ROOM, the looking-glass counterpart to the KLF hit THE WITE ROOM. This was ugly music, deliberately grotesque. But after a week, Drummond and Cauty junked the recordings. "It was impossible to go further," Drummond says. "It wasn't just peeking into the abyss - it was hanging right over it. It was really, really dark."

On May 14, 1992, KLF formally quit the music business. They simply struck themselves off the map. Since Drummond owned his record label and publishing house, pressed his own records and controlled all licensing deals, it was a straightforward matter to order the simultaneousdeletion of every KLF record. This was an astonishing move, more reckless than the subsequent burning of £million. Effectively, Drummond and Cauty had obliterated future earnings worth many times the amount they were to burn.

Drummond was in a tailspin. His seventeen-year marriage crashed as well. He disappeared, turning up in Wales to visit former Bunnyman, Ian McCullough, and then jumping on a plane to Mexico, where he hired a car and drove around with little idea of where he was going. He remembers little of the journey. He uses the phrase "mental breakdown", but it sounds too grandiose, so retracts it, Apparently, his journey through Mexico helped him achieve some sort of sanity. Crossing the border to the US, he went for a walk. Suddenly, something shot out from under his foot in the grass as he walked. A snake darted away from him. Almost embarrassed by the admission, Drummond says: "It was evil leaving me."

KLF's profits were less easy to dispose of. Drummond's Presbyterianism had left him with a distrust of riches. He and Cauty agreed to place the bulk of the money in a new foundation, The K Foundation, dedicated to "the advancement of kreation". At that point, they had already effectively given the money away, though it's fate was yet to be decided. The K Foundation became a 'reductio ad absurdum' of their horror at the financial value placed on their work. Having created an artistic machine that created money, they invented a machine for destroying it. During 1993 a series of full-page advertisements were placed in the broadsheet press. "Abandon All Art Now," they announced. "Await Further Instructions." Another read: " It has been brought to our attention that you did not Abandon All Art. Serious Direct Action is therefore necessary. The K Foundation will award £40,000 to the artist who has produced the worst body of-work in the last twelve months." One announced the existence of The K Foundation's anthem, "K Sera Sera (War is Over)", recorded by the Red Army Choir, which would only be released when world peace was achieved. The ads alone disposed of a total of £125,000.

The events of November 23, 1993, the day The K Foundation donated £40,000 to Turner Prize winner Rachel Whiteread, were reported by the newspapers with a mixture of horror and glee, distaste and puzzlement. The K Foundation's cash award, exactly double that offered by the Turner Prize, was nailed to a pallet by journalists, driven to the "award ceremony" in a motorcade of white limousines, and then presented to Whiteread, who accepted the prize only after The K Foundation had threatened to burn it, manager Gimpo standing ready with petrol and lighter.

Next, Drummond and Cauty dreamed up an exhibition called A Major Body of Cash, which would consist of seven pieces, all involving The K Foundations money. 'The main exhibit was to be a piece called Nailed to the Wall, One million pounds, hammered into a frame. They considered auctioning it, with a reserve price of £500,000 so that the purchaser would be left to unravel the dilemma of which was worth more, the "art" or the hard cash. They considered sending it to Nicholas Serota at the Tate Gallery. They planned a public burning of the money, in front of tabloid journalists. In the end, they decided on a very private incineration.

"It's not easy taking a million out of a bank," recalls Drummond, "They believe the only reason people want a million pounds in cash is for criminal reasons." The first time Drummond and Cauty returned their money, after exhibiting it, the Bank of England was apoplectic. The holed notes would no longer pass through the counting machines. The bank suggested they pay a sum of £6OO to have the money reprinted. For the sheer absurdity of £6OO buying £1million, Drummond was happy to cough up. Next time, however, they would not have to return the money. So a million went up in smoke on Jura To Drummond, a million is a mystical figure. "A million: it's an even greater number than ten million," he smiles. The inaccessibility of the spectacle was intentional. "Everything KLF did was accessible. It was all too easy for the audience. When we burnt the money, we wanted people to find the result by chance, for the ripples to spread slowly."

My first day at the Tower is curiously domestic. We fix Drummond's gas cooker and buy peat for the fire. On a rainy afternoon, we find a small antiques shop in Glenarm. Drummond has a passion for landscapes. An early oil by a local painter called McAuley catches his eye, and he's dying to buy it, but the £1,400 price is more than he can justify - Instead, he settles for two armchairs, tiny enough to be carried up the Curfew Tower's narrow, steep stairs. "Would you take £7O for this one?" I am listening to The Man Who Burned a Million haggling over a tenner.

Chatting in the car after we've walked through drizzle over the Giant's Causeway, Drummond grins: "You know, I would have loved to have bought that McAuley, but I don't suppose I could have justified spending £1,400 on it to my girlfriend." So, I ask him, how did she take the burning of a million? Drummond takes his eye off the road, looks at me amused and says, "Well, what do you think?"

For Bill Drummond, one of the greatest adolescent dreams provided by rock music was of male companionship. "Four mates," he smiles. "The Beatles. It just wouldn't have been right if there were five of them." Last summer, when there was a rumour of the three remaining Beatles reforming, Drummond was horrified. "They don't understand," he says. "They would be ruining it for all of us. I really felt if they did that it would be my duty to go and shoot them..." By 1992, Drummond had collaborated for five years with Jimmy Cauty. That year also marked the start of another buddy project, this time with Zodiac Mindwarp, otherwise known as Mark Manning or, familiarly, Zed. Zed grew up in Leeds, in the shadow of Armley gaol. He says he spent his early years listening to the screams of prisoners being beaten by the warders. At Bradford Art School he took to heart the Sixties concepts of unfettered free expression, improbable amounts of drugs, and blurring the distinction between fantasy and reality. Moving to London, Zed made a meagre living drafting a comic strip called Gruntwazzock Pork. When he formed his group, The Love Reaction, he peopled it with cartoon characters, giving them names like Cobalt Stargazer and Slam Thunderhide. The band signed to Food Records, and Drummond, who was also their publiciser, produced their first two albums. After brief but spectacular celebrity, The Love Reaction crashed to obscurity. Their lead singer was simply too ambitiously self destructive. He spent any profits on drugs and alcohol. "My only regret was the doors of perception," he told the Independent on Sunday, in a rags-to-riches exposee, "I opened them so wide, I can't seem to get the buggers shut again."

As with Cauty, the Presbyterian Drummond was captivated by Zed's, iconoclastic scatter-gun creativity. When Drummond's marriage crumbled under KLF chaos and he moved into a small cottage, he embarked on a lengthy correspondence with Zed. Zed was recovering from alcoholism and a burned out career; Drummond was lost in a maze The pair decided they should experiment with the idea that they were cartoon superheroes, sent to save the world. They hatched the idea that if they could place a picture of Elvis Presley at the North Pole, the King's healing energies would save the world.

With laughably little planning, Drummond, Zed ;and Gimpo caught a plane to Helsinki, hired a car and drove north. Not Surprisingly, they hit the Baltic long before the North Pole. Drummond was distraught: he had imagined they would be able to drive over frozen seas. But in a bar in the North of Finland, they chanced upon a man who happened to mention that he was the keeper of the most northerly light- house in Europe. They solemnly presented him with the Elvis portrait.

Back home, they determined to write up Bill and Zed's Excellent Adventure and publish it themselves- There would be only one copy of their story, Lighthouse At The Top Of The World, to be kept at the Tower, in the dungeon where Cushendall's nineteenth-century curfew breakers were imprisoned. Readers would have to make a pilgrimage to see it. "This," says Drummond, "was going to be some thing you had to seek out."

At great expense, they had a bookbinder create a 2' 6" x l' 6" notebook, bound in reindeer skin. Why reindeer? The animal had achieved mystic significance for them after they had witnessed a herd's slaughter by Sami tribesmen. And as with every Drummond project, each detail was important: the reindeer skin was miraculous too - part of a consignment recovered by divers from a 1795 wreck off the Cornish coast.

But the project was soon abandoned as utterly impractical: it would take them years to transcribe their diaries into this beautiful book. Its empty pages now lie in the dungeon that Drummond and Zed plan to turn into their self-published library. Yet another of Drummond's projects had ended in heroic failure. "It cost a fortune, I'm telling you," he says ruefully. By now Drummond was writing notes to accompany a series of collages that Zed had made in Scandinavia in 1992 in an effort to keep himself on the wagon while The Love Reaction completed another gruelling tour. This, instead, became Curfew Press' first book. Bible of Dreams is available in a signed Limited edition of 200, priced at £500 a copy. It is a huge, beautifully made book: calf leather-bound and covered in blue moiree silk, printed on the finest paper, it reeks of erudition and respectability. But its contents are wildly incompatible: hard-core porn scenes involving dogs, donkeys, cows and more, pasted next to cute Walt Disney pin-ups; crucifixes constructed from photographs of women spurting milk from their huge breasts; and swastika shaped collages of clipped close-ups of anal sex.

At its most literal, The Bible of Dreams delves into the darkest side of masculinity. In an effort to justify Zed, penchant for swastikas and misogynistic imagery, Drummond writes: "This book corrupts and depraves. Men are dangerous and this book makes them more dangerous. Taking pornography out of its brown paper wrapper and sticking it in a stylishly bound, expensive book that purports to be artistic expression does not make it any less dangerous... " Some of the material is genuinely disturbing. Zed's pictures and Drummond's writing are both deliberately scatological; they're like children writing rude words on the toilet wall simply for the thrill of it. No other publisher would touch this obviously illegal material. The colour plates had to be photographically reproduced, again at absurd expense. At some point Drummond may well face prosecution by the Crown on the grounds of obscenity, or by that greater authority, Walt Disney, on the grounds of copyright infringement. Now a single copy of the Curfew Press' first book lies under lock and key alongside the aborted Lighthouse in the Tower's dungeon. On the advice of writer Iain Sinclair, Drummond and Zed have contacted a network of specialist book dealers who cater to bibliophiles interested in limited editions. As yet, though, only a few copies have been sold. Drummond wants his art to be judged on its own merit. It is an impossibility, of course. The books will inevitably, and perhaps reasonably, only be judged as an extension of his work as Britain's most famous' eccentric ex-pop star.

Back in England, minutes before he drops me at Leighton Buzzard station before returning to his exasperated girlfriend, pregnant with their child, saddled with a lover whose unpredictable artistic urges would be more than most could bear, he starts to talk about this paradox. The realisation that in a mere two years he has successfully destroyed the main source of his own power has only begun to strike him fully. Without KLF he can no longer draw on the power of celebrity. Without the money, he can no longer summon the grand gesture. The lure of The K Foundation rested on the money it had to squander. "It's something I realised a couple of months ago," he says, "that all that has changed. When I was with KLF, there was this feeling, you know, however stupid, that I was important. Absurd, I know, because I was only in a fuckin' pop group. Now all that is gone. We can't count on having success again, even if we wanted to. We destroyed it. We have pissed off our fan base. And we've got rid of all the money anyway, even if we did want to start again." For all his wayward creativity, a streak of self-destruction runs through much of Bill Drummond's career: abrupt cancellations of massive projects; the foolhardy trip to the North Pole, on which he swears he believed he and his two companions would freeze to death; the deliberate destruction of his own money; the elaborately expensive production of a book that is almost impossible to sell. "I realised it was all over. And that made me feel... strange. It had changed... like when you grow old." He pauses. The windscreen wipers are on double speed. " Wow!" he says, self-mockingly. "But that's why we did it, I suppose."

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Pictures:

Main pic: Charred £50 notes

Also: -Drummond/Cauty in classic pose. Cauty wears JAMS baseball cap

-The boathouse on Jura

-Drummond at BRITS, cigar in mouth, spraying audience with blanks

-One dead sheep in foyer of hotel

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Posted by Guest on 2007-04-06 15:04:24

Thanks much for providing this. A good read for an American fan of the KLF (sounds like it was from the UK edition of GQ).


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