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: 10788
- 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
£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
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
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."
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).