Bill Drummond - 45

I'm sure that Bill Drummond is an awfully nice chap. He obviously does lots of amusing things. But, there again, lots of other people do amusing things as well. Without feeling the need to publicise their actions in a book, dressed up with artistic pretensions.

 

 

Bill Drummond is known principally for his associations with the music business. For those ignorant of the facts, he was an instrumental force in Liverpool's legendary Eric's scene in the late 1970s. With the aid of David Balfe, he founded Zoo Records, a stable that housed Echo & the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and Big in Japan (of which he was a member). After a long spell managing the Teardrops and the Bunnymen, he became an A&R man at Warner Brothers, before triumphantly bouncing back with considerable chart success with the KLF (whom he had founded with Jim Cauty). So much for the potted rock history. Mr. Drummond possesses a fine record in this sphere and I take my hat off to him for his achievements. I honestly do.

 

But.

 

I might as well tell you now that I don't like this book at all. For, despite 45's affable, almost "camp fire" air of self-revelation, I don't trust it. It is, by turns, a patronising, prissy, hectoring and paranoid book. Funnily enough, there is also a distinctively Pooterish element to all the action that ensues in 45, but without Pooter's charm and naivety.

 

Bill Drummond is a champion dabbler. Doubtless full of good intentions, he pokes around for something to do, normally with his interesting and talented friends. Usually he dabbles in the name of Art and Beauty (albeit with a soupcon of Post Modern Irony). In each chapter he sets before us, he usually finds that a conclusion can be drawn from his actions; conclusions that give him (and therefore us) insights that will, in turn, give us a greater appreciation of Life.

 

He writes a haiku, he makes soup for artists in Belfast (odiously referred to as "my Irish city of choice" ; how deadly dull and patronising that sounds), he makes up and markets Finnish pop stars in a charming record industry hoax, he goes to Labour conferences about Art and The Music Industry. He indulges in amusing and wacky capers with his friends, such as hanging dead cows from pylons during the height of the BSE scare. All done in a spirit of earnest enquiry of course. How thrilling.

 

However, despite his artistic declamations, he can't really escape the fact that he is a loaded ex-pop star who, despite his undoubted good intentions, sometimes comes across like a smug prig. In one chapter we find him debating the merits of buying art, (sorry, Art). Not that that is an activity solely confined to the nouveau riche; rather it is his oh, so coy, oh, so humble description of the bartering process that sticks in the craw. And I'm not going to talk about him writing about the burning of the million pounds, as enough time and thought has been wasted over that particular subject. Suffice to say I think it stupid and wrong.

 

Oh, lordy...

 

The very process of trying to describe what it is about this book that annoys me, (and then having to write it all down) is making me depressed. I'm sick of being cast in the role of judge to Mr Drummond's actions. I rather think he expects the reader to cast judgement. All Mr Drummond's confessions, moments of revelation, mild disappointments and re-assessments of  artistic ventures are just self abasement in another form. But a smug self abasement.  

 

After re-reading all of the above, I wonder if I've been a bit harsh. I know I've shown myself in a very puritanical light in this review. Trust me I am a very genial fellow, as my friends will attest to. And there are some good bits in 45. Especially the chapter on his involvement with the Bunnymen and the Teardrops. But, even here, you'd be better off reading Cope's brilliant "Head On", as (despite Cope's jokey tone and rock star fantasizing) I feel you get far more of the truth; purely because Cope had less to lose in writing his account. Drummond's feels more like a manifesto published in an attempt to keep his hat in the ring.

 

And I'm sure that Bill Drummond is an awfully nice chap. He obviously does lots of amusing things. But, there again, lots of other people do amusing things as well. Without feeling the need to publicise their actions in a book, dressed up with artistic pretensions. Still, this book was written in 1998. Seven years have passed. Hopefully Mr Drummond will have resigned himself to his modern, quirky, off-beat life being out of the public gaze.

 

A postscript: James Waterson couldn't but help add his twopenno'th on the matter of La Drummond. And a  most invigorating read it is too. Here 'tis...

 

Certain things are immediately obvious when reading erstwhile band manager, pop star and wannabe artist Bill Drummond's collection of journalism: his reliance on fanciful anecdotes of dubious veracity, a tendency towards dire descriptive writing and a general lack of focus are the order of the day. Yet one fact screams louder than the rest - this man is a bona-fide cunt of the highest order.This fact is inarguable. As any reader of Julian Cope's fantastic "Head On" will know this man routinely stole ideas, scuppered commercial success and crushed dreams to fit into his grand plan of life - namely "How do I make Bill Drummond legendary?". He recounts with glee his attempts to annoy a music industry in which he played a willing role. Most infuriatingly the whole thing is coated in some sugary arch-knowingness that some broadsheet writer will already have down as "the new age of post-modern pop culture".

 

Which makes it all the more infuriating that this is one of the most readable, addictive and interesting books on music you'll ever come across. Eschewing a simple autobiography in favour of a series of essays was a clever move - surprisingly The KLF's attempts to get country legend Tammy Wynette onto a hit house track prove to be far more interesting than the schooldays of a minister's son. What elevates it into fantastic reading is not the anecdotes but Drummond's brilliant storytelling style. The more mundane subjects often give rise to the more engaging pieces while Drummond's poorly thought out plans become gradually more entertaining as the book progresses. Sure, he'll never be a great artist but all the projects are carried with so much style and humour that the statement reaches far beyond its real power. Of course, none of this would ever have been possible for any old aspiring artist - it's just lucky for Drummond that he happened to fleece the British public out of millions.

 

All this just reminds how great The KLF were. Not the music as such, more the concepts, the humour and full-on, non-careerist attitude they took. Drummond's inner knowledge of the music industry gave them an apparent ticket to the top of the charts. When written down as an irreverent DIY guide to having a number one ("The Manual") little did anyone expect that the book would actually result in a series of hit singles from those who followed it to the word. The ease with which they slipped into being one of the biggest groups in Britain without loosing any of their, essentially cult, comedy and reference points is admirable.

 

The highlight comes when Drummond takes the short film "The K Foundation burn a million quid" to Beograd, Serbia. Merely miles away from bombing and genocide he describes a visit to a world where Art is created, without public funding, for the people rather than Guardian readers. A seemingly idyllic European city in the middle of a bloody war with the people trying to comprehend their place in a post-Communism world may seem a provocative place to screen a film based around gratuitous rejection of money but the resulting conversations with the locals is suitably endearing. Even better, they manage to show the author up on several occasions, showing irrelevance of such petty statements to those with a wider understanding of the world and of hardship.

 

Towards the end Drummond recalls the 'Cool Britannia' crossover between New Labour and music. "To be involved in any way with the political establishment is to be an unwitting handmaiden to their PR machine." He's right, but having spent 300 pages dissecting creative business, the notion of credibility and the concept of art he seems oblivious to his own hypocritical position as a man so in thrall to celebrity and notoriety that he has only served to boost the glamour and provocative actions of the whole music industry. Of course, he'd probably proclaim that such thoughts were just his oh-so-clever attempt at making an artistic statement about our own hypocrisies. The sad fact is that he'd probably be right. The cunt.