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Bill Drummond

[druhm-uhnd]

William Ernest Drummond (born April 29, 1953, Butterworth, South Africa) is a Scottish musician, music industry figure, writer and artist. He is best known as co-founder of The KLF, the avant-garde "pop group" of the late eighties, the K Foundation, its nineties "avant-art" media-manipulating successor, and for burning a million pounds in 1994. He has also written several books, produced a variety of different conceptual art projects, and helped to set-up The Foundry, an arts centre in Shoreditch, London.

Background

Bill Drummond was born to Scottish parents in Butterworth, South Africa, where his father was a preacher for the Church of Scotland. His family moved back to Scotland when he was 18 months old, and his early years were spent in the town of Newton Stewart, moving on to Corby in Northamptonshire at the age of 11. It was here he first became involved in performing as a musician working initially with several school friends.

Career

1970s: Illuminatus, Big in Japan, and Zoo

As an art student in Liverpool, England, Drummond was involved with the set design for the first stage production of The Illuminatus! Trilogy, a 12-hour performance which opened on November 23, 1976, and which was staged by Ken Campbell's "Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool". According to Campbell, Drummond became known as "the man who went for Araldite": "In the middle of a tour, Drummond announced he was popping out to get some glue - and never returned.

Drummond's musical career began in 1977 with Big in Japan, a band whose membership also included future luminaries Holly Johnson, Budgie, Jayne Casey and Ian Broudie. After the band's demise, Drummond and another member David Balfe started Zoo Records, their first release being Big in Japan's posthumous EP, From Y To Z and Never Again. They went on to act as both producers and label managers, releasing the debut singles by Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, both of which Drummond would later manage somewhat idiosyncratically. This included sending Echo & The Bunnymen on a tour of "bizarre and apparently random sites, including the Northern Isles. "It's not random," said Drummond, speaking as the Bunnymen's manager. "If you look at a map of the world, the whole tour's in the shape of a rabbit's ears."" The production team of Drummond and Balfe was christened The Chameleons, who also recorded the single "Touch" together with a female singer as Lori and the Chameleons.

1980s: A&R man & solo recording artist

Drummond later took a job in the mainstream music business as an A&R executive for the label WEA, working with Strawberry Switchblade, Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, The Proclaimers and Brilliant. In July 1986, on his 33 and a third birthday, Drummond repented his corporate involvement and resigned his job by way of a "ringingly quixotic press release": "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... (In an interview in December 1990, Drummond recalled spending half a million pounds at WEA on the band Brilliant - for whom he envisioned massive worldwide success - only for them to completely flop. "At that point I thought 'What am I doing this for?' and I got out.")

Drummond was "obviously very sharp," said WEA chairman Rob Dickens, "and he knew the business. But he was too radical to be happy inside a corporate structure. He was better off working as an outsider."

Later in the year, Drummond issued a solo album, The Man, a country/folk music recording, backed by Australian rock group The Triffids. The album was perhaps most notable for the sardonic "Julian Cope Is Dead", where he outlined his fantasy of shooting the Teardrop Explodes frontman in the head to ensure the band's early demise and subsequent legendary status. The song has commonly been seen as a reply to the Cope song "Bill Drummond Said". As a B-side, Drummond wrote and recorded "The Managers Speech" in which he lamented the state of the music industry and offered his services to help fix it.

The Man received positive reviews - including 4 stars from Q Magazine; and 5 from Sounds Magazine who called the album a "touching if idiosyncratic biographical statement". Drummond intended to focus on writing books once The Man had been issued but, as he recalled in 1990, "That only lasted three months, until I had an[other] idea for a record and got dragged back into it all".

1987-1992: The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords and The KLF

While out walking on New Years Day 1987, Drummond formulated a plan to make a hip-hop record. However, "I wasn't brave enough to go and do it myself", he said. "...although I can play the guitar, and I can knock out a few things on the piano, I knew nothing, personally, about the technology. And, I thought, I knew Jimmy [Cauty], I knew he was a like spirit, we share similar tastes and backgrounds in music and things. So I phoned him up that day and said "Let's form a band called The Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu". And he knew exactly, to coin a phrase, "where I was coming from".

Drummond and Cauty (who Drummond had signed to Food/WEA as a member of Brilliant) released their first single, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu's "All You Need Is Love", in March 1987. This was followed by an album - 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?) - in June of the same year, and a high-profile copyright dispute with ABBA and the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society. A second and final album by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (The JAMs) - Who Killed The JAMs? was released in February 1988.

Later in 1988, Drummond and Cauty released a 'novelty' pop single, "Doctorin' the Tardis" as The Timelords. The song reached number one in the UK Singles Chart on 12 June, and charted highly in Australia and New Zealand. On the back of this success, the duo self-published a book, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way).

In March 1988, the duo regrouped as The KLF and released their first singles under this moniker, "Burn the Bastards" and "Burn the Beat". (From late 1987, Drummond and Cauty's independent record label had been named "KLF Communications".) As The KLF, Drummond and Cauty would amass fame and fortune. "What Time Is Love?" - a signature song which they would revisit and revitalise several times in the coming years - saw its first release in July 1988, and its success spawned an album, The "What Time Is Love?" Story, in September 1989. Chill Out, an ambient house album which had its roots in Cauty's chill-out sessions with The Orb's Alex Paterson, was released in February 1990. Described by The Times as "The KLF's comedown classic", Chill Out was named the fifth best dance album of all time in a 1996 Mixmag feature.

The KLF's commercial success peaked in 1991, with The White Room album and the accompanying "Stadium House" singles, remixes of 1988's "What Time Is Love?", 1989's "3 a.m. Eternal", 1990's "Last Train to Trancentral"; and "Justified and Ancient", a new song based on a sample from 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?).

In 1992, The KLF were awarded the "Best British group" BRIT Award. With hardcore heavy metal group Extreme Noise Terror, The KLF performed a live version of "3 a.m. Eternal" at the BRIT Awards ceremony, a "violently antagonistic performance" in front of "a stunned music-business audience". Later in the evening Drummond and Cauty dumped a dead sheep with the message "I died for ewe—bon appetit [sic]" tied around its waist at the entrance to one of the post-ceremony parties. NME listed this appearance at number 4 in their "top 100 rock moments", and, in 2003, The Observer named it the fifth greatest "publicity stunt" in the history of popular music.

On May 14 1992, The KLF announced their immediate retirement from the music industry and the deletion of their entire back catalogue, an act which associate Scott Piering described as "[throwing] away a fortune". As when he left WEA, Drummond issued an enigmatic press release, this time talking of a "wild and wounded, glum and glorious, shit but shining path" he and Cauty had been following "...these past five years. The last two of which has [sic] led us up onto the commercial high ground—we are at a point where the path is about to take a sharp turn from these sunny uplands down into a netherworld of we know not what. There have been numerous suggestions that in 1992 Drummond was at the edge of a nervous breakdown. Vox Magazine wrote, for example, that 1992 was "the year of Bill's 'breakdown', when The KLF, perched on the peak of greater-than-ever success, quit the music business, ... [and] machine gunned the tuxedo'd twats in the front row of that year's BRIT Awards ceremony. Drummond himself said that he was on the edge of the "abyss".

1993-1997: K Foundation, burning one million pounds, and other activities with Jimmy Cauty

Despite The KLF's retirement from the music business, Drummond's involvement with Jimmy Cauty was far from over. In 1993, the pair regrouped as the K Foundation, ostensibly a foundation for the arts. They established the K Foundation art award for the "worst artist of the year". The award, worth £40,000, was presented to Rachel Whiteread on 23 November 1993 outside London's Tate Gallery. Ms Whiteread had just accepted the £20,000 1993 Turner Prize award for best British Contemporary artist inside the gallery. The K Foundation award attracted huge interest from the British broadsheet newspapers.

Infamy followed when, on 23 August 1994, the K Foundation burnt what remained of The KLF's earnings - one million pounds sterling - at a boathouse on the Scottish island of Jura. A film of the event - Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid - was taken on tour, with Drummond and Cauty discussing the incineration with members of the public after each screening. In 2004 Drummond admitted to the BBC that he now regretted burning the money. "It's a hard one to explain to your kids and it doesn't get any easier. I wish I could explain why I did it so people would understand. Rumor has it that the £1 million was "bought' from the Royal Mint - and was to be incinerated anyway (as notes that have become too fragile to remain in circulation usually are). It is reported that the £1 million actually cost the KLF £40,000 - the publicity generated by the "stunt" was well worth the financial outlay. However this seems unlikely; Banknotes deemed for destruction have to suffer that fate at the Mint, they cannot be sold. Equally, when the ashes of the notes were sent to the Bank of England for analysis so it could be confirmed they were the remains of £1 million in £50 notes, the Bank refused to touch them as they could not believe anyone in the public domain would willingly destroy their banknotes. The K-Foundation had to use an independent analysis company to confirm they were the remains as claimed.

On 4 September 1995 the duo recorded "The Magnificent" for The Help Album. In 1997, Drummond and Cauty briefly re-emerged as 2K and K2 Plant Hire Ltd. with various plans to "Fuck the Millennium". K2 Plant Hire's published aim was to "build a massive pyramid containing one brick for every person born in the UK during the 20th century Members of the public were urged to donate bricks, with 1.5 bricks per Briton being needed to complete the project. Drummond also contributed a short story titled "Let’s Grind, or How K2 Plant Hire Ltd Went to Work" to the book "Disco 2000".

1993 onwards: How to be an artist

In the years after the final activities of the K Foundation, Drummond has sought a career as an artist and writer.

In 1995, Drummond bought A Smell of Sulphur in the Wind by Richard Long, his favourite contemporary artist, for $20,000. Five years later, he attempted to sell the work by placing a series of placards around the country. When this failed to work, in 2001, he cut the photograph and text work into 20,000 pieces, to sell for $1 each.

In 2002, Bill Drummond was involved - along with Turner Prize nominee Tracey Emin - in a controversial exhibition at the deconsecrated St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church, Liverpool. Drummond contributed a guestbook which asked visitors "Is God a Cunt?". It was later reported that the artwork had been stolen and a £1000 reward offered for its return. Drummond himself said that he would answer "no" to his own question: "God is responsible for all the things I love, the speckles on a brown trout; the sound of Angus Young's guitar, the nape of my girlfriend's neck, the song of the blackcap when he returns in Spring. I never blame God for all the shit, for the baby Rwandan slaughtered in a casual genocide, the ever-present wars, drudgery and misery that fills most of our lives.

Other projects have included MyDeath.net, where people can plan their own funeral.

Drummond is also co-founder of The Foundry, an arts centre in Shoreditch, London, and owner of The Curfew Tower in Cushendall, Northern Ireland. Via an arts trust called In You We Trust, Drummond loans the tower to young artists and exhibits their work.

1993 onwards: Music

Bill Drummond's involvement in the music industry has been minimal since his final collobaration with Jimmy Cauty as 2K in 1997.

In 1998, the Scottish Football Association invited Drummond to write and record a theme song for the Scotland national football team's 1998 FIFA World Cup campaign. It was reported that Drummond and Jimmy Cauty were in talks with the SFA. Drummond later wrote about the grandiose plans he had for the record: " I had the whole thing worked out in my head - the tune, the words, the video storyboard, even the Top of the Pops performance choreographed. All my experience in pop music had a reason after all. Everything I had gone through was leading to this point, to write this song, to make this record...." One of the highlights was to be "a 16 bar instrumental refrain featuring at least a hundred guitarists, each playing the same melody in unison! Every Scottish guitarist that ever made it into the UK Top 40 would be invited, from the lads out of the Bay City Rollers to Primal Scream; from Nazareth, Big Country, Orange Juice, The Alex Harvey Band, Josef K to The Humblebums. Drummond backed out as he realised the amount of effort that would be required (Del Amitri got the job) but he wondered if he had twisted fate by declining, because the other major football songs of that year were all made by associates of his: Keith Allen ("Vindaloo") and Ian Broudie ("Three Lions"), two men he had met on the same day when working on Illuminatus! in 1976, and former protege Ian McCulloch ("Top of the World"). "That night after I heard the three English World Cup football records", Drummond continued, "I fell asleep and had a dream. Ian Broudie, Ian McCulloch, Keith Allen and myself were sitting around that table in the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun. 'Why didn't you make your record, Bill? You know you were supposed to make it. It was agreed a long time ago. We made our records, why didn't you make yours?'".

In 2000, Drummond released 45, a book consisting of a "series of loosely related vignettes forming the rambling diary of one year. 45 also explored Drummond's KLF legacy, and was well received by the press.

His most recent project is a choir called The17.

Reviews, accolades and criticism

In 1993, Select magazine named Drummond the "coolest person in pop": "What has this giant of coolness not achieved?", they asked:
Like the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Drummond has always been a step ahead of human evolution, guiding us on. Manager of The Teardrop Explodes, co-inventor of ambient and trance house, number one pop star, situationist pagan, folk troubadour, pan-dimensional zanarchist gentleman of leisure...and then, ladies and gentlemen, he THROWS IT ALL AWAY, machine-guns the audience and dumps a dead sheep on the doorstep of the Brit Awards and vanishes to build dry-stone walls. His new 'band' The K Foundation make records but say they won't release them at all until world peace is established. Deranged, inspired, intensely cool.

Also in 1993, an NME piece about the K Foundation found much to praise in Drummond's career, from Zoo Records through to the K Foundation art award: "Bill Drummond's career is like no other... there's been cynicism... and there's been care (no one who didn't love pop music could have made a record so commercial and so Pet Shop Boys-lovely as 'Kylie Said to Jason', or the madly wonderful 'Last Train to Trancentral', or the Tammy Wynette version of 'Justified and Ancient'). There's been mysticism... But most of all there's been a belief that, both in music and life, there's something more."

Charles Shaar Murray wrote in The Independent that "[Bill] Drummond is many things, and one of those things is a magician. Many of his schemes... 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...

Trouser Press referred to Drummond as a "high-concept joker"; and Britain's The Sun called him a "madcap Scots genius".

Queen of the South

Bill Drummond is a self confessed fan of Scottish football club Queen of the South. "Queen of the South" is also the title of the 6th track on his 1986 album "The man".

Artistic output

Discography (solo)

Bibliography

Art projects

Notes & references

External links

Websites set up by Bill Drummond

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