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Bill Drummond - Liverpool or Why Andy Warhol Is Shite!
By Phil Thornton
This talk/performance by the former KLF, K-Foundation and Korova (he’s got a thing for the KKK eh?) front man is part of a series of events entitled ’Late At The Tate.’ In theory this is a great idea, to put on a multi-media event when most people, other than professional luvvies and crack heads can actually attend - ie after work. The schedule for this began with drinkies in the foyer area, then the talk in the auditorium (tickets only at £7 a pop), with poetry reading on downstairs by Michael Horowitz (no, not Adrock from the Beasties but some beat poet muppet) while Echo’s Will Sergeant DJ’d a mix of psychey 60s flavoured tunes til the sun set over Wallasey. The plan was to get there early but after failing to find somewhere to scran we ended up in Fred Talbot’s old parking speck outside Exchange Flags with only minutes to spare. I put 2 hours on the ticket. As the talk was due to begin at 6, and was scheduled to last an hour and a half, I thought this would leave me with plenty of time to sup a bevy afterwards while listening to old Nice b-sides before scampering back to Runny for me belly pork and scallops.
We made our way up to the auditorium via the ludicrously small lift in groups of fives (I asked the lad if they had those old fashioned ‘stair’ things but, no, it was the lift or fuck all) and sat down as far back as we could ie right next to the ’give it toes’ exit. We thought we’d be late but the lift fiasco ensured that it took a good 20 minutes or so before the small auditorium was full. You know you’re in the wrong place when there are more than three men with Mark Kermode haircuts, clicks of Kwik Fit Fitters from Lesbian Central Casting and young lads with Wirral accents sporting Maori top knots. Unfortunately Mr Drummond was working on Bill-time and we were evacuated from the auditorium while some ’technical problems’ were sorted out.
Being a typically tight-arse wool, my mind was now on a possible parking ticket and it was another 20 minutes or so before we sat back down (luckily in our handy early dart specks from earlier) and Big Bill Broonsy was introduced to the assembled worshipful throng (except me and Naylor). It was by now almost 7 o’clock which meant that if he stuck to the allotted time, I’d be half an hour over, and knowing the ruthless efficiency of the parking Stasi, I’d cop for a thirty quid fine. Still, there might be a break and I could go and put another hour on I suppose.
I actually like Drummond and was expecting some of his usual tales of setting up Korova, working with people like McCulloch, Cope, Wylie etc, his KLF days and all the stuff we associate him with. However, it soon became apparent that we were to be disappointed. Bill began with loose rambling stories about his art school days in Liverpool - and I do mean rambling - whether he was putting on the ’I don’t remember what his name was, I don’t remember where we were living’ shtick or he simply couldn’t recall these events from 30 odd years ago, it struck me as rather shoddy work from a ’performer.’ Either he hadn’t really prepared his talk and thought he could wing it or else he was putting on an absent minded duffer act. Whichever it was, it bordered on taking the piss from people who’d stumped up seven whole English pounds to listen to him.
But taking the piss is what Bill’s all about isn’t it? That’s his niche; the absurdist, surrealist, situationist, ironic, Dadaist prankster. So Bill he yakked about getting busted by the drugs squad and about the time him and his art school chum applied to be dustmen but became gardeners instead. Hilarity ensued as Drummo explained how they eventually got off with a wrongful narcotics bust and how they wanted to burn their pay packets in front of their work-shy ’wage slave’ council gardener pals but bottled out at the last minute.
‘I wish I‘d have got that out of my system , it would have saved me a lot of money‘ Bill joked with reference to his K-Foundation burning a million quid stunt. Everyone guffawed knowingly except me and Naylor.
‘What’s he on about?’ I asked Naylor who shrugged as the art lecturer ponces next to us looked on patronisingly. These beauts hmmmd and arrgghd at every esoteric art school reference Bill chucked to the floor.
‘My tutor was called Peter…something or other….Peter Pendergrass, that’s it….does anyone remember Peter Pendergrass?’
‘Arggh, Peter……good old Peter……’ the tits next to us chunnered in between elongated bouts of nostalgic ‘catching up.’ Whoppers to the left of me, nuggets to the right, here I am, stuck in the Tate with you.
The fellar next to me in the white suit might have actually been Peter Penderfuckingrass for all we knew. Time check. 7.30. Half an hour in and he’s still in 1974, there’s no way I’m gonna get away with a fine here kidda. So, I’m thinking about jibbing it at 7.45 when Bill asks if we want a break before the next bit of his talk. One lad asks to go to the toilet and no-one else mutters, so Bill cracks on with the next part of his talk/performance. Shit! I’m seriously thinking of getting off at this point because, while Bill’s talking about hearing Andy Warhol talking to him, I’m hearing my missus yelling at me because me tea’s in the dog.
The next part of the talk begins in 1999 when his ex-Big In Japan bandmate and Liverpool cultural scenester, Jane Casey contacts him and asks if he’ll contribute to the Biennial. Eh? What about Echo, what about Teardrop, what about Tammy fucking Wynette lad? Oh, explains Bill, this era was covered in his book and he’s already talked about that far too many times. This talk, you must understand, is to form the basis for his NEXT book. So, even though the Tate have promoted this as a part of their ‘Liverpool; centre of the creative universe’ exhibition, which Drummond provided a manifesto poster for, really it’s just a chance to try out material from his latest book; he’s the Peter Kaye of art-school irony. So, all the interesting stuff is missed out and we’re onto Bill’s attempt to become an artist again. A piss artist, but an artist nonetheless.
He’s brought along some of his pieces to show us and explains that his self-imposed artistic limitations - the colours can only be primary colours, the font can only be a certain font. He’s a one man Dogme is this lad! One of his rules is that no painting should be bigger than the artist, art shouldn’t be used to intimidate the viewer and it’s a good line. It’s warming up. Bill’s beginning to cook on gas, he’s working the crowd, he’s banging through his canvasses, and they’re pretty good in a jokey, art’s all a big con anyway kinda way. Bill’s not telling us owt we don’t already know but he’s funny and engaging. One canvas is an advert for his services as a prostitute for example. He’s literally selling himself out. Tee hee. We are ALL prostitutes eh?
I’m beginning to enjoy this now but there’s something niggling away at me. It’s not just Drummond’s overgrown 6th former wacky japes but the fact that I’m five minutes over my ticket. The three KD Lang-a-likes have already spewed it and whilst I don’t want to look philistine or rude, there’s no way I’m risking a thirty quid fine to listen to some posh Jock clock up some sales patter on my time daddio. I tap Naylor on the leg, I’m off ski. As I get up to open the door I catch Bill look over out of the corner of my eye. I’ve worked out a response if he begins to berate me.
‘When’s Transformers coming on?‘ That’s what I’ll say but he doesn’t heckle me, so I just act all cool like.
I get down to the car and the parking attendant’s stood in front of the bay but there’s no ticket. I ponder whether to put another hour on and return to the talk/performance but decide I’m too hungry and can’t be arsed. Later I text Naylor to ask if that aul student is still boring everyone? He doesn’t reply.
As it happens, Drummond’s poster that forms part of the Liverpool centre Of The Creative Universe exhibition is the only thing I was impressed by when I visited a few months back. Why? Because it states that the Capital Of Culture will only succeed if it ignores the past and if it doesn’t kow-tow to corporate and arts council sensibilities. Then you walk around the exhibition and there are the photos of The Cavern, of Scotty Road in the 50s and 60s, of Birkenhead in the 80s, there are the old Mersey beat documentaries and the Eric’s memorabilia and even the ravey Buzz Club videos and it’s all about The Past, it’s all Theme Park Liverpool, it’s everything Bill said it shouldn’t be. As for being the centre of the creative universe? Well, how deluded is that? A quote from Ginsberg it may have been but then Ginsberg was the Pele of poetry, he’d say anything to ingratiate himself with his hosts.
There was 63,64,65 and there was 79,80,81 when Liverpool could lay a legitimate claim to this meaningless and boastful title (even if it was said in jest); Bill Drummond played a massive part in this second era and can justly be proud of his contribution to Liverpool and Britain’s cultural success during that period. It would’ve been nice to hear him talk about it.
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