For All The Great Explorers
This was going to be a big protest, a dramatic gesture, and a very rude one at that. I was going to announce my retirement, and denounce unknown colleagues who dared to waste time writing about the Sound, Bob Dylan books, and that old duffer Seeboard, or Piebald. I mean, freedom of expression is one thing, but letting peop0le get away with writing about the Sound, without even mentioning the only vaguely interesting fact there is, which is that Adrian Borland (appropriate name, I always thought!) produced Felt's Me and a Monkey on the Moon. Why, I never did understand, but he did. So, why the article was not returned, covered in red scrawl saying 'mind your language, son...' I will never know.
So, this was to be my grand finale, my goodbye. And I intended going out on a positive, upbeat note by writing about a current record. Solex, Clinic, Boards of Canada, or something. Something to make up for all the early '80s revisionism I was up to. I meant well. Yet, it's Dan's fault. He knew I was desperately resisting writing about the essential Blue Orchids compilation Cherry Red has just put out. He should have known that when I saw a cheap copy of Bill Drummond's 45 in a Soho bookshop it spelt trouble. He knows me, and he knows the book. He must have known what was going to happen.
I may be the last person left to be thrown into turmoil by 45. it set off fireworks in the same way Ringolevio did, and I like to think a lot of people have been swept out to sea, so to speak, by Drummond's stories. I wish I had read it earlier, but I'm glad I read it when I did.
I've got a Bill Drummond story for you. Around the time Creation released The Man, Bill Drummond appeared at the label's Christmas party. I guess this was 1986, and at Bay 63 in Ladbroke Grove. This was around the time I was finding people like Laugh and Happy Mondays many times more interesting than Creation acts like the House of Love and the Weather Prophets. Anyway, Bill Drummond opened proceedings by reading a tale from an old notebook, which may have been about exploring Scotland, and it may not have been. We, however, were totally spellbound, until a late arriving David Swift (NME journalist and Razorcuts drummer - not a great combination really, but a nice guy!) totally misjudged the mood of the event. Amazingly, he filled a paper plate with shaving foam, and walked up to the stage and threw it in Bill's face, in true slapstick fashion. To say Bill went berserk is an understatement, and the cutie with the deathwish was literally chased from the building and is probably still hiding out under the Westway. We thought the way Bill responded was the most punk rock thing we'd ever seen.
45 is filled with similarly rousing stories, which are in turns provoking, puzzling, funny, sad, and always human, sometimes enriching the myth, sometimes deflating the fuss. I have become temporarily obsessed with the book. I read it travelling to and from Bristol, and was delighted my train was delayed. No-one has really celebrated fully the role played by public transport in keeping books being read. It seemed right reading 45 while travelling on public transport.
I keep coming back to the notebooks. Throughout the book, and presumably his adult life, Drummond and his books seem to have been inseparable. This goes back to the Bay 63 event, and the man reading from a notebook. I used to be much the same. I used to be forever scribbling things down, particular quotes or ideas that I had picked up, and I would then recycle these one way or another. I hadn't done that for a long time. I have probably been absorbed in 'real' work, which is pretty sad.
Reading 45 however, I found myself jotting down quotes and some of Dummond's tenets and observations. The book itself starts with Drummond noting how pop infects us, and haunts all we do, and flicking through pages here of course most of the things I have scribbled down are pop related. Yet, much of the book is not about pop alone. Hmmmm...
One section I particularly liked, which was not explicitly pop-related, goes:
"I love the modern world. I love all the crap it churns out and throws up and blows about. I love the way it repackages the past and regurgitates it for us to consume as heritage culture. Well at least I do in theory."
Ah, what it is when king bluff hears its name being called.
Better still is the one I jotted down from the start of the book, where in the middle of Elvis, Jacko and the Spice Girls he writes about not missing the music business:
"I try to tell them that the music business is about making unsuccessful bands successful. Successful bands by their very definition are as interesting as packets of cornflakes. No, it's strange, weird, fucked-up, unsuccessful pop music that I dig. Deluded pop music that wants to be successful and can't understand why it isn't. I don't mean any of that avant-garde shit or stuff made for and by those value musicianship but the cheap and nasty and mistaken and cracked, sung by singers who will fuck up with the first hint of success and by bands who will only ever make two singles before they fall apart."
Sorry, a long quote, but Amen to all that! Elsewhere I have written: "No comeback has ever worked" with about one hundred exclamation marks. Bill's words, not mine.
In my notebook, I have scribbled down other bits and pieces, with lots of 'Yes!' type things by the side. Avery big 'YES!' for where he writes to Seymour Stein, saying he had released two of the greatest pop singles ever in the Flamin' Groovies' 'Shake Some Action' and the Talking Heads 'Love Goes To A Building On Fire', and that neither group should have been allowed to enter a recording studio ever again, and that Sire should not allow Echo and the Bunnymen to release LPs. An even bigger 'YES!!' for saying that for a few months in 1978 Subway Sect were the greatest pop group in the world. Perhaps my biggest 'YES!!!' is for the suggestion that things imagined are best of all, though the notion that Mick Finkler and Paul Simpson were thee great figures of the Liverpool scene in the late '70s / early '80s seems as right as anything I could come up with. I have also scribbled down that I would love to ask the man what he thinks of the 176 bus route, which is my own favourite for many reasons, but as he writes: "don't meet your heroes."
The interesting thing is anyone reading 45 will have their own approach road to walk up. From some the references above, you may not be surprised to learn that I first came across Mr Drummond in 1979-ish when the first Zoo records were emerging. For a brief while, the Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen were the coolest things around, and I had my overcoat and floppy fringe and pegged old man's trousers and all that until Postcard eclipsed everything in the Zoo. If you'll excuse the pun, it may have been a different story had Drummond applied his own rules and stopped the Bunnymen recording LPs and then shot Julian Cope after he recorded 'Treason', or at least kept Mick Finkler and Paul Simpson in the picture.
Anyway, it's one of the old chestnuts about pop writing, that an article makes the reader want to go out and buy a record, or dig out a particular record and play it. I prefer what someone wrote about one of my old fanzines, about how it made them want to go out and buy records he already had (this was pre CDs). And how about, Bill Drummond making me want to go and buy records I had long since given away and forgotten about.
I had not thought about Echo and the Bunnymen properly for years. I loved the first LP when it came out in the summer of 1980, but then condemned them for caving in and conforming to solid rock orthodoxy. I did (secretly) like a few later singles, and I remember with particular affection one great Top Of The Pops performance where Mac looked as gorgeous as Joanne Whalley, wriggling out of his sloppy joe t-shirt, peering out through his fringe. Wow! Whatever happened to Joanne Whalley? I know she went to Hollywood and married Val Kilmer. Did you see in Big Daddy the confusion between Val Wilmer and Val Kilmer? Brilliant! Anyway, Jo was the best actress of her generation, and prefect for the Alan Bleasdale / Dennis Potter stuff. In the TV serial of A Kind Of Loving, she was as enchanting as Mac at his crooning, swooning best.
So, reading Bull Drummond's 'From The Shores of Lake Placcid' left me with an overwhelming urge to hear Crocodiles again. Odd in itself as Drummond is so dismissive of the record. While he is right, the record works now because it sounds too "tinny, reedy and thin". Yes, still rather daft and glamorous, and even on the CD there is still that picture of the Bunnymen playing live, which in the early days of Kitchenware Keith Armstrong rightly identified as one of the classic rock'n'roll images. Ah! But so shortly afterwards the Bunnymen and Teardrops blew it, and Postcard's Orange Juice were infinitely more cool and clever and the Blue Orchids more romantic and holy, and I still can't decide if the best record ever to come out of Liverpool was made by Wah! or the Wild Swans.
I may wonder about Those Naughty Lumps and what happened to Lori, but other people will come to 45 from being huge KLF fans or from being curious about the pranks and protests Drummond and his mates have been involved with. I envy these people. Yet, for now, this farewell is for anyone who has shed a tear listening to the Blue Orchids perform 'The Long Night Out', Derrick Harriott sing 'The Loser', the Players doing 'He'll Be Back'. And if you will allow me one 'Ovisian digression' (or, yes Dan, one Geoff Dyer Out of Sheer Rage aside), the Players' 'He'll be Back', a Vietnam inspired heart breaker, is a song I came across many years ago on a Minit compilation, when it was still possible to pick up such things of sheer beauty in charity shops for 50p, and which has now resurfaced on a great Kent compilation called Impressed!, 24 groups inspired by the legendary Impressions and Curtis Mayfield. Completely brilliant! Can you imagine someone getting away with compilations on a theme of 20 group inspired by the legendary New Order, or 20 groups inspired by the legendary Mark E Smith and The Fall? Yes, I will say it one last time: context is everything. I had to say that. I remember asking Bobby once who wrote the history books, and he replied rightly "we should!" And it's up to us to create the new contexts.
So, thanks for having me, and putting up with me. If I may just return to that Creation Christmas party, we should of course have followed Bill out into the West London night, rather than admire the spectacle. Yes, that's why Bill wrote 45, and I'm signing off! I'll see some of you around no doubt. Keep in touch!
© Kevin Pearce 2002
PS: By the way, in case anyone is wondering, I probably would have said the Clinic and Boards of Canada records are great records because they sound like great Clinic and Boards of Canada records.