Adventures with the Mojave Phone Booth book now available Deuce of Clubs Book Club: Books of the Weak


Bill Drummond (2001)


As far as being a manager of Echo and the Bunnymen was concerned, my vision was almost as naively simple. My job was to trick Echo and the Bunnymen into being the greatest band in the world. I knew there was no chance that they could ever make the greatest single or even one great single (they later proved me wrong on that point), but they could be a band that people would die for. A band to follow to the ends of the earth. (35-6)

But a couple of months later, I was sitting on the battered sofa in The Zoo office in Button Street, a copy of the Crocodiles sleeve on the floor, front side up. The photograph, taken by Brian Griffin, was of the band in a wood at night, the trees lit up. From where I was sitting, the photograph was foreshortened. I imagined I could see something in the picture that I hadn't noticed before. The four members of the band were all looking aimlessly in different directions. Les, the most central figure, was leaning against the trunk of an ash tree. The tree must have been coppiced at some time, because it had two primary trunks that had grown to twist gently around each other. I went out into the street with the sleeve of the record and asked a passer-by, a middle-aged woman, if she would look at this album sleeve from a certain angle. What did the tree in the middle look like? 'The head of a Spooky rabbit. Why, what am I supposed to see?' She confirmed my suspicions. (37)

Factory Records released the album by Joy Division. It defined romance and misery for the young men of the age. Then Ian Curtis, the singer, topped himself just before their second album was released. The music press deified him. He was an instant rock legend. Their album Closer was a milestone in Rock's Rich Tapestry. And I thought, wow, if that's all it takes, let's kill Mac. Well, not actually kill him, just get him to stay at his gran's for a couple of months, with the curtains closed. See how the rock media deal with it. See what the obituaries have to say. See how soon the sainthood is given. See where the record sales go. Nothing as sexy as the death of a young man. Nothing proves he meant it as much as having to take his own life. Ask Vincent. And then go, 'Ha, tricked you.' (I'm still hoping that The Manic Street Preachers are going to pull that one.) I talked to Mick Houghton about it; he didn't think it was a good idea. (39)

A secret plan started to evolve. I wanted to get The Teardrop Explodes to do some sort of performance in New Guinea, while simultaneously having Echo and The Bunnymen perform in Iceland. I would be at neither place; I would be standing on the manhole cover at the bottom of Mathew Street, the one that covered the Pool of Life. The reason? This was pretty unfocused, but had something to do with harnessing the powers of the interstellar ley line for my personal gratification. (47)

Maybe I should go and track down back issues of the NME to make sure this is all true. But I can't be arsed. (50)

For some time I had thought The Bunnymen should knock it in the head after five years. In my head, no band worth any sort of respect hung around for longer than that. Everybody knows bands do the only vital stuff they are going to do in their first flush; after that it's just careerism with bouts of trying either to get back to their roots or get hip to whatever the kids are into next. Or, even worse, they discover irony. (51)

A half-done third album was scrapped and, as far as I'm concerned, Julian Cope's vast talent has never been stretched before or since. Nobody who has worked with him has had the bollocks to tell him, 'Julian, it's a load of shite, go back and do it properly.' Not that I could tell him, but somebody should. To have that sort of talent and waste it is a crime against Creation. (53)

At the Albert Hall shows (there were two on consecutive nights) I had a simple programme printed up. Just one-sided A4, grey (my favourite colour). These were put on each of the seats. As well as the relevant information, across the top was typed 'Lay Down Thy Raincoat and Groove'. The two shows were brilliant. The Bunnymen were now one of the greatest live bands ever. This fact is based totally on my own prejudices. Seeing as I hardly ever saw any other bands play live I had nothing to judge my prejudices by. I just compared them to the memory of the bands I saw as a teenager. Using that marker, The Bunnymen were now better than the Stones, the Doors, the Who, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, but not quite as good as the Keef Hartley Band, the first rock band I ever saw. (55)

I had a vague idea that evolved. The final record would be greater than any album ever recorded by any band anywhere. It would be perfection. It would contain proper songs with lyrics that weren't shrouded in bogus mystery. The meaning would be direct. The wisdom of Echo would have been received. The Bunnymen would be on the sleeve, head on, holding us firmly in their stare, confident and strong. The Bunnymen would never have to write another song again. Everything that needed to be said would have been said. Then they would start to tour the world, imparting their knowledge via their concerts. They would play everywhere, from lost villages in the upper Himalayas to the sprawling cities of South America. From the scattered Aboriginal places of the Australian outback to the crumbling industrial heartlands of Eastern Europe. They were already the greatest live band in the world. A fact I have proven above. They would become the biggest band in the world and exist completely outside the recognised music industry. Their status would become mythical. Their legend would spread by word of mouth across the continents. (56)

The album was finished, and titled Ocean Rain. It too was not the earth-stopping album I had wanted, with songs that said, 'now these ones have been written, there is no point in anybody else ever writing any more songs ever again.' Instead, the band had made a pretty good record, a fact that I made sure was stated on all the adverts and posters for the album. 'The Greatest LP Ever Made' ran the copy. I didn't tell the band. They understandably felt it was an arrogance too far, and one they might be called on to defend. Even though I believed the copyline, I also knew this was not the album I had hoped for to complete the series, the one where Echo was found and his way, wisdom and truth were revealed. (57-8)

It was a pissing-down October day in late '81 and I was bunking off from managing Echo and the Bunnymen. I was playing a private game with myself and my London A to Z. On page 159 I had printed my name - BILL - in block capitals, and I was walking the outline, or as near as the streets would allow. It was something I had done countless times before, both in London and in Liverpool (where I was living) - and in the countryside back in Scotland. If I stopped to think about it, I suppose I could have given a number of reasons for this habit. (70)

We have had the notion for the best part of ten years that something had to be done about Stonehenge. Either somebody had to fix it up, or the whole thing should be scrapped as unworkable. I could easily launch into an attack on heritage culture, but that is best left to broadsheet journalists who know how to put a rational argument together. For me and Jimmy it was a case of: it looks like nobody else seems to be doing it, so it must be our responsibility. (86)

Back when we did the Timelords thing in the late '80s and were flush with cash, we looked into hiring a massive helicopter and lifting the fallen stones - mending the Henge, getting it working again. We then learned that all the air space down there was military, and we couldn't get any civilian pilots to do the job with us. So we had our photograph taken with Gary Glitter in front of the fallen stones, then went off to the Sierra Nevada and blew all our cash on making a mystical road movie instead. (87)

Jimmy and I had been working together for the last ten years, and seeing as we are in an age of anniversary fever, we thought we should celebrate our ten-year partnership of sorts. Some time in the early '90s our interest in sheep had waned, to be replaced by an infatuation with the cow. We had as yet done nothing to express this interest in the idea of a cow. (89)

Then we came across a massive entertainment complex. Cinemas, shopping mall, discos. We drove slowly past and watched, like paedophiles outside a school gate. A police car pulled us over and asked what we were looking for. Gimpo answered: location hunting for a film about the end of civilisation, starring Sean Connery. They asked for tickets to the premiere and wished us well. (90)

We had made arrangements with a local Essex knacker's yard to do the job. We had already dealt with the questions of who we were and why we were doing this by explaining we were a pair of those modern artist types that like to do stupid things in the hope it shocked somebody and got publicity. This they understood, had seen it on TV, knew that was what artists had to do these days to make a living. And anyway, they liked the colour of our money. (92)

For the previous few years, I had relished the idea of stringing up a beast like this, with no further explanation than a plain cardboard label with the two words, 'FUCKING COW'. There were times when I was driving along in my truck, cocooned from the rest of the world, and I would laugh and laugh and laugh in an almost maniacal state, just thinking of it.
Louder and louder. (94-5)

The next morning I took the bloated and stiffened Daisy and Buttercup back to the brothers. Although they had hoped never to see my face again, they were mightily relieved to see the two now-worthless carcasses and hear that they had not taken part in any art prank, scam or pop publicity stunt. After a few more crisp notes changed hands, they were willing to dispose of the bodies in a clean and legal way.
Some weeks later Jimmy and I got talking about Stonehenge and its clearance as a K2 Plant Hire millennial gift to the nation, and we admitted that it could no longer be part of the master plan. If we couldn't get it together to string up a couple of dead cows, there was no way we would ever do the stones. Something had ended. (95-6)

It was partly the fault of the original contractors who constructed the site. They used limestone, which, as anybody who knows anything about the building trade or geology is aware, doesn't last more than half a dozen millennia if exposed to the elements. At least the blokes that built Stonehenge knew to get some imported hard rock, and not the local soft shit from Salisbury Plain. (97)

He took it upon himself to see if Tennent's would be interested in getting involved in some way. Maybe they would like to offer some sponsorship in exchange for upping the media profile of their superior strong lager, the way Beck's and Absolut have used the sponsorship of art in an attempt to up their hipness. Tennent's declined. They stated that Tennent's Super is primarily drunk by street drinkers and Afro-Caribbeans, and that neither of these niche markets could be successfully reached through advertising and sponsorship. In fact, my continual use of the term 'street drinkers' comes from their response. I'd never before heard this way of describing the homeless alkie dregs of our society, who litter our street corners and frighten our children. How cynically do these marketing ploys get discussed in the boardrooms of the big breweries? How important is the continued support of the street drinker to the market share of Tennent's? (137-8)

'But Mick, you don't understand. It's like the evil underside to "Do They Know It's Christmas?" This is an important statement we are making, even if we don't know what it is ourselves.' (142)

Somewhere down the line, Jimmy and I have picked up a reputation as being willing and successful media manipulators. I can't think of one occasion when we have successfully manipulated the media to our own ends. We have never properly appreciated that what people really want is to see the supposedly successful fuck up, the more spectacularly and painfully the better. The media know this. The only time that an individual from the 'entertainment world' genuinely makes the news headlines is when they get caught out or die. You know that, we know that, you don't have to be a media-manipulating genius to work it out. If Jimmy and I seriously wanted to make the front pages, we would have to ceremoniously chop up our children at Stonehenge, then carry out a suicide pact where we strung ourselves up from a highbridge straddling the M62, leaving a suicide note hinting at weird witchcraft and sex with animals. (144)

To burn the Stars and Stripes is one powerful political statement, saved only for moments of national self-doubt. To burn the Union Jack is just a waste of a good tea towel. You don't agree with me? I don't know if I agree with myself. (172)

The day Jim Reeves died was my first great rock 'n' roll death moment. The weep of a pedal steel guitar is the sound of heartstrings being torn. We all need one outlet for the Sad Bastard in us; country music is my avenue. (182)

[Tammy Wynette:] 'Bill, you're from Scotland? Can you tell me why I have such a large lesbian following there?' I had no answer, but promised to look into it for her. (183)

I don't think we believed that anybody would take the book literally, but a couple of blokes from Austria had a damn good try. Although they never had that UK Number One, they did sell a couple of million records worldwide. Nobody has heard of them since. Jimmy and I had just finished writing The Manual when we were contacted by these two lads from Vienna who wanted to come over and have a chat with us. We said, 'Fine.' They had an idea for a record using Austrian yodelling, breakbeats, Abba samples, lederhosen and loads of cleavage heaving out of Alpine period costumes. They wanted Jimmy and me to produce their concept for them. We said, 'We don't need to, you can do it yourself,' handed them a copy of The Manual and sent them packing back to Austria. A few months later, 'Bring Me Edelweiss' by Edelweiss climbed into the UK Top Ten, was Number One in six European countries and even went Top Five in the States. It was as bad a record as (or an even greater record than) our Timelords one, with the added bonus of a truly international appeal—and loads of that cleavage in the promotional video clip. (189-90)

So why am I telling you all this, other than to brag about what a wonderful, rich and varied life we lead? Because I want to emphasise how, when you push your boat ... take that step into the ... and just say Yes, things happen. You may have no control over them. Let them be, let them spiral out there. (193)

Tonight I'm in the City of Dreams, Belfast, making soup for thirty or so young artists in a kitchen in College Green House. You can lose yourself in making soup. The imagination can start to spiral into uncharted regions, reality can become bearable, even enjoyable. You can also find yourself in making soup, though what you find may bore you. (197)

We then ask each person to stir ceremonially with the shovel the four bubbling pots of soup. I do not ask them to make a wish, as one would do with a Christmas pudding. Instead I secretly hoard all the wishes for myself. (202)

Even though Jimmy and I were no longer in the business of making pop records and despised the whole idea of people in the entertainment world getting publicly involved with charity, how could we turn these children down?
This is how. On Monday 11 September '95, three days after getting the call from Tony Crean and on the day all the pop stars were supposed to be recording their tracks for the Help LP, Jimmy, Gimpo and myself would be flying into Beograd, capital of the big bad Serbians, to premiere our film, Watch The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid. The film was to be screened in Republic Square, symbolically the very heart of the Serbian nation. We wanted to ask everyone that turned up in Republic Square if our money-burning act was a Crime Against Humanity. (230)

Whatever our money burning act meant to Jimmy and me, it took a marked twist as we were confronted with the reality of a people living in a state of hyper inflation. Those black-and-white photographs of German citizens burning mounds of almost-worthless Weimar Republic banknotes to keep warm had always been a boyhood inspiration, up there with that shot of Jack Ruby pulling his gun. Whenever asked why we burned a million quid, 'to keep warm' was the answer we wanted to give. (238)

I was in a bar last night in Ballymena, and there had been a TV set in the corner tuned to a cable pop channel. The show was co-hosted by Toyah Wilcox. Toyah had a moderately successful pop/punk career in the late '70s, early '80s. She also had a small part in the Seminal Youth Cult Movie, Quadrophenia. I thought she was great in the film. I also thought she was great as Jack in the Jack and the Beanstalk pantomime I saw with some of my children this past Christmas time in Norwich. She could fair belt out the show's songs and her principal boy's legs did the trick for me. I felt like a proper father at the pantomime. As a presenter of pop videos last night on cable TV, however, she looked wooden, old, embarrassed, more suited to be standing in the cold and wet waiting at the school gate to pick up her kids. I felt a mixture of pity and revulsion at the idea of her doing whatever this desperate career thing is. So as I am driving through the bleak and desolate landscape I'm trying to remember the title of Toyah's big hit. I can hear the sound of the drums, the keyboards, the tune, even her lispy voice. But not the title. I keep singing 'It's a miracle', but I know that's not quite right. So instead I congratulate myself for remembering the title of her album, Sheep Farming In Barnet. What on earth was she trying to tell us about herself by choosing that as a title? (252-3)

A few years ago, when my father was 78, I asked him: when did he feel he was at the peak of his life? Without hesitation, he told me, '45, son.' I can't remember asking him in what sense he meant his peak was at 45. He had been a sprinter, one of the fastest in Scotland, so as an athlete he must have peaked some time in his twenties, and then there was the war wound that took its toll. As a preacher? Maybe his sermons at that age were more focused and formed, his faith unshaken. Maybe as a husband and father, but I don't think he ever thought of them as things one could be good or bad at. It is only this morning that I've remembered my father saying '45, son', so obviously my choice of title was nothing to do with the '45 rebellion or the Colt 45 or 45 rpm; it was because I had subconsciously taken on board that the age of 45 is as good as it gets. A point in life where you've gained a certain amount of wisdom, the hormones have settled down, the desperation is easing off, but before the mind starts crumbling and the body starts packing in. (285-6)

Ten years earlier we had followed the same route to daub the beckoning acres of virgin grey-concrete wall with our opening salvo, '1987: WHAT THE FUCK'S GOING ON?' This time, '1997: WHAT THE FUCK'S GOING ON?' Some things change, some things don't. And 2007 is not that far away. (339)

Buy this book

To Deuce of Clubs