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Book Review: 45 by Bill Drummond

For a brief moment – 1991 to be precise - everything the KLF touched turned to, well, gold. Frontman and Ex-Echo & The Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes manager Bill Drummond already had legendary status up in Merseyside prior to the start of the 1990s. Who could ever forget the Timelords’ sample of the Dr Who theme tune which launched Drummond’s novelty act into pop orbit in the late 1980s? Irony of ironies, while serious rock Gods such as Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope flirted with the Top 40 only occasionally, here was their former manager sitting pretty at Number One in the charts at his first attempt . . .

In 45 Drummond discusses how he had intended The Teardrop Explodes to enter the rock n’ roll pantheon. Apparently, this would be achieved in 1986 as outlined in the lyric of Drummond’s folksy LP song ‘Julian Cope is dead:’ Julian Cope is dead / I shot him in the head.

As gimmick’s go, this would have been right up there. The assassination was to have taken place in Canada or maybe the US, but like many Drummond projects it never quite happened. Julian Cope dodged a bullet and thereby missed the opportunity to achieve rock immortality. As Walter Raleigh replied to Christopher Marlowe (or was it the other way round?) So Julian replied to Bill. His track ‘Bill Drummond Said’ is two-and-a-half minutes of pop perfection, a whimsical bitter-sweet masterpiece and arguably the crown prince of pop’s finest effort to date.

Oh yes indeed, 45, Drummond’s genre-defying collection of . . . well, recollections is reassuringly random. Put it this way: those expecting a conventional biography of this Scottish Svengali might end up disappointed with this book styled in the exact proportions of a 45-rpm record sleeve – that’s a square for post 90s generations. A square book. Cool, Bill, very cool. So what is 45? Jottings – simply the thoughts of a man aged 45. That’s all. Nothing else. If it’s about anything then It’s a book about the beauty of soup. Pretentious? That, dear reader, will depend upon you.

One thing the author could not be accused of is being nostalgic: the KLF came and off they went again, which is how it should be. Indeed, for those of us convinced the KLF really did drive an ice cream van Drummond does little to dispel myths. Thus, his and Jimmy Cauty’s legendary trance project retains all its mystique. All I remember is spending many a hot, sweaty night in the early nineties in dark corners of Liverpool clubs such as The Grafton or Quadrant Park mesmerised by hits in the mould of ‘Justified and Ancient’ and ‘What time is Love?’ As for Drummond, he entered a new phase long ago.

While I had always imagined a post-KLF Drummond searching for the promised land of Mu Mu in Papua New Guinea or Reykjavik (places, along with a sewage drain in Matthew Street, Liverpool, Drummond believes occupy a special ley line and are thus imbued with extra-terrestrial energy) it’s somewhat of a surprise to discover how he was actually spending his time around the turn of the millennium: in Aylesbury library. (Is he still haunting the shelves in 2021? I like to think so.)

Oh yes, Bill Drummond, visionary, soothsayer, pop-con artist and Druid could be found most days at his favourite desk in a public library. I’d like to think of him poring through ancient manuscripts, doggedly transcribing ancient hieroglyphics, the location of Mu Mu within grasp, but somehow, I doubt it. A creature of habit, he’s even on first name terms with the librarians . . .

Bill Drummond was/is living a life less ordinary, revelling in anonymity. And although the book does dip into the Bunnymen-Teardrop past, it’s a book very much concerned with the here and now. Many of the chapters are written in the present tense with the author describing events around him as he writes – mundane every day occurrences – flying out from Luton airport, having coffee in a sterile supermarket café, riding the bus from home to library, making soup for Belfast artists (a favourite place).

What is this book then – a typically Drummondish prank? Another ironic commentary from the man who burned a million pounds live, drove non-stop on the M25 for 25 hours and who wrote the manual ‘How To Have A Number One The Easy Way?’ Maybe. I mean you wouldn’t put it past him. And yet there’s something else going on here, but what? A middle-aged man yearning to what - connect? I haven’t the foggiest. Perhaps he was bored.

I’ve always wondered what became of Bill Drummond. And now I know: not a lot. Kids, mortgages - that type of thing. Hanging round with a character called ‘Gimpo’ he’s always up for a stunt, but one gets the impression he rather prefers slippers and cocoa. Through the pages of this pretty hefty tome we do come to know the man a wee bit better – he is very red-blooded and has an eye for the ladies, drinks tea by the potful, was born in Newton Stewart (where I once stopped off at Aldi) and has a love-hate relationship with Scottish nationalism.

One of the most surprising revelations is to discover that while living in Liverpool he was commuting to his job as a set builder at the National Theatre! WTF – Bill Drummond, carpenter? Full of surprises, that Bill Drummond. Or is he?

Upon learning that the author was a fan of the grotesque nuker of Iraqi citizens Tony Blair, listens to BBC Radio 4, reads the Guardian and shops at Waitrose one doesn’t know whether to be disappointed or elated. With that amount of middle-class mush revolving around his head, one does worry for Mr D’s soul. Is reactionaryism then the ultimate destination for all rebels – tea and biccies at No. 10? Et tu, Bill?

(On a purely personal note, it was a shock to hear the author mention Dyke Rd in Brighton – a street that features in a recent book of mine. What are the chances? Weird. Or maybe not.)

Reaching the end of 45 may leave some folk rather deflated; it is after all quite a trek. If nothing else this is a book that celebrates the mundane. It is what it is: a square book that does not deliver anything profound nor aspires to. It’s a book for the coffee table, to be dipped in and out of. ‘We are all seduced by power,’ writes the author, ‘each and every one of us. Don’t let anybody ever tell you they are going to corrupt/change/destroy the system from within. They will be the ones who will be corrupted, changed, destroyed, long before the system knows they are even inside it.’ (p. 279) That’s as profound as it gets.

“Well, what did you fuckin’ expect?” I can almost hear Drummond chuckling away to himself, “Nietzsche?”