Back with a weird bang

Break­ing 23 years of si­lence on why they burned a mil­lion pounds, re­leas­ing a novel and start­ing a fu­neral home – yes, The KLF have re­turned, writes Paul Duane

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Along with 399 other (mostly mid­dle-aged, mostly male) ticket hold­ers, I ar­rived in Liver­pool on Au­gust 23rd with very lit­tle idea as to what I’d bought into. I had a ticket for a glo­ri­fied book launch for The KLF/ Jus­ti­fied An­cients of Mu Mu (Jamms) novel 2023: A Tril­ogy. I had been told it would not in­clude any mu­sic, live or oth­er­wise, per­formed by the erst­while big­gest sell­ing sin­gles band of the early 1990s, and we were all go­ing to be “vol­un­teers” rather than an au­di­ence.

I have been work­ing to­wards a doc­u­men­tary about Bill Drum­mond’s art for the past three years, so I wasn’t at all sur­prised with the ap­proach. They are fa­mously an­tipa­thetic to­wards their re­mark­able pop mu­sic his­tory, and the book launch was in fact timed to co­in­cide with the end­ing of a 23-year long mora­to­rium, which they’d jointly signed, pre­vent­ing them from speak­ing about the 1994 in­ci­dent where they burned their en­tire mu­si­cal earn­ings, to­talling £1 mil­lion.

Af­ter sign­ing in, ev­ery­one was pre­sented with a wrist­band and a list of choices that would de­ter­mine their ac­tiv­i­ties over the fol­low­ing days. Flip­ping a coin, I ended up with two – sing­ing – and was des­ig­nated a role in the choir un­der orig­i­nal KLF ar­ranger Nick Co­ley.

Day one ended with a re­mark­able, four-hour in­quest into the money-burn­ing, where lu­mi­nar­ies such as Jeremy Deller of­fered their ideas of why it hap­pened, wit­nesses in­clud­ing KLF roadie Gimpo gave first-per­son tes­ti­mony, and the au­di­ence voted as to their ver­dict (the econ­o­mist Ann Pet­ti­for’s opin­ion, that it was part of a deep tra­di­tion of his­tor­i­cal weird­ness, won out).

I was too busy prac­tis­ing the back­ing vo­cals on Jus­ti­fied &

An­cient with the choir to take part in day two, which in­volved Bill Drum­mond and Jimmy Cauty as­sign­ing each at­tendee a page from the book, then in­struct­ing each page-owner to join up with their fel­lows to form a chap­ter, and come up with an artis­tic re­sponse to the work by the end of the day. The re­sults were spec­tac­u­lar, in­volv­ing fire, whiskey, space op­er­at­ics and an ob­scene re-writ­ing of

Feed The World, all tak­ing place in the spec­tac­u­lar Bombed-Out Church AKA St Luke’s in Liver­pool.

As all of this went on, none of the at­ten­dees as yet had any idea what was in store for them on the final day. How­ever, the pro­gramme of­fered some clues, list­ing a fu­neral pyre, and among the jobs meted out were skull painters, gravedig­gers and cof­fin car­ri­ers. When it was an­nounced that cer­tain job-hold­ers would have to have a health and safety waiver read out to them, the whole un­der­tak­ing took on a fris­son of im­pend­ing doom.

Day three be­gan in a con­verted Vic­to­rian boys’ home, the Flor­rie, where the choir were in­structed to re­port for dress re­hearsal and were given our yel­low Jamm robes, for the full dress re­hearsal. We were in­structed not to tell any­one who the spe­cial guest vo­cal­ist tak­ing Tammy Wynette’s role on Jus­ti­fied & An­cient was. But by now it’s com­mon knowl­edge that Jarvis Cocker stepped into that part, and did a mag­nif­i­cent job, though his grav­elly Sh­effield tones were quite a de­par­ture from the orig­i­nal.

Our per­for­mance pro­vided the cli­max to a pre­sen­ta­tion where The KLF an­nounced that they had just opened a firm of un­der­tak­ers and would be build­ing a struc­ture called the Peo­ples’ Pyra­mid, where sub­scribers could have their ashes formed into bricks and im­mor­talised in a mod­ern-day Mayan step pyra­mid.

The day ended with a three-mile pro­ces­sion be­hind The KLF’s ice cream van to a pyre in the shape of Lon­don land­mark the Shard, which Drum­mond and Cauty, wear­ing their trade­mark fore­head-horns, ig­nited. The de­but per­for­mance of their man­u­fac­tured band, Badger Kull, com­prised of four of the vol­un­teers, sing­ing their only song – Tox­teth Day Of The Dead – ended a re­mark­able and eye-open­ing three days.

None of the at­ten­dees as yet had any idea what was in store for them on the final day. How­ever, the pro­gramme of­fered some clues ... among the jobs meted out were skull painters, gravedig­gers and cof­fin car­ri­ers

Cool cus­tomers Bill Drum­mond and Jimmy Cauty lead a pro­ces­sion in the KLF’s ice cream van

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