As far as shape-shifting creative duos go, the KLF were up there – shaking things up before you even caught up with what they did last. But, after a 23-year hiatus, they’re showing that they are old dogs with a whole bunch of new tricks.
The KLF, also known as The Justified Ancients of Mumu, stole sounds from the Beatles and Abba, sneaked illegal rave culture on Top of the Pops, coined the phrase ‘stadium house’ and most notably – hijacked the 1992 Brit awards as a symbol of massacre-suicide for the entire music industry. They used and abused music and money as contestable art objects, and anticipated the work of Damien Hirst and Banksy.
Our resident writer Seb Tiley has managed to shapeshift his way into their creative utopia, where ticketholders are less the passive, adoring watchers, but actually ‘volunteers’ of the 3-day event. Stay tuned for his day-by-day record of the chaos that will ensue. [Catch parts one and two here].
Part 3: ‘Why graffiti the Merseyside streets?’
“Can you look angrier whilst you whip him?”
I knelt on the cheap felted floor of the art gallery, my knees chafing. It wasn’t too chilly, though I may well have still been feverish - however the chuckles from next door reminded my fevered brain that this wasn’t ‘really’ happening.
“Pull his hair back and really make sure the knife is visible against his throat.”
This one hurt. I thought less of mentioning it, but after a few minutes I decided, considering my quite drastically receding hairline and impending hair loss, that I would say something.
“I don’t mean to interrupt, but that hurts a little.”
“Sorry love! We’re done. Gotta meet my mates at the pub, cheers!”
And with that, the whipper was gone. But please, allow me to backtrack, to the events of Day 2 of ‘Welcome to the Dark Ages’.
We were told to meet at ‘the bombed out church’ at 10am. Thus, myself and my two hostel companions set off for St Luke’s church. The building was almost destroyed in the Liverpool blitz of 1941, and now remains as a roofless church. Apparently Yoko Ono projected images of her genitalia onto the ruined clock tower some years back. There is, without a shadow of a doubt, something in that. But anyway.
As we arrived at the church, we were seperated off into 2 queues - ‘odd’ and ‘even’. This involved queuing up on either side of the aisle leading up to where the altar used to be. Bill and Jimmy suddenly appeared and marched purposefully down the aisle, with their ‘heavies’ from the day before in tow. Then the officiator began his speech. As we all filed in, he introduced today as ‘the Day of Book’ and told us all will be revealed soon.
“A book exists to create a response” he exclaims, in relation to their book release the night before. He went on to read out some rather chilly reviews from Amazon, yet it didn’t really seem to matter to anyone present. He continued, and as he spoke, Jimmy walked down the ‘odd’ aisle, and Bill walked down the ‘even’ aisle, and to each person they passed, they tore out a page of the book and handed it to that person. Which basically meant that everyone in attendance had a page of the book and were assigned a page number. I was handed page 30.
— Seb Tiley (@SebTiley) August 24, 2017
From the officiator’s speech, it also transpired that, thanks to someone helpfully noting down the name of each page owner, in every single subsequent reprint of the book, our name would be on our assigned page. From the second print of ‘2023 - a Trilogy’ by the JAMs, page 30 will always have my name on it.
This followed with the vaguest possible instructions about what to do next. We were told to gather together depending on which chapter we were in (I was in chapter 2) and decide how we, as a group, might interpret it, as well as an individual interpretation. How we might interpret both the chapter we were a part of but also our page, was entirely up to us. We were also expected to both enter our interpretation into a tome owned by the JAMs.
“What the bollocks is going on? I have absolutely no clue what the fucking hell we’re supposed to do now”, I said to my neighbour.
“Neither me, mate,” he replied.
The Officiator concluded, offering to read anyone’s page for them. And so we split off into our chapters. Our crew of 15 was a smashing bunch, all willing to listen to each other, and try and find some sort of ‘thing’ to do to represent what was going on. Various ideas were passed around, until we decided to do some Magick.
There is a street in Liverpool called Mathew Street, and it is where the Cavern Club is located, along with Eric’s and the Grapes. It is, also, the street where Karl Jung had the vision that ‘Liverpool is the pool of life’, and also where Bill Drummond of the KLF believed a Ley line was supposed to be (it turned out, alas, that it wasn’t). For the mythology of Liverpool, and the KLF, Mathew Street is very significant, and also the street in which the majority of hen and stag parties now end up on.
So anyway. Magick. We made a centre point at the manhole on Mathew Street, and then drew a circle around it. We then drew a pentagon in said circle, and designated each person to go to that point and write the quote they liked the most from the page on a wall in chalk at that very point. We also made the rule that if it was a major building like the town hall or the tourism office nearby then that would be an adequate canvas, despite position. Here’s the crudely drawn map, missing three members who went AWOL.
An Australian named Mike and I were headed in the same general direction, myself armed with the quote ‘and we should not be defined by what we are not, but what we can be’. I had always been interested in asking people who I had had the chance to properly talk to about how and why they were here, and I asked Mike. He had been shown ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’ at the age of four in Australia, and now, at 32, he was living in Bath and in Liverpool, literally within touching distance of the guys who created that remarkable piece of music. I felt like such a phoney, but thankfully we were equally as clueless in the church.
We reached his destination, and an utterly glorious canvas opened itself up to him. The beginning of an underpass. Here’s the man in action.
— Seb Tiley (@SebTiley) August 24, 2017
We then headed towards the Museum of Liverpool, by the docks. Strolling outside of it, I wondered where a good spot for it would be - I was also quite fearful of being caught. However I relaxed when I saw some blokes spray-painting a wall nearby. Here’s where I wrote my quote.
Mike and I then wandered back towards the hub, occasionally scrawling ‘Badger Kull’ with our remaining chalk for good measure. We were both now worried about the personal phase of the day. How were we meant to create an artistic and personal response to the page we had received. For the eagle-eyed reader, you might see that I had references to John and Yoko, as well as the importance and omnipotence of poetry in any artistic form. This got me thinking that maybe I should burn the page at Mathew Street, or maybe distribute pieces of my page at different Beatles related sites. This was a slightly easier option than Mike’s, whose page was focused largely on semen and the Utah Saints (later on it transpired that he had left a bag half full of PVA glue, substitute semen, in a bag with a Utah Saints record in, on the top floor of a record shop, with ‘Love from the JAMs’ written on the bag).
I thought about John in the book, the real John who it was based on (Lennon), and the city of Liverpool and the influence it had on each of them. I also thought about the KLF and how they never came to a conclusion about why they burned a million quid, or whether they did or not - only 4 people actually know the truth, and, if there was a million quid floating about, who was to know what was true or not? Were they all paid off and told to weave a mist about them? Fuck knows. I thought if I went to Strawberry Field, Penny Lane and Eleanor Rigby’s grave, maybe I would see what they make me feel. I also considered how the Beatles took these nondescript suburban places and found poetry in them. I thought that this was maybe a sense of the ‘poetry is our ultimate weapon’ from my page.
This decision came at a price. Mandy, from Teesside, was in the same hostel room. She was absolutely lovely, a huge KLF fan from back in the day, and I frequently bumped into her throughout the day. But at this moment she had a very particular request.
‘Hey Seb! I was wondering, can I photograph you being flogged?’
It turned out that her page involved a scene where one of the characters had a weird vision of her father whilst trying to get it on with a young man, and she ended up flogging him and cutting his throat, and Mandy reckoned that taking a photograph and putting it in the book of this actually happening could be a good one.
By this point I was so used to weird goings on that I thought ‘what have I got to lose?’ and just said yes.
We then had to find a woman to flog me. On the stroll over, part of me considered what I was doing. But it never seemed that severe at the time. People were all around, being strange, doing strange things, perpetually, and it just seemed like another of those things that people were doing.
At the Dead Perch Lounge, we found a willing ‘flogger’, and, secreting ourselves in an attic room, we got to work. What could have been a very strange and very uncomfortable experienced actually turned into a relatively relaxed, amusingly awkward scenario. I was boxer-clad, the woman flogging and cutting my throat fully clothed, and only around four pictures were taken. In around five minutes, the pictures were done, I was fully clothed and joyfully smoking a cigarette outside with a cup of tea in one of these rather fabulous cups.
— Seb Tiley (@SebTiley) August 24, 2017
Not sure what Yoko would think. This leads me to my concept for my page: poetry, and whether it should be announced. Or where, when, or how it is announced.
I boarded a bus towards St Peter’s church in Woolton, around 45 minutes out of Liverpool. It is where the Quarry Men - later, the Beatles - first performed in 1957, and also the site of the graves of the Rigby family - in particular, a certain Eleanor Rigby. I had to go. A gravestone, inspiring what my dear old dad described as one of the greatest Beatles songs ever written? And me, being given a piece of paper, describing poetry as not needing followers? My concept was, at this point, to visit these sites - but would anyone really believe that I did visit these places, just because I said I did? Would they be convinced to go to these places and see if I had visited these places, to see what I did there, if anything? This was the idea I toyed with whilst I visited these legendary sites. Yes, I did actually visit them. But who are you to know if I did or not? Do I have photos? Do I have evidence that I did anything there? Yes and no… Believe what you will, is a lesson I learnt today.
Upon returning to the church for the ‘ceremony’, I grabbed a bag of cans and liaised accidentally with a Warrington-based bloke called Ian who became my pal as the evening wore on. Sinking a couple of tins in the main structure of the church, we were told to go outside, where we found the incomprehensible Gimpo and a very amused Jimmy Cauty trying to put a prehistoric bed together behind their ice cream truck. Ian also made the highly relevant and supremely quotable remark that “most people here still think it’s Glastonbury ‘89”. I beg of you, sweet reader, to consider Britain in ‘89 and what that may have done to people. But anyway. On, On! Things were already odd. But the rumbling voice of the officiator beckoned us back in.
We soon realised that most other ‘chapters’ had done something related to the ‘presentation’ as it were, and we were one of the only groups to properly go and do something in the town. Some in our group weren’t too chuffed, however my belief at this point was that there was no wrong answer and whatever we did would be (in a sense) lauded. Hopefully the same will apply for tomorrow’s make-up.
Anyway, each chapter went through such a wild and unique interpretation, it was nearly impossible to follow any sort of thread. And this leads me to another thing that astonished me. That two, basically skint, conceptual artists, can convince a group of 400 people to take a page ripped out of their own book and find the meaning, and not even fully answer the question of why they burnt a million quid, is truly astonishing. Sitting in the front row with Ian (who got progressively drunker, lewder and louder as the evening continued, despite being within farting distance of Drummond and Cauty), I had tangerines thrown at me, I had a wrap of coffee given to me, and I found out that the guy describing what we carried out for our chapter took several tabs of acid before announcing our artistic intent.
After every chapter was announced, all volunteers exited the church for a big picture, all together (I was definitely lost behind a lamppost). Snaps taken, I wrapped up, and it’s a bit of a blur from hereon in. I have recollections of belting out ‘West End Girls’ by Pet Shop Boys to (what was probably not) a rapturous audience, being refused entrance to the Cavern, and finding out Clinic weren’t DJing at the Dead Perch Lounge. Whatever though, I am apparently doing the make-up for some sort of semi-druidic procession or funeral tomorrow.