Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Would You Burn It?

I love the KLF. 

I've been listening to their music since I first heard Doctorin' The Tardis. Of course they were called the Timelords for that release.  They've also been the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, the JAMS and even 2K.

After the Timelords single, I didn't really hear them again until the early 90s. I was living in Japan, saw a couple of used CDs with great covers, and picked them up. It was their music I loved. And I had a couple of videos which were visually brilliant and a lot of fun. From time to time I'd hear something about them, something weird. This, of course, was pre-internet days, and I didn't read much music press in Tokyo. But the KLF continued to sit like a blip on the edge of my "weird" radar.

By the time I left Japan, they'd left the music business, through a very public onstage announcement at the 1992 Brit Awards. But with the now burgeoning internet, I managed to learn more about them. They'd done this, they'd said that, they'd threatened to do the other, then in 1995 they'd announced they would cease all activities for 23 years.

Ah yes, the number 23. Illuminati and all that.

They were fans of the Illuminatus! Trilogy of novels by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. And they seemed to live much of the behaviours and conspiracy theories within. Their press releases were cryptic and mysterious. Their images, logos and iconography were all part of the mythos.  They published a book on how to beat the music industry and have a hit. 

The more I read, the more I learned, the more I wondered whether they truly were a bit mad and believed in this stuff, or whether it was all a brilliant marketing strategy. I mean, there were reports Bill Drummond considered cutting off his hand at a music award ceremony during an onstage performance. 

On the other hand, they apparently shocked everyone at that ceremony when they appeared with grindcore band Extreme Noise Terror, performing an unrecognisable version of 3 a.m. Eternal. But that can't happen by accident. They rehearsed, it was approved and signed off on by the producers.

So is the KLF performance art or are they living their reality? Or some weird mix of both? My opinion shifts from time to time.

And what do the letters KLF stand for? They have claimed a number of things over the year, most commonly the Kopyright Liberation Front. But it shifts, and you get the feeling you're not in on the secret. None of the secrets.

I personally suspect it either stands for nothing at all but just sounds great, or it's some inside joke they'll never explain.

But the biggest secret has to do with the burning of a million pounds on a remote Scottish island. Many ask whether they really did it, and why, and they've never been able to articulate that clearly. In fact, it seems they spent a lot of time trying to sort that out for themselves. All indications, by the way, are that they really did burn it. Apparently they later admitted they regretted it. They were also routinely criticised for destroying money that could have benefited others.

But I think I understand why they did it. To simply see what it felt like.

When I was packing to move overseas, I found an old roll of film I'd never had developed. I had no idea what was on it or how long it had been there. But in that one instant, I decided never to find out. I don't really know why, but I tore it open and exposed it to the light. And it was gone forever. A mystery.

Maybe, in that moment, I was just tired of sorting through things.

We've all felt the need to do something just to see what it feels like. I guess the difference between me and the KLF is that if I had a spare million pounds lying around, I would never, could never destroy it.

I've felt ill when I thought I'd lost $50.

Sorry KLF, that was one thing you did I can't see as being cool.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

More Passionate, More Emotive.

Over the past few years I have noticed in blogs and other social media, that a reader was so upset or angered by a book that they threw it across the room. 

I usually wonder if this is literal or metaphorical.

Did they really fling the book across the room? I certainly hope it wasn't a large hardback with a cat on the receiving end. The way it usually reads, though, I suspect that whether they did or did not throw the book, they want us to think they did. And the only reason I can see for this is to show how much they love books, how much the written word speaks to them, and just how passionate and emotive they are.

OK, if that's your measure, then you win. I don't throw books, no matter how much I don't like them.

I can get lost in books and music. I have stood in an audience, listening to a band with eyes closed, and just allowed it to wash over me. Simply standing there, a smile on my face, and a moment that transcends. 

The same with books.

I've read through tiredness and beyond any realistic ability to comprehend the words simply because I loved it so much, was removed from this reality so far, and didn't want to lose it.

Yes, they move me - but not every album or book will. There are books I've persevered with and finished because I was determined to do so, but others I've just given up. I am much less forgiving with music but that's partly because I can skip ahead, sampling tracks, then remove the disc from the player before assigning it to a charity shop bag.

And then, like the above example reader, there are the books I don't like because they frustrate me or anger me. Depending on the context I may continue for a bit, or close it and return for another attempt, or simply stop at that point. But never, not once, have I thrown the book across the room.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps there are those who truly have thrown books across the room in anger.  I'm just glad I wasn't at your place when there was a TV show that angered you.

I have no desire to be hit by a large flying flat-screen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Get Back To 1969.

For the last week or so, while working, I've been listening to the Beatles' 1969 Get Back rehearsals.

They were potentially planning a live show, their first in almost 3 years, and so on a cold January morning they arrived at a soundstage at Twickenham film studios with a crew recording the rehearsals for a TV special.

It was cold, the soundstage was cavernous, and their relationship was fraying - for a number of reasons. But they made music, playing old rock 'n' roll standards and learning new songs. After a week or so, George had had enough and quit. The others continued for a day or so before deciding they weren't working as a trio and so they packed up and left.

A week later they had convinced George to return, with the proviso there wouldn't be a concert and they would move to a friendlier studio space. And so, with an 8-track recorder borrowed from EMI, they moved the rehearsals to the basement of their offices at Apple Records, a studio which was being built but was not yet complete. They continued rehearsing for the rest of the month until the climbed the stairs to the roof where they played live for 42 minutes across the rooftops of London. Their last ever live performance.

The film crew captured more than 100 hours of footage, which formed the basis of the Let It Be movie. The sound crew for the film used portable Nagra recorders to tape the audio, all on 16 minutes tapes. 

The 8-track recordings from these rehearsals became the accompanying album.

More than 20 years ago, bootleggers managed to get hold of around 550 of these Nagra tapes, and started releasing the complete rehearsals. They managed around 60% of the rehearsals before they were busted, and all the tapes were returned to Apple. But they made backups, and the backups were then released on the internet for fans.

What this means ifs that I have around 97 hours of audio from these sessions. It has been a long-time ambition to listen to them all chronologically. And now I am living the dream.

It's not for the faint-hearted. There's lots of dialogue and discussion (fascinating if you are a Beatles scholar), sloppy attempts at half-remembered songs, take after take after take of new songs as they learn them. Even I get a little bored after an hour of Maxwell's Silver Hammer with accompanying anvil strikes and whistling intro.

I listen to a couple a day while I'm working, and I'm currently about 17% of the way through.

Yes, they can be tedious, they can be sloppy, they can be flat due to disinterest from a disintegrating band. But when they're on the same page, and focused, they can be absolute magic.

And those are the moments I love.