Justified: an interview with Bill Drummond

I was looking for an exit strategy all morning. Maybe I was ill in bed. Maybe an unexpected client attend had dropped on me. There had to be something. I was halfway through a sixty-hour crunch week at work, and the last thing I needed was the added stress of a filmed interview with an ex-member of the KLF.

Thing was, I’d made a promise. And this interview was a big deal. Bill Drummond, art-provocateur and Justified Ancient Of Mu-Mu, was the last interview we needed to get perspective on Gimpo and the whole M25 Spin. It didn’t matter how tired I was, or how many rings I’d have to jump through to square a four-hour lunch break with work. We’d chased Drummond for years, and for me to bow out at the key moment because I was a bit tired wasn’t going to play. Dom would forgive me, but I’d never be able to forgive myself.

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So, off to Highbury Fields I hied. Dom scooped me up in the Docomobile, and we trundled through the back streets. It was posh pastoral. Lots of nice shops and pubs, tidy patches of greenery. I spotted Nigel Slater’s favourite cheese shop. We saw Clive Anderson walking his dog.

We ate sandwiches in Clissold Park and planned our next move, while an Anatolian brass band heaved through an unwieldy oompah in a fair close by. Dom had the pre-interview twitch. His brain and gob were all over the place. I ate quietly and tried to shake off the fog. I’d pulled an extra hour at work to make up some time, and had rolled out of bed at 5. I was knackered before we’d even started.

We met Bill at the New River Cafe on the corner of Clissold Park. He rocked up bang on time, loud and chatty, if a bit wary. Dom, the guy that had been bothering him for an interview for five years, had let slip that he had lived in a flat five minutes walk away from Bill’s gaff. Possibly, maybe, just a tiny bit stalky. He visibly relaxed over a big plate of cheese omelette, chips and beans, and we all got to know each other a bit. He wouldn’t let me pay for his lunch.

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The location was the car park at Dom’s old place, a gated complex. Quiet, secluded, secure. Perfect. The opposite of our last set-up, out in the open at Victoria Park. I could concentrate on the cameras, and not have to run interference. The fog lifted, and my tiredness dropped away. Doing a shoot is like licking a battery. There’s always that tingle, that surge of energy.

Bill’s iconic long-wheelbase Land Rover was the base for the interview. Cameras through each of the front windows gave coverage, and my Kodak minicam would provide cutaways. It provided a comfort zone for Bill, and an excuse for a quick getaway when we were done.

As it always goes with these interviews, Dom’s questions provided the starting point for a wide-ranging conversation. The M25 was always the mantra, the start, end and through point, the boundary, enclosure and map. Bill was charmingly blunt about not remembering the details of things that happened in 1997 on the first Spin. Like Iain Sinclair before him, he turned the tables at one point and questioned Dom about his motives for making the film. Always fun watching Dom squirm when that happens, but he’s skilled at turning the focus back around again. He’s done this for long enough to know not to lose control of your subject. He might have been in Bill’s car, but Bill’s car was on his turf.

An hour of chat and some rare insights later, and we were done. Bill had given us some great material, and some food for thought. As he drove away, Dom and I looked at each other, and we knew. We had the fiinal piece of the puzzle. now all we have to do is put the bugger together. We both had work to do, quite literally in my case. A pile of film awaited my attention in Soho. The day was far from over.

From here, then, this. A three minute cut of what we have so far will be submitted to the Orbital London thread of the Rushes Soho Shorts Festival. It’s a good way to start getting a handle on what we have, and an opportunity to air some of it. In the long term, the project continues. We’re on a long, and seemingly endless road.

UPDATE:

Dom was kind enough to note down some of his thoughts on the day. He writes:

So I had bounced Drummond across three films to try and get an interview. This was third time lucky. Once this one was in the can I would have three of the main protagonists who have helped shape the M25 spin art event.

We met Bill in a not so greasy greasy spoon cafe. We warmed him up with a cheese omelette and a cup of weak black tea.

I like cars and this film has a lot to do with them. So it would have been an opportunity missed not to chat with Drummond in his trusty rusty old Land Rover that has featured in many of his writings. Bill had no problem reversing his vehicle with a poor turning circle into my parking spot at my old flat in north London.

We had discussed Banksy over tea and omelette before we started to shoot. He needed to get an idea of where I was coming from before we got into some intimate discussion about the spin and all that relates to it. He made me want to watch Exit Through the Gift Shop again. Maybe I should.

I think we both felt very comfortable in the Land Rover. Nothing could get in to harm us. I had my questions in my lap, a security blanket, there was no chance of the chat drying up.

Bill gave me a wide ranging view on the spin and its relationship to the contemporary art world. His works and Gimpo’s don’t really have a place inside that world but I like to think that they take some effect on it. Who is avant garde? And where is that? I’d say in that Land Rover yesterday and driving round the M25 once a year for 25 hours for 25 years!!

So where next with all this footage that has been shot over the last three years? To start with a three minute edit is going to be completed for the Orbital London film challenge that Rushes the post production house has put out this summer.

I like this project. I get inspired for it every time I drive on or near the M25. Yesterday I could not help but think some nice cutaway shots would be the flashing warning signs telling us all that yet again there are delays. Don’t we all have a love/hate relationship with that ring road around London?

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Rob

Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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