samedi 17 avril 2010

interview : Bill Drummond : Your first musical memories?


Bill Drummond had a new project. It was called ASK FOUR QUESTIONS and consisted of 25 different publications asking him 4 questions. Any question, he would answer. The Offline People got involved and tried to ask 20. There was no fooling around.

Bill Drummond has been described by the press in a lot of different ways throughout his career, sometimes kindly, sometimes not. After this interview – if we had to choose a word to describe him – we would like to suggest ‘playful’. The playfulness of OuLiPo: inquisitive, never gratuitous.

Here's the first question and Mr Drummond's first answer :


Your first musical memories?

In the book 17 (Beautiful Books 2008), I write about witnessing a skiffle group in Penningham Prison in 1957 or 58. The group was made up of inmates and it was at the prison Christmas party for the children of the warders and other prison staff. My father was the chaplain to the prison that is why my sister and I were there. The skiffle band had a profound impact on me. They made the loudest and most exciting noise I had ever heard.

By the time I was 6 or 7 I had started to go to the pictures regularly on my own. This meant I saw a lot of films in my hometown of Newton Stewart’s picture house. This was in the late 50s and early 60s. I have many memories of these films but mostly no idea what they were called. Some I learnt decades later are now considered classics. Usually they were just Cowboy & Indian or Carry On films or other trash. It was not until early 1964 at the age of 11 that I saw an Elvis film. The film was Roustabout. I had heard of Elvis, but I do not think I had ever heard an Elvis record before, or did not even know what he looked like. The BBC Home Service was the radio station that I can remember being on in the house, and there would have been no way that we would have heard Elvis on that. And although we would have recently got a TV, Elvis was never seen on the TV either. It was seeing that film that turned me into a huge Elvis fan. Being an Elvis fan did not require me to buy any of his records or even go and see the films; it was enough to hear Elvis by accident when ever those accidents happened. For me that is always the best way to experience recorded music. The very moment of seeing Elvis for the first time and the ongoing impact he had on me is something that I explored in the book Bad Wisdom (Penguin 1996)

Also in the book 17, I explore the affect of buying my first record. This was at about quarter to five on Friday the 17th of February 1967. The record was Penny Lane by the Beatles. But it was the B-side of the record, Strawberry Fields that was going to have the lasting impact, an impact I still feel on a daily basis.

Now that I have got all that out of the way, I can attempt to answer the question the Offline People are asking me. Well sort of, because the answer that I am going to give you is the answer to the question that they did not quite ask. If the Offline People were to have asked me: Your first memory of recorded music? Without hesitation, I would tell you about the time that I was standing in the kitchen of our house, and I could take you to the very spot where I was standing on the brick red linoleum, when and where it happened. I was maybe no more than three years old at the time but I can distinctly remember the sound of a funny man’s voice singing a song about leaning on the lamppost at the corner of the street incase a certain little lady was to come by. My instant instinct was to turnaround to see who was singing in our kitchen with this peculiar voice. There was no one there. I then realized that the voice was coming from the Bush wireless set, that was up on the high shelf. I was used to hearing men’s voices coming from the wireless but not the singing of songs. Maybe my mother had changed channels from the Home Service to the Light Programme while she was getting on with the housework.

Up until then the only music that I think I was aware of was music that was being sung or played live.  On Sundays I would hear the hymns sung in church, I would have heard my mother play the piano at home, the accordion at church dances and the bagpipe band that marched through our town. As yet I would not have gone to the pictures or the fair ground where I might have heard amplified recorded music and we did not have a television.

It was not until years later that I heard this peculiar song about leaning on a lamppost at the corner of the street incase a certain little lady come by, again. And then I must have learnt the singer with the strange voice was George Formby and this strange voice was a Lancashire accent. Even back then in the mid 50s when I heard this song coming out of the wireless set, it was already an old song, and just checking on Wikipedia now, I have learnt that it was recorded in 1937.

As for earlier musical memories than that, they are all too vague.


See his latest publication $20,000 as well as his wikipediography and his website.

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