“I guess my journey started in a place like this,” reminisced Bill Drummond, one of pop music and modern art’s most brilliantly, abrasively unconventional figures of the last four decades. A Scot in his early 60s with a granite-hard voiced carved into delicate, storytelling tones, the co-founder of pop success The KLF (whose eclectic finest moments included a transatlantic hit with Tammy Wynette, the pretend ‘machine-gunning’ of the music industry at the 1992 BRIT Awards and the burning of one million pounds on the isle of Jura) addressed us from the pulpit of a packed-out church at the foot of Easter Road on a Friday evening.
Neu! Reekie! Where are we now featuring Bill Drummond ****
St Andrews Church, Leith
It wasn’t an inappropriate setting, for Drummond remains a figurehead to a wide audience, and his appearance here was a not-inconsiderable coup for Kevin Williamson and Michael Pedersen’s rebel smorgasbord of spoken word, music and film Neu! Reekie!; a homegrown warm-up for the pair’s major, far-ranging curated festival taking place as part of Hull’s UK City of Culture celebration at the beginning of June. Here, Drummond’s contribution was an art project and an introduction to that project. He spoke of his Presbyterian minister father, also preaching from a pulpit during Drummond’s youth in Newton Stewart and Corby, and a childhood visit to the United States in 1963 where he saw a man shine another’s shoes in Grand Central Station.
“Right away it became my favourite job, I knew I wanted to do that when I grew up,” Drummond recounted here, noting his obliviousness to the racial and class politics of the situation. Through in the cafe during the interval, he shone the shoes of anyone who wanted them done, an inversion of the idea that his headline billing somehow made him the most important person in the building and a dry run for his appearance in Hull, where each shine will be given upon receipt of the customer’s “darkest thought”.
Where Drummond’s shoeshine “sculpture” was high-concept and driven by his own cult infamy, other lesser-known artists on the bill seared themselves upon the audience’s consciousness with mesmerising, dextrous ability. In particular, the poet and spoken word artist Clare Pollard’s set was masterful, as dryly amusing as it was tender and occasionally shocking in exploring the meaning of parenthood. “The night you were born I barely thought of love,” she confessed to her child in ‘Afterbirth’, knowing only physical pain instead; in ‘Soft Play’ she equated state surveillance with a parent’s relentless watch over an infant; and in ‘Suffer’, the crescendo of pressure upon a mother and paranoia about a child’s safety slipped from the amusing to the horrific in heart-stopping fashion.
Elsewhere, there was spoken word from the 404 Ink/Nasty Women collective and animation screenings from Iain Gardner, and an epic live set of electronic soul from the Leith-based Callum Easter to close, performed inside what looked like a giant, strobe-flared flashbulb and featuring the heart-punching anthem-in-waiting Feeling’s Gone. Only the premiere of the short film What Was Done felt laboured, an amusing but overlong gag repainting Jeremy Corbyn as a kind of revolutionary action hero, its self-conscious topicality not measuring up to the typically fierce relevance of another night at Neu! Reekie!