THE SERMON ON THE STEPS

I’m delighted to be able to share Stephen Clarke 1980’s excellent account of Bill’s recent performance in Edinburgh. Stephen is a Northern Irish writer, electronic musician and visual artist, currently based in Edinburgh and he has previously written the excellent piece, Liberation Loophole about viewing the events of Welcome To The Dark Ages from afar. If you enjoy his writing – and I know that you will – Stephen’s autobiography is now available in paperback or on Kindle. It is also available as an ebook ad part of a bundle of his music through Bandcamp.

Deleted Scenes tells of growing up in Belfast, moving to Edinburgh and creating a club scene and several more KLF/JAMs stories where Stephen’s path crossed with Bill and Jimmy.

Stephen is also an honorary member (and unstoppable ideas machine) of The 400 Remix Project. Some exciting news to tell about that in the New Year.

The Sermon On The Steps

By Stephen Clarke 1980

It’s 19:23 on Saturday the 16th of December, 2017. I’ve been asked to write a story about the night that I didn’t get to meet Bill Drummond. The night in question was last night, although there have been other times when I have not met Bill Drummond. Once, sometime around the beginning of the millennium, my brother and I managed to get locked inside Belfast’s Botanic Gardens. At the same time, Bill Drummond was in Belfast and at a loose end. He thought he’d give me a call, but realised that he didn’t have my contact details with him. This was a shame, because he seems like the kind of man who could help to get you out of a locked park – he has a GCE in Metalwork, and everything. On another occasion, Bill was doing a talk in Waterstones, on Princes Street in Edinburgh. I thought it’d be the kind of thing you could just show up at, totally underestimating the pulling power his name seems to have. I was told that tickets for the event had sold out weeks in advance – I was even surprised that someone had needed to print out tickets for a reading in a book shop. So, I walked home in the grey, misty, drizzle, and I wrote Bill an email. Bill replied and said he was sorry that I had missed out on seeing the show, but would I be interested in writing a Score for his choir, The 17? I was interested, as it happens, and I wrote this;

SCORE 338. DREAM

Sit in a place where journeys begin

Look around you for sixteen people you connect with

Think about these connections and absorb them deeply

Close your eyes

Clear your mind of all thoughts

There will be noise

Your body will turn the volume up

The sixteen people you connect with share this feeling

They will each contact you through sound

Focus your mind on making the greatest music you have ever heard

You will believe that this is possible for you

You will feel this possibility on every level

You will feel it as if it has already happened

The greatest music of all time is inside you

Wake up

It is time for you to begin your journey

Bill seemed to like this Score, as it now has a home here;

http://www.the17.org/scores/338

Now, to the business of last night. The gig in question was Neu! Reekie! Xmas SnowBlinder, at Central Hall, 2 West Tollcross, Edinburgh. The first artist advertised as appearing at the event was Bill Drummond. I bought an early bird ticket. I contacted Neu! Reekie! to enquire as to what Bill Drummond would be doing at the event, they wrote back to say “Bill will be being Bill.”, which helped to clear things up for me. So, I imagined it would be some kind of talk on a stage, you know, with a microphone and lights, maybe one or two of his paintings as a backdrop. What a fool I am! Other artists added to the bill included Charlotte Church, Irvine Welsh, Aidan Moffat and my favourite poet, Hollie McNish.

My Twitter friend Budgie then told me he had got a ticket to the show. I sent Bill a copy of my book, Deleted Scenes ( https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/197332301X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1510940639&sr=8-2&keywords=stephen+clarke+1980  ) and I emailed him to let him know that Budgie and I were going to the show. Bill got back to me with a lovely, and thoughtful email, and let me know that he would read my book on his journey to Edinburgh. This kind of freaked me out slightly, as I mention Bill and his old band The KLF, numerous times in my book. Anyway, there was nothing I could do about it now. If he didn’t like it he could bin it.

The week leading up to Bill’s Edinburgh show was an interesting one for me. Firstly, I heard that my book had been ordered by Leeds Beckett University Library. I found this incredible, as I’d left school with four GCSE passes at grade C level, and now my book was going to be in a library in a university. That meant that clever people could read it, or at least look at it’s spine whilst they hunted down a proper book. I emailed Bill rather excitedly to tell him the news that my book was now almost a proper book. He congratulated me, and let me know that he had, in fact, left school with the same grades as me. He’s done alright for himself, I thought. He’s even written proper books, and everything. That night the good lord, or ice and gravity, decided to bring me back down to earth with a bang. My left knee is now twice the size of my right knee. I’m already on a waiting list for spinal surgery, and eating 32 pills a day. So, you know, just stick it on the tab. My aunt, Michelle, got in touch to say that she knows the guy who looks after the keys to Bill’s Curfew Tower in Cushendall, county Antrim. That’s good, I thought, when I meet Bill, and if there happens to be a lull in the conversation, I’ll mention his name – there’s a good 30 seconds of chat right there. Charlotte Church pulled out of the gig. Bill Drummond was now the headline act! Neu! Reekie! said the other artists had all agreed to do something special. This was going to be good. I got excited, and I don’t normally encourage that kind of behaviour in myself.

Friday. Gig day. I woke up around noon. Sometimes I’m awake for days, and sometimes I sleep. This goes back to an all night blood vomiting session this Summer that is detailed in my book. Anyway, I woke up. Somewhere in the world, Bill Drummond was on a train reading my book. I got ready, and decided not to wear any KLF/JAMs clothing. I didn’t want to turn up like a fan. My Mum had phoned me and said something like, “Wow, your hero is reading your book!”. I told her that Bill is not my hero, he’s an artist who’s work I admire. Anyway, I didn’t want to turn up looking like I’d just been dressed by Dead Perch. I decided on walking boots, so I wouldn’t slip on any ice. Blue jeans, a black t-shirt and a long black coat that my flatmate described as a “Flasher’s jacket”. I did not flash anybody as I made my way across town to Tollcross. I found an old man’s pub called The Kings Head, or The Kings Arms, or The Kings Arse, or whatever. £3 a pint, sorted. I phoned Budgie, or he phoned me. He was filling his head with a burrito, and would be with me shortly.

When Budgie arrived we got on really well, and had plenty in common. We were both excited for the show, but neither of us really knew what to expect, although we thought it may involve shining shoes. Budgie had even chosen a pair that would buff up well, just for the occasion. By the time it got to around 6:40pm we decided to make our way over to the gig. We climbed the grand steps at the entrance, each one of them sheer agony for my left knee. Once we reached the summit a young lady checked my ticket and asked me if she could draw on my wrist. I hate people touching my pulse. She touched my pulse. In fact, she touched it twice, in order to draw a, slightly odd, cross on it. I asked her if it was religious, and she told me that it was just in case I had to go outside and come back in again. Why would I want to do that? I thought. Must be for smokers. I had no idea that it would be needed if you wanted to see the sodding headline act, which did, in fact, turn out to be religious.

Budgie and I had some mulled Buckfast, followed by lots of overpriced beer, as we watched the show unfold. Great venue, we both thought. This was going to be awesome. The night started off with lots of folk lying around on the floor like some kind of hippy gathering, watching various poets come on stage and perform a single poem. These included Leyla Josephine, who was brilliant, performing an impassioned take down on travel pillows, and Hollie McNish. I think Hollie is great. Like most people, I discovered her work on Youtube. Her Abbey Road show is great. I met her a couple of weeks ago when she performed at NEHH: Cold Turkey. Her poems are fantastic. They are so thoughtful, passionate, funny and at times very, very, sharp. I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of her anyway. At the Cold Turkey show she performed a poem about an old weekend job she used to have at Boots Photo (“Working In The Photo Department Of Boots The Chemist”, from her latest book, “Plum”), and how the highlight of her shift would be putting dick pics at the top of a customers order, so that the lady who worked on a Monday (Maureen) would have to check the photo with the customer and ask “Is this yours?”. I’ve worked for Boots for 12 years, mostly as a Photo Consultant. So, when I realised that she was standing beside me later, I wound her up a bit that I was going to contact her old branch and complain about her. She said “Nooooo!”, then giggled. She was really nice. At the Neu! Reekie! show she performed “A Dead Pig, I Mean?”, also from “Plum”, and brought the house down.

My ex-wife used to listen to Arab Strap. So, when Aidan Moffat took to the stage, I thought it might be a great time to go for a piss, but he was actually really funny, and I’d go to see him again. Irvine Welsh came on and performed a piece about the Transpotting crew at a Hibs match. Things were going well, but time was marching on and there was no sign of Bill. Well, we thought we saw the back of his head at one point, but that didn’t justify the entrance fee. I went to the bar, which was now closed. This was worrying. Was Bill Drummond a no-show? As I walked back towards the main hall Hollie McNish asked me, “Are you Stephen?”, to which I replied “Yeah, I’m the dick head from Boots.”. She said “You’re not a dick head.”. So, I gave her a copy of my book and she gave me a big hug. Surprisingly, despite the height difference, this didn’t hurt my back, and she smelt nice – if you’re curious about that kind of thing. I then went and found Budgie, and we both decided that the night was fucked. I asked Hollie if she had seen Bill Drummond, and she was really helpful and took me to meet one of the organisers, but they had no idea where Bill was. Balls. Time to go.

Back out on the street, I sent Bill an email. This wasn’t a well thought out, or pleasant correspondence. It said something along the lines of, “Was not appearing on stage some kind of hilarious jape?” – I’d never use the word jape if I were sober. I blame the mulled Buckfast. It finished with a line about wondering where the fuck he was. Yeah, I’m not proud of it. It’s a bit shit really isn’t it? I apologise. I’m sober now, and I’m going to try and tackle my demons. Budgie and I then made it back to The Kings Swingers just before last orders, and comforted each other about the gig that never was. Budgie then left me chatting to a rather funny girl in the bar. I should never talk to girls in bars, funny or otherwise. She was nice, but I think her friend has probably killed before, and may kill again. I made my excuses and hobbled out the door. I got home and emptied the pockets of my flasher; £26 in pound coins – a classic, “Stephen’s been to the pub.” find, and in my inside pocket, that once held the copy of my book that I’d given to Hollie McNish, was half a bottle of overpriced beer. I couldn’t remember putting it there. I went to bed. I didn’t meet Bill Drummond, again. Fuck it.

I woke up this morning and read on Facebook that Bill had in fact performed on the steps outside the venue. He’s certainly a man who plays by his own rules. So, while Budgie and I were listening to Tom Petty cover songs, or whatever, Bill was outside, giving a sermon and shining shoes. I sent Bill an email apologising for my rather brash one from the night before, and he got back to me to see if I had received an earlier email that he had attached – I hadn’t. The email said that he had in fact seen me as I was entering the main hall and he was leaving. He also told me that he had my book on him for me to sign, and that he had a copy of his book “Man Shines Shoes” to give me. Fuck. I probably put my head in my hands, as I’ve just done that now and it feels familiar.

The strange thing about this is that my Mum had said to me that he’d probably like a signed copy. I told her not to be ridiculous. However, on Monday, I’ll be posting a signed copy of my book to Bill Drummond, along with instructions that he should then give his unsigned copy to somebody he thinks would like the book. Bill being Bill, your guess is as good as mine as to who gets the unsigned copy. Along with Bill wanting a signed copy, and Hollie asking me if I’m Stephen, I was also in touch with Jez from the Utah Saints last night. We reminisced about the time he had booked my friend Alan Hostage and Annie Mac to play at his club night, Sugarbeat, in Edinburgh. He wished me all the best with my book. I’ve also heard from Sir Magnus Linklater this week, who writes for The Times, and was the former editor of The Scotsman. He wrote, “Your book is a really impressive work, and the reception it has had is remarkable. Good luck with the writing career.”. CAREER! Writing career! That’s really my ideal life, and it’s becoming apparent that this could actually be something that I might be able to have a go at.

I’m 37 now, and I’ve been bagging other people’s shopping for a long time now. These last 6 months my health has been an absolute disaster zone, but at the same time my writing career – if that’s what it’s becoming – has blossomed. The mysterious figure behind  http://www.welcometothedarkages.com/   phoned me tonight and said that he still finds it funny that one of the best articles written about the return of The JAMs was written by a guy who wasn’t even at the event – me. My article, “Liberation Loophole”is in the top 5 articles on the site. Right up there with Daisy Campbell and Oliver Senton. Maybe I can begin to build a career based on the shows I didn’t go to, and the people I didn’t meet at gigs? It’s certainly a unique angle.

In the short time since my book has been published I’ve been contacted by several people who say that they have been inspired to write their story after reading mine, and I try to help them out with little tips if I can. Some people have even contacted me privately just to tell me their own stories, of difficult childhoods, and some pretty heavy stuff. I guess they feel that they know me, now that they’ve read about me, and they feel like I’m someone they can trust. That’s probably the same way that I’d feel about Bill or Hollie, in that I’ve read what they’ve written, and connected with it. I think the next step for me, once I get my health back on track, is to start dedicating a lot more of my life to writing. It feels like I’ve finally found the thing I should be doing. A little part of the world in which I fit in, and have a voice.

I emailed Bill my address, so that he could send me my copy of “Man Shines Shoes”. He replied with an electronic Penkiln Burn poster called “1,000 Pairs Of Shoes.”. To be honest, I have no idea if that means I’ll receive the book, or not. Maybe he only gives it to people who’s shoes he’s shined? In some ways I’m glad that he didn’t shine my shoes. I’m not sure I like that dynamic. I’m sorry I missed his Sermon On The Steps though. As Budgie wrote to me today, “Our tale of the night was that we were so-oo close, but yet so far.” Bill was probably only 50 metres away from us for most of the night, but he may as well have been in New York, or Liverpool.

I have lots of books at home. I decided to sort them out this week, as they were all over the place. After pissing about for a bit, I decided to just put them onto my shelves in the order of the size they were printed. I’ve just had a look for my copy of my own book, which I am now going to sign for Bill Drummond. I hadn’t noticed until now that it is flanked to the left by the Penkiln Burn book “Ireland Versus Israel”, and to the right by “Plum” by Hollie McNish. It actually looks OK there. It holds it’s own. I think I might have written a proper book after all.

Keep dreaming,

Stephen Clarke 1980

Originally published here and reproduced by kind permission of the author.

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