23 Hessle Avenue, Leeds.
Where I finished my degree.
Where I finished Twin Peaks.
Where I turned 21.
Where my third eye opened.
Where on Monday March 4th, 1991, I caught the 56 bus from outside the Hyde Park Picture House into Leeds City Centre, to Jumbo records, to buy The White Room.
23+5 years later, I’m back in that beautiful cinema waiting for the start of the play WHITE SAVIOUR COMPLEX and the movie it sandwiches, BEST BEFORE DEATH.
1% of The 400 are in attendance.
The journey up the M1 from Nottingham was elongated by a bad storm (and a smashed up bed frame in the fast lane) from 90 mins to a nail-biting 2hrs30, but I’ve arrived with 23 minutes to spare and parked my car outside my old house. It’s been 28 years, but memories of my ground floor room, nice bay window with a sturdy desk and a comfy double bed, come flooding back.
The White Room was keenly welcomed to my turntable, but it had to share its rotations with Spacemen 3’s Recurring.
The Leeds side streets that I slipped down haven’t really changed that much, except for each terraced house needing parking space for 5 cars.
I’m ushered in through the door, my name checked off a list and then I sink into the crushed velvet seats facing towards bright red drapes.
The lights dim and onto the stage stroll the writer/artist/undertaker Bill Drummond who will portray both himself and the actor Tam Dean Burn, and the actor Tam Dean Burn who will portray both himself and the writer/artist/undertaker Bill Drummond in a three act play written by Tenzing Scott Brown who is simultaneously the alter-ego, arch nemesis and deceased cat of the writer/artist/undertaker/cat-spirit-vessel Bill Drummond.
The short first act introduces the players and recalls a recent visit to New York by BEST BEFORE DEATH director, Paul Duane. The Americans have told him that his documentary, that follows two stops of Bill Drummond’s 12 Year World Tour, suffers from a white saviour complex. This introduction prepares us to consider if this assessment is correct until irrefutably proving that it is wrong.
The film itself is beautifully executed and documents in a way that documentaries all too often fail to do. There is no crow barred in narrative or manufactured drama. It doesn’t impose itself into what it is there to record, and it defies the laws of physics by having no discernible observer effect on the waveforms it is observing.
By stepping back from following the artist at work, we get a wider view of the impact on the community where Bill is at work and we get to meet many engaging characters caught up in a whirlwind of cakes, soup, beds drums and aborted shoe shines.
From the Wikipedia-savy interpreter in Kolkata to the mild-mannered cake circle driver in Lexington, we experience the impact of the visit through their confusion, bemusement and eventual, reluctant acceptance of the art.
We also get a more intimate (literally on one occasion) insight into Bill and his work and there are several revelations unearthed including:
1. Bill has enough pairs of shrink-to-fit Levi jeans to last him until he is 72.
2. The JAMs were working ‘secretly’ throughout the 23 year moratorium.
3. He now writes plays because he doesn’t feel that Tracey’s photographs are enough to document his World Tour anymore.
4. A previous visit to the Kali(Eris) Temple in Kolkata was deeply significant to him.
5. He likes to carry his own shopping.
6. He has a thing about crows.
7. He has a thing about climbing trees.
8. It takes two days to chisel out a sturdy bed.
9. He doesn’t need your permission.
10. His World Tour will end on the Road To Damascus.
Despite closely following his visits to Kolkata and Lexington, what the film really shines a light on is all the work he has done that has gone undocumented, except for Tracey Moberly’s photographs. For the five years so far, we have only 2 documented, with the other 3 only living on in the memories of the communities visited.
Even during WTTDA, several acts went unnoticed until those attending shared notes. From carrying a mattress on his back up Berry Street, to shopping for last minute industrial soup making equipment to sawing up traffic cones to make bishop hats.
In one reality there is one hell of a retrospective coming to The Tate in 2026, in another, what really went on, we only have this except.
The evening concluded with Act 3 and tales of Haitian poster painters and Stoke Newington crack-addicts. In both cases, Bill’s generosity both of money and spirit shone through, much at odds with some people’s view of what went off on Jura. Bill is keen for people’s stories to be heard and for the pockets of his jeans to match the charitable nature of his genes.
Finally, there are 1000 copies of the book of the play of WHITE COMPLEX, for sale for a crisp tenner and some helpful advice.
Life is too short for the pursuit of happiness.
Until the next time.