Caught by the River


Bill Drummond | 17th November 2016


Photographs taken by Tracey Moberly

Words by Bill Drummond

There seems to be a new world order in the making.

It’s Remembrance Sunday – time to take stock.

To this end I have taken myself out of London into Epping Forest. Autumn is at its most glorious. I want to lose myself in the trees. I want to smell the smells that only this time of year can offer. But I am struggling. I keep being drawn to my iPhone. I keep wanting to read the news; come to terms with the fact that Donald Trump is now the most powerful man on the globe. I want to laugh it off, but I know this is real.

But what if Donald Trump is right and we are all wrong?

What if, in four years’ time, we can all see that? I try to focus my mind on the here-and-now, to think about the colour of the leaves falling from the trees and work out what type of bird is making that sound.

My guess is that it’s the call of the Nuthatch.

A Nuthatch is a sight to behold.

But the Nuthatch and his call fail to hold my attention. My mind keeps drifting back to Donald Trump.

So I take a different tack. I click onto the website Liverpool Confidential. As the name implies, it’s a website that focuses its attention on that city in the north west of England. The website itself deals mainly with the eating habits of those on Merseyside. But I am not visiting the site because I want to know the best place to have a Sunday roast in the Dingle or even Blundell Sands. I want to re-read something I wrote a couple of weeks earlier. Something I wrote in response to the death of Pete Burns and a Liverpool scene, which was accompanied by a photo of Pete Burns, Julian Cope, Ian Broudie, Budgie and myself playing music together in the Spring of 1978, when the world was considerably younger than it is today. When the world had not heard of Donald Trump. When even Melania Knauss, the future First Lady, had not heard of Donald Trump. Or maybe even when she had not heard Paint It Black as performed by The Rolling Stones.

The piece that I wrote about Pete Burns and all that was called Remembrance Sunday – as in a reference to today. It was over five thousand words long. Once I wrote it I put it away. Stuffed it under the virtual mattress where most of the other things I write go.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump won the presidential election in the USA. I promised not to let myself slide deeper into that dark corner of my head that I’d ended up in after our nation voted to leave Europe. A dark corner that as of yet, I haven’t climbed out of.

I tried to make light of things by joking to myself that Donald Trump and I seem to share a history of being drawn to exotic women, that we are both ethnically 50% Scottish Gaelic, and we both have a tendency to…

I wonder if Donald Trump goes fishing?

I wonder if Donald Trump has an interest in birdsong?

I wonder if Donald Trump has watched a Nuthatch do its thing?

I wonder if Donald Trump has ever played Paint it Black with Pete Burns?

I see a red door and I want to paint it black
No Colours anymore, I want them to turn black

On Friday – the day before I am writing these notes in the middle of Epping Forest – I re-read the piece I wrote about the death of Pete Burns. After re-reading it, I thought, if this is ever to have a life of its own, it should be on this day, Remembrance Sunday 2016, and in Liverpool. So I emailed the piece to my friend Angie Sammons who edits Liverpool Confidential. The site might be focused on food, but Angie is a great writer in her own right, who dedicates much of her life to the promotion of what is good and the challenging of what is bad about her city of Liverpool. The reviews about places to eat are just a front.

Angie got back to me almost instantly. She wanted to publish it. I agreed. There was some to-ing and fro-ing – ‘i’s needed dotting, paragraphs tightening, photographs found. But at midnight last night, the piece went live.

And now I am reading it again but reading it online on my phone, as those visiting the site would be reading it.

Reading something once it has been published is always a totally different thing to reading a piece when it is still in your hands. It is only once it has been published that you see the gaping flaws.

Then I made the fatal mistake – okay not fatal, but a mistake all the same – of reading the readers’ comments underneath. Most of the comments were favourable. But one of them was from an Anh Phung Farrell and the message read ‘Nicely put Bill, Jamie’. Now I may be mistaken, but I doubt I am. The Jamie in question will be Jamie Farrell. The Anh Phung Farrell, his partner.

Jamie Farrell was the leader of a band called Ellery Bop. They, like the aforementioned Pete Burns, were part of the Liverpool scene that I had been writing about. But Ellery Bop were a pure rock band. Unlike most of their peers, there were no pretensions to what they did. No silly names. Just rock music at its most blunt, brutal and honest – but with a swagger. In my capacity as an A&R consultant to a big bad record company down in London, I’d signed them up. I could almost smell the packed stadiums across the USA waiting for them. Jamie Farrell had everything that was needed of a then-modern rock star.

In the story that I had written about Pete Burns and have just re-read, I dismissed all of the bands that I’d signed while being a A&R consultant for that big bad record company down in London. Me being dismissive was just being done for the sake of telling the story. It was not the truth. Very much in the same way that Donald Trump blurting things out while he was entertaining the hordes on his campaign trail was not the truth. I was doing exactly the same as him, in an attempt to entertain the audience, without taking into account the truth or the consequences of what I was saying.

Ellery Bop’s first single had already been released. It was called Torn Apart. I’d imagined it was the starting point for something great and lasting. It did nothing and nothing else happened.

I continued to read the comments. More ego-stroking ones. Then this one by a Neil McDougall

Yeah nice one, but one thing: the early Dead or Alive singles were not shit. And if you think they were then that says more about you than about them.

This Neil McDougall was right. And again I have to confront the Donald Trump in me. In the piece I had flippantly said that Pete Burns had been a one-hit-wonder. Which implied that whatever else he had done was worthless and that he only ever had one hit. I was knowingly wrong on both counts.

He, as in Dead Or Alive, had four other Top Forty hits in the UK. And You Spin Me Round was not even the first of these four records. His cover of That’s The Way I Like It by KC &The Sunshine Band, which came out in 1984, was his first. And although it was a cover of one of my favourite records from the 1970s, Pete’s version of the song was a brilliant record in its own right. Pete had taken the much derided genre of Hi-NRG and made it into something very much his own.

Like Donald Trump with his stories about all Mexicans being drug dealers and every Muslim wanting to destroy the USA, I was playing fast and loose with the facts to make my story more readable, more entertaining. And done at the expense of Pete Burns’s legacy and the truth.

I have been writing these notes while sitting under a tree in Epping Forest. I am now going to attempt to climb this tree. Maybe by climbing a tree I will be able to get out of my dark corner.

I wonder if Donald Trump climbs trees?

I wonder if Donald Trump has ever climbed trees?

The other thing that I should let you know is that if what I have written above is to get published anywhere, I will fake things up. I will come back here with my friend and colleague Tracey Moberly and have her take a photo of me up this very tree in the hope that I will impress you and that it will be used as the photograph that will go with this story. Or maybe another, more photogenic tree.

When I get home I will go on YouTube and listen to both the original version of That’s The Way I Like It by KC & The Sunshine Band and the one by Dead Or Alive.


This is a link to the Remembrance Sunday story as published on Liverpool Confidential:

And I have not even mentioned Strawberry Switchblade. I genuinely signed them thinking they were as pure and wonderful as pop music can be. And the world sorely needed them.They only did have one hit, but the world was so much of a better place for that hit.

I wonder if Donald Trump has ever listened to Strawberry Switchblade?

I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and must have it painted black

* * *

Postscript: I have now written up the above story based on the notes I made on Sunday. And I realise there are two other things missing from the original Remembrance Sunday piece.

Firstly Ian Broudie did not just go to London and become a record producer. He formed the Lightning Seeds and had a whole string of glorious hits throughout the 90s. If I had put that in the original story it would’ve undermined something about Pete Burns’s story.

As for the book that Pete Townshend wanted me to write that I never wrote – a far better book was written about that late 70s early 80s Liverpool scene. It was called Head-On and was by Julian Cope – if I could hold a gun to Donald Trump’s head and make him read one book before he took office, it would be Head-On.

Bill Drummond on Caught by the River