‘Bare-ass naked’: The KLF and the live stage production of Robert Anton Wilson’s ‘Illuminatus!’

Prunella Gee as Eris in ‘Illuminatus!’ (via Liverpool Confidential)

In 1976, the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool mounted a 12-hour stage production of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! Trilogy. It was a fateful event in the life of the show’s set designer, Bill Drummond, for reasons he’s detailed in the Guardian: for one thing, it was in connection with Illuminatus! and its director, Ken Campbell, that Drummond first heard about the eternal conflict between the Illuminati, who may secretly control the world, and the Justified Ancients of Mummu, or the JAMs, who may be agents of chaos disrupting the Illuminati’s plans. (Recall that in Illuminatus!, the MC5 record “Kick Out The Jams” at the behest of the Illuminati, as a way of taunting the Justified Ancients—or so John Dillinger says.)

Before they were known as the KLF, Drummond and Jimmy Cauty called themselves the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, appropriating the name for the eschaton-immanentizing hip-hop outfit they started in 1987. Over the next few years, they seized the pop charts and filled the airwaves with disorienting, Discordian hits, until a day came when you could flip on the TV and find Tammy Wynette singing “Stand By The JAMs,” or Martin Sheen narrating the KLF’s reenactment of the end of The Wicker Man.

Bill Drummond in Big in Japan, live at Eric’s (via @FromEricsToEvol)
After the Liverpool run of Illuminatus!, Drummond rebuilt his sets for the London production, but he suddenly bailed on the show, walking out hours before it was to open. I guess he missed the nude cameo appearance Robert Anton Wilson describes in Cosmic Trigger, Volume I:

On November 23, 1976—a sacred Discordian holy day, both because of the 23 and because it is Harpo Marx’s birthday—a most ingenious young Englishman named Ken Campbell premiered a ten-hour adaptation of Illuminatus at the Science-Fiction Theatre of Liverpool. It was something of a success (the Guardian reviewed it three times, each reviewer being wildly enthusiastic) and Campbell and his partner, actor Chris Langham, were invited to present it as the first production of the new Cottesloe extension of the National Theatre, under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen.

This seemed to me the greatest Discordian joke ever, since Illuminatus, as I may not have mentioned before, is the most overtly anarchistic novel of this century. Shea and I quite seriously defined our purpose, when writing it, as trying to do to the State what Voltaire did to the Church—to reduce it to an object of contempt among all educated people. Ken Campbell’s adaptation was totally faithful to this nihilistic spirit and contained long unexpurgated speeches from the novel explaining at sometimes tedious length just why everything government does is always done wrong. The audiences didn’t mind this pedantic lecturing because it was well integrated into a kaleidoscope of humor, suspense, and plenty of sex (more simulated blow jobs than any drama in history, I believe). The thought of having this totally subversive ritual staged under the patronage of H.M. the Queen, Elizabeth II, was nectar and ambrosia to me.

The National Theatre flew Shea and me over to London for the premiere and I fell in love with the whole cast, especially Prunella Gee, who emphatically has my vote for Sexiest Actress since Marilyn Monroe. Some of us did a lot of drinking and hash-smoking together, and the cast told me a lot of synchronicities connected with the production. Five actors were injured during the Liverpool run, to fulfill the Law of Fives. Hitler had lived in Liverpool for five months when he was 23 years old. The section of Liverpool in which the play opened, indeed the very street, is described in a dream of Carl Jung’s recorded on page 23 of Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. The theatre in Liverpool opened the day Jung died. There is a yellow submarine in Illuminatus, and the Beatles first sang “Yellow Submarine” in that same Liverpool Theatre. The actor playing Padre Pederastia in the Black Mass scene had met Aleister Crowley on a train once.

The cast dared me to do a walk-on role during the National Theatre run. I agreed and became an extra in the Black Mass, where I was upstaged by the goat, who kept sneezing. Nonetheless, there I was, bare-ass naked, chanting “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” under the patronage of Elizabeth II, Queen of England, and I will never stop wondering how much of that was programmed by Crowley before I was even born.


Robert Anton Wilson (via John Higgs)
In 2017, 23 years after they split up, Drummond and Cauty reunited as the JAMs. Instead of a new chart-burning house record, they released their first novel…

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall
10:08 am
‘Please Don’t Hit Me’: Provocative work by ex-KLF art terrorist Jimmy Cauty for sale on eBay

Artist Jimmy Cauty achieved international fame as “Rockman Rock” one half of The KLF (along with Bill Drummond aka “King Boy D”) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The KLF released a series of highly successful and influential records including “Last Train to Trancentral,” “What Time Is Love?” and “3 a.m. Eternal.” Under the name The Timelords the duo had a number one hit with “Doctorin’ the Tardis” their playful mash-up of the Doctor Who theme, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part Two)” and “Block Buster!” by Sweet. They had a further number one (in eighteen countries no less) with “Justified and Ancient (Stand by The JAMs),” their collaboration with country and western singer Tammy Wynette in 1991.

The following year The KLF appeared with grindcore band Extreme Noise Terror at the Brit Awards when they fired blanks from a machine gun over the audience’s heads. At the end of the ceremony the duo dumped a dead sheep outside the venue, then announced the end of The KLF and deleted their entire back catalog.

But this was only a taster of what was to follow.

In August 1994 Cauty and Drummond (now under the moniker The K Foundation) burned a million pounds in cash on the Scottish island of Jura. What the fuck that was about—well, no one is really quite sure—but it has become a moment that has defined the careers of both men since.
A kilted Jimmy Cauty fires blanks at the Brit Awards audience 1992, and an image from the K Foundation’s burning of one million pounds.
From 2000 Jimmy Cauty has been making political and provocative artwork—ranging from a limited edition series of stamps Black Smoke, Stamps of Mass Destruction (2003) which was eventually withdrawn after the Royal mail threatened legal action, to opening a “gift shop” at the Aquarium Gallery in 2004 selling “terror ware” based on the British government’s anti-terror leaflet Preparing for Emergencies.

In 2011, Cauty started producing a series called A Riot in a Jam Jar featuring miniature dioramas depicting violent confrontations between the police and the public. These jam jars contained imagined scenes including the execution of the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and the execution of bankers and the execution of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Cauty’s imagining of Prince Charles and Camilla about to be bludgeoned after their car was attacked during a student riot in 2010.
Now a limited edition of one of Cauty’s jam jars has been put up for sale on eBay. The work entitled Please Don’t Hit Me features a policeman interrogating a young boy. In a limited edition of ten—each individually numbered—Cauty’s Please Don’t Hit Me will set you back £465 (around $600). Place your order here.
More of Jimmy Cauty’s provocative jam jar art, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
09:29 am
Stand by your JAMs: The KLF take Tammy Wynette to Mu-Mu Land
04:01 pm

The KLF were one of the more inventive techno outfits of the late 80s/early 90s. They referenced Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! trilogy and Doctor Who a lot; they fired guns (blanks) over an audience full of music industry bigwigs and deposited a dead sheep at the entrance to the after party; they burned a million pounds in public; and so on. They occasionally dressed up like ice cream cones.
The KLF & Tammy Wynette
The KLF dressed as ice cream cones with Tammy Wynette
One of the KLF’s biggest hits came in 1991 with “Ancient and Justified (Stand By The JAMs)” for which they recruited country music superstar Tammy Wynette. The song was another reference to Illuminatus!, which features a clandestine group called “The Justified Ancients of Mummu,” a name they also adopted for themselves; it hit #2 on the U.K. charts, making it as close as the pranksters would ever come to topping the pop charts.

According to Jimmy McDonough’s Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen, the collaboration brought its share of difficulties:

In September 1991, Tammy was the beneficiary of extraordinary good luck: an international pop hit that dropped into her lap from out of nowhere. The gift came by way of UK musicians Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, aka the KLF, a crackpot outfit known for dance hits and absurdist antics.

In early summer of that year, the duo were in a London studio trying to revive a track that had been kicking around in one form or another since a fragment appeared on their 1987 debut album in a song entitled “Hey, Hey We Are Not the Monkees.” Cauty wanted to replace the singer, randomly suggesting Tammy Wynette. Drummond, a fan of not only country but of Wynette, got on the phone and a week later was being picked up at the Nashville airport by none other than George Richey. “Driving a powder blue Jag,” Richey, recovering from open-heart surgery, sported “snakeskin boots, fresh-pressed jeans, a wet-look perm,” wrote Drummond. “I liked him.”

Bill met his idol back at First Lady Acres as he stepped into the First Lady’s pink beauty parlor. “Her fingers were being manicured by a young man as a woman teased her hair into some feathered concoction. Her free hand was flicking through the pages of Vogue.” Tammy had a question for her new friend. “‘Bill, you’re from Scotland? Can you tell me why I have such a large lesbian following there?’ I had no answer, but promised to look into it.”

Drummond was well aware of the inescapable pitfalls of the Tammy Wynette-KLF collision, which by its very nature was, as he described, “an evil and corrupt exchange … the young artist wanting to tap into the mythical status and credibility of the has-been, the has-been wanting some of that ‘I’m still contemporary, relevant, will do anything to get back into the charts’ stuff.” But that didn’t stop Bill from playing the number for Tammy on her white grand piano. Wynette gamely warbled along. “She couldn’t find the key, let alone get it in pitch,” worried Drummond.

Into a local studio they went later that night, Tammy attempting to lay down a vocal on a thunderous dance track that certainly featured no down-home fiddle (although there was steel guitar buried in the murk, along with a Jimi Hendrix riff), not to mention nonsensical lyrics about a place called Mu-Mu Land which contained the couplet: “They’re justified and ancient / and they drive an ice cream van.”

About as far out of her element as Mu-Mu Land was from Music City, Tammy was hopelessly adrift in this electronica wasteland. “She could not keep time with the track for more than four bars before speeding up or slowing down,” said Drummond. Richey entered the booth and attempted to coach her. “A complete disaster” was Bill’s pained appraisal. “How do you tell the voice you have worshipped for the past twenty years, one of the greatest singing voids of the twentieth century, a voice that defines a whole epoch of American culture, that it sounds like shit?”

Drummond whisked the track back to London and dumped the bad news on his partner, Jimmy. Cauty told him to relax—the latest digital technology they’d just purchased would allow them to take Tammy’s words and “stretch them, squeeze them, get them all in time.”

The spectacular, no expense spared promo video. Imagine such a anarchistic act as the KLF getting this kind of bread to make a video today…

Here’s the KLF and (via video linkup) Tammy Wynette on Top of the Pops. In a lower-third it’s explained that Drummond had declared the following Tuesday to be “No Music Day” so that you would be encouraged to reflect on just what it is you want from your music. (For their part, TOTP turned it into a John Cage joke.)

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Chill Out’ dudes, they got this: rare KLF albums appear on iTunes

Posted by Martin Schneider
04:01 pm
‘Chill Out’ dudes, they got this: rare KLF albums appear on iTunes
11:59 am

I don’t know how this has happened, but original rave nutters The KLF have had some of the rarer albums made available to purchase on iTunes.

It’s a bit of a surprise because these album are sample-tastic jail bait, and one of them was not even officially released at the time (such as The White Room Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from 1990, which differs considerably from The White Room, which was released to international acclaim in 1991).

Pick of the bunch of KLF album re-issues, for me anyway, are both the band’s ambient albums from 1990, Chill Out and Space (which is sometimes credited as artist name Space). Both albums were made in collaboration with Alex Patterson, who went on to form the mighty Orb, and his influence is palpable.

Similar in style and structure to The Orb at their most out there, both albums were cut from tape recordings of live ambient dj sets, and feature a gentle shower of found and pre-prepared sound to make you feel like you’re floating on a cosmic river. You can easily get lost in these records. To resurrect that old cliché, they really take you on a journey, maaan. Underground culture hasn’t felt this psychedelic in a long time.
The KLF and Tammy Wynette, via thefuckersburnedthelot, h/t to John Power
The KLF are one of the greatest “joke” bands of all time, and I don’t mean that in a “comedy band” or “wacky” way, I mean more in the style of the Merry Pranksters, or the Bonzos. Situationist humor. They took their original name (The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu) from the Illuminatus! trilogy, after all. They pushed some sharp critique but mixed it up with a liberal dose of the bizarre. Just look at that picture of them with Tammy Wynette. It’s genius!

Don’t forget that they brought a dead sheep to the Brit Awards, played live at that bloated, complacent shindig with thrash metallers Extreme Noise Terror, and fired fake machine guns into the audience while they did it. Oh yeah, and this one time they burned a million pounds.  . 

At the time these albums were first released they were seen by some as mere novelties, curios from a band who made it hard to take themselves seriously. Time has been very kind to them however, and over twenty years later they still retain their charm, and that elusive sense of magic.

Maybe The KLF appearing on iTunes is a huge cosmic joke on all our expenses. Or maybe Caughty and Drummond badly need some cash. Either way these albums are worth getting, before they’re possibly withdrawn. Again.

The KLF “Space” (part one)

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
11:59 am