The story perhaps begins the previous year when the KLF were invited to perform at a concert celebrating new British music which was to be filmed to show as clips during the ’91 BRITs. The KLF’s suggestions for the nature of their performance were so outrageous (involving live elephant sacrifices), that the invitation was cancelled. Then at the end of ’91 they were approached to appear on the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops; they planned to perform the thrash-metal version of 3 a.m. Eternal with Extreme Noise Terror.
The BBC however refused, and Bill and Jimmy performed a straight version of Justified And Ancient instead. So you’d think that the organisers of the annual music industry back-slapping self-congratulatory show would have been tipped off that the KLF would try to do something shocking.
It had to be done. You only get so many opportunites… When they asked us to do it, we wondered if the BRITS people had done their research…
You don’t invite the KLF to perform live at a stuffy industry event unless you are expecting them to make headlines the next day.
Somehow Bill and Jimmy persuaded the organisers to let them perform with Extreme Noise Terror, and they began to plan their performance.
The plans kept changing. They varied from me going onstage and literally cutting my age, Manics style, into my chest with a knife, to me snogging Jimmy onstange, to Jimmy simulating sex with his girlfriend.
Drummond explains how such ideas come to them.
Bill Drummond We don’t always think things through beforehand… we just do them. Jimmy really had me going, he suggested that I use the cleaver to cut my own hand off!
Their plans eventually evolved into going to cut up a dead sheep in front of the audience and throw its blood over the front rows.
The original idea was that two thirds of the way through the song this altar would appear with the sheep on, it would come on and… we’d bought the meat cleavers, the knives, the tablecloth, got everything.
On the morning of the show (12th February ’92) Drummond drove to an abattoir in Northampton and bought a whole dead sheep and eight gallons of blood. Word of their plan got out though, and both the BBC lawyers and then hardcore vegetarians ENT intervened.
[They] made it blatantly known that they were totally against the idea.
There was some tension. We’re an extreme vegetarian band known for smashing up butchers shops. We couldn’t justify that.
We had to calm it down, because it was going to get well out of hand. It was really funny seeing the band’s (ENT’s) reaction. They’re anti-facist-vegetarians. No! you can’t to that! It was really funny, cos they’re like all from Ipswich, with funny accents…
They told me they were having sleepless nights over it, and once I knew, so was I. Rightly or wrongly, I thought, ‘I can’t let you go through with this,’ so on the Tuesday before the event I leaked the story to the Daily Star and the Sun. That would be enough to alert the organisers and the BBC, who would nix the idea.
Performing At The Brit Awards
So the sheep plan was scrapped, and instead *just* the thrash performance, and Bill spraying the audience with blanks from a machine gun took place. There’s no doubt however that this performance did annoy, shock and disgust many of the ‘pigtails in suits’ present in the audience and presumably many of the live TV audience in their living rooms. Trevor Horn (producer of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax”) seemed to be in a state of shock. “They were horrible! Shooting with machine guns! Disgraceful!”. Eminent Hungarian classical composer Sir George Solti tried to leave the auditorium during the performance and had to be persuaded to return to his seat.
As Scott Piering’s voice announced that the KLF had “now left the music business” the two bands hurried off the stage and straight into their van and back to Trancentral. Later in the show the KLF (jointly with Simply Red) were awarded the title Best British Band. Since they had now left the building they sent along sidekick Hector, resplendent in motor cycle messenger gear, to pick up the statuette. Having been told there was no way he was being allowed access, Hector dashed onstage, grabbed the trophy from startled Martika and escaped into the labyrinth of corridors behind the glittering stage. This of course was cut from the TV coverage. Later, he was cornered by security, who wrestled ‘the BRIT’ back off him.
The BRIT Awards statuette was later unearthed in a field near Stonehenge by a local farmer. From Q Magazine: “The yeoperson’s shovel-wielding presence remains as unexplained as The KLF’s wish to bury it there in the first place.” Jimmy has been vague when questioned on this.
Dropping A Dead Sheep
Back at Trancentral Jimi and Bill decided to do… more… stuff… They left Trancentral “on a mission”. Over at the posh Lancaster Gate hotel where the post-BRIT Awards party is being held, blue and yellow flashing lights are splitting the darkness. A police car prowls around as a rubbish lorry disposes of the carcass of a dead sheep which has been left on the forecourt. Around it is tied a sign; ‘I DIED FOR YOU – BON APPETIT’.
Bill explains why they did it: “There was a lot of symbolism about the sheep thing. It said to those people at the BRITs, ‘If you can’t take the contradictions and the shit within pop music, tough; you’re all willing to go into this big hotel and eat whatever but you don’t wanna look at a dead sheep’. I was brought up in the country and I’ve seen dead bodies and dead animals and I worked on a trawler and saw millions of dead fish.”
“Anyway, the next plan was to take the sheep down to the hotel and leave it there on the stairs, dead, and pour the eight gallons of blood over the entrance. They might’ve been able to ignore the sheep, but wading through blood? That’s symbolic too. It’s like the industry wants your blood. And then, when you’ve given them everything, they want to make you a part of the ‘rich tapestry of rock’. When you’re dead, when you’re gone, it’s all nice, all ‘Joe Brown And The Bruvvers – weren’t they great? Sid? Wasn’t he great!? Jimi – what a great album!'”
It does seem that the KLF somehow wanted to purge themselves of the music industry. The fact that they wanted to ritually disembowel a sheep which are deeply embedded in the KLF mythology was, as NME writer Danny Kelly suggests, perhaps “a bit like suicide”. It seems that they wanted to do something so deliberately offensive that their careers would have been ruined.
They started to feel they were being absorbed into the public domain. Everything they did was not a prank. I’m sure everyone always thought of them as jolly pranksters. Those KLF guys, what are they up to next? I can’t help but think they needed to destroy it. It’s the only logical explanation.
I don’t know if they would have ever done it, but part of the thinking was, If we did it, we wouldn’t have to make a decision whether to carry on or not. People would be so appalled, we would have just alienated everyone in the industry.
They really wanted to cleanse themselves and be ostracised by the music industry.
This was probably the first KLF action that really would have alienated tons of people who normally applaud their every move. Right thinking people probably view the use of animals for some madcap pop/art caper as disgusting. Drummond explained “we’d gone through agonies about this, spent sleepless nights knowing that it was a terrible thing to do. But the sheep didn’t die just for us. It was going to die anyway. We actually prolonged its life by 12 hours or something.” Then he admits that his wife was “horrified… disgusted, completely disgusted. But y’know, we just can’t be the safe little pop group. […] There’s a twisted part to Jimmy and me that wants to be hated. Really hated…”
The Day After
Next morning, the backlash began. From the KLF’s point of view, they had subverted and disrupted the BRIT Awards and made some sort of point. The editorial in dusty trade mag Music Week was appalled. The tabloid coverage was ridiculous in its inaccuracy and down-right lies. Note the following two stories needed multiple writers:
“The KLF almost brought chaos to the awards by firing a machine-gun into the celebrity- packed crowd. Frightened members of the audience were calmed after organisers said the gun, carried by band leader Bill Drummond, was loaded only with blanks. Then the band were barred from collecting their award. The group ordered a courier company to collect their trophy as a joke. But the organisers of the glitzy show, which went out on TV last night, refused to allow the leather-clad biker into the Odeon. The group’s Press officer said after the show: ‘It looks like their joke backfired.'” -Linda Duff/Julia Kuttner from ‘The Daily Star’ 13th February ’92
The KLF proved to be pop’s biggest wallies by “firing” a realistic machine gun at the star-studded audience.
Singer Bill Drummond left the stage as the band performed their No 1 hit 3am Eternal. Drummond, 36, who was using a crutch after damaging his knee in a fall, then reappeared and pointed the gun at the crowd.
But his antics were met with apathy by guests who carried on chatting. KLF did manage to cause a stir eventually by trashing their instruments at the end of their song. They hurled guitars across the stage, smashed microphone stands against scenery and threw buckets. Sadly, they won best group award jointly with Simply Red.
The morning after the BRIT Awards Drummond was driving to the studio for Black Room sessions: “I’ve still got eight gallons of blood in the back of the van. Simon Bates is on the radio, giving out the ‘truth’ about the awards. He’s saying how he and his producer foiled the dastardly KLF plot to throw fake blood on the audience. And I’m thinking ‘Oh Simon is that the ‘truth’?’. I’m driving along with eight gallons of real blood, not fake, in the van. Maybe I’ll go over to Radio 1 right now and dump it on him… But I haven’t got the guts.”
But in the end the KLF’s art-terrorist outrages didn’t really have the desired effect. The music industry’s reaction was more apathy than horror, more often than not simply regarding their actions as part of the KLF’s ‘scam’ mythology.
After the BRIT Awards there was only one way out – to really leave the music industry.
The whole story is best told in the NME article ‘The KLF vs. The BRITs‘. Some more theories are expressed in the Select article ‘Who Killed the KLF?‘.
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FK – Piers Morgan