He’s (in)famous for burning a million quid on a Scottish Island. He created music memories and mayhem as half of band KLF and then jettisoned his high-flying music career at a Brits afterparty by notoriously dumping a dead sheep.
Bill Drummond, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, moved to Corby when he was 11. Expelled from Corby’s Kingwood School while in the sixth form, he rejected a steelworks job.
Already standing out from the crowd when a student at Northampton School of Art, Mr Drummond has returned to the town of his adolescence to exhibit his project ‘The 25 Paintings’ in Corby.
But no sheep will be harmed in the pursuit of happiness as he dons a flowery pinny to serve tea to guests in the exhibition at Corby’s Roof Top Art Centre.
He said: “The 25 paintings are taking over. They are saying it’s not about you, it’s about us. They have somehow grown in my head. They say f*** you Bill Drummond. They are in control of me – not the other way round.”
Visitors to the gallery will have to squeeze around the easels displaying the ever-changing works. Some are in five-by-five grids with colored blocks displaying words and some are single canvases.
Mr Drummond will be acting as a ‘nippy’ to welcome visitors for afternoon tea and serve freshly baked (plain) scones, homemade strawberry jam and cups – purchased from Corby charity shops – filled with steaming Darjeeling loose-leaf tea. He’s been into the town’s woods to collect elderflowers from five special bushes to make cordial for those who prefer a cold drink.
And he will be using Corby’s woods to exhibit his paintings by hanging them in an oak tree in Hazel Wood for one night.
He said: “I’m going to sleep in the woods. It’s one of the most fantastic things to do listening to the woods at half two in the morning.
“It’s linked in with Latvian festivals of Līgosvētki and Jāņi (midsummer) when they run naked through the fields and forests but ‘The Elderly Gentleman’ (Mr Drummond) doesn’t run naked.”
Mr Drummond’s residency at the Roof Top Arts Center is as a result of a chance meeting on a train with a Corby man who suggested the space as a place for his series of shows.
It was Roof Top Arts Center director Dinah Kazakoff who answered the phone when Mr Drummond called to inquire about using the space.
She said: “To have Bill Drummond as our last exhibition before we move into our new building – what a way to end. We are thrilled to be hosting him.
“All the 25 paintings are very close together so you feel like you are walking around in his head.”
The artist had been planning a world tour of his 12-year-long show with global destinations but the pandemic and health issues changed his mind.
He said: “A mixture of three brain seizures and Covid happened. I had that sense that I was a male white and entitled so I kept it to the British Isles and places I am connected to – including Corby.”
His connection to the town started at 11 in 1964. He moved from rural Scotland and started at Beanfield Secondary Modern, transferring to Kingswood School.
He said: “Corby in the 1960s was a town of hope. A vast number of migrants had come from tenements. They came here and they had their own front door and central heating. With the woods and Rockingham Forest it was – and is – amazing. All the dads worked at the (steel) works. I had a fantastic childhood – the sun was shining.”
His love of Corby did not extend to a love of school but did set him on an artistic path.
He said: “I went to arts school by mistake. I got into the sixth form because I got four O Levels. I got kicked out so my mum paid for me to go to a careers advisor down in London.
“I told them I liked music and I liked making things, They told me I should become a violin maker. To do that I needed to study to be a cabinet maker and to do that I needed an art foundation course.”
His first brush with fame was at Northampton College of Art when his Art Foundation end of year show caught the eye of a local newspaper reporter.
Smiling, Mr Drummond remembered: “For my final show I recreated my bedroom from the Beanfield Estate. I felt my bedroom was my work of art. They did a report on it.”
After earning a place at Liverpool’s Art and Design Academy, Mr Drummond would hitch-hike from Corby, spending a great deal of time under Spaghetti Junction waiting for a ride.
It was here in 2014 that he launched the 25 Paintings, in the concrete underpasses. The tour is due to finish in 2027 to mark his official retirement.
He said: “I want to get to it done before then. My maternal grandfather dropped dead whilst mowing the lawn when he was 74.”
The exhibition starts on Saturday, June 11, and continues until June 30 during the gallery’s opening hours – Wednesday to Saturday from 11am until 4pm.
Anyone wanting to join the tea party hosted by Mr Drummond should email him to book a table with slots available on June 11, 15, 16, 17, 18 22, 23, 24, 29 and 30, from 2pm to 4pm.
He added: “The price of a pot of tea will be either you attempting to knit a square for The Million Stitch Blanket, needles and wool provided, or painting forty pre-scripted words on the back of a designated canvas, brushes and paint provided “