Ever wondered what it takes to make a great band look iconic?
Well, we have a special guest writer joining us – the one and only, Badger Kull Stylist, Becci James. In this article we learn about her vision for the band’s image, how it was achieved and we are also treated to behind-the-scenes stories of what life with Liverpool’s hit music act was really like…
Follow Becci on Twitter.
The Stylist’s Tale: A story of black paint, Elvis’s long-lost son and ‘the band who spent more time on the f**king stairs than on the stage’.
So. Here we are. It’s less than three weeks since my debut as stylist for Badger Kull and my life has changed dramatically as a result of my collaboration with The Band. First, my iPhone now automatically auto-corrects ‘cull’ to ‘Kull’. Secondly, I’m unfortunately embroiled in a big-money lawsuit regarding the fact that I am wholly responsible for the hallway carpet in the Feathers Hotel, Liverpool being excitingly repatterned with large swoops of black emulsion paint and an ironing board being stained with fake blood. Thirdly, I’m currently in talks with Lady Gaga about my vision for her upcoming tour wardrobe. It’s been quite a time.
Ok. So technically, only the first one of those three events is actually true. (The second, however, was almost a possibility at 3am on Friday morning though, and the third one, well, I’m waiting for the call.)
When I first booked my ticket to go to the Welcome to the Dark Ages event, like the rest of the 400, I didn’t know what to expect. I was going on my own and was a little nervous about what I was getting myself into. My friends shared my trepidation, with one of them telling me I had to check in with her daily to make sure that I was ‘still alive’.
I needn’t have worried. I managed to survive, keep all of my body parts, and to the best of my knowledge, I don’t think I’ve been hypnotised or probed mysteriously by some strange being. The jury is still out on whether I’ve joined some strange Kult, but to be fair, with all of the great people I encountered over the days I was there, it’d be a pretty damn kool kult if I have. So, hey, it’s kinda okay.
I’m not going to rattle on about my take on all of the events of the week for two reasons:
- You’ve already no doubt read the great accounts from all of the other guest writers
- I was asked to write about my role as stylist for Badger Kull and what happened behind the scenes.
So with that in mind, let’s start.
As we all crowded into Constellations on Wednesday afternoon for the jobs to be read out, I felt decidedly nervous. I was worried what I’d be asked to do. I’d signed up to say I could draw, but suddenly had a horrible panic in case I’d have to sit with ‘proper Artists’ (with a capital A) and I’d end up drawing something that would resemble the work of a drunken cat with a crayon, compared to the productions of others who were far more skilled. When I was given the role of stylist, I was thrilled, but then nervous. I had people telling me to ‘go all out – make it insane’ and people saying to ‘play it minimal’. Deciding that it’s therefore impossible to please everyone, I got thinking.
I figured it had to be something with a nod to The JAMS/KLF style, but not too much. After all, it’s time to ‘kick out The JAMS’, right? I went to the initial band meeting with Pete Wylie, Pete Woodhead (BK manager) and the members of Badger Kull: Steve, Dan, Flinton and Babaluma. At this meeting, we first heard the backing for the track (through Pete’s phone) and found out that it would be a crashing, bass-heavy piece with a crazy amount of strobes firing at the band throughout. I had in my head the idea of white robes, which Pete said he thought would be effective with the strobing, so I was set. Watch out, Westwood!
From this point, a bit of a plan was forming. White robes with black painted random stripes to represent the idea of badgers. As for the ‘kull’, well it had to be blood splatter. I toyed with this idea. The sensible part of me knew that fake blood was the way to go. Obviously it was. However, that didn’t stop me Googling ‘butchers in Liverpool city centre’ with the slightly fanciful and crazy idea of using pigs’ blood. (I mentioned this to Bill and Jimmy the following day, along with a wild notion of dumping vats of the stuff over the crowd at midnight in a scene reminiscent of 80’s horror-fest ‘Carrie’, which elicited a wry chuckle from the pair. I did, however, say I’d decided against this in deference to any vegetarians in the room. I’m not sure if they were disappointed or relieved.)
Thursday brought my first meeting with The JAMS. Talking to Bill through the window of the Ice Kream Van (another iPhone autocorrect now) was a surreal experience. He seemed to like my plans, so with a budget in hand, off I went with Pete Woodhead (BK Manager) to source some of the things I needed. After blowing a reasonable amount of money on fake blood, face paints, a white wig, slightly terrifying masks, rhinestone skulls, staplers and the obligatory badger head, Pete and I headed to the Invisible Wind Factory to see the first Badger Kull rehearsal.
Sitting upstairs in the IWF, even through the floor, they sounded loud. Sorry, that should say LOUD. VERY LOUD. It was clear that Pete Wylie was really getting them going. I don’t know what happened or what was said in that first 30 minutes of practise while I was upstairs. It’s a secret for Badgers and Wylie only. They may take it to the grave, who knows. But whatever it was, by the time I got down to the rehearsal room, everything was sounding pretty great. The beeps in the backing track are still ingrained into my memory, and I’ve found that I now nod my head along to the (almost identical) beeps at a pedestrian crossing, have ‘TOXTETH DAY OF THE DEAD’ shouting through my brain and kinda expect 4 thrashing bass guitars to kick in. They haven’t, as yet, but perhaps if they do, that’s part of the mysterious hypnotism trigger my friend had been so worried about. I’ll let you know.
It was great hearing the track come together and evolve as the afternoon went on. It was also great hearing many stories from the hilariously entertaining Pete Wylie, including how Elvis is actually his real father and Ringo Starr was once mistakenly given 32 Drumstick chewy sweets as part of his gig rider. (Apparently nobody had considered the fact that a drummer might actually be requesting drumsticks of the wooden variety.)
Later that evening, after the events had ended, I set to work on the stage wear. I’d never done anything like this before. But thanks to some sheets purchased for me by the lovely Kate Wylie and a bag of random equipment, I got to work. Ironing king-size sheets has never been my favourite pastime, but doing it at midnight in a pokey single hotel room definitely ranks in my least favourite activities. Sheets ironed, cut and stapled to create white robes, I then had to make a start with the painting. Deciding I needed space, I moved everything out into the hotel corridor and started merrily rollering on the black emulsion.
Part way through, it occured to me that perhaps I should check it wasn’t going through to the gloriously 80s carpet underneath. After a slight panic and a bit of frantic carpet rubbing, I added more newspaper underneath and carried on.
Adding the fake blood was great fun. It wasn’t so entertaining the following morning trying desperately to sponge it off the wall and the ironing board I’d left the first robe draped over to dry on overnight, but hey, you have to suffer for your art.
At 3am (obviously) I finally decided to try to get some sleep. Unfortunately, I then spent the next two hours wide awake, panicking about where to get the yellow and black caution tape I’d decided was now essential to the costume production. After eventually dropping off at 5am, I woke at 8, got ready, scrubbed off the emulsion that had somehow covered my left arm and lugged the robes, remarkably heavy paint tin and assorted supplies to the Dead Perch Lounge to carry on my work.
After a few hours painting and taping in Bill Drummond’s workshop, things were starting to come together. There were helpful people getting me vital supplies (including the much-panicked-over caution tape), encouraging words from Bill himself and positive responses from Dan Badger regarding my efforts. Part way through the morning, I took a short break from my creative endeavours to sing happy birthday to Bill’s little boy. As Bill was also singing, I’m now classing this as me officially ‘singing with The KLF’. If they ever do a future album featuring ‘Happy Birthday’, I think I’m a shoo-in for the guest vocalist spot. After all, I know all the words.
Time marched on and soon it was 2pm – time to head back to the IWF for another band rehearsal and to show them my creations so far. They seemed to approve, although it turns out that a long, haphazard white wizard wig coated in fake blood somewhat inhibits a person’s ability to play bass. Ah. Being about as musical as a saucepan, this hadn’t occurred to me. So the wig was removed, and all was well once more.
As the day drew on, the band really came together. It sounded great – loud, thrashing and wild and GREAT. Pete Wylie did a top job running them through their paces and discussing the final stage performance. The band themselves had a lot of input into things too and everyone had a strong desire to make it amazing. Pete (BK Manager) was fielding calls regarding ‘possible BK future appearances’ and demonstrating his creative prowess by taking photographs to be used for the official press shot for the only Official BK Poster featuring all of the band. It was all go. All too soon, it was time to call it a day and head to The Florrie. Stage wear had been tried on and approved; badger stage props (the furry kind, sourced by Kate Wylie) had been caution taped thanks to Mark Rolfe, BK Roadie (ready to be stolen by eager fans later – YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!); a poster was on its way and Mysterious Myk had kindly offered to drive us to the next destination.
The events at The Florrie and the Great Pull North are already well documented and I can’t hope to compare with your own memories, so I’ll leave those to you. I’ll pick up the story at the IWF again, as we waited backstage in the upstairs Dressing Room (otherwise known as the staff kitchen area)…
Considering they were going to play in front of 400+ people later and had only really been together a little over 24 hours, there were surprisingly few nerves from the guys. There was a proper buzz in the air and Pete Wylie did a top job of getting the band hyped and ready. The appearance of fan mail (some admittedly sent by Richard Norris) and beer also assisted in this process.
Another surreal moment of the evening came courtesy of Mr Cauty. From the stairs of the Dressing Room, Pete Wylie and I watched nervously (or excitedly, in Pete’s case) as Jimmy nearly crashed into the Dalek when reversing the Ice Kream Van into the backstage area. That is not a sentence you get to type very often. Luckily however, both Dalek and Van remained unscathed, and all too soon it was almost midnight and time to head to the stage. Led by Oliver who was once again to lend his gloriously silky tones to the proceedings, Badger Kull headed to the wings. Once on stage, it was a tremendous rush. (I will admit here to initially panicking that the sound had failed as it seemed very quiet. I looked around and nobody else seemed worried. I then realised I was standing BEHIND the speakers. Ah.)
Pete Wylie was like a proud father (rightly so) and took several photos and videos of the performance. As did we all! It was all over so quickly but it was great to see it all come together after the hard work put in by Pete Wylie, Fred, Pete Woodhead the BK Manager, the Roadies (Mark and Mark) and of course, all of the members of Badger Kull.
As the band and the two Pete’s headed off stage to relive the glory of the first (and final) BK performance, Mysterious Myk and I followed. What we found backstage was a somewhat entertaining sight. All four Badgers and Pete Wylie were standing stranded on the stairs leading up to the Dressing Room. In the pumped up drama of getting to the stage, it appears the door had locked behind us and nobody in the venue (security, bar staff, nobody) knew the entrance code to get us back in. After an eternity of running round the place trying to find someone to get us access and a threat from Mr Wylie to shoulder-charge the door in (stopped by a distinctly unamused Security guard), we eventually got back inside.
And so I think I’ll end this piece here with a quote from the inimitable Mr Wylie regarding the evening: “Badger Kull. The band who spent more time on the f**king stairs than on the stage.”
All photography courtesy of: B. James except Badger Kull On The Stairs Photo courtesy of: P. Woodhead, Badger Kull Tattoo Photo courtesy of @mr_hopkinson and Badger Kull Live On Stage Photo courtesy of @Lisa_Lovebucket.