Manhole (Cover Story) by Burning Wheel

The synchronicities just keep coming…

Burning Wheel share their story of ‘Burn The Shard’ via a certain manhole cover, Bill Drummond and Queensbridge Road…

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MANHOLE (COVER STORY) BY Burning Wheel

It’s been 12 days since I first stood on the manhole cover and I’m now standing on the roof of a London tower block with Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty.

I’ve a story to tell about the events of the last month, relating to the release of my band Burning Wheel’s debut album Remembrance Songs and our unexpected crossing of paths with the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu.

First of all, a disclaimer: though I was born and raised in Toxteth, Liverpool, have been a musician all my life, and much admired the work of the KLF, I’d never had any interaction or encounters with the KLF/JAMs or any of their associates (as far as I’m aware) up until the 6th of November 2017. I’m going to assume if you are reading this that you are conversant with at least some of the mythology behind the story, which will save us all time and, with any luck, make the read more interesting.

Though I had played bass in a number of bands over the years including a brief stint with fictional electro-trio The Toblerones:

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I’d never released an album of my own songs. Living in Hackney, London, I put together a band with friends from back in Liverpool, as well some other Northern exiles and a Spaniard. After recording our album with renowned producer, Gerry Diver we scheduled the release for November 2017, with a launch as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival at the marvellous Caledonia Pub and Music venue.

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The venue was apt as the title track of Remembrance Songs mentions my childhood home on Bedford Walk just a minute’s walk away.

Arriving on the 27th of October, we took the lift to the top of the Tower to record a radio session with John Gibbons on Liverpool station, Radio City.

https://twitter.com/johngibbonsblog/status/923876612885700608

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Burning Wheel approach Radio City Tower.

Following the session, myself and another band member had plans to make a promotional video. Being (somewhat dimly) aware of the mythology surrounding the manhole cover in Temple Court, we busked our Remembrance Song for early morning drinkers, all the time ensuring that we were standing on the supposed intergalactic ley line and Jungian source of the collective pool of unconscious life.

Following a successful launch, the next day we returned to the manhole cover with three friends who had travelled to Liverpool with us. After discussing the various myths surrounding the location, all 8 of us stood on the manhole cover and let out a collective scream, aiming to channel some of its cosmic energy.

It was not immediately apparent that anything had happened.

We retired to the White Star on Mathew Street, famous meeting place of the Beatles, and posed for an obligatory photo in the ‘Beatles’ seats’:

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We returned for a triumphant gig in London at the Slaughtered Lamb and edited the video with other footage we’d shot that morning in Liverpool and in our local park in Hackney:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo42ccIahJw

And there the story ended.

Or so we thought.

 


 

When someone offers me a joke, I just say no thanks,
I try to tell it like it is and stay away from pranks.

Reuben Remus, 1967

 


 

After a week away with the band, I returned to my job in social housing, where I received an email from our customer services call centre, quoted word for word here:

Hi,

Bit of a weird one, the author/artist Bill Drummond called, he has written a book and the main character lives at 355 Queensbridge Road. He would like to see if he can arrange a reading on the public space on the block, or, ideally, on the roof. He has asked to speak to yourself about this.

 

Why me from hundreds of employees? As part of my job I’m responsible for the tower block at 355 Queensbridge Road.

My first thought was, ‘Wow that manhole cover really works.’

My second was, ‘How can I assist the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu in their eternal battle against the Illuminati without getting in trouble at work?’

The next day I get a call from Bill Drummond (!) who explains his project in more detail and I agree to meet him and his colleague, Jimmy.

It’s been 12 days since I first stood on the manhole cover and I’m now standing on the roof of a London tower block with Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty.

They explained the scene that they wanted to recreate from their book ‘2023’ (a copy of which I already owned). In the scene, Henry Pedders (who lives at 355 Queensbridge Road with his mum) stares out of his window at The Shard, which represents for him everything he hates about the world in 2023. They explained they wanted to do a reading on the roof, in view of The Shard, before following Henry out through the front door and into the Dalston night. After they finished the synopsis, I asked, ‘Erm… fellas… where is The Shard??’

To our collective amazement it was nowhere to be seen. The new tower blocks at Liverpool Street have completely obscured The Shard from view, even from the top of the twenty-storey 355 Queensbridge Road. It turns out 355 Queensbridge Road, Heron Tower/The Gherkin and The Shard are exactly in alignment like the Pyramids of Giza or the stars in Orion’s belt. Jimmy professes he hasn’t been this surprised in a long time. ‘Those skyscrapers won’t be there in 2023’, said Bill ominously, before suggesting they didn’t need to do the reading on the roof (which I would of course have firmly refused in any case, on health and safety grounds). After running through the various options, Jimmy and Bill agreed that the best place for the reading might be outside the front entrance. I then asked them to meet a member of the residents’ committee, to let them know what was being planned and to ensure they were happy with it.

The only member of the committee available was Gladys, who is 78 years old and lives on the 5th floor. Gladys was happy to invite us into her impeccable flat and we sat in her living room. A pyramid-themed quiz show hosted by dwarves was playing silently on the TV:

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I immediately noticed that in-between me, Gladys and The KLF in the dead centre of the room, was a medium sized pyramid ornament similar to this one:

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Ignoring the occult symbolism as best I could, I listened as Bill repeated the Henry Pedders story for the benefit of Gladys. On hearing the tale Gladys immediately replied:

‘Oh yes, yes… I heard this story 5 years ago from an actor who was sitting right where you are. He told me he wanted to make a film about a boy who lives at 355 Queensbridge Road with his mum.’

Bill: What?
Jimmy: Who??
Me: Are you sure???
Gladys: Yes, a tall black man, his name was… Idris…’
All: Idris Elba?
Gladys: Yes. That’s him. He used to live here at 355 Queensbridge Road when he was a little boy, and he came to see me 5 years ago saying he wanted to make a film… As I said, he was sitting right where you are.

We gave Gladys our thanks and she told us she was more than happy to give permission for the event on behalf of the residents of 355 Queensbridge Road. Bill and Jimmy were perplexed by the Idris Elba angle and Bill said he would attempt to verify Gladys’ surprisingly synchronous story.

As we departed I gave Bill and Jimmy a copy each of Remembrance Songs which they were delighted to receive, if a bit disappointed when I explained that Burning Wheel play ‘Psychedelic Folk Rock’ and not ‘Suicide Metal’ as they had apparently hoped. We discussed the fact that I attended Quarry Bank School and Bill said ‘You know John Lennon is a character in the book?’. We parted ways and I waited expectantly for the 23rd of November 2017.

The following week I was contacted by a friend of the family of the Birmingham Six, who asked me if I would come and play for the Irish prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs, something I had never considered or contemplated before. ‘When?’ I asked. ‘November the 23rd’ they said. ‘Sure!’ I replied.

November the 23rd 2017 looked set to be a memorable day.

The Wormwood Scrubs gig was a very moving experience. I chose a set of folk songs composed by prisoners and it went down great. A young inmate in tattoos told me ‘Lemmy is my godfather’ and that I’d ‘made his stretch’. I encouraged him to pursue his interest in drumming. I left the Scrubs and headed straight for 355 Queensbridge Road.

I was about half an hour early and while having a nervous smoke outside I found this military-style patch on the pavement:

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Feeling as though I’d just been recruited, I went back inside to wait for Henry Pedders, who arrived right on schedule. ‘You’re the guy who played Wormwood Scrubs tonight!’ said Henry.

I didn’t see much of what happened outside and only one resident called down concerned about the commotion.

I walked with Henry as far as the Arcola Theatre where I stopped for a drink with friends, ignoring the chaos outside. I received a call from Bill later in the night inviting me and my friends to some sort of after-party.

We arrive to find the party in full voice and full of pertinent questions:

‘Are you the guy who stood on the manhole cover?’ asked Daisy.
‘So do you think you’re Johnny Cash now??’ asked Bill.
‘Was Jerusalem builded here among those dark satanic mills???’ asked everyone.

And yes I said yes I will Yes.

Burning Wheel

www.burningwheelmusic.com

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All article Photos courtesy of Burning Wheel.

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