Liverpool is no stranger to rave acts launching a new product around the time of the midnight hour. Back on 30th June, 1997, the Virgin Music shop, in the city centre, hosted a 12:00am playback in celebration of the release of The Prodigy album ‘The Fat Of The Land’. On that evening, twenty individuals made up the queue for that event. Forward on a couple of decades… The Jams end their 23 year moratorium by launching the book ‘2023 – a trilogy’ at News From Nowhere – and the queue is made up of hundreds of people! One member of the line estimates the total to be 600 individuals. Whatever the correct figure is, when I arrive at 11.40pm, the formation goes from the shop entrance to the top of Bold Street with more fans arriving by the minute.
Over the past months, hype and anticipation have been growing for the three day ‘situation’ taking place in Liverpool. Technically, this book stamping (apparently our protagonists do not ‘sign’ the publications) is not part of the ticketed event but that proves no deterrent for the loyal fanbase. In front of me are a couple who have travelled all the way from Sacramento and it is clear that many have reached from near and far to be part of proceedings. As we await the imminent arrival of Bill and Jimmy, stories of scorched currency, former screenings and moments of discovery ripple through the crowd. The air is eager as we are encouraged to chant ‘Return’ to welcome our authors…
As the moment draws closer, Ford Timelord makes an entrance to a combination of cheers and iPhone camera clicks. The grand arrival of the Ice Kream van is scheduled for 23 seconds past midnight. I check the time and Wednesday is born but will they arrive at the advertised moment?
Sure enough, within seconds, the chimed melody of ‘What Time Is Love’ roars out of an ice cream van at the top of Bold Street. And then, a corner is turned – the frozen dessert carriage is upon us. This time the cheers are amplified, the chants ring out, clapping reverberates across the night sky and the cloud fills with images of the return of these fine artists.
In the back of their ride, there is a coffin…
As The Jams park and exit their iconic transport, they are greeted by a host of camera crews (despite requesting for this type of filming / photography to not occur) but soon enter into News From Nowhere (accompanied by Tony Thorpe) to commence the stamping. The store had been pre-selling copies of the book for collection on the night or purchase was possible at the event. In the window of the host venue, there is a recreation of the cover of ‘The White Room’ as well as clear instructions for conduct at the stamping.
It is these instructions that are probably one of the most significant parts of this opening chapter. Much amusement was derived from the clause ‘Do not attempt to take a selfie with The Jams or with anyone else ever again’ and the refusal to autograph past memorabilia with a punishment of destruction sent warning messages across the Facebook groups. It is clear that the values of Cauty and Drummond to not play the conventional pop star game and to do things by their rules are still in place. Even the standard protocol for launching a book with an in-store signing is flipped on its head and given a new context. No books were signed, all were stamped. No idol conversation was entertained. Filming and photographing whilst The Jams work was prohibited. Gifts were accepted on the understanding they would be destroyed. These are the traits of artistic anti-heroes – and this crowd love them for it.
In an age where the majority of creative work is just a click away, we find ourselves drawn towards a couple of fine minds who have made their following wait 23 years for this day to arrive with this publication. Time has always been a theme in their body of work but nobody else has harnessed it the way that they do. When the moratorium was announced in 1994, it was not certain if a return would happen or in what form. A lot can happen in that time – but we were not left disappointed. Bill and Jimmy have successfully allowed the space to encase their legacy knowing that questions needed answering and that more is desired from them. With how the world has changed in recent years, many have heralded this return as not only apt but vital. We need The KLF once again. And it is so refreshing to see them avoid the cliched ‘comeback tour’ or ‘remastered album with bonus tracks’ or ‘anniversary remix package’ like so many other acts do – but then we all knew they would never go down that path.
Marketing and branding have always been trump cards in the universe of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. Today we have again seen the reappearance and further reinforcement of the number ’23’. It appeared in the time of arrival. The book title carries these digits. The Ice Kream Van features it. The roof of Ford Timelord is adorned by it. Furthermore, the psyche of all involved are scanning the area looking for any instances of the magical number.
After fifty minutes, I enter the store, collect my edition of ‘2023’ and then receive stamps from Cauty and Drummond. I shake the hands of the pair and depart. I’m intrigued as to what exactly the ‘utopian costume drama’ within this hardcover involves. Over the coming days, I and hundreds of others will find out. A Guardian extract appeared in my timeline whilst I was queueing but I did not indulge too much – however, it does appear that the tale puts a modern frame around a classic tale… We all know that these gentleman are capable of wonderful storytelling (from their work ‘The Manual’ as well as solo projects), so there are bound to be gems of nourishment in this fresh offering. To add further intrigue, the rubber stamps used inside the books appear to vary between logos of The Jams, Badger Kull (a mysterious new music group), Built By The Jams, The Toxteth Day Of The Dead, Pyramid Blaster and Starbucks War Is Over. Undoubtedly, these all hint at happenings arriving in the non too distant future…
Outside the bookshop, the Ice Kream Van, Ford Timelord and Jams Mini Moke are the subject of much smartphone snapping. The merchandise range is going to be a treat for the hardcore supporters.
Despite much changing in the technology, industries and consumption of music and writing, The Jams have such loyalty and intrigue from their following due to their incredible legacy and appear unaffected by the evolving landscape. No press copies of the book were circulated prior to the publication today. No reviews of the book appeared in advance of the launch. We now live in a world of pre-release reviews, free chapters and television interviews in order to covert us to purchase. Also, with the rise of Kindle culture and eBooks, one may ask why a physical novel is of relevance. However, with this book we are seeing the power of fandom and a startling back catalogue combine to drive hundreds of people to convene in one place to get the product as soon as it is available – trusting that it will be a great read, based on their alignment to the outlooks of the writers. To be able to bypass the Amazon-to-your-door behaviour and to sell a product with little information to so few in this way is now a rare occurrence. By doing so, The Jams have brought such value and power to this project that it will not fall into the sea of disposability that many creatives now find themselves washed up in. This was an experience that was memorable – far more so than a click and drop online purchase. The choice of retailer for this event is also fitting – once again, the boys shun convention and commerciality by opting to go with Liverpool’s radical and community bookshop, News From Nowhere.
With the bombardment of media that we now endure as a norm, it appears that our authors are aware that ‘heroic’ efforts are required for the art to reach where it needs to go. The traditional methods are unlikely to evoke the emotion and interest that these two are capable of achieving.
All in all, this was an evening where a chapter ended, a new verse started and past symbols were further perpetuated. We saw the strength of a stay of absence in effect (but this is likely to go a step further at the hearing tonight).
This was just a beginning…
The real message is that The Jams are back and we have plenty more to uncover in the coming days…
And they probably have a best selling book on their hands…
Ice Cream Van Photo courtesy of: L. O’Heyzerar
Speakers Photo courtesy of: M. Darby
Rules Of Enagement Photo courtesy of: J. Fubar
Tony Thorpe with The Jams Photo courtesy of: C. Patterson
Ford Timelord Photo courtesy of: D. Barnes
Mini Moke Photo courtesy of: G. Aster / Get Into This
The Toxteth Day Of The Dead Photo courtesy of: C. Patterson
Starbucks War Is Over Photo courtesy of: V. Pea / Planet Slop
Badger Kull Photo courtesy of: S. Silk