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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, September 18, 2008
    It's the size and shape and weight of a bible, Bill Drummond's 17. It's a corresponding brew of inspiration, immolation, contemplation and misinformation. And it moves from a fall to a revelation - the demise of recorded music as the dead form of the twentieth century, rendered ineffective by its ubiquity, and the promise of something new emerging from The17, a choir whose music has no history, follows no traditions, recognises no contemporaries. A choir of seventeen voices who use no libretto, lyrics or words, no time signatures, rhythm or beats, and have no knowledge of melody, counterpoint or harmony. A choir who 'struggle with the dark and respond to the light.'

    Like many of Bill's projects The17 is a purification rite, a cleansing, a clearing-of-the-air to permit something new to emerge. It's something he can't stop himself doing.
    '... earlier today I took every vinyl 45 and LP, every CD and cassette I own down to the local Oxfam and left them there. The feeling is fantastic, as though a massive weight has been lifted that I have been literally carrying around with me for the last 35 years. Tomorrow I plan to take all my books.'
    This sounds like an Ash Wednesday feeling, an eve of Advent emotion. Another of Bill's projects No Music Day is held on the 21st of November because the 22nd of November is Saint Cecilia's day. 'Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music. In many countries the 22nd of November was the day chosen to give thanks for and to celebrate the existence of music.' Bill insists that No Music Day has nothing to sell. But it clearly promotes the idea of clearing our heads so as 'to think about what we do and do not want from music, and to develop ideas of how that can be achieved.' A bit like Lent before Easter.

    Bill took a two-year tour around Europe, forming choirs of The17 in Newcastle, Oslo, Saint Petersburg, Newcastle, Stockholm, Sete, Huddersfiled, Vienna - and at Greenbelt, of course. 17 is his frank account of this endeavour, and the mid-section of the book an extended set of treatises on music, largely based on his own experiences from inside the business and as a listener, critic, fan. All this (Bill freely admits throughout) is riddled with contradictions, the major one being that two years of The17 has clearly failed to expunge his enthusiasm for music of the existing kind, his comprehension of the virtuosity of great artists, present and passed-on including, for him, Elvis Presley and Syd Barrett.

    The17 has prompted Bill to compose some scores which indicate the power of pure music to connect at the deepest levels. These include SCORE 16, COMPLEMENT, in which the family and friends of a deceased person make sounds together which complement their feelings about a positive incident in the dead person's past life. I suppose it could be thought of as a sort of eulogy without words. It's there, on page 334 of 17.

    Now I'm a slow reader so that's as far as I've got in the book, but Paul alerted me to something else in 17 which had caught his eye. 'Have you got to p398 yet?' he asked me. On p398 Bill is becoming obsessed with a sense of his own imminent death.
    ... I was heading up the Holloway Road in a northerly direction [and these thoughts] swept over me again. The perfect ending to the book - my death. It would be like Otis Redding dying just before the release of Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay. Instead of doing the responsible thing of turning around and heading back home, I texted John Hirst - 'if I die could you ask John Davies in Liverpool to take my funeral' - nothing else, no explanation.
    Well, if that happened then I wouldn't take that responsibility lightly. But I take it as a complement. And though (unlike me) he hasn't yet made an entry on his own mydeath.net website, at least Bill has helpfully created a very good score for the occasion.