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Bill Drummond had an idea. Recorded music had run its course. The future of music, he believed, was freedom. Of internal choirs belting out oratorios as you speed along the motorway. Of nation singing to nation. Of music that related specifically to a time, and to a place.

“Once,” he says, “all music celebrated time, place and/or occasion. There was music that was only heard or performed in the home or workplace, or the Saturday night dance or in church on Sunday morning, or to mark the time of year, or even the march into war. Much of the time we were involved in the making of the music ourselves, however unmusical we were.”

The iPod, he believed, sounded the death knell for music as we know it.

“All the file-sharing (was) the curtain coming down on the greatest art form of the 20th century. People with vested interests do not want to see their business model crumble and fall, so they keep trying to patch it up. But it is over, well and truly over. And I wanted to dance on its grave.”

And so the 17 was born (he admits to having ‘no idea’ why the project took the name). Drummond’s internal choir often sounds like the massed ranks of hundreds singing in harmony. But Drummond does love numbers. Since 2007, The17 project has seen choirs and events staged around the world. From Beijing markets to a ring around Northampton.

You can read his full story on The17’s site, but, this weekend, its latest (and last) incarnation took place in the city.

Bill Drummond turns 60 today. To mark the milestone, he curated a ring of call-and-response voices around the city on Saturday, and a seventeen hour version of Score 1: IMAGINE, while standing on a manhole cover at the bottom of Mathew Street, yesterday.

Sunday’s event stared at 7am and ended at midnight. At the stroke of midnight, and the dawning of Drummond’s seventh decade, his voice in The17 was silenced, to be replaced by the sound of 17 Champagne bottles popping in unison at Static.

“The choir will then be old enough to look after itself and I will get down to writing my new book, 1963.” he says.

Photographer about town, Pete Carr, was there. This is his version of events.

“I went not knowing what would happen. I thought at first the event was a choir performance in Static. It was, sort of.

But we were told that a ring would be created around Liverpool city centre. A 5 kilometre ring comprised of 100 people a set distance apart. At the start someone would shout “Way oh!” and pass it along to the next. They shout to the next and so-on. It would loop around the city five times. You’d hear it coming. You pass it on and hear it go. Brilliant.

We walked through Bold Street and I panicked. “Don’t let me be here shouting!” I ended up on Lydia Ann Street. Other than the beautiful bells of the Anglican Cathedral ringing out it was very quiet. I was about 50 metres away from my fiancé who I would receive the “Way oh” from, and 50 metres away from the couple I had to pass it onto. About an hour passed. Around me, the city was gearing up for a big night out.

A film crew turned up to document the event. They asked me why I was here and I simply said “Why not?” They then asked me to close my eyes and sing the first song that came into my head. “Oh no. It’s Bad by Michael Jackson.”

They asked me to sing it.

“You know I’m bad. I’m bad. You know it. Shamon… Um… All I got.” My mind went blank due to the pressure of being filmed and asked to sing. I don’t sing. They moved on to the next couple and I waited. Then, in the distance, “Way oh!” Another “Way oh!” I saw Sam shout “Way oh!” and it was my go. “Way oh!” Away it goes. I did it! Amazing. Such a simple thing but it felt great. I was so excited for the next. A few minutes later and it comes back only this time with people walking past me. There’s a job to do so I do it. “Way oh!” and off it goes. Again, and again and again. I lost count in all the excitement and was waiting for another but our time was up.


Yesterday, Bill spent 17 hours standing on that manhole cover in Mathew Street, from 7am till 12am. He was only going to stand there for 17 minutes initially but he joked to the film director about doing it for 17 hours and the director loved the idea. So he did it!

While there, he contemplated a world without music. A world in which music had been erased and all you knew was that it was important. You couldn’t quite remember why.

The manhole cover is just outside Flanagans Apple where he used to have an underground recording studio. It would always flood and he was told there was a natural well under the manhole.

At five to 12 he painted over The 17 sign as a mark of completion and headed off to Static Gallery and celebrated with champagne.

It was a really exciting thing to be part of. When I heard it approach for the first time I was nervous as hell but after I loved it. So simple. So fun.”