Jeremy Deller to premiere new work on Desert Island Discs

New steel band version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah will be one of his eight picks

The British artist Jeremy Deller is to use his time as a castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs to premiere his latest work of art.

A specially commissioned uptempo version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, played by the Melodians Steel Orchestra and broadcast for the first time, will be one of the eight discs Deller chooses to accompany him on his imaginary island stay.

Deller won the Turner prize in 2004 and received widespread praise for his 2016 work We’re Here Because We’re Here, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme. The piece saw more than 1,400 young uniformed volunteers appear unannounced on station platforms and in public places, each representing a dead soldier.

Describing making art as “a big experiment”, Deller will tell host Lauren Laverne he had no idea how people would react on the day. “In fact many were crying and breaking down. It took on its own life, almost like a virus, with no pre-publicity. We think 2 million people experienced it in person.”

Deller now prefers working with communities to create “cultural interventions”, he says, rather than constructing work inside galleries, because there are “enough objects in the world, frankly”.

Deller, who studied art at the Courtauld Institute, will also reveal that Dulwich College, the top independent school he attended, failed to inspire him. “It was like a prison sentence. You know it will end,” he says. “It was all about sport and I was all not about sport. So I wasn’t allowed to be about anything.”

Winning the Turner prize, the leading annual contemporary art prize awarded by Tate, meant that Deller started to be invited to things he had not been invited to before. “To the dinners after things,” he says. “And as soon as you get invited, you don’t want to go for some reason.”

He said he tries to avoid “artspeak” and believes there should be no reverence for artists. “I know because I am one. They are just lucky people. But for certain artworks, yes, we should feel very lucky they are in our lives.”

The artist, who grew up in south London and says he learned about the world from watching the BBC’s Top of the Pops, found selecting his eight discs very hard: “It has been awful and stressful. I had my list and then it disappeared. I’m not even sure this is the definitive list, but it has to be, I know.”

He chooses childhood favourite Blockbuster by The Sweet, and the Beach Boys track In My Room, as well as Roxy Music’s Out of the Blue.

Allowed one luxury item, Deller picks the views of Wales from Hay Bluff in the Black Mountains.


Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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