On our way to the gig, we got caught in the most splendid of thunderstorms that you could imagine, if you’ve ever been forced to stop in the slow lane of a motorway because you could not see the road, I sympathise with you….it rained so hard we thought it was THORsday (after THOR, the hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms). We pulled up and sat, waiting for the rain to stop, once it did, we ventured forth to the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre for an evening with the one and only Julian Cope.
For those of you who have not heard of Julian Cope before, allow me to fill your heads with some information about him; Julian David Cope (born 21 October 1957) is an English rock musician, author, antiquary, musicologist, poet and cultural commentator. Originally coming to prominence in 1978 as the singer and songwriter in Liverpool post-punk band The Teardrop Explodes, he has followed a solo career since 1983 and worked on musical side projects such as Queen Elizabeth, Brain Donor and Black Sheep.
Cope is also a recognised authority on Neolithic culture and an outspoken political and cultural activist with a noted and public interest in occultism and paganism. As an author and commentator, he has written two volumes of autobiography called Head-On (1994) and Repossessed (1999); two volumes of archaeology called The Modern Antiquarian (1998) and The Megalithic European (2004); and three volumes of musicology called Krautrocksampler (1995), Japrocksampler (2007); and Copendium: A Guide to the Musical Underground (2012).
Thank the lord for Wikipedia!
I had not seen Julian play live before, being familiar with his early solo work and a couple of songs from The Teardrop Explodes years I had no idea as to what to expect from his live show, we stood side of stage and waited…
Julian’s drummer took to the stage to introduce the support act ‘Urthona’ and to explain that he (not they) would be playing some music under the influence of Atlantis? who were the band in Julian’s latest novel ‘One Three One’ (available now from Amazon). Now correct me if I am wrong but In the mythological writings of William Blake, Urthona is one of the four Zoas, who were created when Albion, the primordial man, was divided fourfold. Specifically, he is the Zoa of inspiration and creativity, and he is a blacksmith god. His female counterpart is Enitharmon. Urthona usually appears in his "fallen" form, that of Los. The man on stage didn’t appear to be the ‘Urthona’ mentioned above so we succumbed to that fact that it must have been his stage name. I since discovered that the band is usually made up of 3 men named Neil, Mark & Mike, whether these men are 3 of the 4 Zoas mentioned above, I guess I’ll never know! If they are, where and who is the fourth Zoa? Let’s assume he does exist, we’ll refer to him as ‘Neville’.
Back in the room, Neil (possibly one of the Zoas) took to the stage and found his seat ready to perform. What followed was a strange mixture of noise, feedback, some more noise, a general assault on your senses, an all-out cacophony of din if you will. I was flummoxed, was this art? was it jazz? I think for purposes of categorisation, we’ll refer to it as ‘Heavy Rural’, something lifted from the title page of Urthona’s website. If you think of the ‘shoegaze’ genre, take away the monotone vocals and squealing guitar and pounding drums, you’re not a million miles off the mark.
20 minutes into the first number and we’re still here, the sound is much the same, it was at this stage that my photographer turned around and looked at me, shrugging whilst he added ‘there’s nobody dancing….’, made me chuckle anyway.
30 minutes into the same track, there’s a lull, was it the end of the 12” remix? No, it went on, Neil hit another mind bending note and sent us into space, encased in a feedback and fuzz spaceship.
I was starting to think a couple of things, does the track differ greatly every time he performs it live and if so, would you be able to recognise the piece if you heard the recorded version? Also, was this the longest track in recorded history? I know there are experiments in Germany where a note on a keyboard is held for literally days, allowing people to come and marvel in the splendidness that the sound creates and I know that The Orb did a track called ‘Blue Room’ that lasts 39:57 (just under the 40 minute mark where it would have to be classified as an album in its own right!).
Shortly after our galactic journey, we landed on Pluto and the sound ceased, we had a quick look around Pluto, bought some postcards and some clotted cream galactic fudge and boarded the ship just in time for track 2 to commence. This started off a lot more tuneful than track 1 did and I can see that Neil is a truly talented individual, using the feedback to his advantage in gaining the jagged soundscape that escapes from the PA. Would we be seeing track 3? Maybe a dance remix of track 1 again, just to get us in the mood for Saint Julian? Track 2 hit a slow/quiet zone, I was about to start applauding when Neil threw in another curve ball to the mix, the tease!
After 45 minutes of sound-scapey/feedback/noise goodness, Neil stood up and left the stage to applause and shouts of ‘Brilliant’ from the damp but appreciative audience.
During the intermission, we managed to catch up with Julian’s number two man who usually bashes the bass drum onstage, he said that over a coffee in a service station on the way to Exeter, Julian decided that he should play a simple, stripped back set, so despite the drum being present onstage, it was not to be touched during the performance. This was the first of four gigs for Julian Cope and looking at the setlist from our side of stage vantage point, I could see 26 tracks (including 5 for the encore!)…..the lights were dimmed, Julian’s number two took to the stage to introduce the great man and as the audience cheered and clapped, he appeared from the backstage area and bounded up the steps to greet his followers, shaking hands with the majority of the front row. Clad in knee high biker boots, black trousers and leather waistcoat, his wild locks tucked inside a military officers cap, he looked ready to entertain, his first words? “I’m going to be VERY professional”….
Julian launched into ‘Saddam’ with his unique 12 string gold glitter topped acoustic, sounding tighter than a gnats tight parts, he added at the end of the song that we live in a world of reunions and was quick to make it VERY clear that The Teardrop Explodes would not be reforming! He did say that he met up with the drummer Gary Dwyer recently and had a good chat with him, dedicating ‘The Culture Bunker’ to him.
I asked Julian’s guitar tech about his gold topped acoustic and he said that it was a custom paint job from a shop in Denmark St (London) who were commissioned to salvage it after Cope had attempted to put his own mark on it using Halfords spray paint (this didn’t go very well!).
Julian told a story about a time when he was in Japan that he was presented with a translated lyric sheet for his track ‘Sunspots’, the song contains a section where he makes the sound of a speeding motor car and for some reason, this was translated into a Japanese word that means ‘Indeed’, so he was more than happy to play the track alternating between ‘indeed’ and the car noise, very amusing!
I enquired into the meaning of ‘1649’ that was printed on the side of his drum and also on the back of his leather waistcoat, I was told that it was the year that Charles I was beheaded, the monarchy was abolished and a republic called the Commonwealth of England was declared. There were also the letters ‘LAMF’ underneath the date on his drum, I did a check on my phone midway through a song but failed to locate anything deep and meaningful, Julian’s number two told me it stood for ‘Like a Mother Fucker’….so there you go!
Julian had been teetotal from 1983 to 2003, and it was during a trip to Armenia when he was writing a book on Europe that he stumbled upon some caves in the grounds of a house where he was staying. He asked if he could look in the caves and was warned by a superstitious elderly woman that he shouldn’t, but he decided to anyway. Once inside, he feasted his eyes upon relics that may have been from the Bronze Age, he took some photographs and when he emerged into daylight, the woman was amazed at what he had seen and subsequently invited the entire village up to marvel at the images, they naturally arrived, armed with bottles of mulberry vodka, Julian tried his best to abstain but soon found himself feeling like a ‘Boy Racer’ on alcohol, this led nicely into ‘As The Beer Flows Over Me’.
Another amusing story followed, when working with Andrew Weatherall on the soundtrack to his latest novel ‘One Three One’, Julian wanted to pay homage to a track written by Pete Wylie (of the Mighty Wah) called “Heart as big as Liverpool’, with a clever play on words, he came up with the ingeniously titled ‘Liver Big as Hartlepool’, which he then played!
A question from the crowd asked Julian if he had enjoyed the thunderstorm earlier on in the evening, to which he replied, “I was absolutely oblivious”, which, seeing as it was the hardest rain I had ever seen, was quite amusing!
Julian took time to explain the next track, which, after seeing the title DID require an explanation. He went on to say how his wife is American and he wanted to write a song, so crass and devoid of any artistic talent that should the US customs ever get wind of it, he may be refused entry into the country, he went on to play ‘Cunts can Fuck Off’, which, in reality, was a real ‘earworm’ which has infested itself in my head…..
Julian then took time out to tell us about his futuristic band, called DOPE, it was going to be based around his microphone stand and even went into great detail about how he had planned on using his old logo, designed when on the Island record label to display DOPE instead of COPE, he certainly has put a LOT of thought into this!
More songs followed, Autogeddon Blues, Soul Desert & Sleeping Gas being the crowd-pleasers that were sung back to him by the entire front row. News about a new compilation was shared with the audience, Julian hopes to release a ‘Best of’ album spanning 1999-2014 with the apt name ‘Trip Advizor’ (with a ‘z’ so it isn't muddled up with another website!), this will also have a couple of new tracks on it that you can get your hands on WITHOUT the need to buy the entire album. Prior to him leaving the stage, he explained the whole ‘encore’ framework and not to worry when he left the stage as it would only be for a moment and he WOULD be back, once he was happy that everyone had received the message loud and clear, he exited the stage.
The crowd went mad, shouting, hollering, clapping and stamping their feet until, a minute after he exited, he jumped back up the steps, tuned his guitar, prior to launching into ‘Robert Mitchum’ and ‘Conspiracist Blues’, before ending his trip through the past 30 years with a flawless version of 'I’m Your Daddy', dedicated to his lovely daughter who painstakingly edited his ‘One Three One’ novel.
He stood on the stage, arms aloft, receiving the adulation of the audience that had dared to venture out in rains of biblical proportion to see someone who had laid the foundations to their musical upbringing from the mid 80’s onwards, someone who continues to baffle, bemuse, entertain and amuse to this very day….
Ladies and gentlemen, Julian Cope has left the building!
The Culture Bunker
They Were on Hard Drugs
As the Beer Flows over Me
Liver Big as Hartelpool
Greatness & Perfection of Love
Cromwell in Ireland
Cunts can Fuck Off
Raving on the Moor
I’m Your Daddy
Review by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Bruce Benson (www.241photography.co.uk)