Skip to main content

Julian Cope

La Belle Angele, Edinburgh
Saturday February 18th 2017

Julian Cope doesn't do things by halves. This is clear from the moment he opens the Edinburgh leg of his current tour to promote his latest opus, Drunken Songs, dressed in his long-standing mix and match uniform of army cap, cut-off khaki kecks and leather jerkin. His once boyish face is permanently hidden by a wild-man's long hair and beard ensemble topped off by rock star shades designed to hide eyes that are what he later describes as “piss-holes in the snow.” He looks both ridiculous and heroic, and in the execution of his appearance he is fearless.

“I know I'm dressed as an invader,” Cope says in a plummy burr of middle England and acquired Scouse, “but it's the closest it's been to 1933 in our time.”

Ever since the self-styled arch-drude embarked on a wayward anti-career that saw him elevate himself from the Liverpool post-punk underground to briefly become a wide-eyed teeny-bopper idol with the Teardrop Explodes in 1981, Cope has embraced each new passion with the child-like zeal of the eternal convert. From new-age acid tripper to fantastical novelist with his 2014 epic, One Three One, Cope has flitted with relish from antiquarian to eco-activist, auto-biographer, myth-maker and unbridled champion of previously largely undocumented strains of out-there German and Japanese music.

His Head Heritage website is an essential treasure trove of obscure cult sounds which has arguably fed the heads of a new generation of musical seekers. Now, it seems, after twenty years off the sauce, Cope has embraced booze with the evangelical fervour of a born-again dipsomaniac greeting an old friend, and he wants the world to know about it. Crucially, despite all the mind-expansion, Cope has remained an extraordinary song-writer, and despite Drunken Songs being trailed as 'forty minutes of gnostic drunkenness', appears to have come full pop circle.

What Cope admits to being an accidentally politically tinged set begins with Autogedden Blues, the lead track from his Heathcote Williams inspired 1991 anti car album, Autogedden. Cope's solo version of it exposes it even more as an increasingly frantic cousin to Horses era Patti Smith before he rewinds even more to Double Vegetation from 1991's Peggy Suicide album and Fear Loves This Place from 1992's Jehovakill.

The songs may be stripped back, but the same plummy mix of innocence and depravity courses through Cope's voice. His open mic style troubadour shtick resembles a free-wheeling back-packer in a way that undoubtedly allows him more mobility as well as being more economically viable. Yet for all the prevailing sense of wonder, ego and anarchy, there are moments crying out for a brass fanfare, or even just the everyday sumptuousness of a four-piece flourish. Even so, Cope's canon comes at the contrary and deliciously commercial end of weird.

He gets back to his roots with a take on The Culture Bunker, which first appeared on second Teardrop Explodes album, Wilder. Even back then Cope understood the powers of self-mythology in this self-reflective paean to the late 1970s Liverpool that first spawned his awfully big adventures alongside other Matthew Street irregulars including Messrs Drummond, McCulloch and Wylie.

As if to demonstrate just how Cope was shaped by and is still steeped in that time, he follows it with Liver as Big as Hartlepool. This cut from Drunken Songs may have started off as a jokey riposte to the sentimental bombast of Pete Wylie's Heart as Big as Liverpool, and to hear the one-time band-mates turned sparring partners still sniping after all these years is priceless. But Cope's willingness to leave himself vulnerable and admit his outsider status while living in the city is as moving and as significant a document as Bill Drummond's recent writings on the period prompted by the untimely death of fellow traveller Pete Burns.

There is more of this later on a version of The Great Dominions. Arguably Wilder's most ambitious stab at immortality, here Cope enlists the services of an ancient mellotron to provide even more melodrama to the song through a series of drones that give the song an archaic feel.

Such musical excavations are curiously at odds with Cope's pronouncements during his lengthy but incident-packed between-song monologues regarding a loathing of folk music. Also potentially being honed for what may well end up as a spoken-word show with occasional songs are shaggy dog stories on Shetland, how he came to exchange his old Luftwaffe hat for an RAF cap and the different attitudes towards swear-words between America and Britain.

This prompts further thoughts on how Billy Joel might reinvent a folk song, which somehow leads to a brief debate with the audience on whether Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla was more important in relation to electrical invention. While one suspects such ramblings may have caused one or two musical missives to be dropped due to time restraints, over ninety minutes Cope nevertheless manages to get through fourteen songs old and new.

Following a brooding run through Peggy Suicide era's Pristeen, Cope returns for“one of those Ba-ba songs” as he puts it, presumably referring to his series of early 1980s confections that include Teardrop Explodes single, Passionate Friend. As it is we're treated to early solo single The Greatness and Perfection of Love, which is effectively Passionate Friend part two in all but name. More than thirty years after it burst out of Cope's filter-free imagination like a grown-up nursery rhyme with libidinous intent, it sounds as chock-full of wisdom and experience as any other folk song.

Product, February 2017

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Peter Brook – The Prisoner

Peter Brook is no stranger to Scotland, ever since the guru of European and world theatre first brought his nine-hour epic, The Mahabharata, to Glasgow in 1988. That was at the city’s old transport museum, which by 1990 had become Tramway, the still-functioning permanent venue that opened up Glasgow and Scotland as a major channel for international theatre in a way that had previously only been on offer at Edinburgh International Festival.
Brook and his Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord company’s relationship with Tramway saw him bring his productions of La Tragedie de Carmen, La Tempete, Pellease et Mellisande, The Man Who…, and Oh Les Beaux Jours – the French version of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – to Glasgow.
Thirty years on from The Mahabharata, Brook comes to EIF with another piece of pan-global theatre as part of a residency by Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, which Brook has led since he decamped to Paris from London in the early 1970s. The current Edinburgh residency has alr…

Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe Comes to Glasgow

Open-air Shakepeares are a summer-time perennial of the theatre calendar, attracting picnicking audiences as much as midges. More often than not, such romps through the grass are frothy, heritage industry affairs designed to be accompanied by strawberries and cream and not to be taken too seriously. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company look set to change such perceptions when they open their outdoor tour of Romeo And Juliet in Glasgow next week as part of the West End festival.

For the two young actors taking the title roles of the doomed lovers, it will also be something of a homecoming. Richard Madden and Ellie Piercy both studied in Glasgow prior to turning professional. Indeed, Madden has yet to graduate from the acting course at RSAMD, and, as well as facing the pressures of playing such a meaty role in close proximity to the audience, will have the added anxiety of being assessed and graded by his tutors.

“This is the end of my third year,” says Madden following a Saturday mornin…

Suzy Glass – Message from the Skies

Freedom of movement matters to Suzy Glass, the arts and events producer currently overseeing the second edition of Message from the Skies.This animated literary derive around the city forms part of this year’s Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme, and runs right through till Burns’ Night. Glass’ concerns are inherent in the event itself, which has commissioned six writers from different disciplines and experiences to each pen a love letter to Europe. Each writer has then paired up with a composer and visual artist or film-maker, with the results of each collaboration projected in monumental fashion on the walls of one of half a dozen of the capital’s most iconic buildings.
With venues stretching from the south side of Edinburgh to Leith, and with one city centre stop requiring a walk up Calton Hill, there is considerable legwork required to complete the circuit. It shouldn’t be considered a race, however, and audiences are free to move between venues at their leisure, visiting each site on d…