The extraordinary spectacle of Julian Cope

Let’s start at the end. Julian Cope is standing onstage in the Uncut Arena. The power has just been pulled on him for over-running. He has started half an hour late after a doomed attempt at soundchecking, played two newish songs and a bizarre medley of some old songs, sacrificed a guitar to the goddess, challenged God, Jehovah and Allah to a fight, and ended by announcing, “Children, tell your grandchildren that people like me once walked the earth.” No wonder, I suppose, that he hasn’t played a festival in years.

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Let’s start at the end. Julian Cope is standing onstage in the Uncut Arena. The power has just been pulled on him for over-running. He has started half an hour late after a doomed attempt at soundchecking, played two newish songs and a bizarre medley of some old songs, sacrificed a guitar to the goddess, challenged God, Jehovah and Allah to a fight, and ended by announcing, “Children, tell your grandchildren that people like me once walked the earth.” No wonder, I suppose, that he hasn’t played a festival in years.



Cope is tonight unveiling a new configuration of his sound. The band might feature old hands like Donald Ross Skinner and Holy McGrail, but initially, the musicians are playing three acoustic guitars, a drumkit, a marching band bass drum, and two Mellotrons. The repetitive, hypnotic jangles and drones are as dumb and gonzoid as the glam metal he’s been playing live these past few years, but somehow more intense and witchy. The band, by the way, mostly look like ‘80s Budgie roadies; a delightfully nuanced detail.

Anyway, after a couple of these songs, they reorganise slightly for a brilliant drone-funk version of The Teardrop Explodes’ “Sleeping Gas”, with Cope leading the way bullishly on bass. After about ten minutes, he smashes his bass, sacrifices it the gods (I am paraphrasing here), goes into some absorbingly garbled rant about religion, playing with his brother and some other stuff.

By now, the band are pulsing barely audibly, and Cope is hanging off his ancient climbing frame of a mic stand and appearing to start “Reynard The Fox”. This tapers out into another rant and, fantastically, he starts mimicking the crowd by aggressively heckling himself. Appearing to relent, he decides to play “Pristeen”, when the band lose power, and he’s left proclaiming his own legend to a half-cheering, half-baffled crowd.

I loved it of course, not least because while Cope often talks about his music being necessarily confrontational, he rarely takes that music to an audience that isn’t immensely tolerant of his digressions. There’s a tension here that illuminates the mythological clowning, and an imagination to the rearranged music – even in that vast Jim Morrison-esque breakdown – which elevates it even further.
But of course I might be in the minority thinking that.

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