DROOLIAN Droolian (Zippo)
Droolian is one of Julian Copes many alter egos, and this eponymous opus was originally released in Texas in 1990 to support a campaign to get 13th Floor Elevator Roky Erickson released from jail. Its now been made available in Britain on CD only by the good folk at Julians mail-order headquarters, KAK.
The effect "Droolian" had on the Erickson campaign hasnt been recorded by rock history, but if Roky ever heard the album in question he might start pining for his days behind bars, because this is Julian Cope in one of his more self-indulgent, less coherent moods, tendencies that in this particular artist dont need too much encouragement.
Some of the material here was later shaped into more manageable forms: "Unisex Cathedral" made it to the flipside of the "Beautiful Love" 12", the acid bubblegum "Jellypop Perky Jean" turned up on the "Floored Genius" compilation and survived a covering by Sean Hughes on "Seans Show", a rough sketch of "Safe Surfer" became an eight-minute guitar burnout on "Peggy Suicide" and the instrumental "Yeah Yeah Yeah" grew into the closing moments of "Head", also of that parish. But the remainder of this brief album sees him run riot with philosophical quotes, narratives and other kinds of home-brew hokum that would probably test the patience of all but the most committed Cope-ophile way past breaking point. Interesting in places, but as JCs extra-curricular activities go not a patch on the finery of "The Skellington Chronicles" or "Floored Genius 2".
JULIAN COPE Peggy Suicide (Island)
If you accept the proposition that the Archdrude is the nearest equivalent these isles have got to The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (compare and contrast the following: definite signs of, er, eccentricity, 20+ year careers garnished with irregular outbreaks of pure genius compromised by an inability to understand the concept of quality control, myriad pseudonymous and mythical side projects) then "Peggy Suicide" is surely the closest JC came to matching the little fellers "Sign O The Times": a mad, rambling double album wrapping heavy political, social and environmental polemics in bittersweet 90s psychedelia.
It was the terrific "Beautiful Love" single that snagged me first - the only good thing that came out of being subjected to Radio One for two hours on the school bus every day for two years. These days it sounds almost Balearic in its goggle-eyed optimism, back then it seemed like manna from heaven amidst the Breakfast Show playlist. Here its surrounded by neglected gems like the eight minute "Safesurfer" (a sledgehammer demolition of the New Lad years before the concept even existed and a mad descent into distorted Stooges guitar fury at the same time), the haunting chant of ecological portent that is "Western Front 1992 CE", the loose-limbed n funky "Hung Up & Hanging Out To Dry" (as the man himself says "as loose as I get - and its STILL tense") and the one-take homage to the spirit of Bruce Berry that, possibly inadvertently, is "Las Vegas Basement".
All this madness is knitted into some kind of cohesive whole by Copes explanatory sleevenotes, which just (although only just) about drag the whole exercise away from the cliff face of self-indulgence and set to a whorl of vintage guitars, Lenny Bruce, Parisian anti-Gulf war demonstrations, answering machine messages, string arrangements and stray Smiths drummers. Not as determinedly pure acid-pop as the earlier "Fried" and "World Shut Your Mouth", not as whimsical-folksy-charming as the "Skellington" sessions, not even as skull-smashingly rock-wildebeest powerful as "Jehovahkill" that followed it, "Peggy Suicide" is nevertheless one of the great mans key works, one that wraps up a goodly portion of why you should like him (and, as his detractors would be quick to point out, why you shouldnt) in one treasurable (or easily-disposable) package...something that, as he presently stumbles around label-less in the talent wilderness, it does no harm to be reminded of. (And how we can smirk at the thank you "to everyone at Island for faith & understanding"...two years before they dumped him!)
JULIAN COPE The Skellington Chronicles (Ma-Gog)
The currently label-less Julian Cope has managed to overcome that little difficulty by shifting stock via mail-order, and "The Skellington Chronicles" is his second release to be sold that way, following the meditation album "Rite". It consists of 1989's fan-club only album "Skellington" ("acid campfire music", apparently) and its recently recorded follow-up, "Skellington 2:He's Back...and this time it's personal!", and very good it is too.
The original "Skellington" was rejected by his previous record company for being too uncommercial, so it's not a surprise to discover that it's absolutely wonderful. Despite being recorded in only one and a half days it doesn't sound rushed, sparse maybe but delivered with loving care. You may already know the frenetic "Out Of My Mind On Dope & Speed" (really Julian?) from last year's exemplary "Floored Genius" compilation; here it's joined by eleven other, mainly acoustic songs, that ably demonstrate why Julian Cope is the most important unsigned artist in rock today.
"Skellington 2" is a bit of a disappointment in contrast, the songs aren't as fresh or memorable, the "Dope & Speed" has congealed into "T.V. & Pills", and the enthusiasm level seems to have dropped a bit. It's got its moments, however: "Grimreaper Is A Krautrocker" is a fine instrumental in the style of "Necropolis" and "The Subtle Energies Commission" on the "Jehovahkill" album, and "Wayland's Smithy Has Wings" takes Cope's addled powers of narrative to new heights, but on the whole it rates a poor second to the original. Still, since both "Skellington"'s are on the same top-value (25 tracks!!) album, that's not a disaster. Listen and marvel.
JULIAN COPE Floored Genius 2 - Best of the BBC sessions 1983 - 91 (Nighttracks)
The bard of Tamworth releases his third album of 1993, despite not actually being signed to a label, and predictably it's as good as anything he's done since "Peggy Suicide". This trawl through seven sets of radio sessions demonstrates, just like "The Skellington Chronicles" did six months earlier, that getting dumped by Island for being too uncommercial might've been the best thing to happen to him. Among the seventeen tracks are fine takes on "The Greatness & Perfection Of Love" and "Head Hang Low" from his wondrous debut album, a smattering of alternately chilling and charming songs that were new to me, including "Hey High Class Butcher", "Me Singing", "Hobby", "Crazy Farm Animal" and "Christmas Mourning", which easily measure up to the best work he's ever done, despite their necessarily DIY nature, and even a cover of The Mothers Of Invention's uncoverable "Are You Hung Up?". In fact, the only places where the "Floored Genius 2" falls short of excellence are the rather ploddy versions of songs from "Peggy Suicide" and, admittedly dire "Saint Julian". It's another unqualified victory for Syd Barrett's greatest spiritual descendant.
JULIAN COPE Autogeddon (Echo)
The Archdrude returns with his first 'proper' album since 1992's superb "Jehovahkill"; he's stopped rumbling on about ancient stones and crosses (for the most part, at least) - "Autogeddon" was "inspired by Heathcote Williams' epic poem of the same name and an little incident concerning my pregnant wife (and myself) and £375,000 of yellow Ferrari in St. Martin's Lane, London, England.". Yet the result isn't the one-sided rant against a society raised on the idea of personal transport, and the evils it perpetrates against the environment that might have been expected, in fact it's surprisingly balanced: "I need to get to London and I need to get there fast/But my car is a polluter and it's messing up my future" he sings in "Ain't No Gettin' Round Gettin' Round", and sounds genuinely perplexed about the situation. Elsewhere, "Paranormal Pt.1" is JC and an acoustic guitar alone in an ancient burial mound, "s.t.a.r.c.a.r" reveals the mythical vehicle first encountered in "Skellington 2"'s "Wayland's Smithy Has Wings" to be an excuse for a surprisingly mellow and lengthy guitar solo, and the album's best track, "Don't Call Me Mark Chapman", somehow manages to namecheck Barry Manilow and Duran Duran and remain eerily chilling. The now-usual crew of Moon-Eye, Donald Ross Skinner and Rooster Cosby manage to nail down the same left-of-left-field rock'n'roll that sprawled over "Jehovahkill" and "Peggy Suicide" with ease, and the whole package comes surrounded with enough evocative pictures and thought-provoking quotes (even one from Captain Beefheart! Bliss!!) to make it more of a multimedia experience than a Eurotunnel-ful of Peter Gabriel's "Xplora" CD-ROMs. So where's the snag? If any, it must be that the excellence of Cope's 'stopgap' releases over the last year might've led me to expect even more than he's finally delivered. But "Autogeddon" is still revealing more charms with every play, and what more could we reasonably ask for than that?QUEEN ELIZABETH Queen Elizabeth (Echo Special Projects)
History shows that famous musicians and assumed-name eponymously-titled ambient projects don't mix, as the FFWD>> (The Orb/Robert Fripp) and Space (half of The KLF) albums prove. But here comes Julian Cope and his strangely-monikered sidekick Thighpaulsandra, with "2 spontaneous concertos for time & space"...is that the distant sound of trends being bucked I hear?
Nope, it's 65 minutes of squelchy Moog sounds, pattering percussion and distortion (and no, despite that description, it doesn't sound like a Stereolab album either!). Cope has been involved in some weird and wonderful mind-altering music in his time, and it's not as if he hasn't got a killer facility for barnstorming instrumentals, as "Jehovahkill" proved, but "Queen Elizabeth" shows that adding the two equals lengthy self indulgence to the power infinity. "The recording was designed specifically for meditation and trip-out use", admits the Archdrude on the sleeve; fine, but methinks I'll stick with recordings that were 'designed' to be listened to.
JULIAN COPE Julian Cope Presents 20 Mothers (Echo)
Years ago, around the turn of the decade, Julian Cope used to be good. he made gargantuan, epic double albums (one pace forward "Peggy Suicide" and "Jehovahkill") and regularly compiled his out-takes and rough experiments for the grateful appreciation of his hungry fanbase (and you, "The Skellington Chronicles" and "Floored Genius 2"). Just recently, though, things seem to have gone awry: booted off Island Records for being "too uncommercial" (in a cruel but hilarious, and, Im convinced, calculated act of revenge, new Island signings Orb responded by making the most uncharacteristic, unsaleable and frankly terrible music of their career), his more recent offerings have verged between the uninspired drude-rock-by-numbers of "Autogeddon" and the lousy experiment in ambience that was the Queen Elizabeth project. So, in totters "20 Mothers", with the promise of proper pop tunes trimmed to proper pop tune length. Whats he up to now? Should we care?
As the title half-suggests, Cope preaches about togetherness - theres much warbling about his family, his mother-in-law, his mother-in-laws-mother, his children - it sounds a bit like "Double Fantasy" with JC playing John and Yoko. Musically hes gone for a strange combination of acoustic guitars and sweet, sickly synths, with a huge horn or string section due any minute now. Novel at first, over the course of a double album it could not be said to not become cloying, like eating too many marshmallows. The old vitriol and righteousness makes the odd reappearance, as on the self-explanatory ode to Cedric Brown, "Greedhead Detector" (with its cheery, singalong Fab FM-friendly chorus), but in the main the ArchDrude appears happier with his lot than hes ever been. (Cant have much trouble paying his gas bill, at least). Which is sweet and dandy for him, but maybe doesnt make for the most riveting of listens, unfortunately.
JULIAN COPE Interpreter (Echo)
The wheelbarrow man returns with what he claims, using some peculiar form of ArchDrude mathematics, to be his twentieth album (discounting the mail-order only, compilation, Peel Session and collaborative releases I reckon ninth is nearer the mark). As weve come to expect its, well, awl-right. Theres the fine singles and surprise top 40 hits of "I Come From Another Planet, Baby" and "Planetary Sit-In" (a charming mix of flower-power era Spinal Tap and Cat Stevens), a noisy rehash of "Ive Got My TV & My Pills" from the "Skellington" sessions, the opera/prog crossover of "s.p.a.c.e.r.o.c.k. With Me", and traditional JC manoeuvres in strange territory such as "The Loveboat", all garnered with enough cheesy keyboards and exquisite string arrangements to suggest Pulp on different drugs. What there isnt however, in common with other also-ran Cope albums such as "Autogeddon" and "Julian Cope Presents 20 Mothers", is the streak of pure genius at the core that made "Peggy Suicide", "Jehovahkill" and even the dashed-off doodles that formed "The Skellington Chronicles" and "Floored Genius 2" such totems of their, or indeed any other, time, something that even the free "Mythological Mind Map of the Marlborough Downs" (accurate, and may be used in conjunction with Ordinance Survey map Landranger 173, oh yes) cant disguise.
JULIAN COPE City Hall, Salisbury 13 October 2000
"An Audience With The Cope 2000", they called it. They promised fluorescent Mellotrons, triumphs & failures & platform boots, wa-wa electro-acoustic guitars and 100 minutes with Julian Cope. And lo, they told the truth.
Bang on 8pm the ambient noodlings on the intro tape dribble away into nothingness, replaced by a chatter of recorded voices announcing "Ladies and gentlemen: Julian Cope!" And suddenly there he is! Arms aloft, striding towards the lip of the stage in his five-inch platforms, dressed up rather anticlimactically in the sort of garb you might expect David Bowie to be wearing on the day he receives his telegram from the Queen: long, straggly Goldilocks, blue body paint smeared over neck and chest and what Cope referred to as his "Madonna contraption", a headset microphone. "Gonna do a lot of songs, that's why you've all got seats", he forewarns, before plugging in a glitter-spangled semi-acoustic daubed with the legend KOTJMF (which, naturally, stands for "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers", as he later informs us) and launching himself into a solo voyage to the outer reaches of "Up-wards At 45° ".
I'm not a musician. I love music - the acquisition of and cocooning within the stuff has been the main guiding light in my path through life so far - but as far as creating the stuff goes, I have as little knowledge of the subject as I have interest. Sometimes it's wonderful enough just to see how an adored band puts their music together in real life - I'm thinking of performances by likes of The Blue Nile, Shack and Big Star that I've been privileged to witness. Sometimes, rarely, I see and hear something that turns the accepted wisdom of what it's possible for a musician to do and be within the context of the live environment about its axis, and this one such occasion was when Julian Cope went supernova armed only with a semi-acoustic guitar and a barrage of effects pedals. Quite how he replicated, possibly even topped, the all-out assault of the recorded version of this song I have no idea, but he growled and thumped (smacking the guitar body for percussive effect) with the order of monumental self-belief that is probably a natural consequence of going on stage year after year garbed in platform boots and body paint.
So wow. And just as you're foolishly tagging him as an acoustic troubadour with an effects pedal, he admonishes, "Don't think of me as an acoustic troubadour with an effects pedal, think of me as a heavy metal band without a drummer!". And he's absolutely right, of course.
Random examples of tonight's good things: the fluorescent Mellotron - "You know what I like best about the Mellotron? To change a sample you've got to take the keyboard off - full on!" - employed to majestic effect for "When I Walk Through The Valley Of Fear". The red double necked guitar - recently resprayed by a man in Denmark Street, who was instructed to "go all the way - don't back off!" - gratuitously employed by its owner on two of his simplest, singalong classics, "Sunspots" and "Robert Mitchum". A possibly unreleasable newie called "Conspirator's Blues", which concerns itself with the adventures of Madonna, Courtney Love and Margaret Thatcher, who find themselves trapped on a raft rapidly approaching Niagara Falls. The utter debunking of the mythology of the rock 'n' roll performance that occurs when Cope strolls amongst the audience, delivering lectures on the Romans, stone circles and early Christianity. His irresistible patter: "If you wanna find out about something write 250,000 words about it and get it published" (JC is, of course, an author, with two volumes of autobiography, a volume on Krautrock and a guide to Megalithic Britain on his CV, an activity that, he says, explains why "there aren't many new songs tonight. Even the new songs are old songs".). On the subject of the Eighties revival: "I'm not gonna reform Heaven 17. I'm not gonna reform ABC". "What about Crucial Three?" yells a wag. "I was never in them was I?!" counters the Archdrude, archly.
Towards the end of the evening his long-time co-conspirator Donald Ross Skinner arrives, and together they plug through versions of "East Easy Rider" and "Leperskin", assisted by a somewhat obvious sequenced bass and drum machine backing. There's a lengthy assault on the old Teardrop Explodes classic "Sleeping Gas", during which Cope again wanders out into the audience to watch Skinner carve out great gobs of repetitive bass riffage on stage. They regroup for a singalong "Jellypop Perky Jean" complete with exquisite fingerpicking on a device referred to as a 'child's button organ'. After a solitary slouch through the ever-gleaming "Pristeen" he is gone, after two hours on stage, and no amount of stamping by the adoring audience tempts him back. Ah well.
He may not be selling many records these days, but Julian Cope is a star. He's honest enough to recognise his own mistakes (nothing was aired tonight from the "Saint Julian", "My Nation Underground" or "Interpreter" albums), and uses his distinctly other-worldly persona as a force for good, as a method of spreading and underlining the distinct community message of his music - no matter how quaint all his songs about Thatcher and the Poll Tax might sound ten years later. He's funny, thought-provoking and carries a clutch of some of the greatest, long-ignored pop music to escape these isles during the last 20 years. When musicians seem intent on widening the divide between themselves and their audience, on becoming even more aloof, Cope's barrier-trashing style cuts even stronger against the prevailing grain. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, and neither, you suspect, would he.
JULIAN COPE / DAVID WRENCH Band On The Wall, Manchester 24 February 2011
David Wrench is a 6’5” tall albino Welshman who adds to his already impressive individuality by playing doomy, keyboard-driven interpretations of 19th century English revolutionary folk songs. He only just about makes it to the plural as most of his two song set is taken up by an immense version of “The Blackleg Miner” that lasts about as long as the miners’ strike. Good though his music undoubtedly is, I suspect Wrench’s style might be a bit, um, emphatic for most listeners.
Julian H. Cope, though, is on his usual maverick genius form. Oscillating wildly between twelve-string guitar and primitive keyboard, drug-laced anecdote and poetry, he casually peels off classic after peerless classic. Like another alternative British institution, Billy Bragg, Cope has reached a graceful accommodation with the fact that it’s the music made by his younger self that the audience are clamouring to hear, so tonight only two songs – “Come The Revolution” and as-yet-unreleased “Julian In The Underworld”, inspired, if that’s the correct word, by a salvia trip that rendered him incapable of driving for four months – postdate 1995.
On such terms the scope for excellence is great, and he doesn’t disappoint. The setlist ping-pongs from Teardrop Explodes-era classics “Like Leila Khaled Said” and “The Great Dominions” through solo wonderment such as “Sunspots”, “Greatness And Perfection” and stunning opener “Up-Wards At 45°”, during which he applies all manner of effects to his 12-string and invokes the first of many sonic thunderstorms. He abandons “Soul Desert” a short way in to remonstrate with somebody in the front row who’s presumably brandishing a mobile phone to record the moment for posterity “because I don’t want to look a cunt on YouTube”. What he actually looks more like, clad in shades, sleeveless leather jacket and German army headgear, is the tortoise whose shell he sheltered under on the cover of the “Fried” album. He’s on form vocally, summoning up a banshee wail during “Head Hang Low”, and replaces all of the evening’s expected whistling solos with “ba ba bas” in somewhat convoluted protest at what a monumental letdown “Chinese Democracy” turned out to be. When he apologises for requiring printed lyrics to perform a brilliant “Kolly Kibber’s Birthday”, employing a rhythm drone freshly sampled from the vintage Casio used on the original version, an outraged fan exclaims “It’s laminated!” “It’s not laminated,” responds the Archdrude, “It’s sticky back plastic. I’m not a child of lamination, I’m a child of Valerie Singleton!”
Perhaps the peak of the evening’s surrealist entertainment occurs when Cope reminisces about a previous Band On The Wall appearance that was punctuated by local punk scenester Jon The Postman repeatedly yelling “Louder!” during the performance. An audience member who happens to have Jon The Postman’s number on his mobile offers to phone him up. He’s not in – he can’t be out delivering at 10pm on a Thursday, surely - but in what he describes as akin to Bono phoning out for a pizza during a U2 show, Julian leaves a message, to much applause and delight.
This is my first visit to Band On The Wall, but advance word of the excellence of the venue’s sound system proved accurate, and for such a small room the sightlines are acceptable even on a sold-out night like this. But the greater share of credit for the evening’s gleeful excellence goes to Mr Cope and his outsider compadres.