16 February 2020 (gig)
19 February 2020
A new album by Julian Cope's nearly always worthy of celebration and also usually represents a chance to see one of post-punk's most idiosyncratic performers live.
At least that is when it's one of his more "conventional" album releases, loosely one in the standard rock format as we understand it. But thankfully there's little conventionality about Cope, of course.
If he's not out in a field scrutinising standing stones, he's drafting a weighty tome on the most niche of psych or prog scenes, or penning his latest subversive slice of fabulist fiction. He also revels in dispensing gloriously genre-defying musical offerings via his pioneering Head Heritage website that allow the inveterate musicologist to experiment to his heart's content — and to that of his most loyal followers.
While sadly one of the more recent additions to the Cope canon, his drone five-piece Dope, hasn't yet ventured out on the road, the Tamworth-raised eccentric's latest offering Self Civil War — a user-friendly 13 tracks, 72 minutes — has spawned his first UK tour for three years.
Debuting at a converted church named St Luke's, the erstwhile St Julian's Scottish dates — he played at Edinburgh's Liquid Room the previous night — coincided with the baleful Storm Dennis, but it was quickly apparent who was playing the puckish Menace at the East End venue.
Warm-up Keeley Forsyth was unexpectedly blown off course so Glasgow songstress Carly Connor stepped out of her pyjamas and into the spotlight to deliver a well-received acoustic set that neatly cued up the entrance of the ex-Teardrop Explodes frontman — all hair, trademark military cap and what can only be described as a romper suit for grown-ups.
Pledging music over chat, the ever-astute Cope's opening salvo Soul Desert demanded attention with its soaring chorus and some fuzzy pedal effects that seemed to momentarily threaten the historic landmark's stained-glass windows.
However, anyone who's even casually followed his career over the past 40 years knows the esteemed antiquarian's always liked to talk, but without being scientific about it, the suspicion is that he never used to talk quite as much as he does now. Not at gigs, anyway.
Espousing neighbours as his theme for the evening, Cope extrapolated on the rifts caused by Brexit and Scottish separatism in his own inimitably humour-laden manner, ingratiating himself to the Glasgow crowd with yarns about secret pacts to earn him safe passage north under the alias of 'Champion of the Grampians', and later unveiling his "Nazi guitar", so-called because of the two-tone colour scheme given to it during a break from painting a model WWII Messerschmitt.
He also managed good-natured pops at Elton John, Billy Joel and Bono, while regaling in an account of a high-security visit to the site of the Biblical legend of Noah’s Ark at Mount Ararat in Armenia, where he abruptly ended 21 years of alcoholic sobriety. "I'll never get those years back," the born-again drinker mischievously declared.
Other mirthful topics included the all-pervading political correctness that's inspired his latest album, buying a royal title on Ebay — revealing his latest alter-ego to be that of "Grand Prince" — and the tragedy of "folk music that's made by the folk" (as opposed to right-on professionals).
His drinking song Cromwell In Ireland was soaked-up by a surprisingly hushed — perhaps bemused — audience following a typically enlightening intro that warned against the folly of regarding charismatic political and military leaders as prophets. It's become a staple of the leather welly-wearing Archdrude's live set, as has They Were On Hard Drugs, one of his most outstanding pop offerings of recent years and a bona fide shout-and-response classic.
Its radio-unfriendly yet brilliant lyrical content's unlikely to enable it to reach the masses in the same way that World Shut Your Mouth did in the '80s or ditto Try, Try, Try almost a decade later, but ironically it spread nothing but feelgood vibes amongst listeners already in thrall to the shamanic trouper before them.
It almost goes without saying that all of the above equally applies to C***s Can F*** Off, but I'll say it anyway just to underscore the point.
Old-school Julian acolytes were suitably sated by a lusty rendition of The Greatness And Perfection Of Love, plus bouncy Teardrop favourite Passionate Friend, a gorgeously stripped-down Treason and the night's sole electro offering, The Great Dominions.
All have stood up well to the passage of time, as has Autogeddon Blues, with the epic eco-protest song from 1994 coming over like a gnostic hymn a further quarter century down the line towards environmental oblivion.
Of the new songs, Your Facebook My Laptop was the most immediately accessible and reminiscent live of the beguiling pagan rock 'n' roll on Cope's '90s album 20 Mothers, whereas Immortal came over as enjoyably downbeat but perhaps more poignant and substantial as a love song for heads everywhere.
Such is his dedication to his surreal monologues that there's little doubt that an alternative career — another one — as a stand-up comedian awaits Cope if he wants it. But then it could be that this most vital of perennially cult songsmiths is already on that trip, just it's not yet been acknowledged as such.
In the end, the equilibrium between talk and music was just right, with a near two-hour set culminating with a 14th song, namely Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed, tackled with gusto by the guitar-toting 62-year-old as he prowled his way towards the front row, framed by a grand organ lit up in psychedelic colours and his shades permanently fixed.
A memorable moment, it brought the curtain down on a performance that for anyone doubting the powers of Julian Cope was mind-altering in its own right.