I doubt whether anyone bar the most hard-core fan remembers the Julian Cope of old, beyond the fresh-faced youth on Top of the Pops lisping his way through ‘Reward’ (we can draw a tortoise shell over his acid-fueled early solo career. Certainly 30-odd years on, you’d not have expected USAF hat, sleeeless leather jacket and similarly cut-off wellies sported by the, well, rock star on stage tonight. But this can perhaps be explained by the period somewhere in the middle where Cope expanded his mind (and wardrobe, to include that famous amphibian covering) and developed an interest in head culture, ley lines and serious drugs.
This means that apart from anything else his side as a raconteur has come to the fore, and he has a few tales to tell. Hence, he’s traveling light on this a solo tour, armed only with acoustic guitar and a few not-so-tall tales – with the odd song thrown in. Opening with ‘I’m Living In The Room They Found Saddam In’, it could be the only white lie of the evening, given that many of Cope’s seemingly unlikely stories often turn out to be fact, with only minor details (like who was pointing the shotgun unclear).
As he says, he’s on a mission, having been “coy for the last three decades”. And instead of reforming the band, like so many of his contemporaries, the band instead keep that mystique – and “get better every year” – like Cope, remaining forever young in the memories of the fans.
There’s no compunction about playing old material, however. ‘The Great Dominions’, delivered by Cope in hairy rock star / biker chic, bellies the “Mummy I’ve been fighting again” line. ‘Pristeen’, off Peggy Suicide, is also introduced into the set, while the new material is more whimsical – ‘Psychedelic Revolution’ details a fairly straightforward scheme to introduce acid to the House of Commons Water supply. Most of the themes are narcotic-related (surprise!) – the tale of the plant ephedra being in regular use for thousands of years is the basis for ‘They Were On Hard Drugs’ while another factoid concerns the 27 varieties of mushroom found to grow nearby Stonehenge – “justification for my behaviour”, he jokes.
The set is all acoustic and apologies of sorts are made – Cope stating that the problem with folk music is that it’s “folk” who make it when it should be left to the professionals. Like Billy Joel. His own folk song is done in well under three minutes, when Joel would still be doing his keyboard solo.
New material is to be fair patchy, presumably still being honed. ‘As The Beer Flows Over Me’ is intended for his wake, but looking back is what the audience really want and Cope obliges, whipping up a storm of feedback for ‘The Great Dominions’. A An entertaining trawl through the back catalogue also brings us a look at his predilection for “Ba Ba Ba songs” – ‘Culture Bunker’ a prime example – and the Japanese translation of the “neee-oooow” bit on ‘Sunspots’.
Showing that he’s now quite the renaissance man, there’s a plug for his novel plus some poetry (on teaming up with Clem Burke and Midge Ure and tour as Crowded House). We feed his ego with a hard fought encore – before he comes back for ‘Treason’, referencing Top of the Pops in the lengthy preamble. And we can join the Lemmy-like, but wearing-well figure on stag in imagining that it’s 1981 all over again.