An evening with Julian Cope is a bizarre one to say the least. Kicking off the first night of his UK tour at Cambridge Junction following the release of his latest album Drunken Songs (January 2017, Head Heritage Labels), the former 70’s and 80’s Teardrop Explodes frontman turned poet-occultist-rock-druid-novelist Julian Cope charged on to the stage like Odin himself and offered his audience a heady brew of intoxicating mytho-musical mead laced with old school rock and an amicable anarchist attitude. Dressed in leather, shades, feral hair and a military cap, Cope exuded the image of a wild rocker-hippy who likes to rebel. And image is important when you are Julian Cope.
Image is not a superficial visual aesthetic for Cope, it is an essential tool which he uses to construct a pseudo-sacred performance space punctured with off-beat humour, Christian-bashing and political agenda. With his wild appearance, rasping vocals grating over a twanging guitar blaring over the occasional synth drone, and songs like As the Beer Flows Over Me (a Viking-inspired dirge that Cope wrote for his own funeral), Liver Big as Hartlepool (a pun riffing on The Mighty WAH!’s Heart as Big as Liverpool) and They Were All on Hard Drugs (a hilarious drug-addled tour of ancient civilisations with electro-beats and catchy sing-a-long chorus), Cope’s music becomes less gig, and more a comedy show combined with occult experience: divinatory melodic poetry, satire and an esoteric ode to the ancients set against a psychedelic backdrop of acid-induced rampaging fun. His don’t give a crap, fuck the system attitude is strangely wise and sage-like, helped by his rambling stories which reveal an impressively vast knowledge of the past and present – from 2500 BC mummies found with ephedra (herbal ecstasy) and biblical characters to Trump and the Dakota pipeline – punctured with his boisterous stand-up style of comedy. Cope loved every minute of it, perhaps at times even more than his audience. “This is my encore song,” he said, grinning, “but I’m a really needy artiste – you know I’m gonna pretend to leave, but give it 12 seconds and I’ll be back on again.” Julian Cope is not to everyone’s taste, but one thing is clear: like Odin, he is a poet and performer who is hell-bent on preserving his own legendary reputation, much like the stories he preserves in his songs.
Words from Anna Millward