First of all, apologies are due to Urthona. Owing to phone difficulties I miss what I’m sure is a twisty half-hour of considerable noise. The West Country outfit were billed to play Atlantis?, their newest conceptual drone piece, and from what I can gather the performance has left people in an amiable mood; everywhere, fathers and sons are cracking wise in old tour shirts, bending to their neighbours, awash in the proximity of the 1980s. It’s hard to find a seat and, though it’s hard to see this kind of crowd ruining the upholstery, you’d imagine they did once, and are keen to be reminded of it. This, JULIAN COPE knows. He trades his entire shtick on the troglodyte factor of rock n’ roll, the primitive urge to beat our brains in the night.
For some, his Jeff Bridges/Axl Rose get-up would be as subtle as a beard in a Vice exposé, fossilising his Dude credentials whilst nodding towards his hellraising leadership of The Teardrop Explodes, a band that were briefly in vogue with the charts thirty years ago. The setting, and his opening confession to weaving out of several traffic accidents to make it here on time, suggest this will be more in the vein of An Evening With Julian Cope than your standard show. On this front, he delivers. “I’m not one for reunions,” he says, “but I’m a solo artist now. If Kate Bush can get back together, so can I.”
He is droll and self-deprecating, but also effortlessly able to enliven the stories of his back catalogue. Whether reminiscing about Ian McCulloch’s fondness for stitching acid tabs to his belt, taking the piss out of his 1984 album Fried (the cover of which has Cope zonked out in a tortoise shell), or introducing a track with research titbits from his bestselling history book, we are never far away from another touching insight into the twilight of cult stardom.
Predictably, old favourites get the most attention. Sunspots bounds along on a shore of grateful voices, and Soul Desert resurrects the spirit of caravan philosophy, unashamedly aping the mysticism of West Coast psychedelics. Grizzled and gregarious, Cope can afford to let us wait for the big moments – his fascination with his former Merseyside home has long been documented, and he moves between eras like an attentive uncle keeping relatives up to date on his mischief. When he observes that rebellion makes him either get lost “in a rustic, bucolic haze” or look at a penis, it’s strangely liberating: here is a man who covets the mind as much as anybody, able to slip into the role of leather-panted guru and ask ‘How did this happen?’
Inevitably, a lot of his post-90s material is only lifted by the flippancy of its execution. A long preamble to Cunts Can Fuck Off doesn’t disguise the song’s rather deliberate lack of substance; likewise, Psychedelic Revolution sounds like a dated new-age bonding weekend, all but implying a campfire on the featureless stage. Cope’s current mandate to release an album name-checking his drinking spots around the UK is reflective of his ‘been there, done that’ attitude, and why shouldn’t it be? As a rock star, he has snorted his share of success, and as a monument, he is in full control of his legacy. We’re invited to think of a funeral – “a casket” in particular – then throwing ourselves on top. Who wouldn’t enjoy the right to say that?