A GUEST POSTING by KHAYEM
Julian Cope Live ICA: Born To Entertain
I won’t hesitate in saying that I have an unconditional love for Julian Cope and his music. I was too young to really be there at the beginning, but I have stuck by the Arch Drude through thick and thin, pop and political prog, and all the points in between. Hell, I still play the Queen Elizabeth CDs and enjoy them. When Strictly Rockers posted the first of his excellent ICAs way back in 2015, he touted further ICAs, Cope Remixed, Cope Covered and Cope Live. The first two made it to a follow-up post the same year and I looked forward to the latter. Five years later, I really had to scratch that itch so I’ve bravely or foolishly attempted one…
Like Strictly Rockers, I’ve seen more Julian Cope gigs and own more (physical) albums and singles than any other artist. One or two of these records were also bought in WH Smiths in Bristol, so I suspect SR and I may have been in the same crowd at the same gig on many occasions in Bristol and Bath over the years. Small world…
It all started for me with the My Nation Underground tour at the Bristol Colston Hall. My ticket is currently AWOL in the attic but, according to the internet, this was Saturday 22nd October 1988. The gig was particularly memorable for Cope’s leopard print blouse, his infamous climbing frame mike stand, and a rousing 12-minute version of Reynard The Fox, although on this occasion he thankfully chose not to slash open his stomach with a Stanley knife.
Instead, at one point, Julian Cope got down off the stage, made a beeline for me and pressed his sweat-beaded brow against my own as we both sang into the mike. He then departed and got straight back onto the stage and didn’t leave it again for the rest of the concert. I have no idea why he singled me out, and sadly I can’t even remember what the particular song was (!) but it left an impression that has never faded. I’ve since seen Cope in a variety of settings, with a full-band or acoustic solo, playing epic, nearly 3-hour concerts or reciting lyrics and poetry when laryngitis meant that he lost his singing voice partway through a gig. His memorable performance in a monkey half-mask and banana yellow kecks at the first Phoenix Festival in 1992 was the absolute highlight of that weekend. And, perhaps inevitably, Julian Cope at the Barbican, London in February 2020 turned out to be the last live show I saw before COVID-19 put us all into lockdown.
It’s an almost impossible task trying to compile a Julian Cope Live ICA, so I imposed some very strict rules to give myself a slight chance of success:
1) Stick to 10 songs only, no bonus EPs or alternative albums this time;
2) No cover versions, Teardrop Explodes, Brain Donor or other side projects;
3) No singles (although I had to make one exception);
4) No songs over 10 minutes (including between song banter/preamble/anecdotes);
5) Include at least one selection from gigs in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s
There are some glaring omissions: no Pristeen or Greatness And Perfection and nothing from Saint Julian, Droolian or Peggy Suicide, but I hope this selection gives a flavour of Julian Cope as a songwriter, raconteur and live performer. The title of this ICA is taken from a line in Las Vegas Basement (again, cruelly omitted from this selection). Julian Cope was undoubtedly “Born To Entertain”, so here I go…
1) Soul Desert (Live @ The Fleece Bristol, 09 Feb 2020) (bootleg recording)
The opening song on the epic Jehovahkill has also been a regular concert opener since and is perfectly suited to Cope’s latter day by-necessity solo acoustic gigs. This version is nearly twice the length of the original and stretches out the tension with a number of false build ups to the inevitable climax. For the real heads.
2) Bill Drummond Said (Live In Japan, 1991) (Live Japan ’91, 2004)
This jaunty ‘tribute’ to The Teardrops Explodes’ former manager appeared on a self-released live CD via Cope’s Head Heritage site. Given the quality of Cope’s performances, it’s a wonder that Island records didn’t release an official live album when Julian Cope was signed to the label. This is a fantastic album/concert and this full-band version is no exception, with a lovely ‘plink-plonk’ keyboard motif.
3) Don’t Take Roots (Live @ Barrowlands, Glasgow, 30 Sep 1995) (Barrowlands, 2019)
A throwaway, dispensable track from 20 Mothers or an irresistibly groovy song? Probably a bit of both, to be honest, but I love this song. I saw the Propheteering tour at Bristol’s Anson Rooms the week before this version in Glasgow was recorded and it was an amazing, epic show. Thighpaulsandra’s only tour with Cope apparently, but all of the band are on fire here. The self-released CD condenses a 3-hour show into 70 minutes, is still available to buy on the Head Heritage site and I’d highly recommend it.
4) Autogeddon Blues (Live @ Moseley Folk Festival, Birmingham, 01 Sep 2012) (bootleg recording)
I’ll admit, I found Autogeddon a disappointment following Peggy Suicide and Jehovahkill, but time and distance has given me a greater appreciation for the album as a whole. Autogeddon Blues, along with Paranormal In The West Country, was the stand-out and has remained a live staple. Dedicated here to “Spaghetti Junction”, this live version includes a brief example of Cope’s way with an introduction, which have sometimes been known to be longer than the songs themselves.
5) Sunspots (Live @ The Ritz, New York, 28 Jan 1987) (bootleg recording)
Sunspots may possibly be my favourite Julian Cope song of all, Top 5 at least if I were inclined to make a list, and maybe the greatest hit that never was. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Cope gig where Sunspots wasn’t performed, but I will admit that the 21st Century acoustic versions are inevitably lacking something (and I don’t just mean the oboe). This full-band version is closer to what I would have experienced in Bristol back in 1988 and adds a whole new lyrical section. The car that Julian Cope was driving around with his very best friend in? A Karmann Ghia, of course.
6) Reynard The Fox (Live @ Barrowlands, Glasgow, 30 Sep 1995) (Barrowlands, 2019)
A 12-minute “Live In Tokyo” version appeared as a B-side to 5 o’Clock World. This is more faithful to the original album version, though the constraints of stripped-down concerts mean that I haven’t heard the song performed for a long, long time. The core band – Mike “Moon-Eye” Mooney (guitar), Keith Richard Frost (bass) and Mark “Rooster” Cosby (drums) – had played with Cope for many years at this point and with Thighpaulsandra “at the controls” the song enters the rock cosmos at the end. Apologies that there is some distortion/crackle in this recording/my copy of the CD.
7) You Will Be Mist (Live @ BBC 6 Music Festival, Liverpool, 31 Mar 2019) (bootleg recording)
I didn’t see Julian Cope perform in 2019, so this may well have been the premiere and only live airing of the song that subsequently appeared on this year’s excellent Self Civil War. In this year’s tour, only 2 songs from Self Civil War were played in London, reduced to 1 song for the Bristol date, neither of which were this one. This is a shame as it’s a good song and perfectly suited to the minimal live set up. This was broadcast live on BBC6 with 2 other ‘classic’ songs and an interview with DJ/presenter Mark Radcliffe. Radcliffe briefly appears in the intro and presumably hits the wrong button about a minute in…
8) Robert Mitchum (Live @ The Globe Cardiff, 2011) (bootleg recording)
“Just a piece of fluff to a hero but the middle 8 is as anti-fucking-religion as you like”, as described in the intro. Robert Mitchum originally appeared on 1989’s Skellington, a ‘semi-official bootleg’ released in the wake of the overproduced My Nation Underground. It’s since become a Cope favourite and appears here in a delightful whistling-free, ‘ba-ba-ba’ singalong version. Whilst researching, I came across a contemporary review of the Cardiff gig in the South West Argus. The article has the unfortunate strapline “On the day Sir Jimmy Savile, God bless him, expired, the post-punk equivalent of the tracksuited treasure bedazzled Cardiff with his virtuoso eccentricity.” I suspect journalist Adrian Colley may now regret comparing Julian Cope with the UK’s most high-profile and prolific sex offender…
9) I’m Living In The Room They Found Saddam In (Live @ The Royal Festival Hall, London, 21 Jan 2005) (Concert Climax: Live In The Hearing Of The Motherfucker, 2005)
One of the highlights of the long-promised and delayed album Citizen Cain’d, this song also appeared the same year on Concert Climax. It was advertised at the time as “a high quality Italian live album which is likely to only be available on the tour as we only managed to get a limited number and can’t guarantee we’ll get any more”. In all likelihood another self-released album, its a mix of sessions and live tracks, this one from 2005’s Cornucopia tour. At the time, Kitty Empire of NME slated the London gigs as “the most wrongheaded of ego trips”. The Guardian newspaper was equally damning (a whopping 2/5), reviewer David Peschek dismissing the new songs as “simply witless”. This may be intentionally true of Cope’s side-project Brain Donor, but I think this song deserves better and in my opinion the live version here tops the original.
10) Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed (Live @ The Fleece Bristol, 09 Feb 2020) (bootleg recording)
And back to this year’s Bristol gig for a regular set closer, including Cope’s crowd directions for his encore. The Fleece layout has no stage door, so Cope regularly has a faux exit-and-return in plain sight, to now-familiar crowd amusement. This is another Skellington favourite, a full-band competitive wig-out in its original version. This acoustic guitar and keyboard performance arguably lacks some of the impact of the album version but is a fitting end to the concert and this ICA.
In place of the bonus EP/album, I have stitched the songs together into a continuous audio experience on my Mixcloud page (click here for the link). Nothing like the real thing and waaaaay too short for a genuine Cope gig, but stick your headphones on and imagine you’ve paid a few quid for an amateur bootleg cassette and you’re halfway there. Enjoy!