Saturday, January 3, 2009

Julian Cope Day, part one (of two): 1979 - 1991


Julian Cope is a British rock musician, author, antiquary, musicologist, and poet who came to prominence in 1978 as the singer and songwriter in Liverpool post-punk band The Teardrop Explodes. Cope has since released many solo albums and is a founding member of the bands Queen Elizabeth and Brain Donor. In addition to his musical career, Cope has written four books of non-fiction: Krautrocksampler (Head Heritage, 1995), The Modern Antiquarian (Thorsons, 1998), The Megalithic European (Element, 2004), and Japrocksampler (Bloomsbury, 2007), plus two volumes of autobiography: Head-On (Head Heritage, 1994) and Repossessed (HarperCollins, 1999).

Julian Cope: I'm not as successful as U2 because U2 do it the corporate way, they do what the corporation wishes, they spend a lot of time on the album then they spend a lot of time promoting it, they wear everybody down until everybody knows that U2 is back. Whereas I'm just an artist, I can just slam it out. Mine's a holistic trip. That's the difference. You could put me in a coracle and send me off to some rock somewhere to make art, but do that to any member of U2 and they wouldn't make art, you know, they'd find a way back to the mainland. It's like Joseph Campbell said, it's the difference between the celebrity and the hero. The celebrity will walk across tall buildings and dance on tightropes for his audience, but the hero will do exactly the same things and if the audience has all gone home, he'll still be doing it to please himself. And that's the thing, I have an incendiary in me, which is entirely at odds with pretty much 99.9% of the people on the Earth and if I can sustain that, then I'll change things entirely. You've just got to have faith that what you're saying is the cosmic truth. That's why I blast out so many albums and everybody says "fucking hell man, not another double album, people don't have time." I say they do. If my trip is real, then it will sustain, and in ten years you'll be doing another interview with me. In thirty years, if I'm still doing it, you'll think Cope is truly on the line because he's making sense, he's still coherent.

'One of the pivotal groups to emerge from the Liverpool neo-psychedelia community during the late '70s, the Teardrop Explodes was a showcase for Julian Cope, a notoriously eccentric figure whose unfashionable love of Krautrock and hallucinogenic drugs set him distinctly apart from the prevailing punk mentality of the era. Cope formed the band in 1978 after a tenure in the Crucial Three (also comprised of Echo and the Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch and Wah!'s Pete Wylie). Taking their name from a panel in a Marvel comic book, the premiere lineup of the Teardrop Explodes also featured guitarist Mick Finkler and drummer Gary Dwyer as well as keyboardist Paul Simpson, with whom Cope previously played in the short-lived A Shallow Madness.

'Cope's influences include everyone from Scott Walker to the Doors to Tim Buckley, but Teardrop's sound was better than the sum of its parts. Excesses notwithstanding, the Teardrops created some of the era's most exciting music, exerting considerable influence on succeeding generations — Morrissey and the Inspiral Carpets being just two examples of those so influenced. The band split up in mid-'82 during the sessions for its third LP, four songs from which were released on an EP titled You Disappear From View. Those four basic You Disappear From View tracks (including a more finished-sounding recording of "The In-Psychlopaedia") join seven others for 1999's Everybody Wants to Shag, a Cry of Love-style paste-up of the unfinished third LP that finds the dissolving unit as adventurous and powerful as ever.' -- Trouser Press

FEBRUARY 1979: Liverpool's Zoo Records release the seminal debut "Sleeping Gas". It becomes Single Of The Week in the rock press, being compared to "Louie Louie" and "96 Tears". JULY 1979: The second release, "Bouncing Babies" is again Single Of The Week in Britain's rock press. FEBRUARY 1980: The final Zoo single, "Treason", sells bucketloads on account of it's total hipness and insidious melody. JUNE 1980: Zoo Records owner Bill Drummond re-mortgages his house to fund the Teardrop LP. Originally titled EVERYBODY WANTS TO SHAG THE TEARDROP EXPLODES, the album is partly re-recorded and the group sign to Mercury Records. The new guitarist, Alan Gill, introduces Cope to "Reward" and re-arranges his hip potential. NOVEMBER 1980: Keyboardist Dave Balfe is sacked; Gill leaves, scared at the prospect of competing. "Reward" is an enormous single but Cope and co. find Top Of The Pops etc very strange. Cope signs two guys to just do what he says and starts a period of unrestrained megalomania. The Teardrop becomes very English, very Julian Cope.

'The Teardrop Explodes had a lot of musical assets, and all are on display on their first album Kilimanjaro - Julian Cope's vocals are gripping, the melodies quirky but very hooky, the lyrics worth some thought, and the production (credited to the Chameleons, mostly) and instrumentation inventively off-kilter and interestingly textured. Especially great is the use of a horn section, which is employed in unusual ways, and adds a really distinctive element to the band's sound. Sound-wise, the result is impossible to describe, but I'll note that the music mixes psychedelic rock, dance music, and early-80's British post-punk, and, as someone once described it, what sounds like Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass on mescaline. In sum, this album still sounds completely fresh after twenty years, a remarkable achievement for a twenty-year-old record, and especially remarkable for a record that was a product of the New Wave post-punk early 80's, when sounds dated quickly, it seems.' -- Bill Kaluza

'Ha Ha, I'm Drowning' live on German television (3:03)

'Reward' live on Top of the Pops (2:25)

'Treason' live on Top of the Pops (2:24)

JUNE 1981: ...Tours, Top Of The Pops, more tours. NOVEMBER 1981: The second LP is called WILDER. A depressing and sombre work, it catalogues Cope's first marriage break-up and mental chaos. This is not the "Bubblegum Trance Music" people expected from the group and the LP sinks. By 1984 it is considered a classic, but what use is that?

'Originally planned as The Great Dominions a full year beforehand, The Teardrop Explodes' sophomore effort only saw light in 1981. By this point, the public's fascination with the band was already on the wane. Not for the last time in his career, Julian Cope was busy fashioning obscurity from a potentially winning position. Against the backdrop of a group falling apart--and his own increasingly acid-fuelled instability -- Cope somehow dispatched a minor psychedelic pop classic. Wilder is less densely layered than its predecessor Kilimanjaro, relying all too heavily on string synthesizers for texture and cute electronic rhythms in a stark overall picture. Why grumble though, when the Turtles-esque "Passionate Friend" and the plainly insane imagery of the brassy "ColoursFly Away" lead the way into more Cope-fried confectionery? The Teardrops' transformation from group to hired hands leaves Cope clutching shakily at the reins. His writing and his voice, though, have never been better--witness "The FightingTakes Over" or "The Great Dominions".' --

'Passionate Friend' live on Top of the Pops (3:19)

'Culture Bunker' live on The Old Grey Whistle Test (7:37)

'The Great Dominions', sound only (7:00)

MARCH 1982: Cope retreats in a confused state. Balfe sacks Troy Tate and everyone else except Gary Dwyer and Cope. He tells Cope to stay on as a singer but says "From now on I write the songs". Cope buys a house in Tamworth while Balfe writes his first opus. SEPTEMBER 1982: Cope and Dwyer hate the new songs Balfe has written. Balfe locks them both out of the studio so, loaded up on goon's pills, they race around the countryside in a jeep with Dwyer driving and Cope clinging to the roof. The album sounds like crap to Cope. He leaves the studio with Dorian and goes home, refusing to sing. He quits the group following a disastrous and demeaning UK tour as a three piece. OCTOBER 1982: Cope meets an old friend, Steve Lovell, who was busking in London's Bond Street tube station. Lovell forsakes buskers' paradise to make music with such an erratic character. FEBRUARY 1983: Mercury release four of the songs salvaged from the aborted third album. They receive average reviews.

'The title Everybody Wants to Shag. . .The Teardrop Explodes was originally intended for the band's debut, but attaching it to the long-unreleased third and final Teardrops album, an expansion of the four-track You Disappear From View EP, is as good a use as any. Julian Cope trashed these sessions shortly after they were completed, but admitted years later that they weren't all that bad. While this is a David Balfe album more than anything else (he's credited with all the arrangements) with Cope on vocals, the rapidly collapsing band, augmented by a variety of other players, still manages to get in some good work. Cope certainly sounds like he's not entirely there at points. When Cope is fully engaged in the material, like on the charging "Count to Ten and Run for Cover," or the gently mysterious flow of "Soft Enough for You," it's a gentle revelation.' --

Julian Cope performs 'You Disappear from View' live in 2007 (4:21)

The end of The Teardrop Explodes
from Julian Cope's memoir Head On (Thorsons)

I had all this blotter acid from Los Angeles and, during an interview, a middle-aged woman called Sheila gave me a clear plastic-bag, full of "sherbet".
----"It's pure California Crystal," she said. "A thousand trip bag. I live out on the rock, and the Dead sent it for you."
----We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, out of San Francisco and on our way to Boulder, Colorado. It's a 1200 mile journey. We had to do it in 2 days in our crappest of crap Dodge Ram van.
----We resumed our positions and I cradled my 1000 trip bag in my hands. It was the size of an ounce of rolling tobacco and clear. Bob Proctor said we had to break the speed limit all the time, just to get to the show on time. Fuck it, I though, let's make this an epic of epic journeys.
----I evaluated my situation. I had seven trips in either blotter or tablet form. It was around noon. I had two days of intense hell ahead of me. Better take them all. I scooped up the blotters. They were between one-eighth and a quarter of an inch in size. They had colour cartoons of Disney characters printed on them, and I took all seven of them with a swig of beer. Gary looked at me, his air of resignation to the fore. If I was going to be in a state, he figured he should fuck up too. I took his forefinger in my hand and dipped it lightly into the bag of crystal.
----"Lick your finger, Gary. Right, that's one trip. Okay?"
----Gary stuck his finger in the packet five more times. Right, it's like that is it? Over the next half hour, I added eight more fingerfuls of crystal acid to my dose of seven blotters.

(read more)

'After almost two decades in the music business, Julian Cope has progressed from up-and-coming New Wave prankster to photogenic power-pop hero to a thought-provoking emeritus of the alternative era. His particular brand of songwriting, first honed in his early days fronting the Teardrop Explodes and later evidenced in the prolific releases of his solo career, has often found little appreciation outside of his native Great Britain; record companies have also run into difficulty trying to market Cope's talents. Writer Tom Hibbert called him "the last remaining Great English Eccentric of Rock" and likened him to Pink Floyd's forgotten founding member, the drug-soaked but brilliant Syd Barrett -- a comparison that crops up frequently in discourses on Cope. Jim DeRogatis described Cope's body of work as the meeting point of "psychedelia and punk. His songs are full of droning, otherworldly melodies and wistful lyrics," exemplified in the late 1960s works of the Beatles and Rolling Stones. "But," DeRogatis contended, "they also have the edgy energy of punks from the 13th Floor Elevators to the Sex Pistols."' --

NOVEMBER 1983: Cope hangs out nearly all year, concentrating on his toy collection. Mercury hassle him to record an LP. Lovell, Cope and Dwyer record nine songs in as many days, then finish the album after Christmas. MARCH 1984: The WORLD SHUT YOUR MOUTH LP is released. People hate it, ignore it or just plain adore it. Cope is expected to tour and, sure enough, does. At Hammersmith Palais, Cope watches from the rafters as Rolo from The Woodentops imitates his show. Cope freaks. How to follow that? During "Reynard The Fox" he breaks the mike stand and cuts his stomach repeatedly, quoting Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar: "Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me". APRIL 1984: "Sunshine Playroom" hits the Top 50 but the Palais show and Cope's image alienate many fans. A video directed by David Bailey is a disaster. Bailey's images are bloody and hellish. The film is immediately banned.

'Amid all the chaos of his life, Julian Cope was on a fast-track to cultdom (admittidly by default) & produced this classic debut album World Shut Your Mouth (which was slated by the UK music-press at the time- like Robert Smith, there seemed to be a notion that if you hadn't done an "Ian Curtis" you were a pseud...). It remains tight-pop-psychedelia, Cope playing with producer Stephen Lovell (lead guitar) & Teardrops-drummer (now forklift driver) Gary Dwyer (with the odd guest-apperance from Kate St John & ex-Teardrop Ronnie Francois). The essential three-piece make-up of the band really seems to work here. Cope was in thrall to 'Nuggets'-style psychedlia and here makes a much more natural version of what XTC did with their Dukes of Stratosphear-project. Imagine an amphtetamine-driven Strawberry Alarm Clock, or The Modern Lovers original line-up if they relocated to Cambridge on a diet of Soft Machine...' -- Jason Parkes

'Greatness and Perfection of Love', official clip (3:08)

MAY 1984: FRIED is recorded in Cambridge. Cope finds a turtle shell in a junk shop and tests the acoustics. Steve Lovell develops a Brian Wilson complex. He moves his bed into the studio and tries to gain weight. The LP seems to reflect the state of mind of everyone involved. OCTOBER 1985: FRIED is released to a much warmer reception than WORLD SHUT YOUR MOUTH, but disappears nonetheless. FEBRUARY 1985: The "Sunspots" 45 is released but Cope finds it hard to be taken seriously by Mercury. The turtle shell is considered far too gauche by the executives. A hit is lost. MARCH 1985: Cope returns to seclusion in Tamworth. He retires into a closed world. Cope records much of a new album. His manager hates it; "too fried" he says, so Cope sulks. SEPTEMBER 1985: Cope leaves Mercury Records and waits for the moment to be right.

'Ignored on its release, this 1985 solo release for ex-Teardrop Explodes leader Julian Cope pre-dated any return to the mainstream. As an album, it does seem to be intentionally obscure, but for fans, its all the better for it. This is Cope with 2 fingers up to his opponents and critics, making an album that seems to burn with a strange, bleak but wonderous atmosphere. Although eclectic, this unusual ambience holds the album together, even when it seems to be collapsing. Unlikely ever to go beyond its status as a forgotten cult classic, Fried holds a special place- perhaps not as an easy listen, but as a truly adventurous psychedelic album.' -- Johnny Teardrop

'Reynard the Fox' live (6:36)

'Laughing Boy', 8mm official clip (6:10)

MARCH 1986: Cope signs to Island Records. He begins a new LP, working with Donald Ross, Double DeHarrision and producer Ed Stasium. Cope finds an old friend James 'Blood' Eller working in a sandwich bar. Eller played on WILDER, Chris Witton, from the FRIED LP remains the drummer. AUGUST 1986: Cope plays several guerrilla shows around Britain. Queues stretch around the block to see this wildly misunderstood and very influential figure. Richard Frost joins the group on organ when DeHarrison declines to play live. SEPTEMBER 1986: The "World Shut Your Mouth" 45 is released and charts high thanks to a messianic Wogan performance and the garage groove of the song. "A loser's anthem" proclaims Cope. JANUARY 1987: "Trampolene" is released to coincide with the recording of a TV special in London's Westminster. MARCH 1987: The SAINT JULIAN LP enters the charts at number 11.

'Saint Julian got Julian Cope some long overdue exposure in the United States, mainly on MTV, with two videos: "World Shut Your Mouth" and "Trampolene". His image had changed radically from the clean cut, almost preppy looking lad from 1980, to a long haired acid head from 82-85, and then, the leather clad menace seen here, railing against God and the church. He was an atheist or agnostic at the time and would later claim a spiritual awakening which lead him into the study of Wicca and the ancient Druids. Saint Julian rocks hard, but has a poppy edge to some of it that often serves as counterpoint to his strange lyrics. He has always been able to write clever tunes with hooks that reach out and grab the listener, even on his more left field efforts.' -- Scott T. McNally

'World Shut Your Mouth' live on Wogan (3:25)

'Trampolene', official clip (3:22)

DECEMBER 1987: Enter producer Ron Fair. Scared of big time producers, Cope eventually asks his A&R man to make the record with him. An unprecedented move, Fair is an obsessive with a penchant for Bar-Mitzvah organ licks. He agrees Donald and Rooster Cosby (percussion and strange vibes) should form the rhythm basis. OCTOBER 1988: The new LP, MY NATION UNDERGROUND is released. Among the tracks are "Charlotte Anne" and "Five O'Clock World", both of which are also available as singles. Cope is nearly immediately disappointed and this remains his least favourite of his LPs. 1989: Cope spends time hanging out again, getting his vision of the world together, reading avidly, and writing his autobiography, HEAD-ON. It starts from the point he arrived in Liverpool and ends in May 1989 just as Ian McCulloch reaches his 30th birthday.

'Possibly not in the Top 3 Cope albums (that would be Peggy Suicide, Saint Julian and World Shut your Mouth) but still quite a good record by one of England's top songwriters of the 80's, 90's. First track '5 o'clock World' is a good opener, containing one of Cope's best known lines "I know a place where we can hide from the human race". Vegetation is a cool sounding, smooth tune but 'Charlotte Anne'[ is THE track on this album with Cope's voice at its prettiest making a compelling connection with Julian's usual instrument embelishments. 'My Nation Underground', the song, never struck me as brilliant but gels ok with the rest of the album. 'China Doll' is yet another highlight with its sweet melody an enchanting pace. 'Someone like Me' is faster and leads to the one track that still resounds with the Teardrop Explodes' sound - 'Easter Everywhere'. The pretty medieval tinged 'I'm not losing Sleep' is followed by last track 'The Great White Hoax' which ends the album in a nice way.' -- Johnny Marques

Julian Cope: 'My Nation Underground', was just me figuring I ought to do another album and not feeling sure of what I wanted to do. That was a bad time. A bad album. I've got to be harsh about my own music, haven't I? 'Charlotte Ann' is a good song, but one good song is not enough. Perhaps it was a coherent album, but it was nothing like what I had inside me. I couldn't put it out, I just could not get it out. If you think it's even halfway decent then I'm pleased 'cause I was trying, blasting my mind apart.

'China Doll', official clip (4:08)

MARCH 1990: SKELLINGTON is released as a semi-official bootleg for fan club members only. Copies surface more widely via Zippo Records. The LP is unanimously well received in the press. Five years on from the original idea, and Cope is vindicated. Cope goes on the Anti-Poll Tax march from Brixton to Trafalgar Square accompanied by Sqwubbsy (his seven-foot alter ego) and other characters. He writes about his experiences in the NME. He fails to carry out his plan to assassinate Margaret Thatcher. APRIL 1990: Cope plays his first gig in two years at Brixton's The Fridge for an Anti-Poll Tax benefit. It's also Sqwubbsy's first public engagement.

'The currently label-less Julian Cope has managed to overcome that little difficulty by shifting stock via mail-order, and The Skellington Chronicles is his second release to be sold that way. It consists of 1989's fan-club only album Skellington ("acid campfire music", apparently) and its recently recorded follow-up, Skellington 2: He's Back...and this time it's personal!, and very good it is too. The original Skellington was rejected by his previous record company for being too uncommercial, so it's not a surprise to discover that it's absolutely wonderful. Despite being recorded in only one and a half days it doesn't sound rushed, sparse maybe but delivered with loving care. You may already know the frenetic "Out Of My Mind On Dope & Speed" (really Julian?) from last year's exemplary Floored Genius compilation; here it's joined by eleven other, mainly acoustic songs, that ably demonstrate why Julian Cope is the most important unsigned artist in rock today.' --

'Out of My Mind of Dope and Speed', sound only (3:27)

APRIL 1990: Mercury release EVERYBODY WANTS TO SHAG THE TEARDROP EXPLODES. This is, in fact, the aborted third LP, which Cope realises isn't as crap as it seemed in September 82. The press again wax lyrically. Cope considers a master plan to release all his LPs at least five years after recording them. MAY 1990: DROOLIAN is released. Is it a Cope LP or not? It's released in Austin, Texas only as part of a campaign to free Roky Erickson, the then jailed former leader of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators.

'Droolian is one of Julian Cope’s many alter egos, and this eponymous opus was originally released in Texas in 1990 to support a campaign to get 13th Floor Elevator Roky Erickson released from jail. It’s now been made available in Britain on CD only by the good folk at Julian’s mail-order headquarters, KAK. The effect Droolian had on the Erickson campaign hasn’t been recorded by rock history, but if Roky ever heard the album in question he might start pining for his days behind bars, because this is Julian Cope in one of his more self-indulgent, less coherent moods, tendencies that in this particular artist don’t need too much encouragement. This brief album sees him run riot with philosophical quotes, narratives and other kinds of home-brew hokum that would probably test the patience of all but the most committed Cope-ophile way past breaking point.' --

'Safe Surfer', sound only (8:38)

OCTOBER 1990: Cope records a new double LP with the usual suspects, Donald and Rooster, in attendance. Cope gets to play sizeable chunks of leccy guitar for the first time. Something of a revelation to the doubters who always considered he couldn't play for toffee. JANUARY 1991: "Beautiful Love" is the first single from the forthcoming LP. A top thirty hit again. MARCH 1991: The double LP PEGGY SUICIDE is released. Arguably Cope's best. He reckons so and the critics seem to agree. The LP is a paean to Mother Earth. APRIL 1991: A second single "East Easy Rider" is released and Cope goes out on tour again as part of a four-piece band. Capturing the feel of the PEGGY LP, the tour is a huge success, and Cope meets fellow Midlander Doggen in a right royal rock'n'roll party at the Hyatt "Riot House" hotel on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard. JULY 1991: A third single, "Head" is released from the LP. Julian spends much of the rest of 91 touring and exploring monuments.

'He's never enjoyed the commercial success of lesser talents and his problems with addiction are well known, but hardly anyone has the same lyrical panache' and way with a melody as Julian Cope. This double LP length opus is by far his most fully realized effort. Arriving as it did a decade ago, Peggy Suicide (his nickname for the ravaged and scarred Mother Earth) is not just some intellectual's exploitation orgy, but a sprawling masterwork that touches on politics ("Soldier Blue") love and trust ("Pristine") and even a brilliant, punkish little ditty about addiction and family ties ("Hanging Out And Hung Up On The Line") which features the best lyrics on the album and a driving delivery with great chiming guitars and a backbeat that doesn't let up for a second, you're gonna love it! All of Peggy Suicide is stunning and finds Cope stretching out to staggering effect on a host of topics. This is real music from a brilliant (if somewhat troubled) mind and will entertain and dazzle as well inform, and you can dance to it!' -- Willie A. Young

'Head', official clip (3:49)

to be continued ....

Photo: Psychedelic Paul


david said...

Trying to imagine how a collision of the original Modern Lovers and the real Soft Machine would sound. I can't.

Thomas Moronic said...

Thanks for putting my book in your top 11 lists, Dennis. Am I ok to give you a nudge on the blurb for the new one? Thanks dude.

So this reply is actually very late, RE: the excellent answer you gave me about the acid trip in Guide, and you explaining how you tried to write as Ivy Compton Burnett on acid, and the subsequent counteracting structural devices (I particularly liked the idea of the nature of song lyrics Vs. Conversation). Man, thanks a lot for that. Sorry for taking so long to get back to you – New year ended up being a bit of a long drug party. It was cool though, good to be able to just try and forget about such a horrible year for a few days. No acid though.

You asked about some of the stuff I’ve been trying to do with the acid trip in my novel, so here goes: one of the main things I looked at was optical illusions, so I ended up collecting a ton of them and then trying to work out what it was about them that reminded me about the various times that I’ve taken acid. I like the way that they give the effect of movement without doing anything, so I tried to get that into writing and propel the work in this illusory sense of movement with thoughts being able to stem off like shards and splinters of glass, but without the overall setting or scene actually changing. I also kept returning to the idea of digital photos on a laptop and the idea of zooming into a picture until their skin becomes bitmap. Then I had this weird idea about imagining if I could shuffle an Atlas Sound song into a Fuck Buttons song like a pack of cards. Then there was the method of making lists that I mentioned before. Oh, and I wanted it to feel like throat clogged with tinsel too. Heh. Hopefully that doesn’t all just sound stupid – I’m terrible at talking about this stuff out loud. But yeah, those are some of the thoughts I’ve been working with.

I’ll comment on Julian Cope after I’ve had something to eat.

heliotrope said...

Dennis...simply and exactly the weekend post I needed to usher in a new year...I think we talked a bit about Cope when you were in town last (??)...anyway what a great post I have been slowly nudging through St Julienland since Sat morning...the cure for any strangeness appears to be strangeness...strange that!

Love your mind D...

heliotrope said...
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heliotrope said...
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Cookie said...

Thanks for a brilliant post. Can't wait for part 2.