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Julian Cope

+ {Blood Donor} + {Black Sheep} + {Vesuvio}

Having served up all his incendiary emotion as leader of The TEARDROP EXPLODES for nigh-on half a decade before they disappeared from view in ’83, the floored genius of Liverpudlian JULIAN COPE was always going to make for an interesting, and at times, controversial solo star. A loveable eccentric verging on sanity, junk-fuelled Julian (born 21st October 1957, Deri in Caerphilly, Wales), coupled cultdom and charm with a pop sensibility second to none. An acquired taste for some punters, or a pagan-ish alt-pop giant to others (Sqwubbsy was his 7-foot alter-ego), his on-stage antics such as cutting his stomach, IGGY POP-like, and singing perched on a high pole, saw him develop into his own weird and wonderful character. Where to start for the uninitiated? Well why not a mixture of his first dozen years in the business: the combinative FLOORED GENIUS – THE BEST OF JULIAN COPE AND THE TEARDROP EXPLODES 1979-1991 {*9}, a Top 30 collection of hits issued in ‘92.
Concentrating solely on his post-TEARDROP EXPLODES timespan, from 1984 onwards, the kraut-rock-loving JULIAN COPE locked away his inner SCOTT WALKER psyche, only to open up a Pandora’s Box of inspirators by way several outstanding albums. The first of these grandiose sets was surely his Top 40 debut, WORLD SHUT YOUR MOUTH (1984) {*8}, a record that combined the frail schizophrenia and complexities of his early Teardrops work with that of a vibrant and reinvigorated singer-songwriter. Recorded in his new Tamworth abode and produced by guitarist Steve Lovell, there was still room for TEARDROP EXPLODES refugees Gary Dwyer (drums) and Ron Francois (bass), while the addition of pastoral oboe player Kate St. John gave the album a subtle touch. Both `Sunshine Playroom’ and the flowing `Greatness And Perfection Of Love’ both failed to reach the upper echelons of the charts, but that mattered little for an eccentric man in a state of transition.
Thanks to a lukewarm response from the music press, FRIED (1984) {*6}, managed only one week in the charts at a lowly No.87. Okay, it was more frenetic and unhinged in places, but with the added augmentation (next to Lovell and St. John) of Donald Ross Skinner (rhythm/slide guitars), Chris Whitten (drums) and a guest appearance of MIGHTY WAH! guitarist Steve “Brother Johnno” Johnson, the single track `Sunspots’ was surely one that got away. Marked by its unworldly cover shot of mystical Julian in a turtle shell, and a tongue-in-cheek swipe at his old boss in `Bill Drummond Said’, the suggestive singer was in danger of stirring a hornet’s nest of trouble. But in the perky `Reynard The Fox’, `The Bloody Assizes’ and the pagan-addled `O King Of Chaos’, COPE dished out English eccentricity by the bucket-load. Incidentally, the future KLF geezer DRUMMOND returned the favour by dishing out the cutting `Julian Cope Is Dead’ on his 1986 solo set, “The Man”.
1985 was probably a year best forgotten by Julian as Mercury Records decided on terminating his contract, leaving behind unissued tracks, a broken marriage and consequential tripped-out live gigs. Bouncing back when Island Records took him under their wing and applying himself to a second wife, COPE re-emerged triumphantly in the fall of ’86 when the un-associated `World Shut Your Mouth’ dipped into the Top 20.
A taster from his sort-of comeback album, SAINT JULIAN (1987) {*7}, the record was an attempt at alt-power-pop that almost gave him his first Top 10 entry. `Trampolene’ and its minor hit companion, `Eve’s Volcano (Covered In Sin)’ were the catchiest among the pack of 3-minute crackers, but in the 8-minute finale, `A Crack In The Clouds’, JC was back to his olde schizoid soiree.
Hoping to repeat the formula and punch of its mighty predecessor, the sprawling and disappointing MY NATION UNDERGROUND (1988) {*5}, dealt his street cred a bitter blow when it just failed to reach the Top 40. Roping in keyboardist Ron Fair to produce the disc and retaining now multi-instrumentalist Skinner and percussionist Rooster Cosby, plus various sessioners James Eller (bass), Double De Harrison (aka himself on keys), ex-ABC/THE THE player David Palmer (drums) and seasoned double-bassist Danny Thompson, the coherent garage element was almost forsaken for soulful FUNKADELIC-like grooves. Popping back to the 60s for The VOGUES smash `5 O’Clock World’ (a minor hit for JC) and The SHADOWS OF KNIGHT for `Someone Like Me’ (the `Easter Everywhere’ title was procured from his heroes The 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS), the disc was saved only by the commercial appeal of the soft-ish `Charlotte Anne’ and `China Doll’.
COPE retreated somewhat the following year, but surfaced in 1990 with two self-financed, mail-order-only albums, SKELLINGTON {*6} and DROOLIAN {*7}. While both were shunned by his bosses at Island for being meandering and lax, the former set – augmented by Skinner and Cosby – reached back a few years for the co-McCULLOCH-penned piece, `Robert Mitchum’, while the raggedy, BARRETT-esque organics of `Out Of My Mind On Dope & Speed’, said more in its title than any words could describe.
Released only a matter of months later as part of a campaign to free 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS kingpin ROKY ERICKSON from jail, much to the annoyance of Island (again!), “Droolian” offered up an odd half-hour session with Skinner. Featuring the re-appearance of `Sqwubbsy’ in song form, and delighting any fan who’d an incline for demo-styled recordings (from `Look After Your Leathers’ and `Jellypop Jerky Jean’ to his paean to the recently deceased Pete DeFreitas on `Louis 14th’), COPE’s wilderness years were not exactly uninspiring. Put in a nutshell, so to speak, Julian found the time for other things, including his vehement part in the anti-poll tax march from Brixton to Trafalgar Square; a year too late for people north of the border who had to endure Thatcher’s wrecking ball culling tactics from ’89.
Whether by absence making the heart grow fonder, or something akin to single-mindedness and inner strength, COPE (together with drummer J.D. Hassinger) returned in fine fashion with the splendid double-set concept, PEGGY SUICIDE (1991) {*9}, a record that targeted pollution, ecological problems and social collapse, mainly of poor Brits on the end of Tory tax and cuts – where have we heard that one before? On the news, every other day. Not a massive Top 30 seller by any stretch of the imagination, his ambitious nature was let loose on the excellent `Drive She Said’, its highest single release `Beautiful Love’, `Safesurfer’ (re-vamped from “Droolian”), `Head’, `East Easy Rider’ et al.
For 1992’s JEHOVAHKILL {*7}, Julian brought back his old influences: CAN, FAUST and a gamut of kraut-rock. Creatively, the double-album was an admirable effort, although it bombed both commercially and critically where an immediate Top 20 peak was followed by a off-radar plummet. Dabbling in religious aspects of a cut-throat mainstream world in all its foibles and faults, JC captured the essence of the globe’s destructive nature in songs such as `Poet Is Priest…’ (featuring cult astronomer Dr. Florella Terenzi), `Julian H. Cope’ and `The Tower’. But once again, he alienated his Island masters by recording the 70-minute “urban meditation groove”, RITE (1993) {*5}, which led only to him being unceremoniously dropped after its German release.
Next up was his last in the early-to-mid-90s album trilogy about pollution. The theme this time was the car; coincidentally he had just passed his driving test. Having signed up with Echo Records, the self-explanatory AUTOGEDDON (1994) {*6} was a sprawling drive into space-rock, while tearing down the walls alongside his new and old disciples, Skinner and Cosby, plus Thighpaulsandra, Mavis Grind and Moon Eye. The counteraction to a demolition derby, COPE warned us of a fuel apocalypse in a rant of “World Shut Your Motormouth” proportions, while rounding off the whole concept (best bits `Autogeddon Blues’ and `Don’t Call Me Mark Chapman’) with the uncompromising `S.T.A.R.C.A.R.’.
Anyone hoping that Julian would kow-tow gracefully with another semi-classic set, no, the fur-coat-wearing moon-man came up the eponymous QUEEN ELIZABETH (1994) {*5} set, alongside the stalwart Thighpaulsandra. Featuring only two uber-prog-length tracks that his kraut-rock peers might well’ve been proud of, for the acclaimed `Superstar’ (the title of the opening 34 minutes!) he was calling all the shots.
Avoiding its probable full title by interpolating domestic tracks about fatherhood, vegetarianism, his mother-in-law and even Kurt Kobain, 20 MOTHERS (1995) {*8} – with a photo of his wife Dorian and 19 other mothers on the cover photo shoot , COPE vented his pagan-ish summary of his nearest and er… dearest in a positive aplomb. 20 songs later, one had a sense that once again Julian achieved his goals, wading as he did through everything from space-rock to bubblegum, trance and pop. Incidentally hitting No.20, the karma chameleon prevailed with the excellent `Try Try Try’ (his lone hit from the set), `Wheelbarrow Man’ (about his own get-together with estranged brother Joss), the lilting `I’m Your Daddy’, `Just Like Pooh Bear’ et al.
1996’s INTERPRETER {*7} veered towards BOWIE-esque “Space Oddity” proportions (examples `I Come From Another Planet, Baby’ and `Planetary Sit-In’), although with his ground-force musical excavations via Stonehenge and every other mystical stone sticking out from the earth’s crust, the environ-“mental” COPE shaped his new-age world of rock’n’roll in the 7-minute `Battle For The Trees’, `S.P.A.C.E.R.O.C.K. With Me’ and `The Love Boat’.
As his contract expired at Echo Records, Julian supported his own thematic ideas when he founded his own Head Heritage imprint. The first of many sets, some only released on mail-order from his website, RITE 2 (1997) {*6} was one for his prog-rock acolytes; its third track, the 20-minute `D-c.o.m.p.o.s.e.r.’, recalling the days when TANGERINE DREAM ruled the waves. While one could take or leave subsequent excursions into the mind-funk of the man: QUEEN ELIZABETH 2: ELIZABETH VAGINA (1997) {*5}, ODIN (1999) {*6} – featuring only one track, `Breath of Odin’, AN AUDIENCE WITH THE COPE (2000 & 2001) {*6} and AMBIENT METAL (2001) {*6} – the latter as L.A.M.F. – the man had certainly moved ten-fold from the mainstream world he was part of two decades ago.
With a much needed direction change, the Wiltshire-based Julian H. Cope opted to form a fresh post-millennium outfit, BRAIN DONOR, alongside Kevin “Kevlar” Bales and Tony “Doggen” Foster. Their first album, LOVE PEACE & FUCK (2001) {*7}, was Kraut-rock centred around lyrics were inspired by Celtic, Viking and Druid folklore; two attendant singles were released: `She Saw Me Coming’ and `Get Off Your Pretty Face’. If this was your bag, BRAIN DONOR returned periodically with TOO FREUD TO ROCK’N’ROLL (2003) {*7}, DRAIN’D BONER (2005) {*7}, the all-aboard THELKA (2007) {*5} and WASTED FUZZ EXCESSIVE (2009) {*6}.
On the back of some further low-key sets catering for ardent acolytes of the man, namely DISCOVER ODIN: Julian Cope At The British Museum (2001) {*5}, RITE NOW (2002) {*6} and ROME WASN’T BURNED IN A DAY (2003) {*6}, the punningly-titled CITIZEN CAIN’D (2005) {*7} was a surprising and unheralded return to the Stateside garage-fuzz that first inspired him; a by-product of this was a simultaneous homage to more conventional songwriting. Once again COPE performed a stylistic volte-face via his DARK ORGASM (2005) {*4}, the critical jury out on his murky mid-70s dalliances.
In 2007’s YOU GOTTA A PROBLEM WITH ME {*6} and 2008’s BLACK SHEEP {*6}, Julian explored, cosmic-like, into all aspects of religion, wars and homophobia. While it was a good time to be a COPE devotee as he reunited his sour psyche to his song-cycle, his off-kilter eccentricities could be brushed-off by an uninterested media as a modern-day equivalent to David Icke. But in his inner-intelligence and prescriptions for the good of mankind, he seemed the sane one among a pack of greed-fuelled government greys.
In respect to his books about ancient history, paganism and the like, JC could easily blow the mind of any historian far less a politician and, in both PSYCHEDELIC REVOLUTION (2012) {*9} – a classic featuring `Revolutionary Man’, `As The Beer Flows Over Me’, `Vive Le Suicide’, the excellent `Cromwell In Ireland’, et al – plus double-set, REVOLUTIONARY SUICIDE (2013) {*6}, he placed the emphasis on bashing right-wingers; the fact that it was completed on the 17th April, the day of former ice-queen Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, was very significant about the dispersion of his own demons. Together with collaborator, Thighpaulsandra, the godlike genius of the once-cherished JC was in full manic street preacher form on `Russian Revolution Blues’, `In His Cups’ and `Hymn To The Odin’.
2014 and yet another pseudonymous project for St Julian. Alongside Slomo’s Holy McGrail and SUNN O)))’s Stephen O’Muraay, the trio of VESUVIO {*6} – based upon a fictitious early 70s commune outfit from Naples – released the eponymous set to accompany his novel, One Three One. Three tracks running at 15 minutes and over, Julian and Co veered ever-so-slightly into continental retro-rock.
A solo neo-psychedelic COPE was back in full swing on the folk-y homage to the world of beer: DRUNKEN SONGS (2017) {*7}. Made up of five pub ballads of merriment (from `Drink Me Under The Table’ to his funeral song, `As The Beer Flows Over Me’, and `Don’t Drink And Drive (You Might Spill Some)’), Julian toasted a glass or three to his forefathers, whilst the near 19-minute `On The Road To Tralee’ was a lock-in too far; taking in 20 pissed-up miles of bad memories. A year on, SKELLINGTON 3: The All-New 21st Century Adventures of Skellington (2018) {*6} continued Julian’s long legacy of acid campfire; a dozen occasionally humorous tracks accompanied by his trusty Mellotron 400.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Feb2014-Apr2018

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