At long last, it was time for my first gig of a brand new year. I was excited to be able to see Julian Cope for the first time since May 1991. In fact, I’d seen him two nights’ running at The Leadmill in Sheffield back then, when I was a student there. It cost £6.50 a night back then, which was actually pretty pricey. I’d gone with an acquaintance called Bruce on the first night, about whom I remember very little other than the fact that he was going thin on top. I went solo to the second show, surprisingly as I had a good mate at uni (still a very good friend in fact – hi, Simon) who was also a big Cope fan at the time, I think.
Anyway, this time around it was off to the fairly-recently-reopened Epstein Theatre, where I’d previously only seen the lovely Stealing Sheep and The Tea Street Band during Liverpool Sound City two years ago. It reopened in May 2012 having been closed for seven years, has a capacity of just under 400, and is a great little venue slap bang in the centre of town.
A packed schedule meant a quick pit-stop at the golden arches for sustenance before a quick pint of Landlord at The Globe, a small, sloping, charming pub, on the (correct) assumption that the beer selection in the Epstein would not be of the highest quality. At least it wasn’t cans of crap lager, like the Academy. But I forwent any drink in the venue, saving myself for a speedy Lion Returns in The Lion after the gig.
I got a decent spec on the end of a row as I was in the venue for 8pm, just in time for the support act. I was not expecting to like Urthona, and I don’t think my expectations were seriously challenged. This was a one-man band (apparently a guy called Neil, with the other two usual members not participating), “performing under the influence of Atlantis?, inspired by the band in Julian’s 131 novel” as their website says. He was clearly not big on showmanship, sitting kind of side on as he performed. He had the great benefit of a nearly-full venue as the unreserved seating policy meant most people got in handy to ensure they had a decent seat for the main act (or perhaps there were a lot of fans of oppressive screeds of guitar noise in the house?).
Uthona’s music most brought to mind Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music”, possibly one of the hardest-to-listen-to albums I have ever owned (not that I do any more). However, it’s certainly an album I can admire, even if I have no desire to own it again (though I must confess I’d like to listen to it again somehow to remind myself of how extreme it is). Likewise, I raise my hat to Urthona, whose uncompromising nature is to be applauded. There was the sound of the wind howling over the moors and plenty of feedback in what seemed to be just one long piece.
The stage was pretty bare, with just a bass drum in the corner with the slogan “you can’t beat your brain for entertainment” on it. That is apparently the name of a 1976 album by Stretch, an obscure British band that sound like the kind of thing Cope might be into, but I imagine it’s more the sentiment that he approves of.
The main man strode out onto the stage looking exactly as expected – military cap, leathers and biker boots. He went straight into a lengthy tale about his traffic problems en route to the venue. His rambling tales were a feature of the night, meaning he only performed fourteen songs, though his chat was also very entertaining and made the night something special. He somewhat cheesily gave out a hearty “alright!” in response to audience approval at the end of most songs.
He kicked off with the typically oddball “I’m Living In The Room They Found Saddam In” from 2005’s “Citizen Cain’d” album. I loved Cope when I first got into him as the 80’s turned into the 90’s, but had completely ignored all of his releases since “Jehovahkill” in 1992, only dipping into more recent fare with this year’s “Trip Advizer” compilation, that included ‘Saddam’ as well as a few others played tonight that would otherwise have been new to me.
He discussed ‘reunion culture’ when talking about his old band The Teardrop Explodes, saying “if Kate Bush can get back together, so can I” before returning to their second album from 1981 for “The Culture Bunker”. It was clear that this was going to be a night of tunes drawn from across his entire career, epitomised as he moved onto “Double Vegetation” from 1991’s “Peggy Suicide”, an album perhaps only pipped by “Fried” from 1984 as my favourite Cope release.
He continued to flip between newer and older numbers, going from the wonderfully rhyming “They Were On Hard Drugs” from 2013’s “Revolutionary Suicide” to the sublime “Sunspots” from “Fried”. He introduced the former by relating his contention that the peoples of the earth had always looked to be under the influence of what would these days be illegal substances, from ancient times right up to the modern day. He also told the tale of how the Japanese lyric transcriber of “Sunspots” had mistaken the car noise in the chorus (“eeeeyoooo”) for the word “indeed”, which he put into the song at one point in tribute.
2012’s “Psychedelic Revolution” (originally dedicated to Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled) was next. It’s not actually a very psychedelic song, especially so when performed by Julian solo with just guitar accompaniment (complete with its “when we rise” message), as was the entire set. Next came a couple of new, alcohol-related songs, “As The Beer Flows Over Me” and the Pete Wylie-inspired “Liver Big As Hartlepool” (ouch…).
The glorious “The Greatness And Perfection Of Love” from 1984 debut solo album “World Shut Your Mouth” was followed by “Cromwell In Ireland”, his self-proclaimed folk song about tyrants, complete with “oi” interjections.
Another lengthy Cope tale told of his dislike of Americans, despite being married to one for more than thirty years, before regaling the audience with the charming “Cunts Can Fuck Off”, specifically written to annoy people from over the pond. “Soul Desert” off “Jehovahkill” was followed by 1994’s “Autogeddon Blues”, and then the much-requested “Pristeen”, the opening track off “Peggy Suicide”.
He announced that he would return for an encore before leaving the stage, returning for just one more song – his old band’s “Treason”, which he dedicated to drummer Gary Dwyer. A top night’s entertainment from just one man and his guitar.
In tribute to the archdrude’s love of all things prog and kraut, I wore my red Neu! t-shirt. I spied a wide range of other t-shirts in the audience, despite not being able to see all that many people due to the seating. There were Beatles, Chameleons and Godflesh tees, as well as a guy in a smiley scarf (he obviously thought it was cool to wear one…), and someone who’d clearly come straight from work in his Post Office polo shirt!
In preparation for going to this gig, I indulged in listening to all of the Cope releases I own, which has meant that I have now identified a top 80-odd minutes worth of his solo stuff (up to and including “Peggy Suicide” only) that will shortly be making a worthy addition to the stock of CDs in the car. So, here’s a Spotify playlist of that soon-to-be-disc, only missing a couple of tracks off “Skellington” and “Droolian” that aren’t on Spotify.