Julian Cope, Concorde 2, Brighton | reviews, news & interviews
Julian Cope, Concorde 2, Brighton
Julian Cope, Concorde 2, Brighton
One of rock's great eccentrics is touring with only his guitar for company
Julian Cope is one of pop music’s outsiders, a singer and author who began his career in the post-punk pop band The Teardrop Exolodes but whose solo career has drifted gleefully off-radar, more recently releasing albums that blend psych, Gaelic music, blues and prog rock at the rate of about one a year. He takes to the stage decked out in his usual leather vest, knee-high leather boots, and beige three-quarter-lengths, with his grizzled mane poking out from under a navy cap and sunglasses. He’s greeted by a rowdy yet well-intentioned audience, who’ve evidently grown up with his music, heckling him like an old friend.
This is to be a performance based around a pared-back show featuring just the singer and his guitar. Starting with the first of many political tirades, he introduces his opening song, “Autogeddon Blues”, by ridiculing neo-fascists and advising the British Highway Authority to get their act together, and perhaps charming any audience members who feared his infamous drug intake of the Eighties and Nineties had addled his brain.
Musically, it takes him a while to hit his stride, but once he does, the audience are treated to song after song of beautifully stripped-down Cope. His set roams from the recent “As the Beer Flows Over Me” (written to accompany his flaming Viking funeral pyre, should he ever die, he tells the audience) to Teardrop staples like “The Great Dominions” and “The Culture Bunker”, so both his back catalogue and contemporary albums are out in full force.
His voice doesn’t seem to have changed much in the last 40-odd years, and is as clear and sonorous as it was in Teardrop days. “Double Vegetation” brings out a booming Walker Brothers-style crooner in him; similarly, the joyousness underpinning his higher melodies turns the weirder parts of his set - most notably “They Were on Hard Drugs” and “Cunts Can Fuck Off” - into psych-folk anthems which get the grinning audience bellowing along.
While Cope’s newest material arguably suits the one-man-with-a-guitar line-up he’s touring, the strongest moment of his set is “The Culture Bunker”, taken from 1981’s Wilder album by The Teardrop Explodes, “Polygram’s biggest commercial failure of the year,” in Cope’s words. His voice is all swagger and purpose, the guitar backing lazy and full. In simplifying the song, he elevates it to something euphoric, warm, and quite mesmerising.
As engaging an orator as performer, Cope’s rants cover everything from the nuggets of gold to be found on Hungarian eBay to Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople’s choice of eyewear, and (quite predictably) psychedelic mushrooms. He regales us with his attempts to channel “the way of Billy Joel” while he was writing a decidedly anti-folk song about political tyrants and prophets, before launching into the lilting “Cromwell in Ireland”. Foot-stamping and sarcastic, he’s nearer Billy Bragg than Billy Joel, which turns out to be no bad thing.
The low points of his set are few and scattered. He ends a few songs by putting his guitar through what seems to be a feedback-generating flanger pedal, which completely overrides any guitar riffs or solos he might be playing. The momentum of his set similarly drops during the relatively dull “I’m Your Daddy”, taken from his 1994 monstrosity 20 Mothers, yet Cope ends on a high. The whole audience that appears to be enraptured, or even vocally contributing, to an increasingly frantic version of “Pristeen” from his well-regarded 1991 album Peggy Suicide.
Although Cope is by no means the post-punk poster boy, there's much to enjoy in his blisteringly funny monologues and enduring musical talent.
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