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LIVE REPORT: Julian Cope
Poppy Turner , February 5th, 2015 13:46

Poppy Turner revisits her childhood at the Village Underground in London. Photo by Richard Hayward

As I arrive the stage is relatively bare – just a large drum sporting the slogan 'You can't beat your brain for entertainment', and a leather clad DJ in wrap around sunglasses who puts minimal effort into providing the support. His set consists of what seems like one long and very bass-heavy song, and he spends the duration of it nodding with both hands by his side - a friend notes that "you certainly couldn't accuse him of trying too hard."

The unfazed crowd sip beer, waiting patiently – nobody's off their face but there's a lot of leather going on in the packed audience. I'm almost certainly the youngest person there, but that's not surprising considering I must have been one of Julian Cope's youngest fans in my day (I used to listen to 20 Mothers as a tiny kid on my Early Learning Centre cassette player). My music taste was heavily influenced by my parents (I think my dad snogged Julian Cope at a gig once), and whilst his violent performances of Reynard the Fox weren't exactly child friendly, you can see the appeal of his lyrics with all the ba-ba-ba-ing, mik-mak-mok-ing and gogmagog-ing that's going on.

As a now-adult attending the sold out Village Underground gig with my own mother, I'm not the only one who's grown up a bit. The set contains no grinding or writhing, and it's just Cope and his 12-string guitar (at one point he swaps to a sparkly but also 12-string guitar, so he can "pretend [he's] a multi-instrumentalist.") It's still superbly sweary, but pared back; songs like They're On Hard Drugs are almost folky without the seven minutes of trippy synths you're treated to on the Revolutionary Suicide recording. It's a set sprinkled throughout with new and old; with material from Fried and Peggy Suicide right through to the more recent stuff - this performance closely follows the release of a 'Best Of' compilation covering Cope's output from 1999-2014.

We're regaled with anecdotes throughout, covering everything from the room he holed himself up in to write his recent novel (the inspiration for 'I'm Living In The Room They Found Saddam In') to mulberry-vodka-fuelled adventures in the mountains of Eastern Europe which heralded the end of twenty-one alcohol free years. It's a characteristically political set, with a good dose of Tory-bashing, railing against the motorisation of Cope's beloved British countryside (Autogeddon Blues) and some out-and-out 'fuck you' to the greedheads and industry fat cats ('Cunts Can Fuck Off' being the epitome of this). Which makes sense, considering his two most recent albums have the word 'revolution' in the title (Revolutionary Suicide, 2013 and Psychedelic Revolution, 2012).

What with all the storytelling there's almost more talking than singing, which is fine by me – it's funny and engaging and I almost forget I'm there to see him play music. Not everyone is so impressed; at one point Cope says that if he were a tyrant (and I think he'd make an excellent one), he'd 'take Calais', to which one audience member replies, "you'd bloody talk about it first!" Cope gives us what we've come for though, despite a slow-ish start. He accelerates to a whole new level in the latter part of the night and storms through Soul Desert and Pristine – his musical genius back in the limelight. He plays The Teardrop Explodes' 'Treason' for the first song of the short encore, and those few still expecting Reynard the Fox to make an appearance are disappointed. I'm surprised they let him back on at all after the lengthy set - but they do, and he finishes up with Robert Mitchum. This makes for a delightfully soothing end – and reminds me of being lulled to sleep by Cope's gentle vocals as a babe in arms.  

It's the first time I've seen Cope live, and this (mostly) civilised affair isn't what I'd been led to expect. But it works - where some artists fail to gracefully make the transition into older-age, Cope has made a good job of it, transforming spectacularly into a bearded, weird and wizened metal druid. Cutting an impressive profile in cut off leather, sunglasses and his famous US Air Force cap, he looks as much the part on stage as he does marauding around stone circles.