By Mark Parker, Third Year History
Walking out on to the stage in a sleeveless zip-up hoodie, aviators, a U.S. Air Force Brigadier General cap, and hair below his shoulders, Julian Cope, ex-frontman of The Teardrop Explodes elicits a quiet confidence in his ability to entertain.
This is no surprise; a staple of the alternative music scene since the late 1970s, Cope has amassed a dedicated following who flock religiously to his solo shows. Nevertheless, had he needed any confirmation of his longevity, the second youngest audience member pulling out their mobile to take a picture only to realise his Nokia is more likely to load a game of Snake than capture a photo would have likely sufficed.
‘I promised I’d play more songs tonight,’ he says before launching into a long, song-less monologue. Cope’s show at The Fleece was about 60% music and 40% chatting. Despite this, the charisma and alternative charm of the musician-cum-antiquarian proves infectious. He tells stories of hikes across Ireland, his travels whilst writing, his father-in-law’s life in America, and the reason he hates Folk music (before launching into a folk song, of course).
Over many decades of touring, Cope has developed the perfect repertoire of hits, cult classics, and new material to keep an audience enthralled. Segueing from monologue to song, Cope opens with ‘Soul Desert’ played on a 12-string acoustic guitar. Though playing solo (as is customary), Cope’s lo-fi, heavily effected twelve-string fills the room, rattling through your ears such that one could imagine a full band on stage alongside him.
Cope’s setlist included The Teardrop Explodes classics such as Treason and The Great Dominions, as well as tracks from his highly respected solo albums: Peggy Suicide, Jehovakill, and Autogeddon. Mixed amongst these cult classics were Cope’s newer tracks. Over time, Cope has embraced his interest in the history of cults, paganism, and prophets. Like a weathered, northern Al Stewart, at The Fleece he mixed history with melody, with high points including ‘Cromwell in Ireland,’ and ‘They Were on Hard Drugs.’
Cope’s show was not just about music, but an evening of entertainment. Whilst the 62-year-old once known for his legendary drug intake isn’t rolling over the audience in giant plastic hamster balls a la The Flaming Lips, Cope is able to enthral an audience with a subtle mix of history, humour, and musical class.