Julian Cope - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date:

Julian Cope takes to the stage clad in a sleeveless leather jacket, military style cap, sunglasses, cargo shorts and leather wellies. Like some gloriously bedraggled protest singer Cope also manages to resemble some kind of psychedelic reimagining of Michael Eavis, fresh from the fields of Glastonbury and looking to all intents and purposes like an eccentric fighter pilot. You certainly wouldn’t miss him if he was wondering around your local supermarket.

Before Cope arrives to meet his adoring public we’re treated to a rather wonderful set from North London’s Tom Hickox. Coming over like a cross between John Grant and Closing Time-era Tom Waits, Hickox is an engaging and natural performer. An early highlight comes with ‘The Lisbon Maru’, a song about a Japanese prisoner of war that tackles a traumatic subject matter in an incredibly gentle and empathetic way.

Most of Hickok’s songs deal in themes of love and hope and while it would no doubt sound awkward and saccharine in the hands of a less gifted artist, the likes of ‘Let Me Be Your Lover’ are nothing short of beautiful. Frustratingly there’s quite a bit of chatter when he’s is on stage but despite this Hickox puts in an impressive performance and even manages to lead the crowd in a chant of, “Fuck you Trump!”.

Julian Cope has the Brudenell crowd in the palm of his hands, armed as he is with anecdotes aplenty and a treasure trove of songs. His breakthrough band, The Teardrop Explodes, get a few mentions and it becomes clear that A) they won’t be reforming any time soon B) they really don’t need to and that C) Cope thinks that David Balfe is a bit of an “old ugly bastard”. Cope plays songs from across his career but over-sentimentality and the reform-your-old-band-bandwagon clearly isn’t for him. 

As always Cope takes to the stage with an acoustic guitar and it’s this stripped back approach that makes these shows feel so intimate, spontaneous and unrepeatable. Opening with the sparse, angry and quietly apocalyptic ‘Autogeddon Blues’ Cope is clearly on fine form. His voice stretching to a controlled scream as the song reaches its brilliantly dramatic climax.

The songs, as any Julian Cope devotee will tell you, are utterly fantastic. ‘Soul Desert’ reminds me what a darkly beautiful album Jehovahkill is while ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ remains as ridiculously catchy as you remember. Benefitting from the stripped back delivery, it’s often a little like hearing the songs again for the first time. Subject matter moves seamlessly from the likes of tyrant centred folk song ‘Cromwell in Ireland’ to a smattering of songs from his recent Drunken Songs LP. Like Iggy Pop crossed with a cultural historian.

And yes, we even get a few solo renditions of Teardrop’s tunes, alongside an insistence that they weren’t a psychedelic band as they’re often labelled but a contemporary sounding band that just happened to be on acid. ‘The Great Dominions’ is complimented by Cope’s electric guitar fuzz and the drones of a vintage Hungarian synthesiser he picked up on eBay. It sounds pretty psychedelic to me.

Never one to take himself too seriously it’s Cope’s anecdotes and between song banter that really ties the whole thing together. There’s the time he gave his daughter a belt emblazoned with an expletive to stop her from stealing his, the time he was stranded in the rain near some ancient archaeological site (this anecdote coming complete with Cope’s genuinely hilarious repertoire of Northern voices) and the time he wrote the as-yet-unheard funk classic ‘Funk Bottom Blues’.

It’s probably these kinds of anecdotes and the addition of the deliberately crude ‘Cunts can Fuck Off’ that leads to an audience member shouting, “Get your bum out!” Now, there are not many artists who get that yelled at them here at the Brudenell Social Club but then again Julian Cope isn’t really like anyone else. As the world inevitably goes to hell-in-a-handcart it’s comforting to know that Cope is still striding around the country in his leather jacket and shorts; the last great psychedelic troubadour.    

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