One from the analogue vaults.
After The Teardrop Explodes finally did explode in 1983, Julian Cope continued to beguile audiences with his eccentricity to become a modern-day folk troubadour and eco-warrior author on ancient monuments.
This interview is one from my vault of old analogue recordings from 2003. Sadly, only part of it has survived but it still remains one of the most philosophical conversations I've had the pleasure of being part of.
Every festival needs a contemporary edge to it. Every festival needs to present someone who is going to emotionally move the audience. Every festival needs a Julain Cope to amuse, inspire and of course entertain as only he knows how.
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This is the one with Julian Cope...
CAT: Slightly off the wall, if your songs were stone circles, which one would be the ninth stone in the Winterbourne Abbas?
Julian: Oooh, I’m not sure if I’ve got any modern songs that are ‘near the road’, it’d have to be an early one, like The Greatness and Perfection of Love, or something like that. A bit tense, but ultimately centred and fits the circle!
CAT: Are the stones, the trap-ways and the Curses etc affecting your song-writing now?
Julian: Yeah, its almost like, playing Cambridge Folk Festival, its very much like, are you a folk artist? Well, you’re a folk artist if you write stuff that is informed by where you’re from and it is. I would say that all my songs are informed by where I’m from but there’s a little bit more awareness of it now, that’s the biggest thing.
CAT: You pick up information as you go along?
Julian: You pick up information, yeah, and to a certain extent you work within the constraints of what scientists have discovered, unless you go for a flat-earth society trip, which is fair enough, as long as you accept that it’s metaphorical, that’s fair enough. But it’s, um, if you read stuff that’s, say, written in the 40s, the best stuff is based on what the artists perceived was the truth in the big scheme of things at the time, so you’ve gotta keep up with it.
CAT: So would you say that Teardrop Explodes were informed by Liverpool, Julian Cope is now informed by history?
Julian: Informed by, yeah, informed by the British landscape, Britain, I mean it’s even informed by Britain as a bunch of islands as opposed to a continental physicality. ‘Cause I think a lot of the British psyche is based on the fact that we’re island people, you know? I think we’ve probably got more in common with, say, Denmark and Japan than the rest of continental Europe, But I don’t think that most people would be able to intellectually argue that because they wouldn’t be in a position to say: ‘OK, I’m in a fortunate position to have been able to check that way’, but I think they’d understand what I was saying. You know what I mean? I think we’re all travelled enough now to just go: ‘OK, yeah, that makes sense’.
CAT: How much time do you spend on the highways and byways these days?
Julian: Travelling all the time. I think the problem with my generation, my contemporaries, is that a lot of them are still deluded that where they were at the time, is exactly the same position as they are now. And I think the whole point is that you’re meant to live every part of your life to the optimum version that you can possibly be, you know? So I just write…I’ve always tried to provide something that’s interesting from the point of view…I speak to my generation and I think that if my generation is older I’ve got to be talking to them, you know? If other people come on board, or even people from different cultures come on board, that’s great, but it’s because they’ve chosen to come on board, I’m probably not speaking to them with any awareness of them.
CAT: So do you think you are fulfilled in life?
Julian: I think that I’m probably more fulfilled than most people could possibly be. ‘Cause the nature of my problems…I have the same problems as everybody else but they’re just a very good quality of problems. You know, I think it’s got to be like that, I think that it’d be really churlish to say that I’m not fulfilled ‘cause I’m almost astounded sometimes. Like I was saying to my friend today, a lot of it is….I met my wife and so much of it is so much luck and I obviously had incredible luck because we are so happy. So, it ain’t something I’ve done! You know, it’s something that is…maybe I made some choice in some other situation but I can’t say that there’s any evidence of it for me.
CAT: The book is being written at the same time as the new album, how much is it a parallel process and how much do you say ‘its book time, its music time’?
Julian: I write songs as I’m writing the book and to a certain extent I’m very professional with my book writing because I’m set out to achieve a very specific amount. I’m good at working to deadlines. I think I’m one of the best writers that the publishers have because I’m so good at working to deadlines because to a certain extent rock ‘n’ roll is very much immoveable feasts, you know, you can’t go: ‘I’m not inspired, man!’ when you’re paying, like, £400 a day to have everybody here, you’ve gotta be inspired. So to a certain extent, you just summon it up and I think that’s always what made rock ‘n’ roll good.
CAT: Am I right that you did a poetry session at the British Museum?
Julian: I did a couple of lectures at the British Museum.
CAT: When you were out on the road with the Teardrop Explodes, did it even cross your mind that that would be a route that you would end up on?
Julian: No, ‘cause I couldn’t have been that greedy. ‘Cause the Teardrops was a really greedy band, you know, it was always like: ‘No, we’ve gotta be this, and we gotta be this, and we gotta be perceived as being as this phenomenal band.’ You know? We were an acid band when it wasn’t really cool to be acid, we were…we were psychedelic when you shouldn’t really be psychedelic. But that was part of the greed of the people in the band, including the breed of the organisation that kept the band going. Bill Drummond [Teardrop Explodes manager] was a very demanding, artistic type. I always believed and always argued to my mother in particular that rock ‘n’ roll was something that would sustain to the point where you could be 70 years old and be making amazing rock ‘n’ roll. But I think to a certain extent, I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s nothing to do with being talented, it’s just putting yourself in and refusing to sod of! It’s just like: “No, I’m going to do this.”
CAT: Where do you escape to these days?
Julian: I escape abroad. I mean, my kids are 9 and 12, my wife…we live in the middle of nowhere, but I think anybody with the media is really a city-dweller, however physically removed you are, the mere fact that you can switch on the TV means that you are a city-dweller in the middle of nowhere. I think the most important thing is that I always have a very specific agenda. You know, my new book has a lot of European travel in it, so I have to just go.
CAT: And you take in places like Karnack and those sorts of places?
Julian: Karnack, yeah, it’s all on different levels as well. You know, I mean, a lot of the stuff I’ve had to do from very, very basic field research, other places there’s loads that already been done so its really uniting the two, y’know? A lot of Denmark is interesting, but the problem with Denmark is….it’s amazing for a British person, but the Danes aren’t aware of the rest of the world, so they’re very much like: “Nope, I have not been to this, nope, that is in the Netherlands,” when physically it’s the same piece. It’s like “No, no, there are two borders between us!” but hey what’s two borders, baby? So there’s quite a lot of quite surprising stuff, you know? Yeah, I think the French and the British are the most aware of the rest of Europe.
CAT: Does that annoy you as well? For example, part of the Rolston Circle has been destroyed in living memory but if it were Roman they would have been crawled all over?
Julian: The thing that is so strange about all this is that everybody is out in absolutely different time. You’ve got people in Europe who are aiming to turn their ancient monuments into stone circles. “Look, if you look at in this way, it is a stone circle”. But it ain’t a stone circle! There’s no evidence that’s a stone circle. “We like to think of them as stone circles.” It’s like, yeah, but that’s OK for you to think of them as stone circles, but I was explaining that in the late 1800s everybody in Britain wanted our monuments to be like classical Greek monuments but they weren’t they were older. We’ve got to observe them for what they are, you know, I think if there is a problem its ‘different speeds’. Malta, they have these amazing monuments in Malta and at the end of this amazing tour, this guy said: “Do you think it’s as good as Stonehenge?”. I was like, well it’s like two and a half thousand years older and it’s underground, it’s not at all like Stonehenge! “But it’s a bit like Stonehenge in its importance.” I said: “Yeah, its important on a world level. It’s a world monument, it’s incredible, it’s the greatest thing I’ve seen in the Mediterranean but it’s really a shame that you’re still thinking of it in terms of Stonehenge.”
CAT: Yes and instruments have also travelled, our bouzouki is basically a Mediterranean instrument that has been slightly adapted. Culture has spread?
Julian: I think the main thing that’s hit me is you’ve gotta go. All you’ve gotta do is go. That’s how I learnt how to become a photographer – I had to have a camera ‘cause there wasn’t a photographer there and I thought ‘shit!’ But a lot of the stuff I took for the last book was a lot better than other photographs I’ve seen, only because….I had a step-ladder with me. ‘Cause I’d made the effort to walk the three miles across the moor carrying a stepladder. The stepladder gave it a completely different angle. And that’s what I mean about, to a certain extent, you don’t even have to be talented, you’ve just gotta do it!
CAT: So what really pisses you off in life?
Julian: That’s really hard, ‘cause there’s so many things! Just the brutalising of culture…its just so brutalising for people. For me it’s really hard because, you know, I have a really good life so if I do stuff and I drive into west London to see my publishers….London’s interesting! I like London, what a cool looking place – like I’m seeing it in a totally different light to everybody. You know, I can even drive inventively in traffic but most people can’t drive inventively in traffic ‘cause they’re beaten down by the traffic!
CAT: Have you got an end in sight for your journey?
Julian: Death! Death will be the portal and once I crash through I’ve got a horrible feeling that… it’ll go somewhere else. I’m not a great believer in re-incarnation ‘cause I haven’t had any evidence for it for myself…but I know there’s loads of evidence for other people. But while I haven’t for myself I just figure I’ll get the answer when I crash through the portal into the next world.
CAT: And what would you like to be remembered for?
Julian: Um, being ubiquitous in Britain! I want people to go: “Copey was here” and it could be anywhere on the British Isles. I want people standing around on hilltops going: “Copey stood here!”.
CAT: I think that you can be assured of that! Thank you very much for talking to me.