Julian Cope on a boat! A random look on headheritage.com brought this one to my attention, thus blowing any debate about which gig to go to in early June (Teenage Fanclub, Band Of Horses, even The Damned were playing relatively locally and under consideration) out of the water, as it were. So, with babysitter in situ, Rachel and I headed down a showery M4 to renew acquaintances, after a 5 year gap, with a true musical genius, visionary and total acid-fried barmcake.
Arrived just before 8 after a slight diversion in drizzle, but that didn't dampen our spirits as we went on board and explored the boat properly. I'd only been here the once before and didn't take the opportunity then, but for Rach this was a first, so we got a drink and enjoyed the view from the upper deck bar, overhearing stories from the barmaid about inflatable Santas on adjacent boats being used as bottle target practice by Thekla locals!
Down into the dirty black bowels of the ship and to a good spot stage left for the announced entrance of, "from Wessex, England, Julian H Cope!" at 8.30 prompt. Clad in military black leather, bare-armed, straggly of hair and topped with a Gestapo officers peaked cap and the obligatory sunglasses, he cut a hugely imposing figure as he strode onstage extolling his new pet project, "Lives Of The Prophets; A New Perspective!" Donning a garish green acoustic and alternating between this and a bank of keyboards to perform, he was his old bullish, extrovert and articulate self, as driven, captivating and downright entertaining as any performer I've seen, evidenced by the deathly hush in between songs as he monologued about subjects such as Jesus, the paranoia of success, and whether or not to accept a Mojo Inspiration Award for The Teardrop Explodes from the apparently hated Jools Holland ("I think it's because we've not gotten back together - if I'd have known it was that easy I would have under-achieved some more!") with the confident yet riveting patter of a top-drawer stand-up comedian. Only funnier!
And as for the music, well this was a marvellously chosen set selected from his poppier, more accessible canon of work, ranging from the plaintive, touching balladry of "I'm Your Daddy", to a raucous, sing-along "Sunspots", via a heart-wrenching, keyboard led "Head Hang Low", a startlingly bouncy "Read It In Books" and the supreme pure pop of, "the obligatory Julian Cope ba ba ba song," namely "Greatness And Perfection". But each one was a bulls-eye tonight, a masterful collection of Cope's neo-psychedelic yet extraordinarily accessible, memorable and catchy pure pop, revealed in this "naked artist" environment as the stunning gems they all are.
A gig-etiquette debate with the audience as to whether to go off for the encore, or simply plough on given the Thekla's strict curfew, saw Cope stay on and deliver a startlingly rocky, effects-pedal smothered "Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed" before the denouement, a menacing "Sleeping Gas" accompanied by "Big Nige", a leather-clad San Francisco gay biker lookalike banging a huge bass drum bearing the legend "your brain is the best form of entertainment" and roadie "Acoustika" waving a red and black flag. After this song, climaxing a breathtakingly short hour and a half, he strode offstage as he had arrived, with "Lives Of The Prophets" on his lips and an ovation from the faithful ringing in his ears.
Wonderful stuff. A nasty drive back in spray after this early finish didn't detract from what was a superb night out, and another demonstration of the supreme performer's craft, from Julian Cope - on a boat!
I've brainstormed last night and tried to remember the set, in the absence of a set-list (the only one was taped to the back of Cope's green acoustic, and he kept revising it, saying at one point that, "this is the point at which I realise all these songs are shit!") I might have got a couple of songs the wrong way around, but this is what I recall the set being;
I'm Living In The Bunker They Found Saddam In
The Bloody Assizes
Like Leila Khaled Said
I'm Your Daddy
Head Hang Low
O King Of Chaos
Read It In Books
Greatness And Perfection
Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed
Las Vegas Basement