Julian Cope at The Roundhouse, London - live review

Julian Cope turns Camden cosmic

Julian Cope impersonates Axl Rose in Camden
(Image: © Will Ireland)

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As years go by, Julian Cope is fast becoming a myth, legend and national treasure rolled into one. Unconcerned by public relations, the former post-punk star turned gnostic hooligan prefers to do his own thing away from the numbers, happily (hippily) off-grid in the West Country with his wife, kids, megalithic stone obsession and a five-skinner for company.

That’s not to say he has no ego, or deliberately disregards his public. Standing on the specially constructed in-the-round stage that’s not-quite-the-middle of the hallowed Roundhouse, his charisma fills the space, exuberantly recounting yarns and theories, a self-confessed “needy artiste” dressed in biker boots, army shorts and sleeveless leather vest.

Addressing us from beneath his customary US military hat, abundant thatch and rock star shades – “It’s nice to almost see you” raises a laugh as he glances around the venue – it’s a good five minutes of Cope explaining how he feels he’s slipped out of the zeitgeist in this fast-moving world of current catastrophes before we get a sniff of a song. “As you can see from my garb… what year is it, 1935? I’m ready,” he says, semi-acoustic strapped in place for a vitriolic, psychedelic Autogeddon Blues. Twenty-two years old, the song’s theme is tragically still on point, communities destroyed by greed and politics. “We took everything for granted. We thought the Native Americans were free of their pipeline… but they’re not. Nothing is guaranteed any more.”

As a young lad in Liverpool he was straight for a long time while his surrounding circle were off their crusts, then one day he gave in and became ‘psychedelicised’. He didn’t dabble, he went full Barrett. But he came back from the abyss and culture and history became his ‘other’ stimulants. 1985’s Fried is where the modern, mystical Cope begins, and he delights in the songs that reflect his esoteric, Arch Drood interests, from speed-freak ancients (They Were On Hard Drugs), to cosmic vibes at home (Paranormal In The West Country).

But what’s remarkable about tonight is his rare indulgence in the Teardrop Explodes numbers The Culture Bunker and Great Dominions, alongside the popular solo songs Sunspots and Pristeen. Cope’s surprisingly accessible, psych-tinged songcraft hits home noisily – there’s much interaction and encouragement from the crowd – and his militant-pacifist Elder aura seems magnified. While malfunctioning gear is fixed onstage, he strides through the stalls for bear hugs and selfies; this feels more like a spiritual rally than a gig.

An unlikely beacon of radical sanity, the set even includes an anthem that we can all get behind right now – Cunts Can Fuck Off. Greatness, perfection and protest prog for the people: Copey for PM.

Jo Kendall

Jo is a journalist, podcaster, event host and music industry lecturer with 23 years in music magazines since joining Kerrang! as office manager in 1999. But before that Jo had 10 years as a London-based gig promoter and DJ, also working in various vintage record shops and for the UK arm of the Sub Pop label as a warehouse and press assistant. Jo's had tea with Robert Fripp, touched Ian Anderson's favourite flute (!), asked Suzi Quatro what one wears under a leather catsuit, and invented several ridiculous editorial ideas such as the regular celebrity cooking column for Prog, Supper's Ready. After being Deputy Editor for Prog for five years and Managing Editor of Classic Rock for three, Jo is now Associate Editor of Prog, where she's been since its inception in 2009, and a regular contributor to Classic Rock. She continues to spread the experimental and psychedelic music-based word amid unsuspecting students at BIMM Institute London, hoping to inspire the next gen of rock, metal, prog and indie creators and appreciators.