From the archive: a very long post. But it’s one of the best things I’ve ever produced.
Soon after starting Uni in Autumn 2008 this notice appeared on Julian Cope’s website: “In keeping with the theme of Julian Cope’s new album BLACK SHEEP, which advocates direct action and civil protest, the Archdrude and several of his musicians will – on Monday 27th October – embark on a 3-day-long busking tour of UK cultural centres.”
The first stop was described as ‘Thomas Carlyle Statue’ which Google didn’t know even existed. And there wasn’t a specific time. After some Flickr detective work and cross-referencing the roads I skipped a lecture and turned up more in hope than expectation.
I was the only person there. It led to a day crawling around peculiar sites in London with Mr. Cope and his band – and eventually to another afternoon interviewing him around the ancient sites of the Avebury complex for this bonkers piece of writing. The first time I met Mr. Cope he was pissing into a bottle under his enormous pick-up truck on Blackheath. After a breezy salutation and discussion of my East Yorkshire Viking roots (and Hull City’s under performance) I was on board.
The whole event was filmed by a small crew of Hartlepudlian lads who made the Arthur Lee ‘Love Story’ film. I didn’t have a camera on me but there was also an incredibly talented stills photographer called Tiino Tervo on the crew and she sent me the photos that are below. Over a year later there is no sign of the DVD, even though they were editing it in October 2008. I was beginning to wonder whether anyone else would get to see those amazing performances – but while writing this I notice that the ‘Start Productions’ website has been relaunched. Apparently it’s due out in March 2010. It’ll be quite something.
While we were bombing around London I asked for an interview – with no particular purpose in mind – and Cope agreed. There was stuff that needed to be discussed and he was up for it. A month later we met up in Wiltshire and produced this piece. Ignore the line that you should never meet your heroes: Cope is a truly astonishing figure, a man who deserves to elevated and appreciated beyond the small group who currently give a shit.
The photos are by the very talented Tiina Tervo – all copyright remains with her. She was taking stills to supplement the DVD work. I don’t know how that will work but I’m thankful that she sent me these few shots. This piece originally appeared on the utterly brilliant Incendiary Mag who have a lot of responsibility for getting me into Cope in the first place. To Julian – thanks.
Shall we begin?
Being briefed by the Archdrude (Tiina Tervo)
Julian Cope’s in the rear view mirror. And he’s getting agitated. We’re skulking along the Embankment in London getting ready to make like Guido Fawkes and launch a heathen-folk attack on parliament. But this needs to be well organised: there’s film crews, musicians and parking charges to aware of, not to mention the expected police intervention. As the convoy heads in circles around Millbank tower the plan is agreed upon and I’m given a handheld camera for surreptitious filming in case the crew’s equipment is seized. Numbers are swapped in case of arrests.
And then they’re off. They being the motley crew of Julian Cope, sometime pop star, sometime leading expert on megalithic structures and his assorted musicians, all dressed in leathers and hefty boots and beating out their chants from the start. Then there’s a camera crew consisting of four affable Hartlepudlians and a Scandinavian photographer, followed by a couple of guys with placards in support of womens’ rights, and a bloke in an 8ft costume of a giant baby that goes by the name of Sqwubbsy. Across the road, into the grounds, towards parliament. And the song goes up… “To rally every black sheep is my goal…”
A month later I’m standing in the middle of Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire. It’s a damp, misty November afternoon and I’m waiting for my date with Mr. Cope. It’s been rearranged several times, adjusted to fit around additional filming for the Black Sheep DVD but eventually the message comes through. “3pm, Cove Stones”. I’ve been promised a chance to “discuss how to transform this nation into pro-active motherfuckers”. Being an inactive twat, this is good news. It’s not a time to relive old anecdotes, talk up past feuds from the ‘80s or discuss exactly how he managed to get ‘Jehovahkill’ released on a major label. This is time to understand why this punk’s more active and creative than ever at the age of fifty-one.
As the clock heads towards four o’clock an enormous pick-up truck draws up by the stones, blocking half the road. A grizzly bloke, half-biker, half-hippie and dressed as a Luftwaffe pilot screams at me. “JIM! Get over here!” The filming’s late and we’re talking as Julian careers around the Avebury complex co-ordinating the final shots for the upcoming DVD.
Why all the work with the film crew?
Because I met some motherfuckers – these guys are real motherfuckers and all I’m looking for is evidence that something is worth doing. I’ve not been filmed since a very unfortunate BBC2 experience in 2000 based on ‘The Modern Antiquarian‘. I hated it. I didn’t want to be a TV presenter. They managed to use every ‘safety shot’ from film as the actual shot in order to make me look like a TV presenter. I really knew those guys well and even then it didn’t look like what I wanted to be. So I just thought that I won’t be filmed for anything.
What’s the central concept behind this work?
That we unite or die. Our culture is a really rich culture, full of people who are incredibly singular. But it’s hard to unite singular people because they’re all so obstinate and on their own trip. So what I figured I need to do is to pick people who are confident enough to be on their own trip but who recognise that in separation there is a weakening. We need to bring people together who even in their obstinate singular-ism recognise that there are other singular people who are useful to hang out with.
Why the sudden need to unite these people?
The return of incredibly patriarchal religions. I don’t mean that about Islam because everyone knows I’m totally anti-Islam. But I’m also totally anti-Christianity and I’ve been totally anti-Christianity since I explored it to the level that I could reach with St. Julian in 1987. After that it was like “all religion must die”.
We pull in to a lay-by and start the walk up the gentle slope to the Long Barrow near Beckhampton. When we get to the top Julian will clamber inside to explore the possibility of filming the band inside. All the way he never stops talking.
Do you want us to just accept that as a statement? Or are you just trying to provoke us?
I figure that the only people who remotely give a damn about whether I exist or not will be people who won’t have a similar trip themselves but are confident enough to go “there’s plenty of evidence he’s thought about this”. The only people I’m interested in communicating with are people who are confident enough to have made a decision for themselves. I look like a motherfucker 24 hours a day and the only time that I ever get complimented are by people who are confident. The last people that I would consider are confident enough to compliment me are like the gorgeous black woman who walked up to me in Denmark Street the last time I was in London and said “Sir, I don’t know who you are but I don’t know whether to go down on my knees or to call you Lord”.
So I said “well, that’s two choices that I can go with”. And I thought “why is it black women who are confident?” – You’d never get an English woman doing that. The next time, coming out of the services on the M4 a black woman came up to me and said “I think your look is incredible, you look gorgeous”. So I asked Michael O’Sullivan who plays acoustic guitar what it is with black women, because he lives with a Nigerian woman. I get liberals coming up to me and they ask “is where you come from dodgy?” How come the only people that don’t have a problem with me are confident people, black people and people who aren’t hung-up about their sexuality? And I just think that rock’n’roll is just a way of getting us out of our sexually repressed, Lutheran lives.
So why are you only interesting in the people already on your wavelength?
Because the scattershot approach of Christianity is totally pointless. Christians stand in shopping centres at weekends preaching but the only people they’re going to appeal to are people who are truly fucking lost. They’re looking for anything. I’m only looking for people who are already looking themselves. I’m only interested in talking to people who might inform my trip. I’m not interested in talking to you if I think you’re only going to listen to what I say; I know that there’s a good chance that what I say might have flaws in it. But I’m trying to appeal to someone who’s thought about it. You might pick holes in what I’m saying right here and I might then have to go “fuck man, you’re right”. Otherwise I’m just going to turn into a cunt. Men have an amazing ability to turn into cunts and what we have to do is constantly live with a very, very rich dialogue.
The Black Sheep’s Joe Strummer Memorial Busking Tour is typical of what makes Julian Cope worth listening to. It’s a glorious series of gigs, carefully planned to take in intriguing places across the entire country that have inspired or affected the Archdrude’s way of thinking. It’s a publicist’s dream, something to connect with the fans and provide reams of material on this new outlet for his interests. But nothing’s that simple with Julian Cope. The information is only released online three days ahead of the tour’s start. The locations and justification for the choices are provided but there’s no hint as to times. Even worse, some sites don’t even seem to exist in any records. Working on a tip I turn up at 10am at a statue of Thomas Carlyle by the Thames in Chelsea. Two other fans are there. Except it turns out that they’re the crew; no one else is here. As the late autumn light filters through the trees in this gentrified part of London the show begins.
The Black Sheep, the latest incarnation of Julian Cope’s solo band are an assortment of the chemically damaged and the intellectually fired-up. There’s a certainty in their minds and they enact the clear vision of their leader as they head around the Georgian town houses towards Carlyle‘s memorial. Entire coach loads of tourists heading from the west into the centre of the metropolis turn their heads at the sight. Workmen slow down and hoot their horns. A retired bloke in his mid-80s dances past while walking his dog in the crisp light. I’m sitting on a tree stump watching the show as passing pensioners consider whether they do want the world to shut its mouth. Five songs and a rendition of ‘Rock the Casbah’ later everything is perfect. Any thought of returning to the mundane grind of University courses is gone. For the day I’m going to be a black sheep.
You had a chance to become the pop star, the guy who was preaching to others. Why not take advantage of that and sell people your views?
Because in that case dialogue breaks down and you become part of a personality cult. You start to drag people along who are actually hoodwink-able. And I don’t want to hoodwink people; I want people to know where I stand right from the beginning.
You may be confident enough to someone who looks like this. Most liberals see this and say “I’ve got to totally discount him because he looks like a lunatic”. But by looking like a lunatic it means that a lot of people will ignore me and I want to make sure that those people who consider that style is less important than the internal will reject me. Humanity at its height is incredibly stylish, we spend 40% of our time preening and looking after ourselves. I can’t stand the whole trip of considering that “my internal is fantastic but I look like a right mess on the outside”.
But you’ve changed your style and your views. Why should we care what you have to say right now?
I don’t know.
So where’s the drive? You’re out here filming a new DVD and working on new projects while the Bunnymen are playing another reunion tour?
I’ve got an overwhelming feeling that where we live is a very important place. It’s a practical place for human beings to live. We don’t need gods because we have a natural fertile landscape. The only place that I’ve found where gods are really necessary is where there’s limited land and limited water. There you have to have gods because they have to become guardians of those places and you will be at war with the people who control the other water that you need. We don’t need to fight for it. But at the same time just because we don’t need to fight for it doesn’t mean that we can just take it for granted that it’s always going to be here. I want to celebrate my locale.
How does talking to these ‘forward-thinking’ guys relate to the mainstream?
It doesn’t. There’s no point in me trying to understand the mainstream. The only way the mainstream will ever change is through me turning people on who will inform the mainstream. So I have a frontiersman’s spirit so that I can speak to people who can make it more palatable that I can make it. I’m the tiger; when you see us moving around you know where you stand with us.
Last year there were seven of us who turned up on a trip to a Scottish festival. We get out for a break, we’re all tall and we all look like motherfuckers. But there were twenty-five Slovakian motorcyclists in this Little Chef and every one of them just got up and legged it as soon as we walked in.
Why didn’t you run with the popstar thing?
Because I was surrounded by cunts…
Although you still have to interact with the mainstream, even in your personal life. How do you compromise?
There are certain covenants that you make with the state that you can’t get out of. You have to send your kids to be educated; you have to allow them to go out into the everyday world at a certain point. You can be very hippy about it and just go “awh, home education maaan, I can’t have my children being in with chavs” – fuck off! You’ve got to interface with the outside world in order to know what’s bad about it! Much of the outside world’s good. That’s why I’m really into the Book of the Ancient Law it’s to explain that in order to understand what the law is you’ve got to understand what the edges of the law are. It asks a question: “why must nobody be above the law?” and it explains it on a physical dimension as well as an emotional dimension. From the early days the law man was not above the law but when he spoke the law he stood on a barrow and that validated his law because it was filled with the bones of his ancestors.
Part of what I’m doing is about sustaining. It’s only by sustaining that people start to build up an understanding of what I’m saying. If I’d only made five albums over twenty years you wouldn’t have enough evidence to really know what I meant. But by the end of my career you’ll have all these books, all these records and there’ll be enough evidence for you to decide what I actually mean. That’s the only way to be true.
Were your views fully-formed early on?
They’re different now from what they were this morning. They’re constantly changing. We’re always in a state of becoming. One of the things that makes me most happy is that I’m informed by the people around me.
By the Carlyle Statue in Chelsea (Tiina Tervo)
Is the growth of religion a real threat?
It’s an absolute disaster but it can be managed. What I’m worried about is that with the rise in patriarchy it’s surprising how you can’t anticipate how people will respond. A guy that I know quite well recently said something that had never even occurred to me: “I’m really jealous of the Muslims, they get to have all those wives.” I’d never considered that people would think “they can, so why can’t we” and I don’t want stupid people to be thinking like that. My Grandma was 28 when women got the vote; it’s very recent. What we’re aiming for in the west is often disastrously unsuccessful but we aim higher for certain things. We aim for men to be able to lie with other men and women to be able to lie with other women. Some religious leader should not be in a position to declare that’s really uncool and they’re all going to die now. It’s not so much the religions themselves as the effect of butting up to other religions or secular people. I think enlightened secular Hinduism would be very useful: loads of gods, all shagging and facilitating people’s more extreme urges rather than trying to control them.
Julian wanders around a bit, jumping about and discussing whether they could get a shot in the barrow.
So just let religion naturally fizzle out.
I don’t think that Islam is nearly as bad as I often come over. I often come over strongly anti-Islam because I offer a position on it – so many people won’t even do that.
How do you square these warnings over the dangers of Islam with your conventional Western liberal views on social inclusion?
Because Mohammed was by far the greatest prophet it’s often forget that he was also a very typical prophet. Most prophets are totally at odds with Jesus Christ who I would term a ‘proto-Buddhist’; the Jews rejected him because he was so useless as a prophet for anyone who needed to defend their homeland. Mohammed was a good prophet because he spoke purely to his own people so it’s very important that we got in context just how Islam would be if, say, Sharia law came into Britain. Because that’s the way the Saxons took over Britain. The Saxons took over the British tribes. It was insidious. Invited over at first, decent, living a farming existence, very pragmatic. But at the same time they marginalised the British to the point where the Cornish stopped being known as the ‘Cornu‘ and started being known only by the way that the Saxons referred to them which was the ‘Cornwallis‘, or the foreigners of Cornu. So then the Saxons started to refer to the British tribes not as the ’Britonnic’ but as the ‘wallis’ or ‘welsh’ which meant ‘the foreigners‘.
You understand how these comments could be portrayed?
Completely! I have to have faith that there’s no evidence in my career of me ever being racist but I’m damn sure I’m greedist.
Your only defence is that you’re anti-everything…
Exactly. One of the reasons I look like this is because everyone’s going to think I’m a cunt so I might as well look like a cunt. I think it’s really important to set your stall out. What I’m writing about and declaring is really controversial but it’s like what Hunter S. Thompson said – “the only ones who know where the edge is those who’ve gone over it”. That’s why I have to be having a dialogue about everything. Imagine trying to turn on your average person who doesn’t really think about anything in any case.
The average people around the Houses of Parliament don’t know what to think. The gruesome parade of real rockers and placard wavers, followed by a sizable camera crew are crawling around the statue of Emily Pankhurst and singing songs of worship to the women. What happened to these hard-nut rockers, all ponytails and leathers? Did someone neuter the fuckers, extracting their macho willy-waving tendency? Why are they paying their respects to the suffragettes, placing themselves subservient to women rather than threatening to ravish our daughters?
A Russian man asks if this is normal around here as three Orthodox Jews take an unhealthy interest in the anti-Islam slogans on the placards. A researcher from the House of Lords squeals “ooh, I used to love Julian Cope” and fails to spot that her favourite hit has been rewritten to describe how “Emily flew in the face of fashion”. The crowd look on, jealous that they don’t have the balls to do this.
Across the road. The police don’t care, having correctly ascertained that even the most freaked-out, pilled-up terrorist ain’t gonna dress like our man Cope. Past the crews doing the Sky News lunchtime update. Past a mildly distracted Nick Robinson and the grim tent of Brian Laws. Over to Churchill’s hulking statue where the tourists crowd and get bored. Out here in the open they’re here to get a snap of Big Ben and nothing else. Mind-blowing cosmic rants about Churchill’s ancestry and why he was such a “right on motherfucker” aren’t up their street. A minute’s silence is held in the noisiest square in London and we‘re off.
Why the need to live on the edge in the first place?
Because it’s my job, my duty.
Where does that come from
An obligation as a shamen standing on the edge of whatever is current.
But you actively chose to drop out of the mainstream early, what caused you to do that?
The same obligation to the covenant I made with my ancestors. My ancestors were all weirdos. I came from a family of Trotskyite miners so for me it’s hard to imagine that communism genuinely failed. I look at all the information and the evidence and I know that it did but it’s still hard for me to believe it because I’m such a utopian. My Grandpa would say “as I got older I noticed that most men don’t know anything or believe anything but I have to believe that men are ultimately good”. I used to think “include women in that and I’m with you”.
Why didn’t you run with the popstar thing?
Because I was surrounded by cunts.
You could have used it as a chance to change things.
No. I never had any evidence that I could change things from within. The only way was to be outside. I tried doing it from within and I had to interface with cunts. Believe me, it makes me sad. I’m only interested in being the frontiersman because I don’t think that I have a wider word. I’m not here to talk to thousands of people; I’m here to talk to hundreds. The whole point of what I’m saying is that “it’s got to be clear“. I always say that if the prophets’ revelations were the truth then they’d be clear; my revelation has got to be clear and succinct to the right amount of people. I don’t want people to have a Woodstock movement. It’s easy to think you can change the world when you’re a band at Live Aid and there’s a million other people. What you really need to do is be able to sustain something down the years. All the great heroes that I’ve ever loved…if they didn’t die they learnt to sustain something.
How close are you to hitting what you want to sustain?
Ten years off. That’ll do me. I’ve already had a life that is so blessed and lucky that I would say that my obligation is even stronger. Another ten years and it’ll start to make sense.
Is the ‘outsider’ something you just are?
If the world was different I wouldn’t be an outsider. But because of the way the world is I’m probably more outside than I was ten years ago.
Do you want us to follow you out there or leave you on the edge?
Either follow me out there or if you’re too busy living your own life then observe it. If you want to take part in some of the actions do that. If you want to try it at home do that.
It’s harder to be an outsider nowadays, there’s a sub-sect for everyone.
It’s easier to be shocking now than ever before. People are really quite easily shocked now.
Cope versus the traffic wardens. (Tiina Tervo)
History tells my generation that punk rebooted culture. That’s not going to happen again.
I think it will. It’s just that whenever something has such a revolutionary truth about it then you could be only a day away from it and still not anticipate it. What was most important about punk for me was that I suddenly saw people wearing Stalin badges and Swastikas and I didn’t get it. In that mystery was formed the greatness of punk.
Can you still control your image when there’s unlimited information about all of us online?
I can control my image as well as I ever could control my image.
Why did you not want photographs taking today?
Because I’m getting old. When you get old and you’ve got an image that quite cartoony you want to make sure that you’re the most a cartoon could be.
Julian Cope is lost. He went off on a mission to get some sandwiches, took a shortcut, made a U-turn and lost mobile phone contact with the crew. He’s supposed to be heading towards Greenwichbut has apparently gone north of the river. The sun’s low in the sky by the time he turns up on Blackheath Common. In the past it was where the peasants met in 1381 under the leadership of Wat Tyler. Now it’s prime real estate, Victorian homes for those with Victorian morality. Cope restores some rock’n’roll to the situation by pissing in a bottle by the side of the road. Old punk habits die hard.
Blackheath is as astonishing space, a tranquil rolling lawn where families are playing cricket and flying kites. A solitary church stands in the middle of the field and Cope heads straight for it. He carefully sets the scene, providing us with a history lesson on Tyler before setting up with troops with great precision in an attempt to overcome the effect of the church in the background. I’m handed a placard, the fraud Black Sheep getting sucked in by the primitive stomp of a band led by someone who DOES know better but chooses to ignore it.
Nothing can stop the rock. Apart from the appearance of a traffic warden by Cope’s truck. The official backs off when faced with the Black Sheep playing “Come the Revolution” around him. Even the Archdrude isn’t above traffic violations.
Do you fear falling into the stereotype of an ageing rocker playing the hits one more time?
(Pause). Not at all.
How long can you keep reinventing yourself?
The only time an artist stops reinventing themselves is when they die. After that someone else starts reinventing the artist on their behalf. There are as many versions of an artist as there are people who regard that art. One of the most useful things is to be compared with William Blake, he’s one of the most widely misunderstood artists there is. For a lot of people he’ll just be the guy who wrote ‘Jerusalem’, which is perfect for Rugby supporters. But it also means that lunatics can be sitting there reading his ideas on free love while knowing that the ‘Jerusalem Blake’ has been appropriated by a completely different group.
Would that suit you? A combination of misappropriation and a handful of people who really get it?
No. I want to be understood. I think I have an absolute obligation to be understood.
Do you achieve that?
No. Nowhere near. That’s why I keep going. I’m possibly getting further and further away from being understood all the time but that doesn’t mean I have to give up. The most important thing is that the people who get me are motherfuckers. While I meet people who understand me and I’m happy that they get me then I know that I’m doing the right thing.
Is there anything that bothers you about how you’re portrayed?
No. It doesn’t matter how I’m portrayed so long as I am portrayed. I can’t possibly anticipate how hardly educated people could perceive me so I’ve just got to be more succinct and clearer.
Where does this incredible work ethic come from? A wish to be understood properly?
It’s a fear of judgement upon death. Some great tribunal at the gates of hell will say “we’re not letting you unless you go back and do these things because you had the opportunity”.
While you’re attacking ‘greedheads’ in the record industry it was those people who elevated you to the position of a popstar and gave you your voice.
Yeah. It’s one of the great paradoxes. It’s like the Phillip Larkin poem – “they fuck you up your mum and dad”. They fuck you up: the patriarchy, the church. But they also create you. I’m not about saying that everything is bad but that we should question absolutely everything in order to find out what is good and what is bad. It’s like my thing about bad parking: it’s necessary to park incredibly badly in order to find out what good parking is. I went to B&Q the other day and parked over six parking spots, got out of the car and looked at everyone just to make sure that they knew that I was doing it.
In terms of the record industry no one nowadays could play the system like you managed it in the past.
It’s one of the most bizarre things. Paul Morley had a record label with Island records and he came up to me at one point towards the end and said, “Julian you’ve got a record contract withIsland. You put Skellington out and now Droolian and yet they haven’t sued you. Why not?”
I just said “I dunno, I think they just forgot.”
We pause at Julian’s very big farm in the country. Aside from the fact that an enormous druid with shoulder length hair, full leathers and shades is clambering around this could be any rural home. After some time he returns to the car; we’re off back to Avebury so he can get on with editing the film.
You were asking why I’m doing this now. Well we know that humanity has the opportunity to be both the best in west but also the worst because it’s providing freedom. Where freedom is you can choose to do what you want, even the unfortunate things. But if you make demands of your population you can make something like what Anglo-Saxon England had where it’s quite decent and benevolent. Until the Normans came along and created the class system Britain was fairly decent and respectful with landed women. The Normans were nouveau riche and when they were arrived here they introduced an Orwellian notion to the Saxons that they are not slaves but ‘unfree’. It’s an incredibly modern concept and we’re still suffering from it.
I really believe that unless I wage a relentless war against complacency then we can slide back. I’m not preaching what to do. I’m saying that on the very edge of freedom is me calling everyone a bunch of cunts. You have every right to shoot me physically, restrain me physically and to slag me off in print but I am establishing my position in the same way that the Taliban established theirs. The Taliban declare that not only will we not educate our women but they can’t eat bananas in the street because it’s suggestive. That being their truth you know where you stand with the Taliban and similarly you know where you stand with me. It’s a very extreme version of the truth. I’m trying to establish boundaries.
How far do our responsibilities stretch?
I talk about the West because it would be arrogant of me to think that my words have any truth outside there. When I wrote The Modern Antiquarian I went into Europe just so I could look intoBritain from Europe. When I did the Megalithic European I went outside Europe, travelled a lot in prehistoric America, Armenia and Azebajin. But it would be arrogant to say that I have anything more than a selective world view; it’s a very rich selective world view but still selective. One of the problems with Bono and Bob Geldof’s view of the world is that they are ultimately Dublin Irish. The Dublin Irish are a kind of Viking landed gentry who can’t stand the rest of Ireland.
I think one of the reasons those two charge around trying to save Africa is so that they don’t have to hang around in Ireland. If you’re charging around Africa saying we can stop poverty now it’s totally against all the evidence that the world has ever had and if you’re arriving with a film crew you’re not seeing what Africa is really like. I know because for eight years I didn’t deal with a film crew. While filming this I’ve noticed that walking around with a film crew opens doors. Most of the time I arrive in hilltop farms in Sardinia, or the north coast of Denmark on my own and I have to petition the farmer to even let me on his land.
Why the decision to diversify away from music?
When I realised that the point I was trying to make was not going to be made purely through rock’n’roll and that I had to get into academia. I didn’t realise that I’d have to become such a frontiersman. But then I became very friendly with one of the greatest archaeologists of this present time, Aubrey Burl, who was very similar. He said “Julian, I have no idea. I thought that I’d write about the stone circles and everybody would fall into my lap and go ‘Aubrey you’re wonderful, now we’ll tell you stuff’. And 45 years later nobody’s telling me stuff and I’m still telling them everything”. You think that all information’s just around the bend and I’ve realised that the only way I can achieve anything is to be patient.
Truth or legend?
The truth. Because the truth as I see it now is what the legend intended to be. I really believe that Jesus Christ didn’t walk on water because none of my life experience has shown me guys walking on water. As someone who’s taken over two hundred acid trips I could convince myself that I was doing something similar but I do believe in evidence. And if you can use orthodox geology, archaeology and theology to make your point it’s much stronger.
Why the return to a more personal form of pop music in recent releases?
I was suddenly beset by an incredibly mournful spirit that inhabits me every few years and I started writing a whole bunch of pastoral ballads. My everyday is so informed by the rural that I decided to just go with it because so much modern music is urban and I’ve lived a tremendously urban life. I decided I met as well go with what I always go with and give myself to it and see if something constructive emerged.
We pull into Avebury in the early-evening gloaming. Cope decides to let the film crew wait and keeps talking.
Is music still the priority?
It’s not the priority but I see music and the ritual of rock’n’roll that informs all my writing and my actions. Keith Moon was once asked whether he was the best drummer in the world. He replied, “No, I’m the best Keith Moon-style drummer in the world” and I’ve always used that as my modus operandi. I don’t want to be the best archaeologist in the world, I want to be the best Julian Cope-type archaeologist in the world. Archaeologists are always having a go at me and trying to get me down to have a dig at Stonehenge. I’m like “I dig in a different way. I’m digging it babe but not with a spade.”
The reason that I wrote the Japanese and the Krautrock book is that no journalist is ever in a position to write books like that because they’re always too busy earning a crust. I’m a position to do it so I just roll my sleeves up and find the stories that no one’s going to tell. In order to write a Japanese book you’ve got to have some kind of experience in the everyday world in order to even know what the Japanese truth is. The Japanese are telling it from an oriental perspective and what they see as the truth might actually only be considered the poetic truth to us.
Is that the same with everything you produce, that experience has to go into it?
Yes. You were asking why I don’t want to turn more people on. But then I’d be in danger of turning people on who might just fall for what I’m saying. I’m not interested in people who are following my words, I want to turn people on who can find my stuff useful. I don’t want to become some mad personality cult. It’s more important to invigorate people who will go and make stuff of their own.
So how did you feel about becoming a star in the 80s and having the fan base?
No, it was absolutely appalling. Luckily I found that out when I was twenty-three. I always thought that it would be dreadful to be thirty-five and discover after all these years that what you didn’t actually want was what you’d been looking for. I hit upon it accidentally while I had a manager like Bill Drummond who found it equally absurd. It meant that the two of us could discover it and realise that it’s a waste of time. By having that moment when you’re twenty-three you can get going early at making something decent. That’s the most important thing – to do something that’s decent. It means that since I was that age Julian Cope has been this figure that my manager, myself and my wife refer to in the third person.
Your author, roped into the protest. (Tiina Tervo)
How interchangeable is this character with you?
The Teardrops tread a narrow line between fiction and non-fiction. I remember coming off stage after I’d really blooded myself and Doggen saying, “it’s gotta hurt!”
And I replied, “It hurts now but it doesn’t at the time. If it did hurt I wouldn’t do it.”
“People hate you doing it!”
“Well I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it because Julian Cope does that.”
It’s not for Julian Cope fans, it’s because that’s what Julian Cope does. It’s what I stand for. Sometimes I’d have weeks of stomach pain from cutting myself too badly but that’s in the real world, the place where you bills. I’m allowed to exist in an underworld for most of my life and while I’m there I might as well be the best underworld figure you can get. I’m amazingly normal but I’m also utterly fucking bizarre.
We started my solo tour last year and I decided to make it totally fucking great. Ady, Acoustika and I decided to start in Yatesbury for the first gig in Barrow-in-Furness. Load-in at 5pm so we set off at 1pm. Of course, thanks to that final schlep (the A590, the world’s longest cul-de-sac) we were late, had to do a two hour show and then spent until 1am talking down a fan who was on acid and was depressed because she’d just realised she was in Barrow-in-Furness and on acid. At which point we realised that we’d booked in to spend the night at a cottage in Aberdeenshire. I’ll drive forever but it was 3am before we hit the motorway and the sun was coming up as we were going through Dundee. I always stay at a particular cottage on a sacred hill that’s at the end of a two mile track from a road in the middle of nowhere.
But at the final half-mile I stopped and said to Ady, “I’ve forgotten how to drive. You‘ll have to drive the final yards, it‘s that‘s cottage on the hill.”
And he said, “Cmon man! On a mythological level you’ve got to have driven! Because it means that we started in Yatesbury this morning, did a show and you’re finishing at eight in the morning.”
So he got me out and walked me around the car, showing me how it worked. I was like, “Hands…I’ve got hands, I know what they are. Feet, right, I know what feet are…and he re-schooled me in driving so I could do the final half mile.”
Then when we got to the end we just walked and looked around. Ady said to me, “that’s one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had” and I replied, “That’s what rock’n’roll is.” It’s setting an itinerary that’s totally beyond what’s acceptable on a human level, then achieving it and having a great time doing it. What’s amazing is that a few days later Ady, who was a fireman for seven years and has had some of the most traumatic experiences in the world, was still talking about it.
If you set yourself up to put yourself on the edge of human experience what comes forth is your uber-human side. It’s just a fantastic feeling. That’s why I took so much acid with the Teardrops. Most people don’t get to do Top of the Pops in their lives. Top of the Pops is shit but everybody wants to do it so we’ve got to be on acid while we do it to celebrate how shit it is. You’ve got to celebrate the absurd and enjoy it. I represent the outer reaches of the Western experience. That’s why I’m not down with the Taliban side who are trying to restrict the human experience. Maybe extremist Christians and Muslims are right and it is wrong to be homosexual. But homosexuals inform some of the greatest thought that I’ve ever had. How could I possibly put it down because of what some cloudy spirit prophet said 1300 years ago? It might be the gay side of the human being is one of the most important sides of us.
It’s dark. It’s far too late. The filming schedule has gone wrong and Cope’s lost; unlike the others he eschews Satellite Navigation. We’ve trekked around the streets of North London and have finally arrived at the gates of Highbury Cemetery. It’s freezing. A small group of Cope fans with proper jobs have turned up after work and waited for hours for this appearance. Three teenage emo kids are hanging around, amused by the idea of anything of interest happening in their neighbourhood.
The plan was to invade the cemetery and parade around the giant bust of Karl Marx but we’re too late for all that. Instead the aim is to salvage something, anything from this final gig of the day. It’s pitch dark and in the absence of any lighting the production crew move their cars to point at the gates and turn the headlights onto full, illuminating a small proportion of those present. By now the drizzle is becoming a full-blown storm, it’s fucking cold and there’s still no band.
Then from the top of the hill the drum beat sounds. The Black Sheep are coming. And as they round the corner it starts to hail, the first sign of a bitter winter.
So what informs the fascination with paganism?
The fact that people sustained what they did in ancient times without the knowledge we have now. The fact that Avebury sustained for a thousand years at a peak of religion that was probably just as daft and corrupt by the end as Christianity is today. But people were running with less information and still sustaining it.
They were the ones on the edge back then?
They were putting themselves on the edge back then. (Julian gestures to the Avebury circle.) We know that 200 metres away they sacrificed a female dwarf in 2800BC. To me that’s evidence that whatever they believe was pretty fucked up. But what we don’t know is whether the female dwarf was ridden with enormous amounts of power in the prehistoric mindset; we don’t know. I don’t believe in throwing the baby out with the bathwater and just because Mohammed is being misinterpreted doesn’t mean to say he didn’t have a good idea of what should be done in theMiddle East. As a prophet he was really on the case in terms of talking to his people.
Could there be a more forward-thinking form of religion?
I don’t know whether there’s an enlightened Islam or Christianity. I’m on the side of the Jews. What I love about the Jews is that they never try to turn you on to being Jewish. Jewish humour is the greatest because they are the only who say that we’re the chosen ones, not because we chose Jehovah, but because the fucker chose us. The Jews are stuck with a disastrous scenario where they didn’t even get to choose their god! So they have a great self-deprecating sense of humour.
Are people less disposed to question nowadays?
People were always half-arsed. At the height of Avebury there would have been people complaining about placing those stones there. When Stonehenge was finished someone must have just had a game of football within the Trilithons because it’s a natural thing. I expect that at the time of Avebury there would have been a sacred game played across the country and that one of its roles would have been like an ancient Wembley. There’s always an element that the so-called intellectual will forget.
Do you believe in an inner-pagan self?
Yeah! The reason that things like football matter is because you choose to make them matter. I did a thing recently that was supposed to be about the Black Sheep busking tour with a woman from the Today programme. She was supposed to be talking about the tour but didn’t ever mention it because I stupidly took her to the Valley of Stones where the stones for Avebury andStonehenge came from. She was intellectually aware that the stones had to come from somewhere but had never actually considered it. This was a revelation to her.
How’s life as an outsider academic?
What I really like is how all these academics are warm when they’re not with their colleagues. They accept that they are mystical motherfuckers. It’s like when they were digging upBeckhampton Avenue and I’d written about it in the Modern Antiquarian. The archaeologists had discounted the work of (early antiquarian) William Stukeley but he would have to have been a mad fucker to make it up 300 years ago. People don’t make shit up. People don’t want to look like arseholes.
Apart from you.
But I don’t mind. I’ve had such a long life and been so fortunate that it’s important these pseudo-intellectuals look at me as discount me for looking mad. I’m part of a long line of autodidacts who just go for it. You’re finding stuff out in your middle age because you need to find out, not because you want to impress your colleagues. It’s very unlikely that I’m last in the line: the fact that my editor is thirty-two and you’re sitting in a car listening to me at nineteen is evidence that I’ve probably not even started.
Isn’t it worrying that we’re looking to someone from the previous generation?
No, it’s great evidence it is generational after all. I remember meeting Little Richard and being impressed that he was the one of the only first generation rock’n’rollers who was so affected by the spirits he conjured up that he had to become a man of the cloth. He was considered past it after four years. I made my first record at twenty-one and have been doing it for thirty years. It’s not because I’m talented, it’s because I was lucky. So I feel it’s my obligation to just keep it going until I’m no longer useful. In the old days they’d have put on an ice flow and sent me off to die. Nowadays we’re more compassionate: people just forget about you. But if people forget about me it’s because I became a bore.
What are you working on right now?
A book called ‘Lives of the Prophets: A New Perspective’ for Faber & Faber which is not due for about three years but it’s extremely controversial because of the prophets that I’m picking. I’m totally realigning what I consider prophets because I saw that they are only bad. I’m dealing withSt. Paul, Oliver Cromwell, Jim Morrison and Adolf Hitler. I’m saying that if Adolf Hitler was not a prophet then the Germans still owe as an explanation for what they did in the war. If they got behind a man who was a prophet you can forgive them.
Do you consider prophets to be imposed from above?
A prophet is an Ur-spirit that emanates from a locale and is a demon. That’s why I’m doing Cromwell, because he is as controversial to the Irish as Adolf is to the rest of Europe. He was talented motherfucker but a very evil one.
I’m also writing a book of the ancient law which questions why nobody must be above the law. That’s an explanation with a seventy-five site gazetteer of law sites ranging from prehistoric times to medieval times so that people visit to understand why the law should mean anything to us. Law sites are important because we must know what the law is even if it’s only to subvert the law.
The final book I’m working on is a book called ‘131’ which coming out in Italian about a vast prehistoric spirit that has fallen asleep in central Sardinia but is reawakened by four English football supporters during Italia ‘90. I’ve had three books that have come out in Italian and my publisher there asked to do the novel in Italian first. I consider it more useful to the Italian psyche than the British. I’ve already been asked to present the DH Lawrence literary prize at a University in Sardinia merely because I’m writing a novel set there.
What’s your work ethic?
I’m a rock’n’roller so I’ll get up at 6am and write straight through until 6pm and then get absolutely trashed. Anything archaeological has to be written straight; I can write the novel stoned and I can’t write anything at all if I’m alcoholically informed.
I always say I’m a pragmatic motherfucker but sometimes it’s difficult to be a pragmatic motherfucker because that should technically be an oxymoron. I am quite fucking crazy. You can’t do it unless you are crazy but you can’t achieve anything unless you can finish stuff. Quite often I will have periods that I term ‘death and the resurrection’ where I am just a fucking cunt. My wife banishes me to the annex in our house, my girls get shut of me for a while and I just writhe around in a pool of self-absorbedness before emerging.
How did the Black Sheep busking tour come about?
I decided to get the guys in the Black Sheep playing in far out places for ourselves. About three weeks into the organisation I got an email from Chris the producer asking if they could do a documentary about the Black Sheep. I was a cynic and thought he was trying to film the Royal Festival Hall show and I never let anyone film my shows. But he was just enthusiastic about the busking tour. It turned out to be really useful because they were so self-contained and just did their stuff. A lot of the time they were the audience because I’d picked such obscure places and not told anyone when we were going to be there. If I’m looking for evidence of black sheep these guys are it. Anyone who means stuff should be providing evidence that they really mean it. Intention is good but not enough. You can say it’s not the best heathen-folk album you’ve ever heard but you’ll have to admit that we don’t half barf this shit out.
Just one final thing: being nineteen you’ll find that youth is a natural propellant. But by the time you’re as young as twenty-two you’ll find some of our friends have already fallen off the programme. Use strategy and stealth and be careful with the people you befriend and you could still be doing it in a long while. But it’s the most privileged thing in the world. From me at fifty-one to you at nineteen: the evidence is clear, just soldier on. It’s a war of attrition but you have to keep going.
Maybe there’s a way to navigate the real world. Rock’n’roll changed my generation for the better. Hopefully your generation can take the ball and run with it a little further. So long as you don’t fall for this idea that you have to turn on the most people then there’s more chance of you sustaining it.
That’s how it ends: a torrent of hailstones and hardy fools, crushed together by the cemetery gates for a hint of warmth and illuminated by the lamps of a Ford Focus. Your classic heathen-agitrock lineup: two drums, two guitars, a placard and a Julian Cope.
We invoke the locked up, admission-fee charging spirit of Marx’s body. Karl responds with lightning and an extra dose of soggy hail that goes runs down the back of our begs, chilling us all. A week later Julian will be forced to cancel his massive Royal Festival Hall gig which had been months in the planning due to a ‘severe throat infection’. It’s hard to imagine that this helped. But he ploughs on through the setlist for this sparse, non-paying crowd.
The cars passing have a fleeting glance at a congregation in the rain. It normally takes a hefty dose of religion to get people out in this manner. And for all Cope’s anti-everything rhetoric he occupies a strange position: an institutional head of the outsiders.
“Come the revolution there will be no resurrection for you…”