Music review: Julian Cope, Liquid Room, Edinburgh

How does one address Julian Cope these days? The former Teardrop Explodes frontman has many guises – post-punk hero, indie pop troubadour, historical writer, esteemed academic, playful political commentator, gnostic rocker, Krautrocker, drone rocker, off his rocker – not to mention his numerous appellations: arch-drude (“self-styled” he added), Lord Yatesbury and now Grand Prince Julian, presumptive ruler of Sutherland, resplendent in his trademark hippy military chic. “I’ll try not to be too imperious,” he reassured his acolytes.

Julian Cope PIC: Valerio Berdini/Shutterstock

Julian Cope, Liquid Room, Edinburgh ****  

Cope was conscious that, on his last visit, the talking/playing ratio was perhaps weighted too heavily towards the former. This set, he contended, would involve more songs, played solo, mostly on acoustic guitar with additional effects and a brief diversion to keyboards for a plaintive yet beefy The Great Dominion. But first, some chat…

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Cope is an entertaining and erudite host who comes at life from an informed if eccentric historical perspective with songs born of curiosity, not anger. The light fragrant folk pop of C***s Can F*** Off was written mischievously to offend American linguistic sensibilities. New album Self Civil War – the title lifted from a pre-English Civil War poem – has been inspired by the times we live in, with countries and individuals divided against themselves.

The direct acoustic punk ditty Your Facebook My Laptopwas a none more current cautionary tale of online behaviour, while back catalogue gem The Greatness and Perfection of Love was an ideal pop nugget for Valentine’s weekend. “This would have been a hit if anyone had bought it,” Cope quipped.

There would arguably be greater fortune to be made if he accepted offers to reform The Teardrop Explodes but this apparently will not happen for aesthetic reasons. Instead his solo rendition of Passionate Friend and the glorious Treason more than sufficed.

Cope prefers to plough his own furrow. It was no accident that he arrived in Scotland by the road less travelled (aka the A1) with a Hawkwind-style vapour trail behind his environmental anthem Autogeddon Blues. Not for him the return of the old post-punk chaos and excess – you can leave that to the ancients.

The sing-a-longa They Were on Hard Drugs is based on Cope’s own research of ancient civilisations. His semi-electrified encore Out of My Mind on Dope and Speed (with nods to Status Quo’s Pictures of Matchstick Men and the New York Dolls) – well, that one might just have a personal dimension. Fiona Shepherd