Julian Cope - Head On/Repossessed

Hey ho, Julian Cope.



Hey ho, Julian Cope. "A name to split musical opinion if ever there was one. Copey has always set store in ploughing his own sonic furrow, much to many people's annoyance and frustration". Well fuck that twaddle. This is a must read, whatever your opinions on Cope are. "Head On" is an account of Cope's time in Liverpool during the punk explosion and its post punk aftermath, revolving round the now legendary Erics club on Matthew Street, and, in which, as you probably guessed, our Julian was a major player.



In some ways, his development from a disillusioned student punk to hung up provincial rock n roll wannabe to crazy drugged loon is the classic teenage dream played out to its nadir. Take the punk movement; Cope's description of the night The Clash played Erics is brimful of teenage enthusiasm; the perfect evocation of nights we've all experienced  at gigs, where the mood inside the club felt invincible, indestructible, where you half believed that the music played on the night was really going to change things. For all "Head On"'s caustic put downs, small town bitchiness and tongue in cheek witticisms it's the enthusiasm for the music that comes tearing through.


Every band Cope & his mates get into, you want to get into. And who doesn't recognize this classic bedroom scenario (when your parents are out of course)

"We called our writing group Uh? A Dave Pickett expression and an internationally lame name. See, this was work. We knew something would come out of it but we weren't in a hurry. Simmo didn't write. He kind of postured on our behalf. If Mac and I got too embarrassing, he'd rush out and buy milk.

"Eh, Julian 'ave got this song, "Iggy Pop". Mac was deadly serious as he showed me the most low grade riff of all time. It was Buddy Holly doing "Surfin' Bird".

"Uh-er, Iggy Pow-uh-op, Uh –er Iggy Pow-uh-op, At the high school hop, at the high school hop".

It was a lost classic. It really was. I'm not sentimental for the most part. I know what is good and a lot of this stuff did suck. But sometimes it was fucking brilliant".


Once Cope's group, The Teardrop Explodes, start rumbling into action (aided by Bill Drummond's Zoo label), the book's tone hardens perceptibly. The competition with Zoo label mates Echo & The Bunnymen and other "scenesters" leads to a classic account of inter/intra label bitchiness that isn't helped by Cope's discovery of narcotics.


"I sucked hard on the joint.......I sunk lifelessly behind the couch and the rest of them started to laugh. My head cleared up. My aching, which had been there since my teenage years started to evaporate. Out of the top of my head I could feel all the little devils flying off. They were muttering to each other about how I had been saved. Yes, I was saved, I felt clean. I was 22 and I felt free".




The story of the Teardrop Explodes is, from then on, effectively akin to a glamorous, glorious, chaotic and colourful merry go round. Successive personnel, and adventurous loonies, take their places on, and eventually fall off the ride, until it all comes crashing to a confused and bitter ending. The drug stories become legion and are, on the whole, extremely amusing, though Cope often wonders aloud when it is all going to stop. Stop it did after a dramatic fall from the public's affections and a disastrous tour as a three piece late in 1982. Which is when "Repossessed" kicks off.



"Repossessed" is a much more provocative read, insular and reflective where "Head On" is "in yer face", weary and frustrated where the former book is almost over enthusiastic. Cope picks up the post Teardrop pieces and chronicles what is effectively the rebuilding of his life. Now ensconced in the Midlands with his wife Dorian, Cope is suddenly disenfranchised from the music industry. With his first two solo LPs, (now smugly and sedately acknowledged by all and sundry in the music bizz as classics), savaged, and his image as dangerous rent-a-drug loony firmly entrenched in the public's perception; Cope's efforts to re align his public and artistic self with his inner beliefs and vision, whilst striving to lead a normal life, (at times a somewhat uphill struggle), come across as heroic.


There are "lapses"; the wading through a river to go shopping, (I'm not going to explain that), the self immolation at live shows, and drug inspired hoovering. But, as Cope says, "there was a strange and anti 80s glow about my behaviour".


When the "restoration" takes place in 1986, it is mainly due to a catatonic plate shift in music company politics. For, at the beginning of that year, his "public face was never more crazy. There were stories about my selling songs to workers on Paul McCartney's trout farm in the north of Scotland after the great man had refused to see me." Island Records sign him, he is scrubbed, his long awaited and long gestated Saint Julian album is given its release, and Cope finds himself on Top of The Pops with the anthemic World Shut Your Mouth.


However two years later, Cope has, mainly due to the inflated hopes and control freakery of Island, fallen foul of the record buying public. He is enough of a trooper this time around to fight his corner and work out an inspiring alternative to record company machinations. The rest of the book charts his battle with cynical meedja executives and the slutty late 80s music scene in general. He is given added and unwelcome impetus with the tragic death of the Bunnymen's Pete De Freitas, which steels his resolve to work out and further hone his artistic self. Yet this is an wonderful part of the book. I defy anyone not to get excited or inspired by his "discovery" of Lester Bangs, or by the account of the recording of The Skellington Chronicles. Actually, if you have read it and are not inspired, what the fuck are you doing dabbling in this stuff anyway?


"Repossessed" finishes on a great self revelatory episode and a touching farewell to Pete De Freitas. But you the reader are left frustrated; due mainly to the fact that this book is very more-ish, almost, (if I can go "All Literary" on you), like reading Anthony Powell or Peter Ackroyd. Hell, enough wittering. Buy it from his website, (head heritage.com), or get it ordered (anyone know of a good rock n' roll bookshop in the Randstad?) And, most of all, Oi! Copey! When's the next installment?


Words: Richard Foster

Illustration : Richard Foster