Incendiary take a stroll with Julian Cope – Part 3

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.

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.

Incendiary take a stroll with Julian Cope – Part 3


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 Greenwich but 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.



IN: Do you fear falling into the stereotype of an ageing rocker playing the hits one more time?

JC: (Pause). Not at all.


IN: How long can you keep reinventing yourself?

JC: 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.


IN: Would that suit you? A combination of misappropriation and a handful of people who really get it?

JC: No. I want to be understood. I think I have an absolute obligation to be understood.


IN: Do you achieve that?

JC: 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.


IN: Is there anything that bothers you about how you’re portrayed?

JC: 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.


IN: Where does this incredible work ethic come from? A wish to be understood properly?

JC: 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”.


IN: 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.

JC: 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: In terms of the record industry no one nowadays could play the system like you managed it in the past.

JC: 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 with Island. 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.


JC: 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.


IN: How far do our responsibilities stretch?

JC: 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 into Britain 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.


IN: Why the decision to diversify away from music?

JC: 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.


IN: Truth or legend?

JC: 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.


IN: Why the return to a more personal form of pop music in recent releases?

JC: 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.


IN: Is music still the priority?

JC: 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.


IN: Is that the same with everything you produce, that experience has to go into it?

JC: 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.


To Return to Part One, click here. Part Two is here.

Part Four, where we learn of being an outsider and a popstar is here.

Part Five is here.