Incendiary take a stroll with Julian Cope -Part 5

I’m a rock’n’roller so I’ll get up at 6am and write straight through until 6pm and then get absolutely trashed.


IN: Do you believe in an inner-pagan self?

JC: 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 and Stonehenge 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.


IN: How’s life as an outsider academic?

JC: 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 up Beckhampton 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.


IN: Apart from you.

JC: 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.


IN: Isn’t it worrying that we’re looking to someone from the previous generation?

JC: 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.


IN: What are you working on right now?

JC: 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 with St. 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.


IN: Do you consider prophets to be imposed from above?

JC: 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.


IN: What’s your work ethic?

JC: 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.


IN: How did the Black Sheep busking tour come about?

JC: 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…”


Return here to Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.


Words: James Waterson

Pics: courtesy of Head Heritage.