This isn’t professional footage, but it’s the only footage you’re likely ever to see of Julian Cope’s unhinged performance at the first Phoenix Festival, held near Stratford-upon-Avon in 1993. Captured two-thirds of the way through recording the sublime Peggy Suicide trilogy and in the full flower of manhood, Cope and band blast through a thirteen-song set drawn mostly from this beloved period of the Arch-Drude’s solo career.
As if to fulfill an ancient prophecy, Cope played Stratford a little over four centuries after Shakespeare moved away from the town to make his name in London. In fact, I believe the Bard foretold this performance in Act 3, Scene 3 of Henry V. It’s all there but the yellow jockstrap:
The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,
And the flesh’d soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.
To Island Records’ lasting shame, the label had dropped Cope days after the release of 1992’s JEHOVAHKILL, which remains one of his very best albums. In the UK, this dickhead move redounded to Cope’s benefit, making Island look greedy and clueless, Cope righteous and cooler than ever. So here he was, less than a year later, playing second only to Sonic Youth on the first night of a big new festival.
He takes the stage in a boilersuit and some kind of bearded headgear about which I am not qualified to speculate, kicking off with JEHOVAHKILL‘s motorik epic “The Subtle Energies Commission.” Cope then strips down (have I mentioned the yellow jockstrap?) to sing the most brain-damaging song in his oeuvre, “Hanging Out & Hung Up On The Line,” and if your full attention hasn’t been captured by this point, then I suspect you and I might disagree about what constitutes an interesting phenomenon, to say nothing of “a good time.”
Julian Cope live at the Phoenix Festival, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1993
In case you want to watch Julian Cope but crave higher production values, here’s an excellent feature from a 1991 episode of BBC’s The Late Show:
And check out Cope’s new “time-shifting gnostic hooligan road novel,” One Three One.