I wasn't sure what to make of David Wrench's album, Spades & Hoes & Plows, when it was released earlier in 2010. It's basically old school folk given the Black Sheep treatment, and he has a voice that almost stops you in your tracks when you first hear it. By the time I reached the end of the album, I was figuring that it was a pretty interesting set, but for some reason couldn't muster the energy to listen to it again until recently. I'm glad I did. Yes, it is "'interesting", but there's a depth to it and not just because of that deep voice that would even bring gravity to a pizza order. Even so, I wasn't sure how this would work live, and walking in after Wrench had started his set could have been a hindrance when these pieces depend so much on mood. But work it did, as Wrench almost hammered his keyboard whilst Mike O'Sullivan carefully matched this rhythm on a big marching drum, before Wrench moved onto piano accordion for a more droney effect. His voice sounded great live too – possibly better than on record in fact.
Julian was in fine voice, too, as he treated us to two hours plus set that passed in the blink of an eye. He wasn't as chatty as he can be during these solo dates, but there was still time for much banter and, on the plus side, more songs. Indeed, he said early on that he was going to plough on with the music and that's pretty much what he did, giving us a set list to die for, from some old Teardrop Explodes numbers to the present day, resulting in a gig that found Cope at his best. Opening with a spoken word piece, Socrates Mine Enemy, he then picked up his guitar and launched into some early-mid 90s favourites - Upwards At 45 Degrees, Autogeddon Blues, Promised Land and Soul Desert – interrupted only by the old Teardrops chestnut Like Leila Khaled Said. Basically most of these songs on the guitar would take on the following form: Cope starting off with an almost gentle acoustic sound, before the effect pedals came into play and he cranked it up to almost uncomfortable levels of noise.
Julian Copes emnity for Socrates goes way back.
Cope then made his way to his trusty Mellotron and treated us to a new, as yet unreleased number, Julian In The Underworld, which was as the man himself said "pretty", though bizarrely it reminded me of The Sweeney TV theme tune at times. Head Hang Low followed, and although this is one of my favourite ever Cope tracks, I didn't think this one totally worked with Julian replacing those beautiful cor anglais lines with some high pitched wailing. I should stress this really is a minor gripe though!
Julian Cope rocks the mellotron.
He remained at the Mellotron long enough to follow this with a truly excellent take on Land Of Fear, before picking up another guitar for Come The Revolution. By this point, some tossers in the crowd who wouldn't shut up were starting to become somewhat irritating to the rest of us and to the man himself.
Still it did inspire a bit of inter-action that went something like this:
Drunk Woman: Nobody's moving.
Julian: What's the matter?
Drunk Woman: They won't move.
Julian: Why should they?
Drunk Woman: They're not dancing.
Julian: Well dance to this, motherfucker.
Dance to this, motherfucker!
And he then played something gentle like I'm Your Daddy. His to-the-pointness with the woman didn't really work and the beautiful Las Vegas Basement was marred slightly by the continued ramblings of this small section of the audience. So if any of you are reading – do us all a favour in future and either stay away from gigs or go to them without having a session in the pub first. You were a pain in the arse and no, you weren't funny.
Julian then sat at a keyboard and then treated us to Screaming Secrets, another one that initially dates back to the Teardrop days even if it wasn't actually released until it featured on the St Julian album some years later. To be honest, this wasn't the greatest version I've ever heard (that would have to be Teardrop's version on the Old Grey Whistle Test concert!), but O King Of Chaos from the Fried album sounded great on this keyboard.
More mellotron action.
Cope then briefly went back to the guitar for a Search Party / Double Vegetation double-header that almost merged into each other. It's hard to pick highlights from a gig this good, but the somewhat sinister Search Party was definitely one as far as I'm concerned. It was then back to the Mellotron for Why Are We Sleeping, a Soft Machine number that Cope said the Teardrops rehearsed but bottled out of playing, followed by fabulous takes on another couple of Teardrop faves, You Disappear From View and The Great Dominions. The latter was, and I don't say this idly, truly awesome. It's always been one of my favourite ever songs and Cope more than did it justice here. Despite the much quoted cryptic lyrics, I've always found it to be a somewhat poignant number and what with the passing of time and Cope singing this in such fine voice, I found myself in the rather embarrassing situation of having tears in my eyes. I don't know where they came from! Anyway, moving on...
Love the message on the drum.
By this time, Cope was aware of time being against him so he whizzed through a few more golden oldies – a lovely Greatness & Perfection, a fun but whistle free Robert Mitchum, a rather daft Sunspots with Julian doing the "meee-oww's" in a rather moronic voice, and a real energised take on Out Of My Mind On Dope & Speed before ending the gig with the trusty Pristeen. He'd jokingly promised he'd do an encore provided we demanded it enough, and he was as good as his word. Joined by Wrench on keyboards, Big Nige on percussion, Holy McGrail on effects and Acoustika on, er, flag waving, we got a slow, moody take on the erstwhile Sleeping Gas that sadly seemed to end just as it was really developing. If I had another minor gripe, it would be that he didn't use the additional personnel on more material, but that's not take nothing away from what was truly an excellent gig.