The Teardrop Explodes - Biography
By Oliver Hall
The Teardrop Explodes was a Liverpool-based, psychedelic post-punk band that first brought songwriter and wild frontman Julian Cope to fame. The band’s first album, Kilimanjaro (1980 Fontana), wedded the new rhythms of post-punk with the sounds of psychedelic rock and English glam.
Cope was a record addict whose first love had been krautrock bands such as Can, Faust, and Neu!. By 1976, Cope was going to punk shows around England and eating up early records by the great US underground bands Pere Ubu and The Residents, as well as the heavy psychedelia of Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets compilation. In 1977, Cope played bass with the Crucial Three, whose other members were Pete Wylie and Ian McCulloch. Cope also formed The Hungry Types, a short-lived experimental band, and a Burroughs and Situationist-inspired project called the Nova Mob, which issued a petition to break up the popular Liverpool band Big in Japan. Cope, McCulloch, and drummer Dave Pickett played together as Uh? in 1978. Uh? changed their name to A Shallow Madness, which grew to include keyboardist Paul Simpson and guitarist Mick Finkler. After Cope kicked McCulloch out of the band, A Shallow Madness dissolved and McCulloch formed Echo & the Bunnymen.
Cope and Simpson renamed their band The Teardrop Explodes, after a mystifying phrase that took up a panel in a comic book (Cope remembers it as a Super D.C. comic, though it was in fact Marvel’s Daredevil #77). “And no-one had a name like that,” Cope explains in his 1994 memoir Head-On. “September 1978 was all short dour names. Ours was far-fucking-out.” Dave Pickett was swiftly replaced by drummer Gary Dwyer and the band wasted little time, recording its first session in December of 1978. Their first single, “Sleeping Gas,” (1979 Zoo Records) was released in early 1979 by Zoo Records, a new Liverpool label co-owned by former Big in Japan members Dave Balfe and Bill Drummond. The following February, the record was an NME Single of the Week, as was July’s “Bouncing Babies” (1979 Zoo), and the band soon found itself performing on television and playing to larger crowds in Northern England.
Simpson left The Teardrop Explodes in the spring of 1979 to form his own band, Wild Swans, and Dave Balfe replaced him on keys. The Teardrop Explodes and Echo & the Bunnymen co-headlined a Zoo Records package tour and their third single, “Treason” (1980 Zoo), followed in 1980. They set about recording their first full-length album with the working title Everybody Wants to Shag The Teardrop Explodes, but were unhappy with the result. Guitarist Finkler was 86ed and replaced by Alan Gill of the band Dalek I Love You. After the band’s first shows in New York in the summer of 1980, Mercury Records signed them. With funding from the label, The Teardrop Explodes took the Everybody Wants to Shag tapes back to the studio. Gill recorded over much of Finkler’s guitar and Cope rerecorded his vocals. The resulting album was released as Kilimanjaro (1980 Mercury).
Gill and Cope co-wrote “Reward” (1981 Mercury), a hit single in Britain that got the band on the UK’s popular music show, Top of the Pops. Press articles about the band publicized the members’ (especially Cope’s) fondness for psychedelic drugs. Gill left The Teardrop Explodes before the single’s release and returned to Dalek I Love You. Zoo co-owner Drummond’s candidate, Troy Tate, replaced Gill. The band toured the United States and Canada in summer 1981 with musicians Alfie Agius on bass and Jeff Hammer on keyboards. Life as a pop star increasingly alienated Cope from his first wife, Kathy. He met and fell in love with Dorian Beslity, now his wife Dorian Cope, at a show in Albany, New York in early 1981.
After the summer tour, recording began on the second Teardrop Explodes album in London’s Air Studios. “Compared with Kilimanjaro, the new album was not even made by a group,” Cope writes in Head-On. “[Producer] Clive Langer would play guitar, Balfe made all the weird synth noises, and I played most of the piano and organ.” This album, Wilder (1981 Mercury), is in many respects more adventurous than Kilimanjaro and was not the commercial success Mercury expected.
Zoo Records began to hold a happening called Club Zoo, which consisted of five simultaneous events in a five story building in Liverpool. The Teardrop Explodes headlined Club Zoo, playing two sets a night in the building’s basement. Club Zoo visited Dublin in January of 1982. The band then toured Australia, New Zealand, and the United States that spring. The Teardrop Explodes opened two Queen shows at English stadiums that June.
According to Cope’s account in Head-On, Balfe tried to take total control of the sessions for the third, never-completed album. These sessions reportedly ended with Dwyer chasing Balfe around the grounds of an English estate with a double-barrel shotgun. After those sessions, Cope, Dwyer, and Balfe played a handful of shows in Northern England, ending with a disastrous show in Manchester. Cope announced the band’s breakup in November of 1982. Cope’s illustrious solo career began with two albums issued on Mercury in 1984, World Shut Your Mouth (1984 Mercury) and Fried (1984 Mercury).