Julian Cope - Biography

Julian Cope was born in Wales in October of 1957 and raised in the English Midlands town of Tamworth. Cope moved to Liverpool to attend college in his late teens, though he soon left school to pursue a life in music. From 1978 to 1982, Cope fronted The Teardrop Explodes, a psychedelic post-punk band that was, briefly, a pop sensation in the UK As a solo artist, Cope grew to be the heathen rocker, visionary, writer, and megalith scholar known as the Arch Drude— part Druid, part dude.


After Cope dissolved The Teardrop Explodes in November of 1982, he remained under contract to his old band’s label, Mercury Records, as a solo artist. His first solo release, 1984’s World Shut Your Mouth (Mercury), was an impeccable pop-psych album that was not particularly successful. Cope’s second album, Fried (1984 Mercury), appeared later the same year. The cover and title of Fried played with Cope’s image as an acid casualty; the cover depicted Cope crouching close to the earth underneath a gigantic turtle shell and playing with a red toy truck bearing the word FRIED. “Stoned in the gutter / Empty of my colour / I'm fried, fried…,” Cope sings on the album’s opening track, “Reynard the Fox,” which starts out as a gleaming example of Cope’s fusions of Krautrock and English glam before the song takes a hard left turn into horror-movie gore and a sense of crushing panic. During a performance of “Reynard the Fox” at the Hammersmith Palais earlier in 1984, Cope broke his microphone stand and used one of its jagged ends to slice up his stomach while quoting Kenneth Williams as Julius Caesar, “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me.”


Cope and Dorian Beslity, with whom Cope had fallen in love in 1981 while in New York with The Teardrop Explodes, were married in Long Island on October 28, 1984. Teenager Donald Ross Skinner, a.k.a. Donneye, started playing guitar in Cope’s band in early 1984 on radio sessions to promote World Shut Your Mouth, and has been an important collaborator with Cope ever since. Donneye and Cope’s brother Joss accompanied him on the 1985 sessions for a proposed third Mercury album, Skellington (1990 CopeCo/Zippo), which did not materialize until Cope released it to members of his fan club and then later through Zippo Records in 1990. Cope left Mercury in 1985 and signed to Island Records early in 1986. His EP Julian Cope (1986 Island), issued by Island that year, included an endearing three-chord song called “World Shut Your Mouth” and covers of songs by two of Cope’s American underground gods, Pere Ubu and 13th Floor Elevators. Like Pere Ubu’s contemporary Fontana releases, Cope’s Saint Julian (Island), released in 1987, and My Nation Underground (1988 Island), released in 1988, flirted with digital pop sheen and the commercial production sound of the era.


Skellington (CopeCo/Zippo) and Droolian (MoFoCo/Zippo), both initially self-released in 1990, were Cope’s next releases. Droolian, an album of loose homemade psychedelia, introduced Cope’s gigantic-headed alter ego Sqwubbsy and was released in Austin, Texas to protest the imprisonment of 13th Floor Elevators singer Roky Erickson.


On the 1991 double-album Peggy Suicide (Island), Cope managed to capture the live-sounding looseness of Droolian in an elaborately produced studio record. The album elaborates “a vision of the world” Cope had in summer 1990. Cope writes in the album’s liner notes, “In that vision I saw the Mother Earth — an enormous goddess standing upright and proud, but throwing her head back in pain and confusion at the treatment that Mankind has chosen to mete out to her.” This goddess is Peggy Suicide, and Cope imagines her uneasy relationship with humanity through a variety of styles, from relatively unadorned folk and Motown to straight Stooges-punk. The album is among Cope’s very best.


The mostly acoustic but heavy-rocking Jehovahkill (1992 Island)­ served as part two of the Peggy Suicide trilogy and raised its creative stakes. In November of 1992, the month after Jehovahkill’s release, a dispute with Island Records ended with Cope leaving the label. Cope started his own mailorder label, Ma-Gog, which released the first album in the meditative Rite series and Head-On, Cope’s Teardrop Explodes memoir. 1994’s Autogeddon (Def American), which completes the Peggy trilogy, is inspired at least in part by the apparently spontaneous explosion of the Copes’ car as it sat unattended in their driveway one night. Cope and producer Thighpaulsandra released the improvisational Queen Elizabeth (1994 Echo) later in the year. Queen Elizabeth would return on QE2 — Elizabeth Vagina (Head Heritage) in 1997. 


1995’s 20 Mothers (KAK/Echo) pays tribute to motherhood and women. Cope also published the influential guide to the Krautrock genre, KRAUTROCKSAMPLER (Head Heritage), in 1995. The beautifully packaged sci-fi album Interpreter (KAK/Echo), released in 1996, includes “The JULIAN COPE all purpose mythological mind map of THE MARLBOROUGH DOWNS & surrounding area,” a scale map displaying ancient monuments in the English country. Cope would devote the next year to the study of the UK’s ancient land and stone monuments, resulting in his large book The Modern Antiquarian, published by Thorsons in 1998, and a BBC documentary in 2000. In 1997, Cope started his Head Heritage website, which brings together a mailorder label, news and information about Cope, and one of the most useful collections of record reviews on the web.


In 1999, Cope formed the metal band Brain Donor, who unleashed the debut Love Peace & Fuck (Impresario) upon the world in 2001, along with subsequent albums Too Freud to Rock’n Roll, Too Jung To Die (Brain Donor) in 2003, Brain Donor (Mister E) in 2005, and Drain’d Boner (Invada) in 2006. Cope curated several festivals during the first years of the new millennium and appeared on SunnO)))’s WHITE1 (Southern Lord) in 2003. His next solo albums were Citizen Cain’d and Dark Orgasm, both released by Head Heritage in 2005. Cope’s masterpiece of secular Odinism, YOU GOTTA PROBLEM WITH ME (Head Heritage), followed in 2007. In 2008, he released the double-album Black Sheep (Head Heritage).   


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