IT is still hard not to think of it as The Neptune, but The Epstein is a small and elegant theatre that is nearly a century old.
The original owners were Crane’s music store and one of its functions was as a demonstration space for their wares.
Tonight there is just one instrument on the stage, it’s a bass drum on a pedestal and it bears the legend You Can’t Beat Your Brain For Entertainment. Safe to say that this was not something that Crane’s left behind.
It seems an incongruous place for a Julian Cope gig but, then again, these days it is difficult to imagine anywhere that he might look otherwise.
There is no escaping the fact that Julian Cope is still the clown prince of the Crucial Three
His physiognomy is barely visible behind his ever-present shades, hat, mass of golden(ish) locks and out-of-control facial fungus. One splendid recent photograph sees him sitting in an armchair sporting full biker gear, including gauntlets. He looks like he is waiting for afternoon tea in a rest home for acid casualties.
Once he takes the stage though, there is no mistaking those rich tones as he regales us with the convoluted saga of how he nearly didn’t make it here, including detailed accounts of motorway turn-offs and nearing where his alma mater CF Mott College once stood, in Prescot, before opening with I’m Living In The Room They Found Saddam In.
Cope is immediately into his stride, dealing with hecklers with urbane wit.
He may be just a lad from Monmouthshire, via Tamworth, but he still credits Liverpool as being the cultural starting point.
After first announcing he is against reunions, he changes his mind: “If Kate Bush can do it… so can I", before dispatching the epic Teardrop Explodes song The Culture Bunker.
They Were On Hard Drugs is introduced by tracing parallels in history from an ancient tribe that stashed hallucinogenic drugs in caves right up to Echo and the Bunnymen bass player Les Pattinson, who, legend has it, would tape a tab of acid to his belt in case of emergencies.
To Julian Cope, history and life are but a seamless web. The theme is further explored by Psychedelic Revolution followed by another rummage into his back catalogue for Sunspots, from the album Fried, still chugging merrily along it’s idiosyncratic, turtle shell clad way.
A night or two earlier, on BBC Radio 6Music, Gideon Coe had played a 1981 Peel session by the Teardrops which included an impertinent cover of Wah! Heat’s debut single, Better Scream. Tonight, there another knowing and wry nod in Pete Wylie’s general direction with “Liver As Big As Hartlepool”. There is no escaping the fact that Julian Cope is still the clown prince of the Crucial Three. Master of the Revels is a role that he clearly revels in.
“I’m going to do one of the ba-ba-ba songs now,” he tells us, before an exquisite Greatness and Perfection of Love. It’s a reminder, as if we really needed one, that Cope not only has an innate pop sensibility, he remains a hopeless romantic. Although it can be said that C**** Can F*** Off is not Cope at his most dewy-eyed.
Throughout the set, Cope had been strumming/thrashing an acoustic guitaremblazoned with the slogan When We Rise. Whether this was in the morning when we rise, or a cris de guerre is not clear.
After a sweet and pristine Pristeen, he connects to effects pedals that turn his guitar in to an aural sonic screwdriver for Autogeddon Blues. No prisoners are taken and several eardrums are perforated in the maelstrom.
He encores with Treason, one of his finest moments, and still sounding vital.
We leave with a barely disguised beatific grins playing across our faces. Julian Cope: still telling the world to shut its mouth, not caring if it’s really listening.
An elegant chaos.
*Related! Paul Terence Madden's Walking Guide to Avebury is available here. In the meantime, he will be exhibiting two new paintings in a mixed show at Domino Gallery, 11 Upper Newington, Liverpool L1. It opens next Friday, February 13, with a private view at 6pm.
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