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Drive, She Said: A retrospective of Julian Cope
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I'm in a Shinjuku record shop with a fistful of cash, looking through the shelves labelled "indies" without a clue what I'm looking for, simply clinging to a bloody-minded determination to buy something Japanese, when I see it. A CD in a card sleeve, a gaudy, treated photo of a girl in a leather jacket on the cover, the name "Voodoo Hawaiians" proudly displayed on the front. Within a matter of seconds it's in my hands and within a minute it's safely tucked away in an extra layer of unnecessary plastic wrapping, courtesy of the lovely record shop staff. The cover and the band name had been enough to prepare me for the extreme likelihood of awfulness but I bought it anyway because of the title. I'd heard those words before and they were setting off a ringing, insistent chorus in my head.

"Drive, She Said".

I'm now sitting at my desk in the grip of a freezing cold January evening, snow falling behind my window and forty years of rock history hurtling through my head as Julian Cope's 1991 double-album behemoth "Peggy Suicide" unwinds in my stereo. The Voodoo Hawaiians were total shit of course, the kind of pointless walk-in-the-park garage that sucked in 1964 and sucks harder with the benefit of those extra forty years hindsight. Now, with the resurrection of garage having granted legitimacy to vast swathes of like-minded monkey crap, the question hangs open. Which relics of rock's past are worth keeping?

This is the story of one man who tried to answer this question. The year is 1977 and three young Liverpool scenesters, tripping on pure energy after watching The Clash, have decided to form a band. The situation with music was similar then to how it is now. The first wave of punk bands was over, the gospel had spread out from its spiritual home in New York and London, people were looking for new directions to explore. Of course if you watch The Clash no sensible person's going to try to form a band that sounds like The Clash, you take that inspiration and try to pour it into something that speaks to you. You look at yourself and ask "Who am I and who do I want to be?" Pete Wylie, the first of the three, wanted to be Liverpool's answer to Bruce Springsteen, Ian McCulloch, the second, wanted to be David Bowie. Julian Cope, the last, wanted to be all of the above as well as Arthur Lee, Scott Walker, Pere Ubu, Tom Verlaine, Iggy Pop, Sky Saxon and every cool American rock shaman who ever strutted a stage.

Their band, The Crucial Three, never passed the starting flag but each member went on to pursue their muse independently, Wylie with Wah! Heat and The Mighty Wah!, McCulloch with the legendary Echo & The Bunnymen, and Cope with The Teardrop Explodes.

The Teardrops exploded onto the scene in 1979 with "Sleeping Gas" on Bill Drummond's Zoo label. It was a classic debut which took the prevailing faster-is-better attitude of punk by the ears and shook it until all it could do was stagger in circles, jerking spasmodically. Along with Gang Of Four and Wire it formed the blueprint for the British post-punk sound, taking the already weak-as-hell guitars of the punk bands, turning them down another notch and leading the song by the nose by means of a swirling, cyclical bassline. Unlike their contemporaries however, The Teardrop Explodes veered away from the sharp, angular guitars which were still indebted to the angry, confrontational philosophy of punk, and, bolstered by Dave Balfe's woozy keyboards, moved cautiously towards something frightfully uncool but also richly tantalising. Psychedelia.

Julian Cope
The Teardrop Explodes' first press shot; January 1979.
Rightly decried as hippy and therefore worthless, most psychedelia was synonymous with excess, decadence and general rock wankery. Nevertheless Cope had by this time given himself a firm education in the edgy, experimental fringes of the 60s garage scene and in the first Teardrop Explodes album, "Kilimanjaro", he employed this knowledge to captivating effect. The heart-surge of the trumpets on "Went Crazy" and "Ha Ha I'm Drowning" recalling the mariachi fanfares of Love circa "Forever Changes", the repetitive, minimalist song structures of "Poppies" and "When I Dream" summoning up distorted images of The Seeds as well as the looming shadow of such krautrock luminaries as Neu! and Faust. The sound was most memorably captured a year later on the non-album single "Reward" which distilled everything which was great about not only the band but the entirety of about half a dozen different genres of music into less then three minutes of purest genius pop.

By this time, guitarist Mick Finkler had been fired and replaced by Alan Gill from Dalek I Love You who had promptly introduced the already unstable Cope to the joys of acid. The band ripped apart and pulled back together like The Libertines' more erratic older stepbrothers, leaving a trail of destruction and ex-guitarists in their wake. When their second album "Wilder" emerged it was met with disappointment from fans and the music press alike. You could blame the change in musical climate with the shiny, polished, Roxy Music inspired New Romantic bands such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet beginning to hog the limelight or you could blame the darker, more introspective nature of "Wilder" contrasting with the expectations of the Teardrops' teen following but the main reason was Cope himself. He was out of control, ripped on drugs, tripping like a madman, screaming abuse at his teenage female fans, attempting to kill his bandmate Balfe with a shotgun (he denies this, attributing the incident to equally fucked drummer Gary Dwyer), generally making a complete prat of himself at every available opportunity. He had programmed himself for destruction and when in November 1982 he finally pulled the plug, many believed that it had been a mercy killing.

In the video for 'Treason' Julian Cope wore Kiss make-up on Pall Mall to weird out the German tourists.
HITS 1981
NME 1981
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