'I've really far-out things to tell you. Since 22 December 1989, I have been in a different spiritual state. I now term everything before that date "pre-vision" '

INTERVIEW: Paul Du Noyer talks to Julian Cope - former punk, gentle loon, practising Holy Fool and rocker with a thing about stones Photograph by Herbie Knott
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The Independent Culture
When somebody opens their conversation with a statement of that sort, your instinct says: keep them talking and scan the room for the quickest way out. When that somebody is a lean, fire-eyed ragamuffin of a man with half his head shaved, your instinct adds: on second thoughts, just run for it right away.

But calmer thoughts prevail. It's only old Copey, after all. Julian Cope, the former star of pop band The Teardrop Explodes, a fully licensed gentle loon and practising Holy Fool since 1978 ... Julian Cope, who pranced before the cameras of Top of the Pops, brightly declaiming "Bless my cotton socks, I'm in the news" when his Liverpool band was clocking up hits like "Reward" and "Treason" and "Passionate Friend" in the early 1980s. That was then. And now, in '95, Copey has become a New Age Mystic. In a way, it was always on the cards.

Take ley-lines, a very Copey thing now. The only thing we all know for sure about ley-lines is that they're meant to be straight. Yet the bugger that Julian Cope has followed these past 17 years has had more curls and twists in it than a very curly, twisty thing indeed. He was raised a polite, middle-class boy in the Midlands town of Tamworth. He went to a teacher training college in Liverpool as his parents wished, and became a punk rocker, which they did not. He was sucked into Liverpool's hothouse new- wave music scene and with The Teardrop Explodes became a pin-up and international pop celebrity.

He was famed for taking enough hallucinogenic drugs to keep the population of China happy until Christmas. Yet he grew unhappy, and split the band up in 1982. They were commemorated in a posthumous album, Everyone Wants to Shag the Teardrop Explodes. By his second solo LP, Fried, he was seen on its front cover squatting naked, a sizeable turtle-shell on his back. He was dropped by two record companies. We saw little of him until 1990 when he turned up at anti-poll tax demonstrations dressed as a 7ft space alien called "Sqwubbsy" and wondering whether to assassinate Margaret Thatcher.

Today, Cope has a new record deal and a forthcoming album, 20 Mothers, that finds him back on track commercially. We may yet see him on Top of the Pops once more. However, his mind is on matters much weightier than chart placings. There are, for example, the "visions" he has been seeing since 1989, first announced on his 1991 record Peggy Suicide, dedicated to his pagan goddess, the much put-upon Mother Earth.

Feeling the pull of England's magical south-west - Glastonbury, neolithic mounds, stone circles - he moved in 1993 to a village in Wiltshire where he lives today with his American wife Dorian and their daughters Albany and Avalon. The Cope household is a pleasant domestic jumble of Frank Zappa tapes and Thomas the Tank Engine toys. Proudly, he says the house stands within 20 miles of nearly all the 15 prehistoric white horses known to be etched into Britain's chalk hills. One of his newest songs has the title "WESSEXY." Another is called "By the Light of the Silbury Moon".

Nursing a mug of tea, he recounts some of his visions. Once he was "astrally projected" from a hotel room in Liverpool. He describes the experience as looking somewhat like the cover of Deep Purple's 1971 LP Fireball. A spinning diamond entered his skull, filling him with light, "like a cosmic petrol pump attendant". Sometimes there are voices, too, with messages such as "To penetrate the diamond, the pituitary gland gets torn on its axis and frees."

Apropos of nothing in particular, I ask if he still takes drugs. "They were important to me. But in 1985, I stopped taking psychedelic drugs. I was off them until December 1993, and then I took three mushroom trips. But that was more because of The Modern Antiquarian." The modern what? The Modern Antiquarian turns out to be Julian's great project now. It is a book he is writing on archaeology, describing the hundreds of ancient sites he has visited around the British Isles. "I thought, 'What can I bring to the party that nobody else has? A-ha! LSD and mushrooms!' But all I do now is walk every day."

Indeed, he walks the Wessex hills and trackways with obsessive energy, managing up to 100 miles a week. "The reason I started doing The Modern Antiquarian was, I came out of punk, when Stonehenge was the ultimate symbol of bollocks. Then I had a spiritual awakening which led me down this path to the stones. You can imagine how I felt - like King Plank, basically... I was fucked up on drugs. It took me a long while to realise I had anything going in the psychic areas. I just thought, 'Oh, I'd be perfectly normal if it wasn't for the fact that I was on drugs.' I realised that a lot of the voices were saying, 'You have got to work like a bastard.' So I've worked constantly and the vision state has never left me. Sometimes it drives Dorian crazy, but Dorian is in quite a vision state as well, which is probably the reason she can bear to be around me. I have to speak out: the voices have told me I have to stop fucking around. I'm here to build up a trust in the far out, the unknown. People may not need God, but they do need something."

On a walk last week, he noticed a neolithic holed stone, probably of a sacred nature. "I've discovered so many things. I'm not trying to beat the orthodox scholars, but I'm writing the book as someone who's been to all the places he writes about. Basically I'm a pagan. I'm a New Age Pol Pot: it's the Land! the Land! the Land!"

Cope may look the part of New Age Mystic, but he's odder in the context of his library, full of geological specimens and musty old tomes by tweedy antiquarians. His own apparel is made for him by a friend called Psychedelic Paul. Their current taste runs to fluorescent jackets of the sort you might wear if your hobby were, say, collecting motorway cones after dark.

"It's very safe, very bright, fluorescent gear. I am emitting light! I am supposed to be this glorious being, so it's a pop art metaphor. And the police take you seriously. We went to Glastonbury, they just waved us through! It's Pavlovian. Now when I see a crossing lady, I feel a kindred spirit."

Julian's new music, he's pleased to admit, is catchier than anything he has done for years. But as one of his closest associates says: "For Julian, success does not breed success. It breeds confusion." The mercenary world of Tin Pan Alley seems a million miles from this enthusiastic dreamer and his peaceful Wiltshire hamlet. Could he ever get back in the swim?

"No. I can't do that. I can't bear the city. My American label thinks I've given them a hit, so they want me to go over there, and I'm trying to wriggle out of it. I can't bear to be in a culture where there's no place to walk. I've become so mystical now. The idea of America is murderous to me because those people are the same lunatics we have here, only with guns. I'm like an artist in the hills. The day that I go down into Sodom will be the day that it all goes off."

In October, he will publish yet another book, Krautrocksampler, all about the gruelling underground sounds made by German hippy bands such as Faust, Ash Ra Temple and Tangerine Dream. He talks of it with evangelical zeal: "It's the most visionary art form of the 20th century, made by young people whose parents were directly or indirectly involved in causing the Holocaust." He quotes the book's introduction: "Kraut Rock was what punk would have been if Johnny Rotten alone had been in charge - a kind of pagan freak- out LSD 'Explore the God in you by working the animal in you' gnostic odyssey."

So that's where Julian Cope has been. On a gnostic odyssey. He cites with approval his fellow author Joseph Campbell's distinction between hero and celebrity. "He said something like: The celebrity loves his audience and will do everything for them, balance on high buildings, dance with dangerous animals. The hero will do it even when there's no audience.

"I think I've got a job. I'm invested with this thing that Gurdjieff calls 'Being Duty'. Everything that I do can be nourishing in some way. I have a lot to do before I'm 60 - nothing unbelievable, but the most important thing is that I stated unequivocally that I was in a visionary state. I don't want to piss people off, I hate people being David Icke about it, but I've waited a long while to speak out. And it's an utterly practical trip. If I was so far out, I wouldn't be able to put out double albums and write books, because people who are that far out can't do anything. And none of my dreams is impossible."

The key, declares Cope, is persistence. Another writer, Israel Regardie, is hauled off the shelf: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence." Not talent or genius or education. "Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." Julian remembers the second Teardrop Explodes single, "Bouncing Babies". "Even after that they were still talking about getting another singer in. That was persistence on my part. And Will Sergeant [from Cope's great Liverpool rivals Echo & the Bunnymen] became good-looking! He was actually known as Baked Beans on Toast Face. You can do it. I will persist!

"I feel I've got more time now. Everything was a hurry before, because I felt I was getting older. But now, I think, by the time I'm 50 I could do all this. I look at my mother-in-law and I fancy her second in the world after my wife. If she can be that gorgeous in her mid-60s then I don't fear getting old because my wife will look amazing."

At 37, Cope's soul seems as boyish as it ever was. There is not a shred of reserve or calculation in his words. His singing voice has always been attractive, if not technically exceptional. Its transcendent virtue was that it was incapable of sounding insincere, even when the lyrics baffled you. So it is with his conversation. In the end, I am rather sorry to leave.

Going downstairs, he cocks a leg across the Mothercare safety gate. "I've just got to pursue it until I'm so insane that they put me away. I have back-up. My wife and my mother-in-law are not saying 'You're a fucking kook, Julian.' They're saying 'You're a vibe, Julian. Keep it together.' "

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