Eighties idol hits big time as prehistoric rock star

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The Independent Culture

To many he is the indie star who first found fame as the frontman for The Teardrop Explodes and, apart from a bizarre appearance on Top of the Pops dressed in a thong, faded into cult obscurity.

To many he is the indie star who first found fame as the frontman for The Teardrop Explodes and, apart from a bizarre appearance on Top of the Pops dressed in a thong, faded into cult obscurity.

But to his publisher, Julian Cope is an extraordinary - albeit unlikely - book phenomenon, having reinvented himself as a sage of the prehistoric era.

The musician is now regarded as an authority on the pagan world with a best-selling tome behind him, The Modern Antiquarian, about the stone circles of Britain, which went on to be adapted into a BBC2 documentary. Despite being the size of an atlas and with a cover price of £30, it sold 30,000 copies - a colossal figure for such a specialist publication.

Now Cope, 46, is aiming to repeat the success with a definitive guide to the prehistoric sites of Europe to be published next month. It is the result of five years' work and involved visits to 550 locations, which he whittled down to 320 for inclusion in The Megalithic European. Such is the expectation that his publisher, an offshoot of HarperCollins, has already commissioned his next book.

The books are a hybrid of historical scholarship, travelogue and guide book to some of the world's oldest man-made structures. The singer of "Reward" and "Treason" and former chart star who once graced the covers of teen pop magazines has even hosted well-attended lecture tours to expand on his views about the ancient world.

Even he is bemused by the success: "It is a weird one. Neither I nor the publishers expected anything like it. I think they were being very forward-thinking just publishing it, and I think it has put them in a very strong position. When they commissioned this new one it was a chance to consolidate what we did in the first one."

Cope - whose solo hits include the anthemic "World Shut Your Mouth" - had initially explored his fascination with our pagan past through his music, but after a warm reception for his autobiography Head On - followed by a later volume, Repossessed - his publisher agreed to take on his exploration of a different kind of rock.

Although he continues to make music, releasing a vast amount of music through his Headheritage website under a variety of aliases such as Brain Donor and Queen Elizabeth, much of his time has been taken up with his research and writing.

"I'm in an enviable position to be able to do it. I see so many of my contemporaries in the invidious position of having to get their groups back together to make some money, but I don't have to do that. I'm self-sufficient. I think the problem is that people forget you exist in the ephemeral rock'n'roll business - people think Cope doesn't do anything any more."

Cope said the experience of researching the book, published on 19 October, did not match up to that of the first: "I can't say I enjoyed it as much. In Britain I know what people are saying when they are being rude about me being a 'long-hair'. But in Europe I'm not quite sure what they are saying when they are being rude in other languages. Are you being rude as in 'get off my land' or as in 'I'm calling the police'?"

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