More than enough to Cope with

Cornucopia | South Bank Centre, London

Pop star, author, ecological campaigner, self-taught academic specialising in Neolithic sites, deranged hippie - all labels which have been applied to Julian Cope over the years. It's no surprise, then, that when offered the opportunity to choose the line-up for Cornucopia, his own weekend mini-festival at London's South Bank he devised the sort of bill which could give his own famed enthusiasms a bad name.

Certainly one can query Cope's resurrection of relics such as Kid Strange, once frontman of the long forgotten Doctors of Madness, these days a cut-price Richard O'Brien figure, and Tony McPhee's Groundhogs. Despite impressive guitar playing from McPhee, his antediluvian boogie was better suited to a tent full of drunken bikers. Only Skyray, led by Cope's one-time bandmate Paul Simpson, impressed with their stately ambient instrumental grooves.

Problematically, the personality of the host (and he was just that, individually greeting early arrivals) totally dominated the first night. Cope himself performed three times, his first appearance a somewhat ad-hoc set in the Queen Elizabeth Hall's foyer, where he accompanied himself, told some great gags, answered hecklers and even asked the crowd to remind him of his own lyrics. It was diverting entertainment. Perhaps the Arts Council could sponsor him to busk in country towns on market day.

His "glambient" project Queen Elizabeth, four men using a lot of technology to little effect, were less inspired, rambling through an hour-long tribute to that lost goddess, Diana, Princess of Wales. The sight of an iMac perched on a Mellotron, the acme of 1969 musical technology, was somehow apt. Cope's "false metal" trio Brain Donor concluded Saturday's proceedings, all Kiss-style make-up, platform motorcycle boots and double-neck guitars, though in a world where great, knowing hard rock bands such as Monster Magnet exist for real, the joke is limited.

The second night in the Royal Festival Hall was more concert than party. Art noise veterans Coil were just awful, but those who enjoy watching men in furry suits walking through imaginary snowdrifts to the sound of deliberately humming electronics may have been thrilled.

Cope's set on the last night was a weaker echo of the previous evening's festival atmosphere. Distant on the huge stage, with no direct interaction, his idiosyncrasies were reduced drastically. Even a mini-Teardrop Explodes reunion, when Simpson played the venue's huge organ, cannot dispel fears that he was resorting to self-parody. Perhaps he has spent too long in the country - a case of big fish/small pond syndrome?

The headliners, Ash Ra Tempel, are best known in this country due to Cope's effusive recommendation of them in his German music primer, Krautrocksampler. It's been 30 years since Klaus Schultz and Manuel Gottsching played together, but the sight of two amiable old duffers jamming half-heartedly did little to enhance their apparently legendary status.

Though Cope remains a singular if increasingly thinly spread talent, on this evidence don't ask him to curate your birthday party.

Comments