ROCK / His best foot forward: Julian Cope: Town & Country, London

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The Independent Culture
'This is a song about Robert Mitchum, and it's called 'Robert Mitchum'.' If the rest of Julian Cope's utterances were as free of opacity and intellectual aspiration, he might be a major player on the national stage, rather than the latest musician to be handed a P45 by his record company. A full 10 years after Spinal Tap sent up the bogus atavism of songs about stone circles, Cope has released an album full of them. He is turning into the druid of pop, and Island Records possibly felt that there wasn't much call for that kind of thing in this millennium.

And yet his popularity as a solo performer has never been so great, as his four sold-out nights at the Town & Country in London this week confirmed - the first of them being riotous, rambling and intimate in just the right measures. Cope's new clout at the box-office is quite an achievement for someone who is so difficult to pigeon-hole. If the man and his music are unfamiliar to you, imagine fusing Elvis Costello and Bet Lynch in one body: you'd end up with someone very like Julian Cope - an apocalyptic songsmith in leopardskin print leggings.

He had obviously decided that in the wake of what is - let's face it - your basic sacking, shoes were an unnecessary expense on this tour. This might account for the Claryesque mince in his gait, but given that he resurfaced in a pair of black tights for the second half of the show, there could be a more profound reason for his granny-stepping than mere shoelessness. 'Maybe I'm a lesbian in a man's body,' he semi-explained at one point. This performance did nothing to squash the notion that his chromosomes would keep a squad of geneticists busy in the lab for donkey's years.

Whatever, there's no one like Cope in pop, or at least not surviving from his post-punk generation. He alone, through Peggy Suicide and Jehovahkill, has brought a little shine back to the tarnished reputation of the concept album. If there was a concept underpinning the show, that concept was 'long'. Through three sets - with band, without band, with band - you got the impression that he would have played on indefinitely here were it not for the T&C's noise curfew.

This gave ample scope for him to run through large chunks of his repertoire, from The Teardrop Explodes onwards. Two types of Julian Cope songs emerged. One of them starts tame and tuneful, more or less under control, then gradually frays from the edges inwards until its very core has fuzzed into an oblivion of decibels. Into this group fell songs such as 'Pristeen', 'Soul Desert', 'Charlotte Anne' 'Know (Cut My Friend Down)'. The other type passes on the tuneful bit, heads straight for oblivion and stays there - 'World Shut Your Mouth' was typical of many.

Just occasionally a song would start under control and end that way. Coming together in the acoustic set these formed the most focused and satisying part of the evening - 'Saint Julian', 'Robert Mitchum', 'Passionate Friend' among others - and suddenly Julian H Cope, as he styles himself in a nod to another JC, was baring his soul as well as his soles.