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Tramshed, Cardiff, Thurs 20 Apr

Not for Julian Cope your bog-standard support act. Patrick Jones – poet, playwright and older brother of the Manics’ Nicky Wire – has been invited down from the Valleys and handed a platform from which to deliver his impassioned, stinging poetic attacks on the Tories and Brexit bigotry to a crowd more receptive than the usual literary festival audience. Squeezed into a leopard-skin print shirt that his son said makes him look “like an LA hooker”, Jones relishes the opportunity.

While the targets of his venom may be predictable (if as well chosen as the quotes that preface most poems) and the verses occasionally trespass on the territory of the sixth-form rant, his stitching together of Daily Mail Sidebar of Shame headlines demonstrates sharp wit as well as anger, and giving a public performance of a piece about his personal experience of being a victim of domestic abuse shows great courage. After a timely “cover” of Martin Niemoller’s First they came…, Jones signs off with two poems that strike a more positive note, celebrating unity and the indomitable human spirit rather than division and hate.

And so to the self-styled archdrude: maverick musician, novelist, environmental protestor, prophet of intoxication, author of academically acclaimed books on prehistoric sites in Britain and across Europe and on cult music scenes in Germany and Japan. There probably aren’t many rock stars who’ve lectured on the Norse god Odin at the British Museum while wearing face paint, five-inch platform heels and so much hairspray that it sets off the fire alarms and causes the evacuation of the building.

As befits a true British eccentric, these days Julian Cope is instantly recognisable: grizzled beard, aviator shades, leather waistcoat, Luftwaffe hat. Imagine if Colonel Gaddafi had escaped his fate by finding work as a roadie for Judas Priest. He arrives promising to keep his ramblings to a minimum and focus on the songs, so it’s a source of bemusement to him (and amusement to us) that before long he’s offering a tongue-in-cheek explanation why he doesn’t like folk music (“It’s written by the people – music should be written by professionals like me”) and later admitting to harbouring thoughts of giving a pity wank to the sexually frustrated bull that lives in the field next to his bedroom.

Like Jones, Cope is politically outspoken (he describes Theresa May as “a cunt under the radar”) but new album Drunken Songs is personal, a celebration of the pleasures of boozing that he’s only recently rediscovered after two decades of concentrating on drugs alone. Drink Me Under The Table imagines an encounter between two strangers “off the tether” at “one of those fucking awful conference places off the M4”, while As The Beer Flows Over Me was specifically written to be played at his funeral.

For the most part, though, we’re treated to a greatest (non-)hits set – from {Soul Desert, The Greatness And Imperfection Of Love and Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed, to They Were On Hard Drugs (which brings together Cope’s love of both prehistory and chemical stimulants and manages to be simultaneously educational and hilarious); Cunts Can Fuck Off (the “festival ending” to which he dreams being sung by Bing Crosby); and Sunspots (whose wordless chorus isn’t actually avant garde at all – “It’s all I was capable of at the time – I was naked under a turtle shell”).

Musically speaking – to this uninitiate, at least – it’s not always electrifying, but opener Autogeddon and The Teardrop Explodes’ The Great Dominion are tremendous, and final track Pristeen is nothing short of sensational. Like the stone circles he venerates, Julian Cope has become a national treasure whose power and significance is undiminished by age. The original gig at the Globe was postponed, so tonight is the very definition of delayed gratification.


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