Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Despatches from the pop frontier

I went to a gig last night: David Wrench playing the extended, droning (in a good way) rebel songs he recorded with Julian Cope, and Cope playing a medley of his massive back catalogue, concentrating on the poppier end. He dedicated the first track to the students who trashed Millbank, resorted to the phrase 'dance to THIS, motherfuckers' fairly frequently, and teased the lairy drunk hippies who constantly demanded the most obscure b-sides they could think of.

I had a quick chat with Wrench, who I used to know a little. I was once the only paying member of the audience at one of his gigs: his band was a super-group drawn from Ectogram, Melys, Super Furry Animals and Gorkys Zygotic Mynci, while the other 4 or 5 people at the gig were bandmates or partners of those on stage. Everyone had a record deal except me. I brought along my treasured copy of Wrench's first album, Blow Winds Blow and he signed it, quite surprised by its mere existence, I think. It's a great album of gothy Welsh folk with a lot of Nick Cave thrown in. His next album was high electro camp, then the latest dark folk one.

Cope used to be in the psychedelic pop genius The Teardrop Explodes, and was a bit of a pretty boy. His pop career was stymied by record industry shenanigans, so he became a lefty-hippy-shaman who sings lefty-hippy-shaman songs which still have killer pop hooks. An admirable figure in every way.

That said, he's a bit of a Peter Pan. He's become a performing monkey for his die-hard audience. He's up there with his East German Border Patrol Cap, unruly hair, leathers, songs about drugs and revolution, while his fans arrive in company cars, M+S clothes and tote Blackberries. As long as they worship at the feet of Cope, they seem to feel, they're still alternative. It's carnivalesque in Bakhtinian terms: an evening of feeling countercultural as a breathing space before returning to the sales department. It's not Cope's fault: he clearly believes everything he says and his beliefs are wholly admirable. But I can't help wondering what he thinks as he surveys the paunches, bald spots and straights who pay his bills.

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