A Crack In The Clouds

September 1986.

A time for a change of scenery, somewhere different, stuck in the same place for six years, starting out as success then gradually sinking to the bottom, uncared for, spurned by friends, ignored by everyone else. .. start again, no history, fresh start, clean slate, see what happens.

My first year in the sixth form had been an unmitigated disaster. Any hopes of passing any A Levels were thrown out of the window. Either I didn’t understand the questions or I wasn’t going to ask for help and my mind was befuddled by girls and music and God knows what else, but I was sinking and hated it and didn’t really know how to stop it. The escape route was shown by my brother – a year older than me, he sat his A Levels in the summer of 1986 and comprehensively failed them. Everyone went nuts, the school was blamed and he was found a place to resit the A Levels in New College, a fee paying school in the centre of Cardiff. After a little bit of shuffling, it was agreed that I should transfer there as well to complete my second year of A level studies.

So September was a chance to say goodbye to the old school and hello to the new college. No more uniform, no more useless teachers, no more staring at crushes across the common room. I returned to school for one brief moment, mainly to say goodbye, stick two fingers up at people and tell the teachers to piss off (except for one,  who had tears in her eyes). After this supposedly triumphant exit from the state school system, I felt like a bit of a arse for being so horrible but it did feel good at the time. I then settled down to life at New College.

As it was in Cardiff, my brother and I would have to travel by train every day to get there. Luckily my father worked in Brunel House, the enormous building next to Queen Street station, so caught the train from Penarth to Queen Street every day and we simply joined him. It was quite a novelty, leaving the house together, picking up reading matter in the newsagents (always NME and MM for me) and standing in the recently built red metal shelter on the platform, squeezing on the multiple units, the train jogging down the hill towards Cogan, then through the many tracks around the Grangetown works area, into Cardiff Central where we may alight or on to Queen Street… It was a very different Cardiff then,  out of Central I would walk behind the Central Hotel (where I would regularly buy bootlegs at record fairs), along Bute Terrace beside the railway line to get to New College, a lovely 18th century building full of oak floors, dark corridors and cosy classrooms. Leaving Queen Street, I’d head past the Tandy store on the corner onto Churchill Way, past the British Gas building and along to what used to be the British Gas building before the redevelopments of the eighties, back when Mill Lane went somewhere….

And I settled in quickly, made a few friends, realised that being in Cardiff everyday would be detrimental to my bank account if I was to buy all the records I saw. September brought “Brotherhood”, “The Pacific Age”, “Spacemate”, “Filigree and shadow”, “Gone to earth”, “Talking with the taxman about poetry”, “Blood and chocolate” (the Virgin branch on the top floor of Debenhams had the cassette made to look like a bar of Bourneville chocolate)… I hardly bought any of these at the time…. Two albums in fact, and we won’t discuss either of those now, because it wasn’t just albums in September 1986, there were singles too and one in particular….

September 1986

A time for a change of scenery, somewhere different, stuck in the same place for six years, starting out as success then gradually sinking to the bottom, uncared for, spurned by friends, ignored by everyone else. .. start again, no history, fresh start, clean slate, see what happens.

Julian Cope had signed to Phonogram Records in 1980 at the behest of David Bates who thought Cope could be a pop star and in the six years that followed, his career path had peaked and troughed quite mightily. The singles “Reward” and “Treason” had placed his band The Teardrop Explodes in the spotlight while he was fracturing his psyche with an alarming quantity of mind altering chemicals. Commercial failure for the second Teardrops album led to a slow form of collapse for the band, shedding members every few months yet still creating marvellous music along the way. Cope’s solo career had garnered little critical acclaim and even fewer sales, but his cult loved him and the music, and cherished nuggets from his two solo albums “World Shut Your Mouth” and “Fried”. But in 1986 there was a change – he moved from Phonogram to Island Records, paid off the debt to the former label through a new publishing deal and set about a new phase of his music. No new music had emerged since the start of 1985 – the b sides to “Sunspots” which were clearly in the same mould as “Fried”, and the songs recorded for Janice Long at the end of 1984, a session I remember had confused me a lot at the time. But in 1984 I wasn’t that aware of his catalogue, of course that would change in 1985 (see many previous Goldfish posts). By September 1986 I had bought all the back catalogue I could (I think only the first two Teardrops singles in Zoo had eluded me at that point) and had a few bootlegs of unreleased Teardrops, Cope live shows, Cope radio sessions, all kinds of things. And I was certainly ready for new music from Julian Cope.

Of course I bought the twelve inch of “World Shut Your Mouth” on the day of release. There’s an immediate advantage to being in Cardiff on Mondays. I didn’t have to hang around for the weekend to buy my favourite records. And I was very happy with the new music too. The title track was simple, a “Louie Louie” and “Hang on Sloopy” for the 80s, sharp pop with an edge, but still a little more glossy than even the poppiest moments on “Fried”. The song stuck in your head after one listen, it had a chorus you could easily make your own, a cracking little guitar solo, loads of key changes as the song proceeds to its close. What was there not to love? It sounded like a hit record.  Admittedly it sounded like very little else in the charts but it did sound like it belonged there.

There were still four other new songs on the twelve inch,  and I knew from experience that Cope liked to have decent b sides. “I’ve got levitation” was a 13th Floor Elevators song and sounded like it was cut from the same cloth as the lead song – simple riffs, a raw performance, rather brilliant, but then at this point I didn’t know the original. “Non alignment pact” originally opened Pere Ubu’s debut LP “The modern dance”. Obviously Cope can’t compete with David Thomas’ unearthly shriek and there’s no squealing synth noise to delight / distract, otherwise entirely creditable. “Umpteenth unnatural blues” is a cracking little song, some very neat lines and a cool yet simple arrangement, but my diary records that I thought it was somewhere close to the greatest song on earth. It’s not that great, but it’s pretty good. Lastly “Transporting” is a psychedelic groover, sounding like the band aren’t quite listening to each other (which turns out to be close to the truth) and features a rather nifty riff which I would promptly steal for myself.

“World Shut Your Mouth” was a big deal. And this time it would be unavoidable. For once the media loved him, and welcomed him back with open arms. He was there on “Wogan”, the Irish broadcaster looking slightly baffled by Cope hanging off his green mic stand / climbing frame contraption. He was there on “Number 73”, the band playing live and sounding spot on. And best of all he was back on Top Of The Pops, after five years absence. The song was all over the radio, it sounded like a huge hit, it felt like a huge hit… and it slowly climbed the charts to reach number 19 in October, a very slow crawl. But somehow it felt like it was a much bigger hit than that, the video was always on TV and the new fangled video jukebox which took over my local pub The Railway that Autumn.  I remember it being played a lot there, alongside “To Be A Lover” by Billy Idol. Both songs harkened back to classic songwriting tropes and stood out in the charts.

And this should have been my moment. I had spent the previous year trying to get my friends interested in Cope’s music and nobody had listened, except Nigel who was always receptive to whatever I recommended, and this was around the time he bought his prized copy of “The wrong people” by Furniture and he would play me “She gets out the scrapbook” and we would both sigh wistfully. But nobody else listened to me, and now people I knew who had ignored me were buying the latest record by my hero. This should have been the time I made compilation tapes for Beverley and Jeremy and anyone else. “You like him now? Try this…” Erm I was seventeen, remember. Of course this didn’t really happen, partly because I’m too shy to ever do that, and partly because I’d bloody well left the school behind where all my friends knew I was a Cope freak, and was now in a college where nobody knew me. I did still see a few friends at the Railway but I was still keeping my head down there after being thrown out for underage drinking that summer (again, see previous Goldfish post).

But the fact that nobody knew me in New College could be turned to my advantage. I had no past, no burden of knowledge of previous stupidities. It was a chance to start again, without any taint or trace of my former actions.

(I would learn many years later that this is a typical Aspergers trait too. The need to compartmentalise my past and my present so the two never meet. There’s other traits which we will get to soon enough…)

But for the Autumn of 1986, I was happy. My hero was back, making great music, all over the media and in the charts. He had promised an album called “Saint Julian” in an interview with Melody Maker back in early 1985 and it looked like it was going to happen in the spring of 1987. I had a lot to look forward to.

January 1987
I had a small circle of friends at New College. So small it could be counted on one hand, but that was enough for me really. Manoj was in my Computer Studies class and was a good laugh, and Meg and Anji were two friends from the lower sixth, inseparable and always hanging around the computer room playing “Thrust” on the BBC Micros there. (“Thrust” was an anti-gravity game as I recall – you had to fly a lunar module on rocky terrain using thrusters and the ability to spin your craft – like “Asteroids” without the asteroids. picking up fuel and flying away, it was as much fun as you could have with 32K). Together the four of us hung out and chatted about all kinds of things, nothing of much importance. Chris Jones – our computing teacher and also a weekend DJ on Radio Wales at the time – thought the four of us were trouble but we never were. We just helped each other out if one of us got stuck on some tricky coding in BASIC. Nobody asked about my past and I wasn’t about to tell anyone either, it wasn’t relevant and nobody was bothered. Life at New College was good. I had a parents evening in January where my teachers all told my parents they loved me, which is better than I would have had at my school. “But your maths teacher is a bit of a wimp” they added.

January brought a flurry of record buying, some second hand records (“Neu!” on United Artists in the bright red sleeve, £2 from Jacobs Market, a Troy Tate 10” EP on Why Fi) but more importantly it was the second single by Julian Cope on Island. I’d heard “Trampolene” on the radio just before the new year and called it “more complex”, which isn’t hard really. I bought the 12 inch EP on the day of release (5th January) and absorbed four new songs. “Trampolene” was superb, yes it was more complex than “World Shut Your Mouth” but it felt like it was jammed full of hooks, enough to explode all over the radio. It sounded great on the radio too, big drums, chiming guitar licks and rocking riffs, another simple chorus, a lyric with more to it than “WSYM” and again key changes at the end to ramp up the tension, finally exploding on a drum roll and a long sustained fade out on the final chord. It screamed hit single, it screamed play me again, and this time a bit louder. It sounded fantastic to me. Two other songs on the EP were great. “Disaster” is a bit of a sea shanty, a tale of a ship’s journey, a song full of incident and change. Or maybe it’s an extended allegory for a relationship? My favourite part is towards the end,  Cope is contemplating some kind of shipwreck – “We are listing needlessly, won’t you come and marry me?” – a fantastic non-sequiter – before everyone drops away, a guitar plays a riff and slowly more instrumental layers chime in, pounding out the prime riff, as some raucous guitar lines are thrown over the top, all chugging along on a one note riff . A personal favourite still. “Mock turtle” is slower, more considered and instantly familar – the opening chords and melody are from “Flipped out on LSD”, a legendary 15 minute piece recorded towards the end of the Teardrop Explodes’ life, supposedly released as a twelve inch by La Place De La Concorde but available on a few bootlegs. And that’s just the start. The rest of the song works as a modus operandi for Cope at that time – unsure what he was doing and where he was going but trying his best. “Mock turtle” is a rare slice of direct honesty and is a hidden gem. Which is more than can be said for “Edward the Kingmaker” which is just a clattering noise.  But three great songs out of four ain’t bad.

Again, Cope was everywhere to promote the single. My diary records each incident – front cover of the NME, on “The Tube”, a children’s TV show, the first episode of late night chat show “The Last Resort” (“being interviewed by a prick”, says my diary) and all over the radio. Island did their best to make multiple versions of the single available and by God I bought the bloody set.

I started with the twelve inch on the day of release, then I wanted the seven inch with the gatefold sleeve, which I bought on 12th Jan. And it snowed the previous day, so we all had lots of fun walking to the station in the snow, then walking through Cardiff to find hardly anyone was there. Meg and I slipped and slid our way to HMV to buy the gatefold seven inch that day, and she bought a game for her BBC micro from a shop on Churchill Way. Nobody else was around, it was nice. A fond memory. A week later there was a second twelve inch, a remix of “Trampolene” which extended all the right parts, plus a sticker with it. So I had to buy that. And a week later a 7 inch EP in a cardboard box with a poster, so I had to buy that as well. Manoj would say to me “Haven’t you bought it enough times yet?” each time I would return from HMV. It became a bit of a joke – had I bought another Julian Cope record that week? Manoj, Meg, Anji and I would hang out and chat about all kinds of things, strolling to Wimpy – never McDonald’s as Meg was a vegetarian and she had to have Wimpy spicy bean burgers…  See, I bet you can all see what’s coming, can’t you? Anji and Manoj tried to arrange a night out at the pictures for the four of us then agreed to not go so Meg and myself would be alone,  together. But we all got cold feet. It turned out we were both happy to be friends, and to stay that way.

Meanwhile, I watched the charts to see how “Trampolene” was progressing. On the first week it entered the chart at 33, and I was ecstatic. Then it stayed there for two more weeks, before climbing to 31 in its fourth week before falling out of the top 40. Clearly this wasn’t what anyone expected, least of all me. I’d bought into this single four times, why wasn’t it a bigger hit? Cope has done his bit too, he had been unavoidable. What did he have to do to get a decent hit?

March 1987
Tensions are running high. The A Levels were looming for both my brother and I, and I don’t know about him but I was feeling the strain. I’d always struggled with the Maths A level material, it just made no sense to me. Vectors, differentiation, equations that just looked like nonsense on a page – it completely blew my mind. We sat some final test papers in March and hoped for the best. We were also heading off around the country to look at universities and polytechnics – for me it was Liverpool, Salford, Sheffield, Bath, Trefforest…. I was slightly freaked out at Trefforest because Meg and Anji were there, they kept passing me in corridors. It turned out Meg’s father was a lecturer there, and they were trying to wind me up. They didn’t need to, I was already wound up anyway…. the interview there had turned into a shambles, somehow the interviewer thought my visual impairments were worse than they actually were and had asked a lot of patronising questions about my mobility and disability. God knows why they thought that, I suspected my old school had become involved in the UCCA / PCAS application process. Paranoia was running high.

Some relief was provided by the release of “Saint Julian” on March 2nd. HMV had some signed copies for sale but I wanted to play my records, not keep them as artefacts. (A ridiculous statement considering how many times I’d bought “Trampolene”). I bought the album on the day of release and took it into the computer suite where Manoj ripped the piss out of the cover – “Christ in a scrapyard – Christ on a bike more like”. I wasn’t put off though, I devoured the sleeve and the insert and the little poem (“Saint Julian ain’t Julian” should have been the warning sign) and couldn’t wait to get the album home.

“Trampolene” kicks the album off quite gloriously, and I still couldn’t understand why it wasn’t a hit. So many hooks, so many sections, was it too much?  There’s a cleanliness to this rock, not a horrible distortion, just enough to make me smile. The song was a hymn to an impossible imagined female and frankly I liked that. “Shot down” continued the rock theme, this was taut, lean stuff – not a moment was being wasted. There’s even a tense middle eight with stops and starts. God knows what the song is about though. And it rocks. There’s some odd lyrics about war and uniform (which harks back to lyrics on his debut album) but it works nicely. Are there some sexual references? Could be. “Eve’s volcano” is lightweight fluff after that, a mid tempo melodic joy. Immediately I thought this should be the next single. If that couldn’t reach the charts there was no hope… I suppose all the “ba-ba” and “Do-do-do’ become a little annoying after a while, but this is the closest Cope comes to a Teardrops singalong. Another sexual reference? I’m spotting a theme here. “Spacehopper” had been around a bit, it was mentioned as an early Cope / McCulloch song from the Crucial Three / A Shallow Madness era in Mark Cooper’s “Liverpool Explodes” book. It was the simplest riff, the simplest groove and it sounded great. Why did it fade out? I wanted it to go on longer. Not another sexual reference too? It’s daft as hell, but rather funny too. Closing side one was “Planet Ride”, which was supposed to be a collaboration with Troublefunk – fellow Island label mates and at that point hot as hell at the forefront of go-go. But no, Cope’s band were playing it, a kind of stiff white funk which tried its best to swing. Still, I liked it, even if it seemed to be about sex. Nothing wrong with that. God, how many sex references are there here? This isn’t as stiff (sorry) as I remember it, and once Cope shuts up the musical interplay is rather cool.

Side two then starts with the “big” hit single “World shut your mouth” which is the only song you may hear on this album these days. But in this context, yeah that’s fine. “Saint Julian” is next and this is an odd one, Kate St John is back on cor anglais, it sounds like a “Fried” song after a shave and a haircut, but the lyrics are cutting – a bit anti religion in places but each to their own. This song may be the key to the album, the reference to Ankerside Shopping Centre in Tamworth, but we’ll get to that soon enough… “Pulsar” is the song that confused me in 1984, I didn’t get it at all, it was just a stupid riff…. what did I know? Three years later it made sense in the context of the rest of the album, another stupid riff but bloody hell what a wonderful stupid riff! A song which begged to be played loud. And the lyrics were fantastic too, I would quote them extensively – “And I was quite in love, ‘cos you told me so”, “Don’t have to tell me honey, that’s the way I feel”… yes this was quite a song for me. Next was “Screaming secrets”, an old old song… the Teardrops had played it all the time in ’81 and ’82, they had even recorded it (quite badly) for a Richard Skinner session in 1981, there was a fantastic version on a Whistle Test live concert from 1982…. and it fitted it perfectly now. Sure Donald Ross Skinner couldn’t quite match Troy Tate but there’s enough energy here to get by. And frankly it was great to finally have a favourite song recorded at last.

And finally….

“A crack in the clouds” is an epic. There wasn’t much precedent for it in the back catalogue at the time, and there isn’t really much like it in the rest of Cope’s extensive career, and it’s a shame because this song is gorgeous. There’s storm clouds and sound effects, a disquieting guitar arpeggio, a descending bass line and Cope singing of strange things… After two minutes of disquiet, the band comes in and the chorus is glorious… I mean I don’t know what the song means even now, there’s images of water and floating and maybe I think I’m the wrong person to write this sort of thing. But between the tense quiet of the verses and the triumphant choruses, this song soars. There’s a glorious string arrangement which rises up through the song, and once the final chorus is out of the way, there’s a change to the music, a resolution to the harmonies, and it continues to soar higher and higher and I love it to bits. I’m sorry, I love this song, it always makes me cry and I’m doing a crap job again…. Yet maybe it’s down to a single line… “A quiet village boy takes leave of his life and walks off into the mountains…” Yes, maybe it’s that one dream of escape.

Of course years later I read Cope’s second autobiography “Repossessed” and learnt more about the album. How someone had shyly offered to write songs for him after a meeting at Ankerside Shopping Centre, how that had inspired the batch of songs on “Saint Julian” to be one step removed – Cope imagining how someone else would write songs for him. And there’s the birth of the Two Car Garage Band around Donald Ross Skinner, James Eller and Chris Whitten. And if I had known the b sides to “World Shut Your Mouth” had been recorded in Caerleon not that far from Penarth I would have gone completely mental. But that’s just the way I was.

Of course I played the album a lot when it came out. My diary notes that the CD was issued a week later, on the same day as “The Joshua Tree” and “Men and women”, two albums I didn’t buy…ah the days when a CD release wasn’t always a given. There was also another edition of the LP with an interview disc and I bought that and played it probably twice (but a sentence from the interview ended up in the introduction to “Falling away” many years later). March progressed… I had an interview at Sheffield Poly which lasted all of three minutes, I bought “Angels in the architecture” because it was cheap (£1.99 on tape), I bought tickets for Julian Cope at Cardiff Uni in April, I checked out midi hifi systems with CD players in Laskys  (Laskys!), I worked hard but not hard enough… oh and BBC showed a Cope concert from Westminster Hall earlier in the year, and our Betamax video chose that time to self destruct.

April brought joy and pain. There was tension around my maths, I still had no idea what I was doing and I was struggling but I wasn’t telling anyone. I spent a lot of time in the computer lab working on my computer programming assignment, creating flowcharts and all kinds of useless bollocks on paper for a program about which I can remember absolutely nothing. And then something stupid I did came back to bite me on the arse…

Back at the very start of my diary (Feb 1983) i had written the Teacher Files where I wrote a one sentence put down of all my teachers up to that point. As my diary was being read by my English teacher at the time, she went mental, ripped the pages out and told me to respect my teachers. Immediately my diary became notorious and my friends wanted to know what was in it. Jump ahead to early 1987, I was deeply paranoid about my old school as they seemed to be interfering with the college applications and I was pissed off with my friends for some reason – probably they hadn’t turned up at the Railway when I’d arranged to. So I wrote pages and pages of horrible notes, both the Teacher Files and The Pupil Files. 95% of it was pure invective and vitriol. Hardly anyone came out of it well, except about two teachers and three friends. And foolishly I gave these notes to a friend in my old school, who proceeded to sit down in the common room and start reading them. Soon he wasn’t the only one. The notes ended up pinned to a notice board, got distributed around all of the sixth form, and a few teachers too. And unsurprisingly nobody was happy about what I’d written. Jump ahead a week or so, I turn up at the Railway and find that all my friends are ignoring me. I thought it was a bit odd, then someone tells me that everyone was pissed off with me because of the things I’d written. I dash up to my friend’s house where he tells me what happened and I laugh and cry a lot. I then return to the Railway and apologise profusely for my stupidity. Turns out most people forgave me and eventually saw the funny side. I still have the Teacher and Pupil Files and they really are rather horrible, I can understand why everyone didn’t like me for it.

(Again, this kind of attention seeking behaviour is also typical Aspergers. Or maybe I’m just an idiot. You decide. Maybe I’m just an idiot for even mentioning it now)

Meanwhile, I was gearing up for the Julian Cope concert. “Eves volcano” was issued as a third single, slightly unnecessary I thought unless it was meant to promote the tour. But it received a good review on Peter Powell’s Pop Panel (“Sounds like Passionate Friend” said one reviewer, with a long memory) Still, I bought the CD single, and the twelve inch, and the twelve inch remix with the poster. After all, the twelve inch had a voucher to send off to get a three song live video from the Westminster Hall Concert (I’ve still got the video too, somewhere). And this was my first CD single, even though I’d not bought a CD player yet. As for b sides, “Almost beautiful child” was a looping instrumental which was pretty and idiotic, there were two live songs and the full five minute version of “Spacehopper” which didn’t fade out but came to a natural conclusion.

So I was ready for the live experience. I’d seen OMD a few times at St David’s Hall but this was going to be different, this was at the hall in Cardiff University, this was a standing only gig and I wanted to be standing at the front. Nigel and I took the train to Cathays station and popped into a corner shop to buy some alcohol. We bought a can of Tennants Super each, and kept hold of them. We were amongst the first in the queue so got to the front for the gig, and there were two support acts. First was Crazyhead, then riding high in the indie charts with their single “What gives you the idea that you’re so amazing baby?” My diary recalls that I wasn’t impressed. Lots of leather, lots of feedback and noise, “45 minutes of Crazyhead was more than enough”. What my diary doesn’t say is that the bass player Porkbeast kept shouting into his mic for beer, which of course prompted the audience to throw beer cans at him. These were lax days for security, we had both walked in with our tins of Super in our jacket pockets and kept hold of them throughout the gig. Next were The Faith Brothers, politically correct but a little bit boring live. “Tears For Fears with guitars” said Nigel. They ended their set by covering “Biko”, a very worthy thing to do in 1987. We’d let some female Faith Brothers fans into the front row but now we moved back into the front for the main attraction.

And the main attraction was a total blast. I was in the front row, to the left of me was James Eller on bass, about six foot to the right was Cope himself, on his mic stand climbing frame (blue, if you’re interested) and that beautiful red Gibson 335 twelve string. A fantastic set too (“Trampolene”, “Pulsar”, “Eves volcano”, “Strasbourg”, “Non alignment pact”, “Bouncing babies”, “The great dominions” – chills down spine there – “Shot down”, “Planet Ride”, a new arrangement of “Read it in books”, “Spacehopper” into “World Shut Your Mouth”… )  Cope told us they’d been on a “hippie trip” at Rockfield Studios that day, and from then on referred to the audience as hippies – “How are you doing, hippies?” Encores were “Someone like me” (promised as a forthcoming single) and “Reynard the fox” where Cope leant into the crowd on his mic stand, then fell off and rolled around the floor before destroying the stand.

It was awesome, and Nigel and I were stunned afterwards – deaf too. I bought a t shirt and we walked back into Cardiff drinking our warm cans of Tennants Super which tasted like treacle.  A fantastic night, which was a sharp contrast to what happened the next day or so.

It’s all a bit vague at this distance, and my diary for once isn’t particularly helpful, but this is how I remember it. I’d fallen out with the Maths teacher in New College and somehow I’d said I didn’t trust him or want him teaching me any longer. I’m not sure what happened after that,  but on the day after the concert I was “invited” into the head teachers office where he came down on me like a ton of bricks and made me feel like a piece of shit for daring to question one of his teachers. Then I had something similar happen at home and was told in no uncertain terms that I had to work my socks off to pass my A level maths. It was a bit fraught and I was a bit fragile and I hid myself away. My parents found me a maths tutor who actually helped me make sense of vectors and I revised like mad and did my best before the exams at the end of May.

On the last entry of the year’s diary – 23rd May 1987 – I wrote “I may never see Meg again”. There was more to it than that…. we had a sort of emotional break up on Cardiff station. Anji and Meg and I… They were getting onto a train up the valleys on platform six, I was heading for Penarth on platform seven… Anji was looking at us waiting for either of us to acknowledge we might be upset about it, but we didn’t.  It was very British, very stiff upper lip. Maybe she didn’t like me after all, I sort of liked her but never said it, she never said anything to me and we went our own ways. And that was that.

Only it wasn’t.

Jump ahead to June 1991, the start of the best summer of my life. I was working in Brunel House with my father at BT after completing my third attempt at my second year at poly. The first attempt in Sheffield was a disaster where I left or got kicked off the course (and we will get to that eventually). Then I’d tried again at the Poly of Wales but the issues I had from Sheffield hadn’t been addressed so I flunked out again (and we won’t get to that, ever) so I tried again, a third attempt, I tried my best and did the coursework and attended all the lectures and got bullied mercilessly for sitting at the front of lectures squinting  (so much so that one day when I was absent the lecturer told the class off for it – I also suspect that during this year I met my future brother in law but I’m not sure to be honest). Anyway, come that June day it was time to get the results. So I caught the train from Cardiff Queen Street up to Trefforest and wandered up to get the results. My name was on a list to see the course tutor at a given time, so I headed to the common room to have a sit down and wonder what was going on.

As I sat and pondered, there was a tap on my shoulder. “Hello Rob, how are you?” it was Meg, popping in to see her father who was still lecturing at the Poly of Wales. I was amazed – she looked lovely and she still remembered me, even though I now had a beard (another reason for bullying at the Poly, if I recall correctly).  She asked why I was there, I said about my results and she was sure I’d have done ok. We chatted for about five minutes, catching up with where she was and Anji and Manoj, she was still in touch with them and I’d drifted away into my own world. Then she kissed me goodbye and good luck and disappeared again. I then went to the course tutors office where he told me I’d failed everything, I couldn’t try again, and “You’re on the scrapheap now, you’ll never amount to anything. Goodbye”.

Then I returned to my work at BT for the afternoon, kept my head down, wondered about my future, and wrote a song called “True life story” about meeting up with Meg on such an inauspicious day. This became the start of my first album called “Songs about girls”. I recorded it later that Summer and it is still a scared and scary reminder of a bad day. You can find it at the bottom of this post, hopefully.

Oh my A Levels?  I got a C in Computer Studies, a D in Physics and scrapped an E in Maths which is a minor miracle. Those grades seem really shit now, when kids get five A* grades in their A Levels but a lot of blood sweat and tears – very much tears – went into those grades.

As for the “Saint Julian” era… it’s sort of ignored now. Sure “World shut your mouth” turns up on just about every 80s compilation going, but when did you last hear “Trampolene” on the radio? (Fair play to Josh Meadows on Main FM in Castlemaine, he played it on his show It’s a Jangle Out There last week as I finalised this piece and I have it on good authority that Adam Jeffery will play it on his Indie show this week)  Maybe it was over glossy, an attempt to get noticed which backfired. It was a dash for the mainstream and buffed up a good set of songs into a clean rock sound. But maybe it’s worth going back and investigating again – I certainly hadn’t played “Saint Julian” for a long time before I started writing this and it’s better than I remembered. There wasn’t much around which sounded like it at the time – Echo and the Bunnymen were falling apart and blanding out, U2 were about to become massive on a global scale, there was The Cult with their dictionary of rock moves, the indie section was still going through its shambling phase of lofi, The Smiths were in their own imperial phase before they fell apart… it was unique within its own parameters, it was a clean rock sound that Cope would never return to, but it sounded like nothing else at the time and so sounds timeless (except for the drum sounds). It certainly gained Cope new followers and raised his profile but probably set standards within the management at Island which he would never maintain. He was always destined to be a cult artist but it was always a pleasure to see him orbiting within the pop media as he would again in 1991. But “Saint Julian” is a worthwhile brush with the mainstream, bringing it’s own ideas of garage rock, Stooges simplicity and early Alice Cooper snarl to a pop audience. Have a listen to “Spacehopper” and try not to grin like an idiot – you can’t do it. As for the mainstream, Cope will never go back there, but it was sometimes fun while it lasted. A bit like my year at New College then.

2 thoughts on “A Crack In The Clouds

  1. You’re such a great writer, and you had me sitting right beside you as things unfolded. I can’t believe the cruel things people say and do so sometimes it is best to ignore them. Excellent description of Julian Cope and his music and if people don’t go out and listen to Julian’s album after reading this, something is wrong with them (I just want to go listen to this now). The song is amazing, how you captured those feelings in a few minutes of song – I hope Meg gets to hear it one day.

    Ps – I hope Julian Cope gets to read this piece.

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