10 May 2015

24 years on, we should look to Julian Cope's Peggy Suicide for guidance

Tory government. NHS to be dismantled. Human rights act to be axed. Fox hunting ban to be repealed. Mental health funding to be cut. EU in/out referendum inevitable. It's a bad time to an immigrant, poor, young, ill, old, female, someone in need of some human rights, or a cute little orange creature with four legs. Oh, or someone that cares about any of those groups as well. Basically it's a bad time to be a human being with blood running through your veins.

As well as that, the protestation isn't what it could be. Yep, there are a number of fantastic protest marches (which have been tainted by media misrepresentation) that exercise the democratic right to protest, and lots of people have taken to the internet to kind of hate the Tories together, like a collective consciousness of hate. But one thing that is lacking, to me, I guess, is a lot of real protest music.

A recent NME issue highlighted this. Whilst in maybe the 80's (Thatcher's Britain), bands that were leading lights in British alternative music would sing about the oppression and inequality of Thatcherite Britain - look at The Smiths, as an obvious example. But now, this doesn't really happen - it does happen, in some places - Sleaford Mods, the Fat Whites, and Young Fathers to give examples, but it certainly happens less. Faris, from The Horrors, said that politics didn't really affect him, and that voting was for people with no imagination, whilst a great number of bands just showed apathy towards politics and the people at the top. And you can't resent individual bands for not wanting to engage with politics in their music, for whatever reason, but it just kinda sucks that there's no art to aid the process of walking around, resenting David Cameron.

But does this mean (bar the aforementioned artists) that there's no music that politically aligns with my (and everyone else's) anti-Tory agenda? Hell no. I mean, obviously you've got your punk music - the sheer anger that the likes of The Pistols, Crass, The Clash, the Dead Kennedys, and X-Ray Spex loaded their music with, that certainly resonates with me, today. And anything remotely escapist does, too. But there's an album that, amongst all this Tory suffocation, is more relevant today than it's ever been, and that is Julian Cope's 1991 socio-political masterpiece Peggy Suicide. And if you're now tempted to stop reading in a "who is this Julian Cope guy" manner, don't. Keep reading and bear with me.

Julian Cope, alumni of bubblegummy post-punk band The Teardrop Explodes, had a run of success in the 80's - tongue-in-cheek garage-rockpop megahit World Shut Your Mouth is the best example of this - before fizzling out of the public eye for a bit. In 1989 he released the Skellington album, which was recorded in a day or two, and then following that, the Droolian album, which was similarly lo-fi, and was available only in Texas, with all the proceeds going to Roky Erickson (of the 13th Floor Elevators) and his legal battle (he'd been wrongly accused of mail theft - charges were ultimately dropped).

BUT ANYWAY. In 1990 or so, when Cope was being pressed by his label Island, to come up with more material, a lot of the same shit that's going on now was happening. Thatcher's poll tax - which was like a council tax that favours the rich - was one of Cope's main issues. Basically, from what I (as a state educated teenager born in 1997) understand, it was a single tax rate for anyone, no matter what their income. It's really symptomatic of the general Tory ideology that the more hard-working you are, the more you earn - something that still underlies the Tory policies that have led to poor people's deaths. During the recording of Peggy Suicide Cope was at his most political - even being at the forefront of the Poll Tax riots, dressed as his 8-foot alter ego, Sqwubbsy. Calum, I hear you say, how can a man of average height have an 8 foot alter ego? Well...

But why is this album relevant to us in 2015, under a government? Well, the 80 minute double album not only spans many, many genres but it reads like a left-wing manifesto - a more equal Labour manifesto, or a stronger Green 'un. Cope sings about the Leperskin hag that was the leader at the time of recording, Margaret Thatcher in a way much more venomous than Morrissey or Billy Bragg could manage. But as well as that, he tackles climate change, police brutality, animal welfare, and humanity's general exploitation of Mother Earth. That explains the name too, as Cope has said "nowadays, I call Mother Earth Peggy Suicide".

The double album starts with the acoustic-but-with-organ bits track Pristeen - which sounds explicitly sexual at first, but nope - it's a metaphor, for how mankind is treating the Earth. "Trusting in me was your major mistake" Cope sings, and he's right. A government that doesn't invest in saving the planet (the current Tories are pro-fracking) shouldn't be trusted to rule over this section of the planet. Hanging Out and Hung Up To Dry Cope yells "Winter's getting warmer", a seemingly obvious fact again, but Cope's hatred of humanity's destruction of the planet is still something that really resonates, and with our government's proposed cuts on climate change (although tbf Dave reckons climate change is a problem) it's so important that people realise the planet is mortal, and home to not just humans. We're all hanging out and hung up on the line to dry.

The environmental message is strong all the way through though, which is so important in 2015, you know? "Each day we get closer to the big bad fire", Julian warns on Double Vegetation. And the enviro-hippie bullshit that could bring your local Tory MP to tears keeps coming...

On a later album Cope barks "COS MY CAR IS A POLLUTER, AND IT'S MESSING UP MY FUTURE", but he tones his Autogeddon ideas down for Peggy. Drive, She Said pokes fun at the ridiculousness of driving everywhere. It's a slightly less sophisticated alternative to crawling everywhere, really. Julian adopts the persona of a shrivel-cocked proto Clarkson, as he calls Peggy Suicide (that is Mother Earth) a "piggy". It's also a simple out and out rock song, which I'm surprised didn't penetrate the charts. Oh oh, and Mike Joyce (Smiths innit) drummed on this one (and Hanging Out...).

In fact, despite a lot of it's politically charged, it's largely an accessible pop album, so it's so easy to get into. East Easy Rider, a track that uses the metaphor of an easy rider riding to the planet's doom - but also has a hella funky hippity hoppity groove, and that kind of escalating anger thing that Cope does so well. If you're wondering, it's my favourite song to sing in the shower, off of this album. And If You Loved Me At All and Beautiful Love are poppy, boppy pop songs that focus more on humanity's human relationships, rather than humanity's lack of humanity. Brilliant pop songs, Beautiful Love actually got Julian into the top 40, and it's obvious why because it's just a nice piano driven janglepop song.

BUT NO, serious issues, it tackles even more. Back to the Poll Tax riots. Soldier Blue is amongst the most poignant critiques of militant policing. The police turned up to it as though they were going into war, instead of trying to contain some people that believed in equality. God, believing in equality, and fairness. I'm so glad that the Tories set militant police and seriously injured hundreds of those people for exercising their democratic rights. Protesting about unfairness? How dare they? Anyway, that all ties into today and yesterday, when the mainstream media turned away their focus from the thousands and thousands of peaceful protesters walking through London in their cardies and their dungarees, and onto the sole protester that vandalised the war memorial. Which is obviously the main issue, because the long dead's memory is so, so much more important than the people who are literally dying because the Toy government and their Welfare state can't-slash-won't help them.

Western Front CE1992 paints the picture of a dystopian world with just a few words. "It will all wash down, it'll wash down when it rains" is so concise but profound, and Julian himself says it reflects that horrible attitude that all the big companies have to everything; 'ahhh, it'll all wash away, it'll be fine, it's not our responsibility'.

Anyway, I'm realising I'm waffling on and on, which is not cool. I could go through each of the tracks and talk about why they're completely relevant today - almost all of them are. You can buy a copy, and the booklet/sleeve will be completely covered in Julian's political writings.

But anyway, there are two out-and-out anti-Thatcher numbers (both penned and recorded before her ousting). Listen to them, and replace the she-pronouns with he-pronouns, and you've got yourself a 100% bona fide post-election apathy anthem. Firstly, Leperskin is pure fucking anger - that's how we all feel at Cameron right now, right? It's sort of baggy-acid-PUNK as the Happy Mondays-esque groove gets more frantic, and Julian begins to rattle off a furious rant about Thatcher - "SHE'S AN APISTOLIC HAG, SHE'S AN APISTOLIC HAG!" he cries - it's one huge, angry fuck you to Margaret Thatcher and her horrible government, and it resonates today, as a still-relevant FUCK YOU to David Cameron and his nearly-as horrible government.

And lastly, track 4 of side 1 is my absolute favourite (except the batshit crazy spacerock number Safesurfer that hasn't made it's way into my rant), it's a first person monologue, stripped down acoustically - Julian wanders through every street, every road in the land, to find it's been ravaged over the course of Thatcherite Britain. "The hatred she inspired, had to be seen to be believed" is maybe the most poignant line, and to a bit of a lesser extent it's the same with our current government.

Anyway, if you've reached the end you deserve a medal, and also an end to the Tory government. But to conclude, like actually conclude, this album is a political masterpiece that anyone can look to for how it things could and should be. It's a real shame that, even though lots of the band I love are politically charged, there aren't quite so many protest songs at the forefront of music.

Anyway, make sure you give this album a listen - it's all on YouTube, and spotify, but it's really something that you'd be all the better for owning. I hope I'm not alone in my statement, but Peggy Suicide really is the most relevant album of the generation, from a different generation. Even for someone born in 1997, Peggy Suicide's political message is one of the most poignant of any that any album can offer me today.

BUY THE HARD COPY HERE (and the mp3's too)
LISTEN TO IT HERE - YOUTUBE, SPOTIFY - BELOW, watch an interview where Cope discusses the making, Tory inequality, and the bicycle as a songwriting tool.

(written by calum cashin)