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Julian Cope - Interview

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 22 / 11 / 2002

Julian Cope - Interview


Donald Ross Skinner played guitar for Julian Cope between 1984 and 1994, and rejoined him for his last 2 tours. He has also played with a lot of other bands including AMP and Tiger. Anthony Strutt catches up with him to talk about his fascinating career

If you are a Julian Cope fan, Donald Ross Skinner needs no introduction. In 1984, he began playing guitar for Julian and stayed with him until 1994. He has rejoined Julian for his last 2 UK tours. I spotted Donald Ross Skinner playing guitar for AMP when they supported Interpol at a gig at 93 Feet East in Brick Lane in London in October. When I asked him for an interview, he was shocked that I wanted to talk to him, until I quoted every band that I had seen him playing in. This is only his third ever interview. Donald has just finished recording his first album with Chrissie Nicolson. This band is called Kiosk. Read on... PB: I first become aware of you because of your work with one Julian Cope. Legend has it you basically knocked on his front door and said “Can I play guitar with you?” DRS: That is not quite true. I knocked on his door because he had moved back to Tamworth which is where I also lived. I had been chucked by my girlfriend of 2 months, and (laughs) I had been playing,as you do, all these records that depressed me. I had been playing ‘Wilder’ (The Teardrop Explodes, Julian Cope’s original band’s second and final album-Ed) a lot and I thought that, as he had moved back to Tamworth, I would go down and get my album signed. Dorian, his girlfriend- they weren't married yet-opened the door and told me that he was in Liverpool. I later found out though that he was hiding because he was on a post acid paranoid trip after the Teardrops had split. I called around again and this time he really was away. A mate of mine from school had been round though to see him, so we finally both went round to see him together I had known him for nearly the best part of a year before he asked me to play with him. It never even occurred to me to ask him, even though though I was a guitar player. Then there was a Kid Jensen Session (Popular Radio 1 DJ with mid evening show at the time-Ed) in January 1984 and he asked if I wanted to play on it . Of course, you are not going to turn something like that down! PB : I would imagine you were quite a good guitar player,. What was your history in music prior to that. Were you in bands before that ? DRS: Just with mates at school, playing at the local youth club, and that sort of thing. I was in a band called D.H.S.S. At that time there was a punk band called the Renaults, which I wasn't in, but that splintered and became D.H.S.S . I got pally with them and joined them, but there was nothing more than that, nothing really serious. PB: Did you ever wish you were in the Teardrop Explodes? DRS: No, I was just a fan at the time. I only ever saw them once. I saw them at Birmingham Odeon in '82 just before 'Wilder' came out. PB: So you played on the Kid Jensen Session. What was the first record that you played on? DRS: It was from that session actually. It was ‘24A. Velocity Crescent’ which was the B side of 'The Greatness and Perfection Of Love', so that was my first vinyl, which was a bit of a thrill. PB: So you basically just carried on playing with him from then onwards? DRS: Yeah, he asked me to go on tour, so I gave up my job, but Steve Lovell, who produced him and played guitar, was in the band as well and there wasn't enough for me to do really, so I didn't get to do that and I was balled over, but more things started to creep in. I ended up doing demos with him in Birmingham and it grew that way. I first played with him on tour on a week in Italy in 1985. PB : Was that when the the famous Julian Cope Band started ? DRS: The J.C.B. (laughs). Yes ! PB: Did you get on well in the J.C.B.? DRS: Yeah, it was fun. PB: That was about the time I started getting into it. I saw the J.C.B, play on the same bill as the Mighty Lemon Drops in 1986.. DRS: At the Boston Arms. Yeah, I remember it. It was the first London gig we had done. It was packed. It was roasting hot and Sean Hughes (now a British stand-up comedian and television personality-Ed) was on the T-shirt stall. PB: Was he ? DRS: Yeah, he turned up with his mate and asked if he could get in . The manager said ‘Do you wanna do the merchandise stall ?’ I only found out about that years later. PB: As well as that, you were also playing by this stage in your own group, Freight Train. How did that come about and evolve? DRS: That came out of D.H.S.S. Originally it was just Barry who played bass in D.H.S.S and me. I turned up for a rehearsal one day at his place, and and he said 'Oh, the band has split up' so we just carried on, noodling around on a 4 track and we got a drummer in. PB: When you were working with Julian, did you ever clash on anything when you were working on songs together ? Did he give you free rein to do whatever you wanted to do? DRS: Pretty much so. We bounced a lot of ideas off each other. PB: He had nearly all the writing credits at the stage. You are not credited as a co-writer until quite a lot later on. DRS : At that stage it was usually songs that Julian already had. I would make things up and add contributions and put ideas in. It was only much later on when we were noodling about in his shed on 4 track that a few took shapes because we had both started working on them together. PB: I believe Mike Joyce of The Smiths joined J.C.B at about this time? DRS: That was in 1989. I think we did 3 dates in Britain as a warm up and then a Japanese tour. I think that was all. Julian used to introduce the band and Mike would always get the biggest cheer because he had been in the Smiths. PB: Freight Train released one 7" inch. Do you have anything else in the can ? DRs: There is a lot of stuff lying about that Julian is always threatening to compile and I'm like ‘No, no, no’. To me it just sounds like the work of a teenager. It may be interesting one day, but it makes me cringe a lot of it. PB: By the late 80’s were you working solely with Julian or did you do anything else? DRS : There was no other band or anything like that. I knocked out some of my own tunes. Freight Train had sizzled out. I was with Julian for ten years. ‘Autogedden’ was the last album that I was on. PB: Why did it come to an end? DRS: We had a disagreement. PB: Have you heard the albums he has done since then and what do you think of them? Do you think he has gone forward? DRS: Here and there. I think he seemed to motor on doing the same thing for a while, then he was doing his archeologist thing, and his stone circle books. That consumed a lot of his time. He doesn’t have a record deal anymore which suits him down to the ground. The last time I played with him was a few weeks ago at Newbury (near Reading). We did only one song, this 24 minute funk thing called 'Twilight of the Motherfuckers ' I don’t think Julian is very fussed about being commercial (Laughs). PB: You come from a band set up , but on the last 2 tours it was just the 2 of you and lots of computers and everything on D.A.T. Was that better or worse for you both? DRS: It was good but I would rather it was a band playing. It was quite enjoyable but I felt a little paranoid surrounded by all that gear. I would love to do another band tour with Julian, but I don’t think that it will happen. PB: When you fell out and stopped recording together, did you fall out as friends as well ? DRS : We didn't speak for 8 years. I still need to sit down and read it all the way through, but when the second part of Julian’s autobiography came out though, I scanned through it to see what he said about me and it was all good stuff. PB: After the J.C.B thing finished, did you feel like you had become suddenly unemployed ? It had been rather full on. DRS : Not really. I produced things for a while. I did stuff for Cod Salad, I did Manya music, so there were things to do. PB: You also produced Strangelove, or did you just play with them ? DRS: I produced ‘Hysteria Unknown’, which was their second single. PB: How did you find them to work with because they are nice guys, but Patrick Duff (the group’s frontman) is really intense DRS : He was intense at the time. PB: That was when he was really fucked up. DRS: I didn't really know that. I knew he drank, but I was surprised when his manager struck him into rehab. He still is intense, even though he doesn't drink anymore. PB: You also produced Starfish which Gavin, your brother, also played in DRS: Gavin was drumming. Dave Newton from the Mighty Lemon Drops and Susie from the Katydids were also in the band. That was just a one off single. There were going to be more, but Dave moved to America and it just fizzled out. PB: After that you were in the second line up of Tiger. How did that come about ? DRS : Tiger were managed by Cerne, who also managed Starfish and Strangelove and the Lemondrops. They didn't have a drummer, and they wanted to rehearse some new songs and they got Gavin, but then Gavin had to go away, so I stood in for Gavin on drums. I did some of the production on their last album 'Rosaria' as well. Gavin and I also got on a tour with Pulp with them. That was the 'This is Hardcore' tour with the Eels. That was good fun. PB: I believe you produced Beat Glider as well. DRS: Yeah, I did. I was in Prolapse for a while. I tend to end up in bands. PB : What attracts you to bands ? DRS: Sometimes it's just me. Sometimes someone rings up and says ‘Do you want to work on this ?’ Usually I'm into it anyway, but I wasn’t familiar with Prolapse at all. Then you work with them and end up joining them. It just happens. I haven't produced anything for a while apart from being involved with my local studio. PB: Do you miss the buzz of an audience? DRS: Yeah, I do, I like going on tour. It is something to take you out of yourself for a week or two. I also like the chaos of it too. PB: Is there anything that I have missed that you have been involved in ? DRS: Subjagger. I played a few gigs with them. PB: Any plans to work with Julian Cope again? DRS: Yeah, he is busy writing the follow up to 'The Modern Antiquarian' at the moment though . PB: Has he ever done anything that has offended you? DRS: No, not really. We could always talk sense in the bar. PB: I have met him a few times and he seems down to earth. Now he is more experimental and what he is now doing is not post-rock or Krautrock, but heavy rock. I don't buy everything new that he does though, because he has done a lot of nonsense in the last few years. DRS: I would probably agree with that. He wouldn't mind you saying that. PB: Who are the people you look up to musically? What got you into music? Was it punk rock that first got you into music ? DR: Yeah. I usually liked who was on the Whistle Test in the 70’s in their New Year’s Eve and Christmas Eve specials. The Who were the first thing that got me into music, and then there was loads of stuff after that. Sly and the Family Stone were one of my favourite groups . It's been a while though since I have been ntotally blown over by anything. PB: Did you like Interpol? DR: I thought they sounded good but they didn't have any songs. The singing was a bit mumbled. PB: On to AMP. How did you get involved with AMP? DR: I was driving them. That is my other half life. My friend Ben drives bands around and when he can't do it, I do it because it means getting out of the studio and hitting the road . I usually find it fun. PB: Would you like to write a book? DR: I thought about it today actually, but I don't t think there is a book in me. I have written a lot of lyrics in this last year though. PB: Would you like to sing? DR: No. PB: Don't you think your voice is good enough? DR: I can sing ,and when I am writing in the studio for my new band Kiosk, I just write them, and sing them in the studio, and then give them to Chrissie the real singer, and usually fuzz mine up. It's not my method. BP: What are you future plans? DR: Just to carry on with this, and to see how it goes. PB: Thank for your time.

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Julian Cope - Interview

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