Jonathan Cope: Heaven 17’s pet bird romances

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Jonathan Cope wrote the song Flying Over Sunset as a response to a direct assault on his character

From the man who famously smashed glass bottles and took a collapsing screen to torment the audience of his band Heaven 17 came one of pop’s strangest odes to romance – Flying Over Sunset.

Released in 1991, the song gives a remarkably realistic account of a drunken encounter that once inspired one of the wackiest pop songs.

Jonathan Cope explains how the bizarre premise of the song came about.

Being a songwriter, the story is a tiny wrinkle in the wider evolutionary timeline of pop.

I bought a pet macaw called Gimpy and so we went on holidays. He was a bit tame but basically the name was my pet.

“My lover, my love, my favourite music and your Mackerel Mackerel Mackerel Cat” – I still like those lines.

One day, I got off the first-class train and the only person I saw was a middle-aged lady. She said: “Excuse me Jonathan, can I please have your umbrella?”

I felt momentarily humiliated but it was that moment I knew: Gimpy loved me.

Gimpy had flown over Sunset to the English countryside where he lived. He was a town boy, singing and dancing in the street.

It was Monday and a blizzard was engulfing the rocks so I threw my umbrella at him, like the lyrics say: “You better run, better run because the train is getting closer, get to the nearest body or else you’ll miss it!”

It was in an empty café. It took everything in my brain to get away. Then, when I jumped on stage to play a song, he burst into song.

He sang along to the music and we got it on the road.

Also on the 1989 tour, we did a bit of stage blooding with a broken screen.

It was going to be in the song: “In the night, in the middle of London, in the bright lights, call out Gimpy, Gimpy fly down, Gimpy, fly down …” and we brought it up in the set, a grown man standing in the middle of all the flashing lights, singing and dancing.

When we got back to London and the crowd were shocked to their guts. They thought I had genuinely broken the screen off the stage.

“Oh, you’re just kidding Jonathan.”

I kept trying to convince them it was real, but even then I had my eyes shut, trying to sort of wriggle out of it. It didn’t quite work out, though!

It’s a funny, weird kind of daydream that reminds me of early Heaven 17 tours with the drug of the day, diazepam, or ketamine.

Why is that song the most-covered British song?

Most songs we did had a cover version of a horror movie title or a woman who was disguised as a horse. That’s sort of what I thought Flying Over Sunset would be and I decided to go with it.

Years later, a guy called Luca de Meo called himself Out Of The Blue. He said it in the lead-up to a gig and he put it on every single night.

When we finally played it, he went: “This song needs an edge and must have a guitar solo.”

I used to get that feeling every night I’d come on stage.

Thank goodness I didn’t go that far with it. I went the other way. It was more love than blame.

Have you heard the Flying Over Sunset story? Tweet us or email us at @bbcbooth.

Read more about Heaven 17: Heaven 17’s rollercoaster 25 years on

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