Bob Copper

Biography by

Bob Copper is one of the grand old men of the British folk scene, responsible not only for many fine performances on recording, but for actually collecting hundreds of folk songs, many of them during…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

Bob Copper is one of the grand old men of the British folk scene, responsible not only for many fine performances on recording, but for actually collecting hundreds of folk songs, many of them during a research project for the BBC undertaken during the '50s. The Copper Family itself is something of an institution in British folk, the group featuring a handful of Coppers in evolutionary change, family members from great grandfather to great grandchild. The contributions of Bob Copper himself were acknowledged in early 2001 with the presentation of the Good Tradition Lifetime Achievement Award, handed over by Billy Bragg, whose own motherlode of folk songwriting certainly could not have been accomplished without Copper's mining.

These efforts include the publication of songbooks such as A Song for Every Season and Bob Copper's Sussex. What makes this Copper more precious than the author of many another thick songbook is his multi-talented nature, especially the prose style. The man who lists former employment as a singer, song collector, musician, mummer, painter, engraver, illustrator, writer, poet, reviewer, broadcaster, rook scarer, lather boy, soldier, policeman, and publican does indeed turn out a classic volume, often done with his own illustrations and including touching memorabilia about his father, Jim Copper's generation as well as much insight into the nature of folk music. Considering how much of it has been inspired by the labors of the common folk, the following insight of Copper seems crucial in dealing with genres from country blues to the laments of Algerian pearl divers: "(One can) really believe in a song about the plough when it is sung by a ploughman, but, be it ever so sweetly sung by a man who does not know a share from a coulter or a whipple-tree from a pratt-pin, it will never sound quite the same."

The process of collecting said songs from the retired ploughman also makes for an amusing part of Copper's ore. Many old-timers sniffed money in the air -- it is the music business, after all -- and were aggressive in their manner toward the idealistic songcatcher, just as they had been generations before when Rudyard Kipling was roaming around collecting the same sorts of ditties. The American musicologist Alan Lomax may have brought the message home in his own productions of Copper and other traditional U.K. performers available on several compilations. Both Lomax and Copper tend to get songwriting credits for a wide array of public-domain material simply due to their own publishing efforts. In Copper's case, the British publishing empire, badly in need of having the lenses of its collective glasses cleaned, often mashes up credits with traditional performers named Bob Cooper, of which there is a small army.