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Mike Cooper


July 7, 2017
LP, Digital, Streaming

Mike Cooper’s output of the past half century has been described as ‘post-everything’. It’s a fitting phrase really when you consider he has been at the beating heart of so many critical musical moments. From the development of the blues touring circuit in the UK, through the growth of the folk scene and into the explosion of free improvisation that came to define a generation of UK musicians. Amidst it all, working at stitching these disparate forms into some kind of deterritorialised zone, was Mike Cooper.

It’s fitting then, that he explores the notion of journey on his latest full length edition. Even more fitting that he examines the vessels that carry us on journeys. With Raft, Cooper charts his interests in ambient exotica and collides it with his research into various South Pacific musical traditions. The record extends his palette considerably, stretching away from the hypnogogic flows of his master piece Rayon Hula, into a more oceanic setting. Raft 21 Guayaquil To Tully, for example, sets out a lilting rise and fall of harmony which erupts with spluttering electronics. 

Specifically inspired by Vital Alsar and William Wills, sailors who undertook some of the 20th centuries most impressive solo voyages, Raft reflects upon the determination of the solo traveller. In a musical sense, Mike Cooper’s work of recent years has very much reflected a determined solo traveller work ethic. In his commitment to travel alone, he has developed a range of strategies that he works against as a means of surprising himself and uncovering unfamiliar sonic relations. 

This approach has proved an incredibly fertile pursuit for Cooper, arguably producing some of his most affecting and engaging works, his Room40 albums Fratello Mare and White Shadows Of The South Seas amongst them. Raft is a vital record that sets its sights beyond the horizons of convention and in doing so reveals a perspective that is only available to lifelong voyagers such as Mike Cooper.

From Mike: 
When I was 18 years old I had a friend who was twice my age – 36. We worked together in the same timber mill – Baynes in Reading – where i was apprenticed by my father – I had no say in the matter – despite wanting to go to art college – which in hindsight would probably have been a mistake.

My friends name was Jim – Jim Sale. I sensed that Jim was different to all the other men who worked in the mill and my suspicion was confirmed when discovered that he was building a boat in another part of the mill – nearer to the Kennet and Avon canal that ran past – not far away. i was actually destined to work for a while in that part of the mill for a while – it was where they ‘kiln dried’ timber prepared for building purposes. 

As time went on Jim became a kind of ‘life mentor’ for me. He and his wife (name gone Im afraid) were my first ‘adult’ friends outside my family. Jim and his wife already lived on a boat when we first met – a canal barge – longboat – and i often visited them down on the river Thames where they were moored. I began to love the river due to them and spent many hours walking it in all the time that I lived in Reading. 

The millionaire and holiday resort owner Billy Butlin organised a charity walk from John O Groats in Scotland to Lands End in Cornwall for a prize of 500 to the winner — 715 people entered – including Jim who as far as I remember completed the walk but didn’t win the money to finance his boat. It was about 1000 kilometres all in all. That was kind of person he was.

Eventually Jim did finish building his boat — more of a waterproof plywood box really. One weekend he borrowed one of the timber mill cranes and lifted it up and over the fence into the canal. It floated — he then single handed poled it down the canal to the main body of the Thames. He had no means of steering this box and its only power was his two arms and a long pole. It was reasonably ok going down the fairly tranquil flow of the canal but when he finally hit the main river the current took hold and it began to rotate while being dragged down stream – which wasn’t the direction Jim intended for it to go. Somehow he survived it all and managed to get it to go where he wanted which was to De Montfort island – now called Fry’s Island. There was a ‘bohemian jazz club’ on the island at the time called The Bohemian Club. The island was named after Robert De Montfort who fought a duel there in 1157 with Henry Of Essex. 

Jim and his wife settled into life on the island – fitted out the ‘boat’ and had two children – they travelled back and forth to the river banks by a small rowing boat whenever they needed. My own life took me away from them as i began to play music with my band The Blues Committee and sing and play in folk clubs. 
We had friends in common and I stayed in touch and I visited several times – one day I heard the terrible news that the boat had caught fire and they were unable to rescue their two children. It was the first funeral i ever attended and I have never saw either of them again after that. 

So – Raft will be dedicated to them as well as William Willis and Vital Alsar and his crew.