I can’t really remember when I first heard Ray Cooper play but know it was when he was still known as ‘Chopper’ and playing bass with The Oyster Band, or at least I think it was before the group squeezed their name to Oysterband. Thankfully I do however remember where and when I first met him which means you can’t quite cart me off yet.
Some years back the Wild Hare Club hosted a great Spring Bank Holiday show at the Barrels which featured John Jones and the Reluctant Ramblers – the side project of John Jones from the Oysters – and Ray was one of the Ramblers though he didn’t seem all that reluctant to me. I say this because the band were walking from venue to venue and when I joined them the next day, walking from Hereford to somewhere beyond Mordiford, Ray proved to be a very pleasant walking companion indeed. So, I remember chatting about The Incredible String Band and Greenpeace and this and that and I suppose that’s how come a few years down the path we’re lucky enough to have him come play a solo show at the WHC as part of his 2018 UK Winter Tour. I say UK tour because Ray is now resident in Sweden.
Ray, of Scottish/English descent, like so many fine musicians, left art school to go wherever the music took him which as you now know led him to The Oyster Band/Oysterband with whom he recorded 19 albums and played shows in 27 countries. But you can have too much of a good thing and in 2013 he decided to go solo.
After setting up a recording studio in a small log cabin in Sweden he made his first album Tales of Love War and Death by Hanging in 2010. That album had a strongly historical theme whereas the 2014 follow-up, Palace of Tears was about more recent, more personal history.
Ray’s latest album Between The Golden Age and the Promised Land is a bigger sounding record with serious themes but is nevertheless simple, raw, joyous, and unashamedly romantic. Ray sings and plays all the instruments - piano, guitar, cello, mandolin, harmonium, bass and percussion. The production is stripped down, inspired in part by Rick Rubin’s work with the late, great man in black, Johnny Cash.
There is folk on the album but it's never quite straight folk. Nevertheless, the album is more English sounding too, with the inclusion of several traditional tunes and songs woven into the album as the listener is taken on a journey from the English countryside, to Flanders, Venice, Beirut, and even to the moon in the song Ocean Of Storms. The opening track Drunk On Youth describes a happy memory as a teenager, swimming in a river drunk, the album moves on to describe the true story of a maverick soldier in WWI, the beautiful Arab singer Asmahan, a holiday romance, being a father, the present day migrants in the Mediterranean, before ending with Wayfaring Stranger, the classic hymn that seems to be a Wild Hare Club staple. The album is well worth a listen and can be streamed or downloaded here but it’s better still to hear this personable musician live.