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Family Business

The picture painted by Flora Thompson was virtually simultaneous with your grandfather, but what a difference in lifestyle! And not very much singing.

B.C. Yes, exactly. You've got to feel pretty well to sing.

I got the impression from her books that the reason why there weren't many musical instruments around was that they were so poor they'd had to sell any they had. Now if Rottingdean was better off, were instruments more common?

Jim Copper (centre) and Bob (right) talk to the BBC's  Brian George  in 1950
Jim Copper (centre) and Bob (right) talk to the BBC's Brian George in 1950
B.C. The only instrument there was in the village in the agricultural community was old Stevie Barrow's, an old shepherd. I remember him quite well, getting on for 70 or 80. He had a concertina - I never heard him play it, though I've seen it in an exhibition - but apparently he used to accompany his singing. The song that came from him, via Dad, was Lord Thomas - lovely song. He was a show-off, if ever there was one - little short bloke with a white patriarchal beard when I remember him, with a moleskin cap. Jump over a five-bar gate on his 70th birthday, that sort of thing, and went up on a five shilling trip in an Avro bi-plane on his 80th birthday! Stevie Barrow would do that sort of thing.

There doesn't seem to be much reference in your writings to the women in the family singing. Didn't they sing, or was it only when the men weren't around?

B.C. Well, leave my wife Joan out of it, she wan't interested in the slightest, not a bit! But my mother and Ron's mum, they used to join in, very much so. And, my aunt Lil, dad's older sister, she was like a female Brasser - she had a deep, contralto voice, just like Brasser with a wig on! We'd never heard Clara Butt, but she sounded like we imagined Clara Butt did. She sang all the harmonies on the traditional songs. She was always at the family Christmasses, though she lived up in London. With Jill and Lynn, it's lovely to see the women coming back into it again. I'm sure my sister joined in too, but she went off and got a bit posh.


This feature first appeared in issue 20 of The Southern Rag (the original title of fRoots) in April 1984.

 

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