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Family Business

So you get a picture from the family, not something to do with the words of the song?

The Coppers & The Young Tradition 1970: l.to.r. Bob Copper, Heather Wood, Peter Bellamy, Ron Copper, Royston Wood, John Copper.
The Coppers & The Young Tradition 1970: l.to.r. Bob Copper, Heather Wood, Peter Bellamy, Ron Copper, Royston Wood, John Copper. (Photo: Brian Shuel)
J.C. The words don't form a picture to me, none of them. The big buzz I get is that sometimes when I'm singing with dad and John, suddenly Ron's with us again and it's an old Christmas down in Rottingdean. It's like being in a time machine.

That's very different, then to people who have been attracted to folk songs by the words. Do none of the words ever conjure up things from the stories they tell?

J.C. Only when you first learn them.

B.C. The songs are still, and have been for a long, long time, a terrific bond in the family. We're a very friendly family and the songs have played a big part in that.

J.C. Jill's got a teenage family and I've got an infant family and they're just beginning to show an interest in it. We don't ram it down their throats, as it wasn't rammed down ours. The vibes the young family get off it is the fun we have when we get together and sing.

How do you feel about other people doing Copper songs? Are there any versions you've particularly liked?

J.C. I was very impressed by the Young Tradition, we all were. We thought "Christ, these people can sing", all the interesting things they were doing with the harmonies.

B.C. And don't forget, when Ron and I were young, the songs were very much in danger of being lost. I was making positive efforts to get someone to write them down. So these days, with lots of people singing them, even if they make a rotten job of it, the songs are living. Obviously we like to hear them well done, but the only thing I don't like is if people take the mickey out of them. I get bloody wild then.

J.C. There's this thing going on at the moment called the Kipper Family, isn't there? It's too early to make a judgement, but I'd very much like to meet those people. They did write to us off their own bat, but Peter Bellamy came down and went on and on about how marvellous and great they were, he enthused so much that he put me off!

I just hope that the songs continue to give as wide an audience of people happiness and pleasure. I'm sure that Jim and Brasser and Honest John, and all the others before them would agree with that sentiment. As long as they're treated with a bit of respect, and sometimes appreciation is shown to the generations of this family responsible for carrying them into the modern day, then I'm perfectly happy for anyone to perform them, and the more they do, the better I like it. I sometimes think that people ought to mention, just now and again, that it was through the work of Jim Copper, and his father, and Bob Copper as well, that these songs reached the modern day - I feel strongly about that. When the Steeleye Span crew did Hard Times [Of Old England], there was no recognition of the source. OK, it's traditional, we don't want bloody royalties or anything, but they ought to say.


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

 

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