philcooper

We need art now more than ever

There’s no escaping it, the UK (perhaps even the world) is falling apart. Years of austerity have ground people down and the EU referendum and political upheaval this year have proven that we are a radically divided nation.

The one theme that runs through most arguments however is a disquiet about the status quo. People don’t trust politicians and are increasingly sceptical of the media.

There has also been a lot of anti-intellectual talk (even from our politicians) and no one seems to know where to look in order to make sense of the situation we find ourselves in.

There is, in my opinion, a vastly underrated medium which always seems to pop up during periods of social restlessness, and that is ART in its many forms. Because of my position in this debate, I have a bias for music, but many of my arguments also work for theatre, poetry, painting, and any other artform you can think of.

It helps you escape
Firstly, art can help you escape your day-to-day trials and tribulations and keep you sane in a confusing world.

Listening to music is well known for releasing “feel-good” endorphins which improve your state of mind. I personally have seen this in action in PTSD sufferers at Tedworth House (A Help For Heroes hospice in Wiltshire, where I regularly perform).

It speaks beyond intellect
When people are fed up with “experts” (which we are told is a genuine issue) then we need to find another way to reach people. Music and art can fill that gap, and inform people without either patronising or being too high brow. I’ve seen a lot of satirical pictures popping up on social media recently, and I predict an increase in social commentary in music and comedy especially over the coming years.

It allows you to vent your frustrations creatively
When there is so much pent up aggression and frustration in society, we nrebecca-weeks-satire-pictureeed an outlet which doesn’t cause harm to others. Art (and sport, in fact) gives us that outlet.

Where art differs from the benefits of physical exertion of sport, however, is that you don’t always have to participate for it to have a positive impact. How many times have you seen a picture, or heard a song and felt that it says EXACTLY what you were thinking? That shared experience can immediately make you feel less confused and alienated. The fact that “Someone else feels the same as me” is incredibly comforting, isn’t it?

The picture on the right was drawn by Rebecca Weeks in my doodle pad at a recent gig and serves to illustrate my point perfectly!

It can help dig us out of this hole
There have been many studies recently about the benefit of a healthy music scene on local and national economy (See this, this and this for just a few examples). I won’t go in to the economics here, but surely, if there’s something that we enjoy doing, that is also of massive benefit to ourselves and our communities, we should be encouraging more of it?

I think that’s enough talk from me now, but I’ll leave you with this, which some of you will have seen before. I hope it helps some of you!

The great music drought – the talent is there, but not being nurtured!

I read a news article this morning which had been shared by The Music Venue Trust. This article had been written by The Guardian and bemoaned the lack of new musical acts emerging in the UK. Now, putting aside the fact that the Guardian has has a history of declaring things dead when they are demonstrably not, the article definitely rubbed me up the wrong way…

“There’s nothing on the horizon, no music scene at the moment. It seems to be that the talent isn’t out there, [or if it is] they don’t know what to do with it,” says the label source.

… How dare you! As part of my wonderful job, I get the privilege of travelling the country playing alongside many different artists and I can categorically state that the talent most certainly IS OUT THERE! Which means the second part of the quote comes in to play “…they don’t know what to do with it”. I don’t know whether this “source” is talking about the artist not knowing what to do with their talent, or the industry not knowing what to do with the talent, so I will deal with both arguments.

1) The artist doesn’t know what to do with the talent…

This has ALWAYS been the case, musicians are notoriously bad at self promotion and making themselves commercially viable. Labels used to do things called “development deals” where they would help shape a band by teaching them the music business without expecting an immediate return, because they had faith that the band would learn and eventually become a valuable “asset” to the label. It was an investment in money and time. The label would nurture the band, make sure they were playing shows that would give much needed experience and get the band ready for “the big time”. Yes this lead to countless bands that “nearly made it” and the label made a loss, but without this valuable step there simply will not be any “big time bands” because you can’t expect someone to be completely polished out of the box.

Look at the UK chart scene in recent years, full of X-Factor/Britains Got Talent style acts, and you know what…? Regardless of my opinion of those shows (you can probably guess what it is), there’s no denying that a valuable part of those shows is MENTORSHIP, the acts on those shows get shown how to perform, and how to win an audience. That should be happening at grass roots level for all genres of music.

The business no longer invests at the grass roots, and legendary venues are closing left, right and centre because of it, leaving a watered down scene. Whenever I search for new venues for my (self managed) tours, I always come across at least a dozen venues that say they put on “live music” when all they really do is have an open mic once a week (or sometimes once a month). I don’t want to bad mouth open mics because they definitely have a place, but you don’t learn to craft an excellent show, or build a dedicated fanbase by playing 2 or 3 song sets and venues promoting the idea that open mics = live music is detrimental to the reputation of the music scene in general.

2) The industry doesn’t know what to do with the talent…

… Why the hell not? It’s YOUR business to know. As mentioned above, you cannot expect to have a full polished talent turn up for you to promote, and if such a talent existed they wouldn’t want to work with you anyway, because (given this is the age of readily available technology) they’d be doing very well on their own thank you very much!

It seems to me that the traditional model of “success” failed a long time ago as the sheer amount of choice increased. The music scene is more fragmented now than it has ever been and the industry has failed to keep up. Instead of searching for the “next big thing”, they should concentrate on the long tail. It may be more work in the short term, but it stands to reap greater rewards as they use it to reinvigorate a nation’s thirst for musical culture.

The industry has become so obsessed with the rise of the Internet that it has failed to grasp that online success/talent does not necessarily translate to live success/talent. Live music has always been about more than just the music, it’s a shared experience with friends and strangers. It’s an experience that the audience and the artist are SHARING TOGETHER, and that’s how you get “super fans”, those who are dedicated and become the street team “word of mouth” advocates which spreads a band faster than anything else. The Internet, for all its positives simply cannot replace the euphoria you feel when a band plays an awesome gig a few feet away from you and it will not generate “super fans” as easily. Social media has helped bands connect with their audience, but it cannot fully provide the live show experience.

The industry has been trying the same things over and over again and expecting different results, and as Einstein is often quoted as stating, that’s the definition of madness. It’s time to shake it up and do something different. The talent is most definitely out there, but it needs nurturing (yes, at the risk of making mistakes and losses) and gently bringing to the public’s attention. In order to have “big fish”, you need a body of water for them to swim in!

Song-writing: is it witchcraft?

Song-writing: is it witchcraft?The Old Theatre Royal, Bath. Monday 30th May. Show starts at 7.30pm. Tickets £5 available here.

A couple of months back, I was approached to put on a show at The Old Theatre Royal for Bath Fringe Festival 2016. The idea intrigued me and I instantly knew I wanted to do something a bit different.

I saw a show by the wonderful She Makes War at Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year, which had a 50/50 – spoken word/live music structure, and I decided to rack my brains for an idea using this format. It struck me that I had recently been asked quite a lot about song-writing and it seemed that since it appeared to be an interesting topic, I could build a show around it.

The resulting show is “Song-writing: is it witchcraft?“, which explains how a song develops from a nugget of an idea in to a full blown song, with musical examples along the way. Also, because I like to challenge myself, I’ve also decided that I (with the help of the audience) will use the theories I talk about to write, at least the basis for, a song during the show. After the show I will make a recording of it and send to every member of the audience.

The show takes place at The Old Theatre Royal, Bath (NB: this is a different venue from the current Theatre Royal) on Monday 30th May. It starts at 7.30pm and will include a guest performance from my song-writer buddy Jamie R Hawkins. Tickets are £5 in advance and available from the Bath Fringe Festival website. I’m unsure if tickets will be available on the door, so it’s best to get them in advance to make sure you don’t miss out on this unique show.

Demo For Democracy – 7th May 2016

Some pretty exciting news today… I’ve been asked to perform I Don’t Have a Voice (and another brand new song written especially) at the Demo For Democracy on 7th May outside Westminster.

This is both exciting and terrifying but it really is an honour to have been asked to play at this demonstration, which is taking place on the anniversary of the most disproportionate general election in UK history. It will be a family-friendly day to call for change in a manner fitting to the inclusive, cooperative political system we deserve. If you are interested in the event please find out more here.

Remind yourself of the song below – the video now uses the album recording rather than my rushed demo, which was used before. Please share it around as much as you can on Facebook, Twitter etc since I lost about 3,000 views when I switched to the new recording and it’d be great to get them back!

The Hardboard Guitar Company

Redwood guitar from The Hardboard Guitar Company at The Green Dragon Inn, HardrawIn these days of Starbucks, Amazon and iEverything it’s become increasingly easy to underestimate (and even ignore) the amazing local businesses we have surrounding us. I could easily go in to a rant about supporting local business here, but instead I want to focus on one particular company that has entered in to my life recently.

I’ve known Felix Byrne (AKA The Hardboard Guitar Company) and his equally talented wife Jacqui for many years so when he invited me to his home and workshop to have a look at what he did and try a few guitars I was hardly likely to say no. I’d heard a little bit about his guitars, but it was lovely to hear him enthuse about them as he explained some of the thought processes behind them. You see, these guitars are built very differently from what you’d expect from a luthier (which Felix claims he isn’t, he’s a designer).

Firstly, there’s the obvious point that they are made of hardboard… well that is to say, the back and sides of the body are. The top (and that’s where the sound comes from after all) is made from ethically sourced wood which Felix gets from a local tree surgeon. When I visited, I played one made from Leylandii and one made from (again ethically sourced – i.e. reclaimed) Redwood and was immediately captivated. The red hue made the guitar look stunning and the sound was rich and beautiful. These guitars are designed to be easy to travel with and as such they are small bodied, but the richness and sustain of the ones I tried were astounding. Felix and I spoke business and I now have a Redwood/Hardboard guitar of my own (it’s the one in the picture up there looking beautiful).

Other innovations include a hollow neck (yep, there’s a hollow aluminium tube to give it strength) which means the whole guitar acts as a sound chamber, and as I alluded to earlier, the unique way it becomes a “travel guitar” – everything is held in place with pegs and slots, which makes it really easy to pack down. You don’t even need to remove the strings, just slacken them, although if you do, restringing it is wonderfully easy thanks to the unique way the strings enter the guitar.

Felix was really keen for me to give the guitar a thorough road test, so of course always being one to oblige, I took it to Scotland and back, playing a few gigs on the way including one at The Green Dragon in Hardraw where I played the entire gig using just this guitar. It doesn’t yet have a pickup in it (that will be coming soon) so I was unable to use it at all of my gigs, only ones where going unplugged was appropriate.

However, once I got to Edinburgh, I went to VoxBox Music – an independent record shop (support them or lose them!) and played a few songs with my new guitar in amongst the vinyl, just so you could hear what it sounds like. For all the innovation in the guitars, Felix hasn’t forgotten that the purpose of them is to sound great, and I hope you’ll agree with me that it definitely hits the mark on this live version of Stepping Off the Edge (from my latest album “Things I’ll Never Say“)

Things I’ll Never Say – Press Release

NEW ALBUM IS STATEMENT OF INTENT AS SINGER-SONGWRITER PHIL COOPER QUITS EXECUTIVE MANAGEMENT JOB TO PURSUE MUSICAL DREAM

Midway through 2015, west country singer-songwriter Phil Cooper realised he’d had enough of skirting around the edges of the music business, and decided to quit his job as Technical Director of internet company Clever Digit Media and plunge head first into a fully professional music career. Six months later he has emerged with a brand new album, entitled “Things I’ll Never Say”, which is a real statement of intent to cement that status for good.

Phil was determined to create an album which fully showcased his songwriting ability, and what you’ll hear is a big, polished sound in stark contrast to the stripped back nature of his 2014 “Half Live” album. Calling in favours from musical friends to add the extra instrumentation to really make his songs shine, it unashamedly yells “This is what I want to do, and I’m here to stay”.

Sticking to his fierce DIY ethics, Phil has released the album himself through CDBaby, and continues to self-fund his tours around the UK. The album is available now from www.phil-cooper.co.uk and iTunes, amazon etc will follow.

Stepping Off the Edge

I thought I’d try something different for this song, by explaining how it came about and what was going through my mind when I wrote it. Please let me know if you like this format and I’ll do it for a few more songs.

If you’ve been following me for anything longer than 6 months, you may already have an inkling that this song is about taking the plunge in to full time musicianship. “This terrible thrill” describes the mixed feeling of excitement at doing something you’ve always wanted to do, but knowing that there’s a chance it might not end the way you want it to.

Many of you will be familiar with the concept of “Schrodinger’s Cat” – in which it’s explained that something which has not yet been experienced has an infinite number of possibilities. This is the case with changing a career to follow a dream… until you’ve attempted it, there is an equal chance that your dream will come true, and that it will become a nightmare. Only by “opening the box” can you find out which comes to pass… and yes, I used “Schodinger’s Box” because it was easier to rhyme!

In the song I also wanted to reference the support I received from pretty much everyone when I announced my intentions. I know it’s a big risk but no one at all asked me “are you sure you want to do this?” or in any way tried to put me off. That’s referenced in verse three when I say “You’ve got my back”, which isn’t aimed at anyone in particular, but could equally apply to my family, my wonderful girlfriend, my friends, my former employer. Literally everyone close to me has “got my back”.

After writing it, I realised very quickly that it had something of a Crowded House influence, and I wanted to embrace that, so I asked my good friend Jamie R Hawkins to provide a second vocal line, so the song would benefit from two part harmony throughout (in homage to their classic album “Woodface” – one of my all time favourites). He didn’t let me down, and I hope to work with him again in the near future.

The song was written originally to go on the limited edition “Notice Period EP” (no longer available), but when we recorded it, we all decided it deserved a wider audience and that it would be remixed for the album.

So there we go, a little insight in to the workings of a song. If you want to know anything else, please just ask.

Lyrics

This terrible thrill is becoming me.
I look to the future and what do I see? A world so uncertain and a chance to be free.

The world outside is Schrodinger’s box, with how many doors and how many locks?
I guess I won’t know until I take that walk.

Now I’m stepping off the edge.
I’m going to need you as I learn to fly

The more I thought, the more I knew it’s just something I’ve got to do.
You’ve got my back to help me see it through.

Now I’m stepping off the edge.
I’m going to need you as I learn to fly

This open stage I’ll call my own. The doubts and fears all overthrown.

Now I’m stepping off the edge.
I’m going to need you as I learn to fly

BBC Wiltshire Performance

Have you ever reached a crossroads in your life? You can stay doing what you're doing or make a leap of faith. Phil...

Posted by BBC Wiltshire on Saturday, 16 January 2016