reviews – past present and future

and unsolicited testimony

Dear Mike Cooper, – I want to tell you why your music has been an inspiration to me recently.I’m 25, I live in New York. I’m originally a saxophone player, but playing more guitar these days, as well as other woodwinds and “anything I can get my hands on.” My interests in music have always been at the extremes, whether that means all out improv noise or gentle pop songs. I’ve always been a person to try to do it all, but our culture says that you’re not supposed to do that, that you’re supposed to pick your thing and stick with it. I’ve never been able to do that, but still it’s difficult when people come to expect something in particular associated with one’ s own name. Your ability to move so fluidly between styles without carrying any baggage back and forth is a real inspiration to me…. not to mention the actual sounds on those records! I don’t know why I feel compelled to write you, but sometimes these things are inexplicable. Also, if yr at all curious, there’s some songs from my new song-record (as opposed to the improv based stuff I’ve been doing) on and more on my label’s page, all the best,- R. L.

In contrast to many artists who grow tame in their old age, Cooper, now in his sixties, is making the most adventurous music of his life. (Brainwashed 2005)

Along with John Martyn and Davey Graham, Mike Cooper was one of the stars of the mid 60’s acoustic-folk/blues boom, and like Martyn his career trajectory took a strange turn, as his work started to incorporate elements of free jazz and improvised music – leading to an eclectic series of releases that cover ground between world music, electronica, exotica, improv and roots. Now based in Rome, Mike Cooper’s appearances are a rare delight – don’t miss this opportunity to see an always explorative legend of British music, playing national steel guitar and electronics. A Scaledown scoop! (Scaledown Club London 2005)

Dear Mike – hey its a long time now but I still recollect being mesmerised by the 60s folkscene and particularly your steel guitar playing. Inching closer to the small performance area to try to capture those fleeting fingers on the frets. We never spoke but 40 years on its still a strong memory. I was at the impressionable age you will understand and I still am I suppose. I once pwned a copy of your record Out Of The Shades with Derek Hall sadly lost in one of my many moves. To the point I would love to get hold of another copy of this great disc as it was my all time favourite folk blues recording, and Im including Bert, John and Davey here. Any ideas where I could get one as e-bay has not produced one so far. Regards and fond memories of those times.-A.H. 2006

Much as David Sylvian, Derek Bailey and Christian Fennesz should be lauded for their work on the former’s Blemish album, Cooper’s audacious, unfettered performances mark an equally inspiring advance in marrying experimental sonics with song. – (Keith Moline – Wire Feb. 2005.)

Hi Coop – I can’t recall if I’ve given you my rave about Life and Death in Paradise?… what an astonishing album. I have listened to that pretty much non-stop since I got it a couple of weeks ago. I have been playing it to everyone I can get to sit down and listen to it, and many have had jaws drop. Its kind of Tim Buckley-ish, but also has an almost punk edge, your vocals remind me a little bit of John Loydon. It is venomous in a similar way I suppose. Its pretty obvious that guys like Buzzcocks/Magazine and Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock must have been hip to Life and Death in Paradise, that sort of crafty-song punk/avant thing… Fascinating to think of what you were doing at that stage in the 70s when what else was going on in UK music. Anyway, there is nothing else like it, completely ahead of its time…story of your life…that said I am going to get off my computer and go and practice my instrument, thanks for Life and Death in Paradise as a reminder of the importance of that – all the best – D.R.2006

Mike Cooper is a difficult artist to situate, straddling as he does several radically different musical spheres.Ê There is the singer-songwriter of the 1960s, working in a traditional folk-blues vein alongside legends like Son House, Bukka White and John Lee Hooker.Ê There is the free-improvising maverick of the 70s, producing genre-defying free-folk-jazz with improv luminaries such as Keith Rowe, David Toop and Max Eastley.Ê Then there is the most recent phase of Cooper’s career, producing idiosyncratic modern exotica combining his passions for Hawaiian lap-steel guitar with field recordings, dusty record loops and forays into drone and noise.(Jon Dean – Brainwashed 2006)

Hello Mike – First let me say thanks for the many happy hours you have given me with some of your records. I’m 55 now and just retired from the health service, when I started my training I listened to many of your early records. But the one that used to truly grab me was “Oh Really” with that fantastic stereo mix and the wonderful guitar playing! I wasn’t permitted “loud music” in the hall of residence and had a pair of headphones with about 60 feet of cable, I used to wander all round with them on!!! (C.C.2006)

Showcasing squeezed, infinitesimal string plucks and pick guard scrapes at the top, his guitar playing is soon transmitted from bordering on Bailey or Roger Smith styles to referencing Ramblin Jack Elliott or Dave Van Ronk… rattling reverb and minimalist note patterns to suggest it is part of a recital taking place in a Mississippi Delta on the moon. (Ken Waxman – UnAMERICAN ACTIVITIES NEWS # 55-1 August 2005)

Dear Mike/Mr Cooper – I have just managed to track down your home page web site and thought I’d take this opportunity to write. I first saw you performing many years ago at a small pub called the Brewery Tap in Ware Hertfordshire as a 16 year old and I have never forgotten the blues you played on your Dobro. I assume you are still using the same one or have you worn it out by now? I have been a fan ever since and your music inspired me to obtain a Dobro and play.

Concert Review by Alvin Curran – Mike Cooper / Keith Rowe @ British School Rome 2005. On a fall series (friday October 7) highlighting the new British Arts organized by the British School in Rome we heard a stunning concert given by Keith Rowe and Mike Cooper which focused on Cornelius Cardew’s enigmatic and revolutionary grafic masterpiece- Treatise. Awash in history, not the least because I had met Cardew myself first in Rome in 1965 and worked for him as a music copyist but that Keith and Mike – two brilliant redesigners of the guitar’s biology meet here too, after quite some time, to forge their sounds together in honor of Cardew’s singular revolution. In view of the incalculable developments in spontaneous music since these early experimental beginnings, the concert – first preceeded by a wry but delightfully informative interview with Keith – was followed by short solo performances of both performers…each shining their well honed wares: the almost unbearably stable sandwiched layers of polyphony of Mike and the near “distressed” monothematic lyricism of Keith’s ever unpredictable and beguiling musical discourse.. in all, delicious starters to the main course, which was two pages of Treatise interpreted independently and simultaneously by Keith and Mike. By now the room had a serious and attentive atmosphere and the music emerged effortlessly and with wondrous attention to detail, space and form (rarely heard these days outside of the classic AMM, and occasionlly MEV scenes). Reflected both in and outside the sounds there was an air of rigor and utmost respect for the score and all its imaginable implications; for me, this created a kind of theater of memory in its perfect even nostalgic evocation of the “old days” when pure experimentalism was “religion.” But the old-days it was not! The music’s brilliant and surprising collisions of pulsing objects, long oscillating drones, sudden intrusions of structural radio-detritus, evolutionary melodic fragments, scratching, clanging and gentle motors on guitar strings, corny glissandi etc, seemed to point more toward a future music – one completely liberated of itself, if not the “self” tout-court – a music of illuminating intentional non-intention. As in those classical concerts where the reviewer could not imagine a more perfect performance, I left feeling that “interpretations” of any musical score at this level are indeed a rare thing today… and it is just these genial mysteries that Mike and Keith brought so naturally out of the past and beyond all of us into the future…the revolutionary unity of eye and ear, of time, space, people and sound that Cardew clearly imagined as he wrote this monumental score. – ac, rome.

Sometimes it can seem especially to people like me who write about music and receive thousands of flimsy cdr demos and promos every month that recording and releasing music has become almost too easy and democratic these days, leading to an underground market flooded with homegrown crap that would have been better left languishing on the bedroom floor.ÊAn artist like Mike Cooper however, with his willingly unprofessional and strictly uncommercial home operation, is producing amazing music to rival the best of the current critical canon of experimental music and can restore my faith in the new democracy of the digital age. (Jonathan Dean Brainwashed 2006)

Hi Mike – As i write this i am listening to Oh Really, one the finest albums I have in my record collection. I have been playing this album for the last thirty odd years and never tire of listening to it. Crow Jane and Death Letter been my favorites. What would be a good blues album of yours to accompany this. I will order it on return Many thanks – G.N.2006

MIKE COOPER – a musician capable of being coherent and convincing when playing blues, Hawaiian or free improvised music…leaving his personal mark on everything he touches… (La Repubblica – Italy)

Mike – Thanks very much for the Moving Within Soundscape CD and the postcard.I’m really enjoying listening to it, and with its attractive sleeve it is great visually too. To be honest, I didnt set out with terribly high expectations of it.I thought I might find it difficult listening, or that it may not mean much without the visual art it was intended to accompany,but in fact it’s both intriguing and relaxing to listen to.It is said that the busy lives people lead these days dont allow them time to stop and stare. I think the same is true of listening to the ambient sounds around us. Unless people go out specifically to listen to bird song or the like, most of it simply passes us by, and we all miss out on that feeling of being part of time and place, and the natural calm, that listening to the sounds around us can bring (so long as one feels safe of course!). With visual information and entertainment taking so much precedence,listening and building images from something that is heard but not seen is another ability that we seem to be using less and less. For me, your soundscape recordings help bring both of these things back.Although they are organised sound, they have a beautifully natural quality and can produce that same sense of being part of something, rather than just a listener, that natural environmental sounds can convey. At the same time I feel drawn to listen quite attentively, searching for clues as it were, to where I am being taken. So, as I say, relaxing and intriguing and certainly a very different listening experience to any other music that I have. Thanks again for the CD,I do appreciate it. Best wishes – D.C.2004

MIKE COOPER… sort of musical vagabond, phonographically uncontrollable…Island Songs is like several postcards from his many journeys…in the company of several shady opponents to sedentary music… (Liberation-France)

Hello Mike – the cds arrived safe and sound and I am enjoying them very much. Thanks very much for the extra album to complete the set. Listened to Globe Notes on the walkman in the backyard at midnight with the local crickets and insects adding their own color. I really like the mix of field recordings and music, it sounds as if i had just stumbled upon an encampment of musicians and decided to listen to them from a safe distance as they played through the night. The records all evoke a sense of place, both actual and imaginary. Do you ever play in odd cities like los angeles? S.M.2004

We are working on all this stuff just mixing it all up, Blues, Greek, Hip – Hop, Slide Guitars…etc…well I have to admit, you were there before most of us on this stuff, I would like to credit you with that. (BOB BROZMAN – Slide Guitarist / Singer)

Hi Mike, Thanks for your messages. The CD-Rs that we got are all of them lovely. It is a joy to listen them again and again. Your music created a click in my mind and I started to play some of your tracks simultaneously with other artist’s tracks. For example, your Blue Sealand from Globe Notes with J. Miyake’s Lotus isle from Glam Exotica, your Typhoon Lagoon from Rayon Hula with H. Hosono’s The Animals Opinion from Endless Talking, your Sakam (Kava) from Kiribati with M. Bianchi et son ensemble Hawaien-Moon over Burma (a single full of scratches), your Mika Ohe from Rayon Hula with R.Ortolani/ N.Olivero The Damned Island from Mondo Cane. The result of the simultaneous playing of the tracks, listened from a little faraway, was a kind of haunted music, like a disorientated memory of haunted travelers who passed half awake half dreaming – to use your own words – through exotic, actual or imaginary, islands and places drifted out there from a haunted weather.
After the holidays we will try again to have more from your original work. Please inform us also about the price of the vinyl format of Rayon Hula Have nice holidays and a fruitful and creative summer Ciao for the moment – P. H.2005

He plays great National slide guitar, has a consuming passion for the music and politics of the Pacific, writes great songs…also, for several years in a row, composed and performed music for silent classic films (as well as his own film Planet Pacific – Pieces of Heaven?)…I cant give him a big enough rap!! Theres no hype, just pure quality. (John McAuslan – Artistic Director, Brunswick Music Festival, Melbourne, Australia)

Do I Know You? featured Mike on guitar, slide guitar and vocals, …An exquisite, flowing merge of folk-blues,…this is a mesmerising album which will appeal to fans of the more extrapolative end of the UK folk scene (Pentangle, Wizz Jones, Davey Graham, etc.).
Trout Steel followed in late 1970s and featured a more expanded line up with more experimental & jazz influences. Mike’s farewell to straight folk/blues forms is a mindfucker of unbelievable breadth & power. A huge cast of UK folk & jazz heavies play their asses off while Mike sings his dolorous yet joyful songs. Intelligence & spiritual knowing pour forth from this amazing post-genre communion. The animal you wanted that couldn’t get into the world. One of the greats. What can we say but ‘thank god for Mike.’ Extremely talented and enlightened guitarist and songwriter who pushes the boundaries of music…at the forefront of British folk avant-garde stands this man.
(Michael Ehlers. Forced Exposure on-line catalogue at

Cooper started to move freely within World Music-in the days when the term was still a glint in the marketing mens eyes…I can 1982, playing me King Sunny Ade-Juju Music…sharing this new sound he had discovered with other younger musicians…that afternoon changed my musical life. (Mark T – Musician/Journalist)

>In retrospect the most interesting sequence of music…was not the Grateful Deads British debut…it was a quiet unassuming appearance by guitarist Mike Cooper, accompanied by a wild and woolly tenor player named Geoff Hawkins….Mike Cooper should be heard more often! (Richard Williams – Melody Maker).