Coppersongs 3: The Legacy Continues
For this, the third Copper family album, Bob Copper (83 years old) is joined by his two children and, for the first time, his six grandchildren. This welcome addition means that this is the seventh consecutive generation of Coppers to sing the family songs. Also celebrated is the Centenary of the English Folk Song Society, founded in 1898, in whose first journal was published a selection of songs collected from James (Brasser) Copper (Bob's grandfather) and his brother Tom from the village of Rottingdean, Sussex. To mark their historic contribution, the two brothers were made honorary founder members of the society, October 1998.
1. Claudy Banks Ben, Andy, Lucy, Mark, Tom,
Sleeve Notes by Bob Copper
When Mrs Kate Lee visited Rottingdean, Sussex in 1897 and asked my grandfather James (1845-1924) and his brother Tom to sing for her some of the old songs they remembered from boyhood being sung by older members of the family and their contemporaries, she was, in effect, dropping a very small pebble into a very large pond. She returned to London with what they referred to as "about 'alf a 'underd songs" taken down from their singing, and it was to a great extent due to her enthusiasm about their songs that the English Folk Song Society was formed in the following year. The Copper brothers were made honorary founder members of the society for the part they had played in its formation and six of their songs were included in the No. 1 Journal.
These were the first organised steps take to preserve what remained of the English singing tradition and a selection of traditional songs collected by enthusiasts sympathetic to the cause, both before and after Mrs Lee's trip to Rottingdean, was lodged in a central library in London. This was timely, coming as it did when interest in the songs was beginning to wane. Until that time, singing in the home or even at work had been as natural as laughing, and the long, dark evenings of winter were frequently beguiled with song around a blazing hearth. But gradually with the introduction of other forms of entertainment like the gramophone, the wireless and "talkie" films and changes in social patterns, the old singing traditions faded and practically disappeared.
There were, however, little pockets of resistance up an down the country where the old songs were "a long time a-dying" and were tenaciously clung on to mostly by the older generation. I was born into such a household. My father Jim (1882-1954) and his brother John had inherited the love of the songs from their father and uncle and some of my earliest memories in about 1920 are of sitting round the farm-cottage fire on winter evenings singing grandad's songs. In due course the songs came down to my cousin Ron and me, and we sang them with all the warm affection they seemed to inspire. But general interest was waning fast and of our contemporaries in the village, Ron and I were the only ones who sang them. Even then they were often greeted at best with indifference and at worst with outright derision.
In 1936 Jim wrote out the words of just over sixty of the songs in an old farm cash-book to encourage Ron and me to keep the songs going, which we did because we loved them, although we never met anyone outside the family who was in the least bit interested. But in 1950 Dad and I were asked to sing in a programme called "Country Magazine" on BBC radio. This played a part in the revival of interest in traditional music and soon after that the ripples on the pond grew wider, leading to a new collecting scheme instigated by the BBC, this time with portable tape-recorders.
Through the sixties and seventies the revival continued to grow, until even the tiniest and most remote villages in the land were likely to have a folk club tucked away in the back room of the local pub. It was a time when the library of songs at the society's headquarters, which by this time was as Cecil Sharp House in London, came into its own and the work done by the early collectors was fully appreciated. Songs that had lain neglected and gathering dust for years were taken out and given a fresh lease of life by the warm breath of a new generation of singers. Songs of the 18th and 19th centuries which had been the joy of shepherds, almanac-makers, dairy-maids and seamstresses were being sung all over the country by bank-managers, lorry-drivers, checkout-cashiers and traffic wardens.
In our family the trickle down process continued. My daughter Jill and her brother John started to sing with Ron me, and sometime after Ron's demise Jill's husband, Jon Dudley joined us. Time has seen another change and the latest links in the long chain are my grand-children. Jill's sons Mark, Andrew and Dean, and John's children Ben, Lucy and Tom now sing with us. So, the songs I remember my grandfather singing, at least one of which he remembered being sung by his own grandfather born in 1784, I now sing with my children and grand-children, who are the seventh consecutive generation of singers. The old songs seem to be set to carry over well into the next century.
Design by Jon Dudley.
This page last updated on 3 January, 2006