Boomkat Product Review:
Venerable virtuoso guitarist Mike Cooper evokes rich imagery and narrative through simple means - lap steel guitar, FX and imagination - on a particularly personal, compelling solo journey for Room 40; an elegy to formative influences, acknowledging departed friends in beautifully affective style.
If you’ve ever heard a Mike Cooper album you’ll already no doubt be familiar with his peculiar kind of alchemy, taking traditional Pacific music and re-factoring it with electronic treatments influenced by his love of radio art and sound installations.
Now 75 years old - his music sounds utterly contemporary, situated somewhere between Takoma, Exotica, 4th World and Ambient musics; always with a minimal, evocative signature that honestly sounds quite unlike anything or anyone you’ll have heard before.
His inspiration for this album, recounted below, provides heartbreaking context for the sounds you’ll hear on ‘Raft’, but suffice to say that this album has once again convinced us that Cooper is one of the most inspirational and consistently brilliant artists working on the scene today, long may his reign continue.
“When I was 18 years old I had a friend who was twice my age - 36. We worked together in the same timber mill - Baynes in Reading - where i was apprenticed by my father - I had no say in the matter - despite wanting to go to art college - which in hindsight would probably have been a mistake.
My friends name was Jim - Jim Sale. I sensed that Jim was different to all the other men who worked in the mill and my suspicion was confirmed when discovered that he was building a boat in another part of the mill - nearer to the Kennet and Avon canal that ran past - not far away. i was actually destined to work for a while in that part of the mill for a while - it was where they ‘kiln dried’ timber prepared for building purposes.
As time went on Jim became a kind of ‘life mentor’ for me. He and his wife (name gone Im afraid) were my first ‘adult’ friends outside my family. Jim and his wife already lived on a boat when we first met - a canal barge - longboat - and i often visited them down on the river Thames where they were moored. I began to love the river due to them and spent many hours walking it in all the time that I lived in Reading.
The millionaire and holiday resort owner Billy Butlin organised a charity walk from John O Groats in Scotland to Lands End in Cornwall for a prize of 500 to the winner -- 715 people entered - including Jim who as far as I remember completed the walk but didn’t win the money to finance his boat. It was about 1000 kilometres all in all. That was kind of person he was.
Eventually Jim did finish building his boat -- more of a waterproof plywood box really. One weekend he borrowed one of the timber mill cranes and lifted it up and over the fence into the canal. It floated -- he then single handed poled it down the canal to the main body of the Thames. He had no means of steering this box and its only power was his two arms and a long pole. It was reasonably ok going down the fairly tranquil flow of the canal but when he finally hit the main river the current took hold and it began to rotate while being dragged down stream - which wasn’t the direction Jim intended for it to go. Somehow he survived it all and managed to get it to go where he wanted which was to De Montfort island - now called Fry’s Island. There was a ‘bohemian jazz club’ on the island at the time called The Bohemian Club. The island was named after Robert De Montfort who fought a duel there in 1157 with Henry Of Essex.
Jim and his wife settled into life on the island - fitted out the ‘boat’ and had two children - they travelled back and forth to the river banks by a small rowing boat whenever they needed. My own life took me away from them as i began to play music with my band The Blues Committee and sing and play in folk clubs.
We had friends in common and I stayed in touch and I visited several times - one day I heard the terrible news that the boat had caught fire and they were unable to rescue their two children. It was the first funeral i ever attended and I have never saw either of them again after that.
So - Raft will be dedicated to them as well as William Willis and Vital Alsar and his crew.”