Mike Cooper at Heliogàbal – 26 Nov ’14

Mike Cooper (lap steel guitar, electronics)

Mike Cooper is someone I don’t know much about but what I do know makes him fascinating(ly bizarre).
In the early 60s, he turned down the Rolling Stones (they gave the job to Brian Jones instead) and instead followed his own increasingly idiosyncratic and wayward musical path. Starting from folk and blues (and a little jazz), he dove into increasingly free improvisation, then electronics and electronica. My limited acquaintance with his oeuvre is via a couple of albums he’s done with Chris Abrahams of Australian improvising group, The Necks (the second of which, “Trace” was released in 2014). Señor Cooper is, I believe, resident in Italy these days and has a well-documented predilection for Hawaiian shirts, rarely being spotted wearing anything else. So, I wasn’t sure what to expect but my expectations (for an eclectic and interesting evening) were high.
First, yes, Mike Cooper was wearing an impressively lurid shirt. And a rather natty hat with violently colourful band.
He was also delightfully varied, odd, challenging, playful, eccentric, questing, [insert your favourite adjective here] in what he played. Equipped with an electric lap steel guitar, linked up to a small but clearly powerful box of electronic gubbins, he gave us nearly an hour of far out beats, loops, samples, space blues, and oddball improv.
I’m not sure but I think the lyrics might have been improvised too, delivered in a peculiarly early 70s folk-prog-declamatory-bard style, with just a spoonful of the muezzin call to prayer thrown in.
I must, however, confess to being a little less adventurous than Mr C in that my favourite bits were the twisted Delta blues sequence and the distorted guitar solo; in other words, when the electronics took more of a back seat and let the guitar step forward. Fan as I am of ambient-noise-glitchprov, call it what you will… I found some of the electronica sections lacking the delicacy of touch that I enjoyed in the recordings. Given that Mike Cooper is, at 72, a year older than my father, I suspect this just makes me a boring middle-aged fart. Ah well, no matter because that one nit-picking criticism aside, I really did enjoy it and there were moments of true brilliance, not least the crowning touch: a vocal rendition of Heartbreak Hotel over a backdrop of broken loops and beats – genius!

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