Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



British unaccompanied singing family: registered in Rottingdean from 1593, can trace family singing trad. back several hundred years. Bob (b Robert James Copper, 6 Jan. '15, Rottingdean), daughter Jill Susan (b 24 Jan. '45), son John James (b 4 June '49), cousin Ron (b Ronald Walter; d 7 Jan. '78); also Jill's husband Jonathan Curtis Dudley (b 25 Nov. '49, Bishops Stortford, Herts), John's wife Lynne Margaret. In 1897 brothers James (1845--1924, kmown as 'Brasser') and Thomas (b 1853) were asked to sing at Sir Edward Carson's house by a Mrs Kate Lee, who noted the words and music over several evenings for 'a copper-ful of songs' which she enthused about in London; this gave a fillip to the formation of the English Folk Song Society (later EFDSS, the English Folk, Dance and Song Society) and featured in the first issue of the society's journal in 1899; Brasser, a farm bailiff, and Thomas, landlord of the Black Horse Inn, were made honorary members. Brasser's second son James (1882--1954) became a farm bailiff '15, and Bob's father the same year; in '50s he heard one of their songs 'sung posh' on the radio and wrote diplomatically to the BBC to say that the family tradition was still alive: the BBC made contact, Bob and his father first broadcast Aug. '51; Alan Lomax collected their singing for the Library of Congress, and at a time when many millions still listened to the wireless they had quite an audience. Bob, uncle John and cousin Ron performed at an international folk festival at the Royal Albert Hall and a semi-pro career began, a quartet until fathers died, then a duo of Bob and Ron until late '60s when Jill and John joined; a trio after Ron's death, then quartet or quintet incl. grandchildren. All permutations of the group were known for harmonic part-singing, rare in English trad. music; very influential on English folk revival (especially the unaccompanied trio the Young Tradition, modelled on the Coppers; also the Watersons family quartet). Many groups covered their songs, associated with the family and collected in now-famous notebook by Bob's father and grandfather ('Hard Times Of Old England' recorded by Steeleye Span, Dave Swarbrick, etc). Bob has written three books on the family, all published by Heinemann: A Song For Every Season (won Robert Pitman literary prize '71), Songs And Southern Breezes and Early To Rise. Their few LPs incl. four-disc set A Song For Every Season '71 on Leader; Bob and Ron did English Shepherd And Farming Songs on Folk-Legacy (reissued '94) and Traditional Songs From Rottingdean (EFDSS); Bob made Sweet Rose In June on Topic; both contributed to samplers. Bob nursed his ailing wife from '78 until her death '84; has returned to music, plans to update books. Coppersongs: A Living Tradition '88 on EFDSS incl. archive and contemporary material, first appearance on record of John and Lynne's children; the album was rounded off with a BBC archive recording of 'Warlike Seamen' '52 with Jim and John Sr, Bob and Ron, and 'Thousands More' with three of Bob's grandchildren. Bob and John contributed to When The May Is All In Bloom '95 on Veteran, an anthology of trad. singing from Southeast England; The Copper Family Song Book -- A Living Tradition was published '95 by Coppersongs, as well as Coppersongs 2 by Bob, John, Jill and Jon, dedicated to 'the generations of Coppers and others, without whose legacy of songs there would be little left to tell us what worthwhile lives they had lived'.