I’m just back from a jaunt to Italy with all-playing, all-clogging teenage troupe, the Fosbrooks, performing at local festivals - a series of ‘spettacoli’ in hill-perched mountain villages east of Rome. We, the Brit contingent, shared open-air stages from dusk to midnight with Bulgarian, Spanish, Czech and Italian groups, in little town squares. A kilometers-long procession in blazing afternoon heat down the steep, cobbled alleyways of Tagliacozzo probably seemed a great idea to the festival organiser, but was, for full-costumed girls in traditional hard wooden-soled clogs, playing accordions and fiddles, a plan considerably harder to execute on the ground. In fact, staying off the ground, and upright, was the principal challenge. At our last gig in semi-industrial Avezzano a mouthy bunch of teenage lads round the back of the stage were looking decidedly unimpressed before we went on, but the Fosbrooks instantly hit their stride, and the boys, as instantly converted, roared their approval of the show. I tell you, the Fozzies are huge in Avezzano, as well as Stockport, Cheshire. Their Chinese national TV appearance two years ago (potential audience: 1.3 billion) wasn’t bad either. So why aren’t the Fosbrooks famous?
Fosbrooks in Huangshan, China
At the London Fiddle School this Autumn we’ll be taking a break from several solid years ploughing the furrows of English, Irish and Scottish traditional repertoire, and learning some fiddle tunes from the Rest of the World. What d’you mean, 5-styles-for-the-price-of-4 cultural tourism? When in Rome, or nearby, I took the opportunity to play rucenitsas and kopanitsas back-stage with the Bulgarians, and it was great fun. Possibly as successful musically, though copious shots of slivovitz from an unlabelled bottle may have affected my memory, was an impromptu late-night session with a Czech fiddler and his mates from Ozveny Hornacka, in the hotel bar. No hangover next morning, though. But I digress. We’ll also be playing Old Time tunes, and some Scandinavian ones. Unfamiliar they may be, but entirely within the realm of the achievable, so I hope Cecil Sharp House will be rocking on Wednesday evenings from 20 September. See Workshops for details.
Rattle On The Stovepipe, the ‘Anglo-Old Time’ trio of Dave Arthur, Chris Moreton and me, are playing at Broadstairs folk festival the week after next, then for a week in Whitby. Our new WildGoose album ‘Eight More Miles’ has been collecting splendid reviews, like ‘an exhilarating roller-coaster of an album for the discerning listener...’, which is nice. You can read more in the Projects bit of this site. We’ll be in Malborough, Devon on Saturday 9 September (another Devon gig on the Sunday would be welcome - please get in touch with any offers), and doing our now traditional November tour, starting on the 16th at the Royal Oak, Lewes, once the weather turns nasty.
Truth to tell, I quite enjoyed my fifteen minutes of fame from appearing in ‘Property Is Theft’, Vanessa Engle’s documentary film on the 1970s London squatting scene, which was re-transmitted on BBC-2 in July. As I said here before, I was gratified by Richard D. North’s response to my performance of Leon Rosselson’s song ‘The World Turned Upside Down’, about those celebrated squatters of the 1640s, the Diggers. Writing about Villa Road, Brixton, on the website of the right-wing Social Affairs Unit, he said, ‘It seems to have been a narrow world, divided into Marxist and Freudian tribes - into sloganisers and primal-screamers. Only Pete Cooper - now a fiddle player - seems to have belonged to both. His lovely singing nearly made one like those nasal whinges of the primordially dissident.’ After the film went out the first time in February, a member of the audience at a Rattle On The Stovepipe gig in Thaxted came up at half-time. ‘ ’Ere,’ she wanted to know. ‘Are you going to be doing some of that primal screaming in the second half?’
So can I say, hand on heart, that my TV career is taking off? Well, I did very nearly get to teach Frank Skinner folk fiddle on an upcoming reality series called ‘Play It Again,’ but apparently he decided at the last minute that the world needed another banjo player. That’s Brummies for you - almost as comprehensible as the next door neighbour of a Birmingham folk club organiser I once stayed with, who was doing a bit of DIY and popped round to borrow a hammer. ‘Yo ay got e’er an ‘ommer on ya, an ya?’ Anyway, sod the TV, I’ve started making a video for total beginners on how to play the violin, which may eventually mature into something. Once my colleague masters his new Final Cut software, we’ll bung a snip up on the site. The world definitely needs more fiddle players - doesn’t it?
It took three seconds, when putting the finishing touches to my book/CD ‘English Fiddle Tunes’, to write the words, ‘Go to www.petecooper.com for further information on individual tunes in this collection.’ It’s taken about three months to actually fulfill that rather glib promise, but you can now, at long last, read my research notes by clicking on the picture of the cover above or by going to the relevant aisle of the Shop and following the ‘here’ link from ‘English Fiddle Tunes’. The notes include thumbnail sketches of important fiddle players of the past, like James Hill, Lawrence Leadley, William Irwin, John Moore, Joshua Gibbons, Michael Turner, Walter Bulwer and Stephen Baldwin.
While I was writing all that, however, any promotional activity on the new Cooper and Bolton CD, ‘The Savage Hornpipe’, let alone phoning around for gigs, was more or less suspended. Hours in the day, and all that, though Richard and I did sell loads of CDs at our National Portrait Gallery gig in mid-July. We hope to be out and about more in the autumn and next year. Meanwhile, I’m off to teach fiddle with Claire Mann at the Folkworks adult summer school in Durham. See you later,