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LINDSAY COOPER forever! An appreciation by Veit F. Stauffer, Zurich (from german by translation parlour / winterthur) / PDF

Zürich, 24. Dezember 2013

At the age of 29, British multi-instrumentalist Lindsay Cooper released her first solo album RAGS (1980), followed by the GOLD DIGGERS (1983) and MUSIC FOR OTHER OCCASIONS (1986), all on her own label Sync Pulse and distributed by Recommended Records, London. This trilogy of albums established her reputation as an eminent composer in the fields of Avant-garde Rock, Jazz, and New Music. Her compositions had a contemporarily cool appeal, but were also exuberant and fond of melodies. Not unlike Simon Jeffes (Penguin Cafe Orchestra), she created outstanding instrumental music, often exuding a slightly nostalgic touch reminiscent of the silent film era. All three albums were also released on vinyl and are still available at affordable prices. Later works, such as SCHRÖDINGER'S CAT (1991), AN ANGEL ON THE BRIDGE (1991) or PIA MATER (1997) seemed to show a hint of tameness, a fact that might have been influenced by her malignant illness, multiple sclerosis. Diagnosed in 1987, Lindsay kept her medical condition a secret for more than ten years in order to prevent the illness being mentioned constantly. Musically, she fell silent after 1997, after which the somber new spread. She lived on for 16 more years, cared for by a committed social network loosely based around director Sally Potter.

In the mid-seventies, progressive rock's most important exponents, such as Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Gentle Giant, came into the picture. A number of bands were considered an insiders' tip, especially those from the so-called Canterbury scene centred around the Soft Machine, some of whose follow-up bands had found a temporary home with the up-and-coming label, Virgin Records. Standing out from these bands was a pretty innovative collective known as Henry Cow. Starting with their second album UNREST (1974), Lindsay Cooper was on board playing various instruments, including bassoon, oboe, piano, soprano sax, and flute. Between 1974 and 1986, Lindsay Cooper was going through one of the most spectacular developments in European Avant-garde Rock: the merger of Henry Cow with Slapp Happy, featuring singer Dagmar Krause - followed by the exit from the group of John Greaves and the entrance of bassist/cellist Georgina Born, making the group's make up gender equal: three women and three men. That wasn't in recognition of any female quota, which didn't exist then, but rather some trendsetting awareness! 1978 and 1980 saw the metamorphosis from Henry Cow to Art Bears and, in 1984 and 1986, Lindsay made two albums, as the main composer, with News From Babel (featuring Chris Cutler (dr, lyrics) and Zeena Parkins (harp, accordion)). For exceptional singers like Robert Wyatt, Sally Potter, Phil Minton und Dagmar Krause, Lindsay Cooper wrote the most beautiful 'Rock In Opposition' tunes, highlighting their remarkable voices. While 'Stairway to Heaven' immortalised Led Zeppelin, Lindsay Cooper wrote the nine-minute opus 'Victory / Anno Mirabilis', climbing undreamt-of summits in the finale, in two voices courtesy of Dagmar Krause and Phil Minton. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rU-cgXRcWDI HENRY COW, 6. Dezember 1977 in Kirchberg SG, Photo Jeanpierre Müller, Copyright Rec Rec-Shop. From left: Tim Hodgkinson, Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, Lindsay Cooper, Georgie Born.

On Henry Cow's last album WESTERN CULTURE (released in October 1979), Lindsay Cooper's involvement was at its peak, composing the whole of the LP's second side (the first side was composed by Tim Hodgkinson, and including the magnificent homage to Alfred Jarry 'Viva Pa Ubu', which was only included in the 2001CD version). One of Lindsay's compositions 'Half the Sky' is a dynamic and multi-layered composition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rakxVEwKTws The intro lasts for 50 seconds, with a strong presence of Fred Frith's guitar, then Tim Hodgkinson's organ makes an entrance (with a plainly audible influence from Olivier Messiaen). After 90 seconds, Lindsay Cooper timidly starts her soprano sax solo, funnily fluffing her lines like a ball of wool, revealing a strong contrast to the cool Nordic wall of sound in the style of Terje Rypdal for instance. At 3.45 minutes, a sudden break leads to the virtuosic final part reminiscent of Gong and Hatfield & The North, with furious tempo changes and ideas coming thick and fast. The neologism 'Bassoon Rock' is showing up on the imaginary screen, and completely numb from counting along to the odd rhythms, we are in for the Zappa-like ending! On the same side of the LP, is ' Gretel's Tale': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2xHZm4qgS4 - This is another one of Lindsay Cooper's intricate compositions, representing a slightly indecisive but nevertheless enthralling listening pleasure, from beginning to end. Here, Swiss jazz pianist Irène Schweizer makes a guest appearance between 1.24 and 2.44 minutes - recorded at Sunrise Studio in Kirchberg (Switzerland) in August 1978. Wasn't there a related, antecedent constellation in Progressive Rock's history? Exactly - on the second King Crimson album IN THE WAKE OF POSEIDON (1970), pianist Keith Tippett endowed the song 'Cat Food' with a similar free jazz contribution. Backstage in Zürich Seebach, 14th January 1978, after the Henry Cow Concert. Lindsay Cooper and Irene Schweizer. Photo Doris Stauffer, Copyright Rec Rec Shop.

Lindsay Cooper's political works span THE LAST NIGHTINGALE (November 1984, made to raise money for the UK miners' strike, which includes her composition 'In the dark Year' , featuring Robert Wyatt. This not yet been released on CD); the cold war song cycle OH MOSCOW (premiered at the Zürcher Jazzfestival, Switzerland, in 1987); SAHARA DUST (1992), about the second Gulf war and SARAJEWO SUITE, performed by a five-piece ensemble in November 1994 in Grenoble (France).

The loveliest Cooper composition, the tango 'Plate Dance' from her third album MUSIC FOR OTHER OCCASIONS (1986), cannot be found on the internet at present, but we can listen to another pearl from that album, the tender ' As She Breathes', which sneaks up on velvet paws; a song tailor-made for the spellbinding singer Sally Potter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34eYC6efJIs As a sample from her most important album, the film score GOLD DIGGERS, I may suggest 'Horse Waltz': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePaPpph38bs The movie GOLD DIGGERS is a controversial early work by Sally Potter and constitutes a key work for feminist films. It can be watched at full length here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jmpjE7zGbk - The surreal scenes (a horse appearing in the dance hall, for instance), together with superb images of nature in ice are reminiscent of atmospheres between Luis Bunuel and Ingmar Bergman. From 10:10 minutes, 'Horse Waltz' begins, as Phil Minton descends a staircase. But, please, don't miss the hilarious scene starting at 8:25, featuring Lol Coxhill (on the left) and Georgie Born (on the right) in full costume! As a missing link between Lenny Bruce (1925-66) and today's slam poets, the brilliant entertainer David Thomas (Pere Ubu) amused a whole generation during the eighties, as showcased in this recording - full of hearty laughter - from Hilversum (Netherlands) in 1982: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfenUUQ4jYc From 3:40, we can hear Lindsay Cooper on duty. Lindsay plays the bassoon, performing with virtuosity using a wah pedal, whether accompanying David Thomas, or performing with the Mike Westbrook Orkestra: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp9KZvwOl9M#t=33 LINDSAY COOPER - Backstage in Zürich Seebach, 14th January 1978, after the Henry Cow Concert. Photo Doris Stauffer, Copyright Rec Rec Shop.

As a 17-year-old I used to look for photos of the group Henry Cow, as there was only a sock (!) depicted on their first three album covers. Not before CONCERTS in the summer of 1976, was the band pictured on the sleeve, but by then I had already discovered Lindsay Cooper in two photos as a guest musician on albums by Egg and Steve Hillage. And Lindsay had also been a member of the psychedelic folk band Comus, when they made their first album in 1972 (a copy of which I was lucky to find at a bric-a-brac market in Zurich in 1979 and a mint condition copy of which these days trades for up to CHF 1500).

Lindsay played the bassoon on Mike Oldfield's second album HERGEST RIDGE (1974), while a male doppelgänger also called Lindsay Cooper (1940-2001) played double bass on the predecessor TUBULAR BELLS (1973)... Swiss saxophone player, Christoph Gallio, who used to play intensely with this male version for a long time, related the following humorous anecdote to me: since they ,were tired of being confused with one another, the two Lindsay Coopers organised a duo performance of improvised music: Lindsay Cooper & Lindsay Cooper (the contrabassist later renamed himself Lindsay L. Cooper).

PS. Dear Lindsay - last night I had quite an absurd dream and, waking up, I couldn't contain my laughter. A letter had been sent out to all living female bassoon and oboe players in the whole world, to chamber music ensembles, symphony orchestras and music conservatories. The message read: 'There is a vacancy to fill for the year 2014 - we are looking for a successor of composer Lindsay Cooper (1951-2013). Please send your application with CV and the usual papers until 30st of June, 2014 to the following address..

Veit F. Stauffer, December 2013 (this article appeared on December 12, 2013, slightly curtailed and obviously without the Youtube links, in the magazine 'Loop').

Addendum: On September 19, 2013 I wrote on my Facebook account: Goodbye LINDSAY COOPER (1951-2013) - A great woman, human being, musician and composer! I remember unforgettable concerts in Switzerland with Henry Cow, Feminist Improvising Group, Mike Westbrook Orchestra, David Thomas & The Pedestrians, and her own Lindsay Cooper Group performing 'Rags', 'Gold Diggers' and 'Oh Moscow'.

First responses came from Marie Schwab (ex-Debile Menthol), Wädi Gysi (ex-Pale Nudes), Fred Frith and Corin Curschellas (in September 1990 she shared the stage with Lindsay Cooper at Jazzfestival Willisau, as part of John Wolf Brennan's Creative Works Orchestra). Sally Potter's memories: http://sallypotter.com/lindsay-cooper/ Maggie Nichols's memories: http://womensliberationmusicarchive.co.uk/2013/10/17/lindsay-cooper-3-march-1951-18-september-2013/ The best obituary from the U.K. is here: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/sep/24/lindsay-cooper

For fans of later Henry Cow, I would like to recommend the following 105-minute live recording I came upon during my researches. The concert is from July 23, 1978 in Ravenna (Italy): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZO9BH3n1_x0

Finally, a quotation from Rigobert Dittmann from Würzburg (Germany): 'As an addict I can find all I'm looking for inside this music, and can particularly enjoy the staggering beauty and emotional density of romantic and modern classical music (from Berlioz to Berio), the fire and spontaneity of modern jazz, the feeling and pop-flair of progressive rock - altogether a whole load of vitality, diversity, humour and critical commitment...' (Bad Alchemy No. 2, 1985). This is his obituary from November 2013 (in German): http://a23h-ba.blogspot.kr/2013/12/dream-on.html