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Interview with Ray Cooper
Ray Cooper is an independent singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist currently living in Sweden. After a vast touring and recording career with Oysterband, Ray took the decision to leave the band in 2013 to pursue his solo work, and has toured Europe extensively since. We at Folk and Honey had the chance to chat with Ray just ahead of his London gig at Blessings Bar Shoreditch.
His latest tour saw him arrive on the Isle of Wight on a dark windy night, setting the scene for the nautical theme that Ray says has run throughout his UK tour. A seemingly fitting start for such a theme, as much of Ray’s music swirls around the idea of the sea and travel. With a wealth of songs now in his back pocket, Ray mentioned enjoying the ability to vary his set night to night as his repertoire has grown. Also, playing smaller venues gives Ray the chance to interact with his crowds with ease, bringing a great social element to his tour experience, and to the experience of the crowd.
Having been in Oysterband for over 20 years, we were interested to find out how Ray feels touring as a solo artist compares to touring with a full band. Ray is an independent artist, and largely travels on his own, meaning he fulfils every role of a tour team. Being a multi-instrumentalist obviously requires multiple instruments on tour, meaning Ray lugs his guitar, cello, and mandolin everywhere he goes. Acting as driver, manager, merch, tech and performer is something that Ray actually seems to enjoy, as he told us that whilst touring solo was ‘very different’ to his time in Oysterband, it was not the lonely experience some may see it as. Being a solitary guy means you require very little logistical planning, something which Ray says gives him great independence, and allows him to be more sociable wherever he goes. The reason for this is the lack of the ‘tour bubble’. Staying at people’s houses and not hiding backstage allows Ray to get to know his crowds he told us, an aspect of solo touring he has really come to look forward to.
As Ray is accomplished at many instruments, we were curious as to whether he favours any particular instrument for his song writing. ‘Not really’ Ray responded, but elaborated that he tries to work his songs for the cello as he finds that to be a more interesting presentation of his work. However, the beauty of the multi-instrumentalist is the ability to pick up another instrument, and give the song a whole new sound or image. This is something that Ray says he does during his writing process, to overcome any blocks and shed fresh light on the song.
Ray moved to Sweden in 2000, after spending time touring there with Oysterband. Ray says he was captured by the Swedish culture and music, stating his love of Swedish folk music. Moving to Sweden, Ray married and now lives in a ‘little red wooden house’. Very Swedish. Giving us a glimpse into the Swedish folk scene, Ray presses the ‘fantastic’ musicians present in the country, in particular fiddle players. Much like Ireland, folk music in Sweden is part of the national identity, with traditional music well preserved and supported. The downside, Ray says, is that with the sparse population in many areas of Sweden, gigs are often in short supply, making it sometimes difficult to experience the melancholic sound of Swedish folk music on a regular basis.
So, can we expect some new music from Ray anytime soon?
It’s on its way. Ray is currently around half way through his 3rd album, but is in no rush, and rightly so. Ray’s second album ‘Palace of Tears’ was an entirely singer-songwriter album, with no traditional songs thrown into the mix, something that Ray is known for. However, he says that his third release will be featuring some of his fantastic takes on traditional Swedish and Scottish folk music. One particular song of interest to be featured on the next album is one that Ray has been playing live on this tour, which was mentioned in the review of his gig at Blessings. To commemorate the outbreak of the First World War, Ray became part of a song writing project in Flanders, and received the biography of a WWI soldier who deserted, and was shot for his crime. Played as the soldier, the song tells the story of this young man’s conscription and desertion of the army, with an upbeat tone reflecting the personality of the man. This tone is also a contrast with the obviously saddening story, but helps to set the character of the deserter to the background of the First World War.
Having finished his UK tour at Barley Hall in York in 15th February, Ray has further European dates later this Spring. An interesting and highly talented man, a pleasure to talk with, we look forward to plenty more excellent music from Ray Cooper in the future.