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flag England - Full Moon 210 - 10/19/13

Lindsay Cooper
3 March 1951 - 18 September 2013

coverpic Lindsay - extraordinary master of the bassoon, saxophone, oboe, piano and other keyboards, improvisor and composer - finally finished her struggles against multiple sclerosis last month. She was educated at The Royal College of Music and later became a member of the Royal Academy of Music in her home town of London. But she found out early on that she couldn't go on to interpret other people's music for a living. She joined the fairly acoustic underground progressive folk band Comus, in recent years hailed as an important pioneer of acid folk, in 1971 after the band's debut album had been recorded. She toured with the band mainly on the European continent and stayed with them after they had lost the recording contract and then also the manager, until gigs dried out and the band folded towards the end of 1972. The band reformed for a second album in 1974 initiated by Virgin Records, where she only guested. She's probably best known as a member of Henry Cow, the influential avant-jazz-rock-experimental ensemble that later started the entire Rock In Opposition (RIO) movement. She joined in late 1973, had to leave as a permanent member for a while because the Cow collective couldn't afford to pay her, but was back on full time in early 1975 and until the band folded in 1978. In between she worked as a session musician and guested on several recordings, including LPs by Hatfield & The North, Egg, Steve Hillage and Mike Oldfield. Her career as a composer actually started with side 2 of the instrumental LP Western Culture, that was to be Henry Cow's final. She was also a member of the jazz-rock group National Health for a little while, started the Feminist Improvising Group with Georgie Born (from Henry Cow), Sally Potter, Maggie Nichols and Irène Schweizer in 1977 and News From Babel with Chris Cutler, Dagmar Krause (both from Henry Cow) and Zeena Parkins in the mid 1980s. Her solo albums include music written for film, tv, theatre and dance performances, often with a feminist angle and often in company with renowned film director Sally Potter (the sister of the late Nic Potter, who succumbed to a similar severe illness last winter). Lindsay's second solo album Music From The Gold Diggers was the soundtrack of the first feature film by Sally (and Linsay co-wrote the film manuscript btw.) Some hold Oh Moscow (from 1987, recorded live in 1989 and released on CD in 1991), a song cycle about the effects of the cold war, as her (and lyricist and vocalist Sally Potter's) best. I don't fully agree; her first solo album Rags (1981) and third Music For Other Occasions (1986) were the ones I returned to right after her death. Anyway, there are certain distinct vibes about most of her compositions from around 1980 onwards, no matter if they have to do with jazz, classic, experimental, folk, cabaret or whatever that possess the Lindsay Cooper quality stamp.

My fanzine buddy and photographer Kalle interviewed Lindsay around 1986. He was only 18 or 19 at the time and quite nervous to go and visit her in her London home. A cool and intelligent lady, he reminisces now. When he abandoned his music writings soon after, I transcribed the interview and wrote an article about her based on it. And got to know her and her music a little better that way. She revealed that the Feminist Improvising Group was maybe the project she had appreciated the most. She learned more about improvisation there than in Henry Cow. And she wasn't as satisfied with News From Babel as could be expected. When composing for the first album, she got so influenced by the depressive and gloomy lyrics that the music sounded like a funeral, she thought in retrospect. With the second News From Babel album Letters Home, that included guest vocal appearances by Robert Wyatt and Sally Potter among others, she consciously avoided that. Around that time her compositions had gradually turned merrier and more accessible for a wider audience. It might have to do with her work with Mike Westbrook and his jazzy Orchestra. I went to Kongsberg Jazz Festival in 1988 just to experience Lindsay Cooper live with Mike Westbrooks' merry men and women interpreting the works of Gioacchino Rossini, the Italian opera composer. Hardly the most representative music to do with Lindsay and she only played sopranino sax during the show. But of course it was well worth getting a closer encounter with the small dark-haired lady. We do need to mention that Lindsay also was a member of David Thomas And The Pedestrians in the first half of the 1980s and participated on three albums with the big man before the resurrection of his Pere Ubu. If you ever wondered if humour belongs in music, just listen to the live album Winter Comes Home, where David, Chris Cutler and Lindsay improvise in words, rhythms and music. As hilarious as can be!

Sources don't agree on when she received the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis; some say the late 1970s, others ten years later. Anyway, Lindsay continued to play until the late 1990s. Her last solo album A View from the Bridge was released in 1998. For her last 15 years or so she wasn't able to perform due to her illness. At the RIO Festival that started two days after her death, Lindsay Cooper, of course was a subject of conversation. Some of the bands dedicated songs to her. May she finally rest in peace!

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