Bob Copper:A Man Of No Consequence

Bob, undisputed elder statesman of Sussex's celebrated Copper Family dynasty, passed away all of nine years ago. His colourful life had embraced a bewildering variety of occupations, many of these quite unlikely, some short-lived, and they're all chronicled in this his final memoir, written during the last few years of his life.

Unlike Bob's earlier trilogy (A Song For Every Season, Songs & Southern Breezes and Early To Rise), now some 40 years old, the span of this typically modestly (ironically?) titled memoir takes in his whole long life, and yet its sweep is not so much panoramic or momentous than chummily anecdotal, nay down-to-earth, throughout (Bob was complimented and termed "a man o' no consequence" by the Hampshire singer Enos White, from whom he'd collected folksongs for the BBC in the 1950s). The tone is chattily unfussy, with a love of telling his life-stories through fine detail of day-to-day life and at times quite wickedly humorous observation of the behaviour and foibles of his fellow human beings. In which respect there's little distinction drawn between his various occupations - all prove equally fascinating, and I really don't want to spoil the myriad of delights in store for the reader by trying to paraphrase or recount juicy escapades drawn from Bob's exploits as labourer on local sea defences, hairdresser's apprentice, and, later, publican and policeman (and coroner's officer). We learn of his frequenting of Knightsbridge gay bars while member of the Household Cavalry, contrasting with a quite tender account of an early failed courtship - just two of the revealing and unexpected experiences which pre-date what might be termed his folksong years.

Having said that, Bob's deep feeling for countryside landscape and lore and literature and books in general permeate even the more "worldly" early sections of the book. His expression of facets of city and town life are informed by, and shot through with, poetry, and although his descriptive turn of phrase is both genial and perfectly accessible it often attains a higher dimension simply by dint of its responsiveness. And therein lies the deep and not entirely subliminal connection between Bob's world and folk culture and that of today's folk performers who are deriving inspiration from, and responding keenly in their own fashion to, the self-same qualities in landscape. Truly a man for every season, Bob was clearly a generously-spirited and genuinely sociable, gregarious soul, and this memoir reflects his very character by being at once world-wise and earthy, knowingly racy, and sensibly visionary and metaphysical. The more direct interest for students of folksong only really enters the story well after halfway through the volume, yet I for one wasn't at all impatient to reach this phase of Bob's life, so companionable are his earlier reminiscences, all expressed within short-bite chapters, making the book so hard to lay aside as each successive stage of his life is reached.

The book is warmly and affectionately written and proves a fascinating read, but it is also often a genuinely funny book. It's supplemented by an intriguing collection of photographs too (many of which were unfamiliar to me), which bring the narrative even more alive. Reading the book, it's so easy to become a convert to Bob's philosophy of true wealth being attained through contentment. And, as the book's continually drawn parallels implicitly posit, in so many ways Bob was emphatically not "a man of no consequence".

David Kidman

Publisher: Coppersongs

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