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Tales From the City: Mick Cooper

Author: Peter Hopkinson Published: 20th April 2021 11:37
The Popular Portsmouth Music Scene
I recently spent time with local historian Mick Cooper to talk about his work producing an extensive archive of the Portsmouth music scene, spanning over 100 years. The archive appears both in digital and print from and is an incredible record of singers, bands, musicians, gigs, venues, and reviews, celebrating what is such an integral part of the City’s culture. Music plays such an important part of daily life for so many people and to be able to dip into this treasure trove to recall gigs attended, bands played in and songs remembered is such a treat and something Mick is understandably proud of, along with his co-curator Dave Allen.

I asked Mick how they came up with the idea to catalogue Portsmouth’s music scene:

“What happened was, Dave and I were both in bands over the years, and one day I bumped into him in the library; he was doing some research and I was doing the same, so we decided to get together. He decided to research the 60s and I said ‘I’ll do the 50s’ because I was a bit older. So, I've gone from my birth to in 1944 up to 1959, and he did 1960 to 1969, and from that we did the first book, the 50s and 60s. The second book was from 1970 to 1999.”

Mick had the foresight to transfer the archive on to a digital platform, creating The Popular Portsmouth Music Scene website with easy to navigate sections and a handy search function. It’s only when you start to delve into the sections that you realise just how comprehensive an  archive this is. On the 17th April 1936 for example, there was a Sunday concert at the Savoy Café, featuring the Savoy orchestra under the direction of Bill Palmer. 30 years later American soul singer Arthur Alexander played at the legendary Portsmouth venue The Birdcage. There are band photo and line-ups, links to orchestras and choirs, fascinating histories of local venues…the list is endless and it’s incredibly easy to for a couple of hours to fly by as you immerse yourself in the detail. I asked Mick about when he started the website:

“It must have been seven or eight years ago. It started very small because I’m not wonderfully technical. I have somebody that advises me and showed me how to do it just using notepad, so I've managed to do it myself, literally using notepad and adding photographs and whatever else necessary.”

I also wanted to know where Mick had managed to find so much material for the website, photographs, press cuttings etc.

“It's the internet to a certain extent. People put things on Facebook and on other sites and every morning, I go through and pick out any images.”

Mick maybe be dismissive of his own technical abilities, but the website’s strength is in its simplicity and ease of use. As our conversation progressed it was clear see just how passionate Mick is about music - especially the local scene. I was interested to find out therefore at what age his love of music first blossomed.

“I must have been 8 or 9 went round to my aunt's who had a piano, so I started playing the piano. My parents then hired one from Bennett's and I tried lessons, but it never really happened. I was late starter!

"Then I started playing saxophone and I was getting into it, but that didn't last very long either. But then, in the early 60s, I got in with some local lads, music people and I said, ‘Oh, I'll be your manager.’ But of course, I was clueless. So, after about three or four years, Alan Price came out with ‘I Put a Spell on You’, and I went and bought a keyboard and joined up with the band, and it all started from there.”

 “Over the years, I played different styles of music. In the 60s, it was everything from a pop group, to a beat group, to a soul band. In the late 60s, it was a Hippy, hairy band, I had hair down to here in those days! We actually played the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969. We were the second group on the first night, and it was Dylan on the Saturday night.”

Playing the same festival as Bob Dylan surely qualifies Mick as somewhat of a local legend but it’s his time working the local clubs and venues that seems to give him the greatest sense of pride.

I spent six years as resident at the Honky Tonk Bar, which was amazing, it was a really cool bar. I had different people with me in various groups supporting tallented front man Geoff Davis. I played keyboard, also Hammond organ. 

And then I did three summers on the South Parade Pier, probably from about 1984 onwards, until I retired. I also played lots of one nighters at local clubs, Conservative clubs, Labour clubs, British Legions, all the usual stuff.”

Mick’s own musical preferences range from Chuck Berry to Buddy Holly, from rock n roll to country and western, and he is keen to point out that for him if the song is a good one, regardless of genre, then he’s a fan. His lack of mobility means that Mick’s playing days are behind him, but he does still enjoy watching musicians perform live, and prior to the lockdown could be regularly found at the Barely Mow in Southsea.

As a music fan, it was fascinating talking to Mick and to delve into the website, which is an incredible gift to the City and to the music industry in general, mapping out as it does, in great and loving detail, over 100 years of Portsmouth music.

Click here to visit the website

The two books that Mick co-wrote with Dave Allen are both available to purchase, with any profits going to local music groups. For further details email Mick on: cooper_m6@sky.com






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