Flagstop Records RIDE CD004
15 songs – 50 minutes
In the years before affordable transportation, and decades before the invention of the internet, there were advantages and disadvantages to growing up outside the States and loving the blues. The physical distance made it much harder to access the sheer range of wonderful music that was available to those lucky people living in the USA. But it also created a drive and commitment verging on obsessional for what music could be found, perhaps all tied up in the romantic mythology of the Land of Opportunity as viewed through the exotically distorted prisms of Hollywood, rock’n’roll and visiting American servicemen and women. It is easy to imagine a teenage Keith Richards at Dartford railway station in 1960, striking up a conversation with his old classmate Mick Jagger purely on the basis of the Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records that Jagger held under his arm.
And when people think of the British blues boom of the 1960s, it can be a facile assumption that it was primarily driven by the electric blues coming out of States in the 1950s. After all, The Rolling Stones named themselves after a Muddy Waters song; John Mayall’s classic “Beano” album featured re-workings of gems by Otis Rush, Little Walter and Freddie King. Eric Clapton wanted to be Freddie King with a hint of Buddy Guy. Mick Taylor loved Albert King. Peter Green channelled B.B. King.
It can be easy to forget how early acoustic blues had an equally powerful impact. The American Folk Blues Festival tours of the UK featured acoustic artists like Lonnie Johnson, Big Joe Williams and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. The music of Robert Johnson touched everyone who heard it. Mississippi Fred McDowell and Son House were huge influences on British slide guitarists like Brian Knight and Dave Kelly. A certain English rock band even named themselves after the first names of two of Syd Barrett’s favourite blues singers: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
These pre-war masters also influenced English acoustic guitar player, singer and songwriter, Brian Cope, whose Old, New, Borrowed & Blue is an apt title for an album featuring seven classic covers and eight originals. The seven covers will all be familiar to most blues fans. He essays early blues like Mississippi John Hurt’s “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me”, Blind Blake’s “Diddy Wah Diddy” and Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues”, as well as turning in acoustic re-workings of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”, B.B King’s “Bad Breaks”, the Stones’ “The Spider And The Fly” and Keb’ Mo’’s “You Can Love Yourself”. His own compositions sit nicely alongside the covers.
The songs primarily feature Cope alone with his guitar, with occasional simple harmonica on songs like “All I Need” and “Spoonful”. He is a tasteful finger style guitarist, although his gentle voice is better suited to the more folk-influenced, up-beat, Piedmont-style songs rather than the deep melancholy of the Mississippi blues.
Old, New Borrowed & Blue is an enjoyable album, but it feels more like a demo than a fully polished release. There is a pleasantly rough sound to the recordings, with several of the songs starting with the sound of Cope composing himself and settling into his seat, and some tracks, for example “You Can Love Yourself” stand out for having a very different recorded sound, although it is unclear whether this is deliberate or not. Overall, therefore, this is an agreeable effort, worth checking out if you enjoy Piedmont-style finger style blues. Available through www.brianecope.co.uk or via Amazon