Copper Family

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The Copper Family are a family of singers of traditional, unaccompanied English folk song. Originally from Rottingdean, near Brighton, Sussex, England, the nucleus of the family now live in the neighbouring village of Peacehaven. They have been described as "the first family of English roots music, vital to its history and a frame of reference for the new generation that is reviving a tradition of earthy, hard edged story based music".[1]


The Copper Family have a tradition of the unaccompanied singing of traditional local songs that has been passed down through several generations. In 1898, they came to the attention of Kate Lee (d.1904), one of the founders of the Folk Song Society (later the English Folk Dance and Song Society). Vic Gammon notes, in the leaflet accompanying the society's archive CD Come Write Me Down, that both the collecting of songs and their unaccompanied singing were less common than is often imagined at this time and that Lee, a singer herself, knew she had found something special when she encountered the Coppers.

James 'Brasser' Copper (1845–1924) and his brother Thomas (c.1847–c.1936) were made honorary members of the society, and 'Brasser' was prevailed upon to write down the songs that he knew. 'Brasser' had two sons, John (c.1879–1952) and Jim (1882–1954). In 1936, Jim wrote a further volume of songs. Jim had two children – Joyce (1910–2006) and Bob (1915–2004).

Memorial plaques to members of the Copper family, including Jim and Bob Copper, in the churchyard of St Margaret's Church, Rottingdean

In 1950, Jim and Bob were invited to sing on an episode of the BBC Radio programme Country Magazine and, over the next few years, the BBC would record them further, even producing a feature The Life of James Copper, broadcast in September 1951.

John's son was Walter Ronald, known as Ron (c.1913–1979). Together, Jim, John, Ron and Bob sang at the Royal Albert Hall and wider public attention followed the broadcast of a six-part television series Song Hunter, presented by Alan Lomax and featuring Jim, Bob and Ron. Bob wrote several books about the family and its songs, beginning with the widely acclaimed A Song For Every Season in 1971. The accompanying 4-LP set (now a collector's item) found Bob and Ron singing alongside Bob's daughter Jill and son John, bringing a further generation into the family tradition. The death of Ron was followed by the introduction of Jill's husband Jon into the core line-up, and some of Bob's grandchildren began to appear with the group. The six grandchildren (Jill's children Mark, Andy and Sean Barratt, and John's children Ben, Lucy and Tom Copper) now also appear independently as The Young Coppers, singing the same family repertoire.

Various recordings of the family's singing have been made since the 1950s and some are still available, notably the aforementioned Come Write Me Down, which comes with two booklets full of biographical detail. In the 1980s, Bob Copper published the book Across Sussex with Belloc in which he retraced the route across Sussex of Hilaire Belloc and the characters of Belloc's novel The Four Men: a Farrago. Bob Copper died in 2004, a few days after receiving an MBE. In an obituary by Ken Hunt in The Independent newspaper, Bob Copper was described as "England's most important traditional folk-singer".[2] In The Guardian obituary, Michael Grosvenor Myer wrote "Towards the end of his life, Bob frequently expressed the greatest satisfaction that the family's fine tradition was safe for at least the next two generations". The present generations of the family continue to sing unaccompanied traditional songs and, in 2004 (repeated in 2006), BBC Four broadcast an hour-long programme[3] about the family, filmed during the last months of Bob's life. They are involved in The Imagined Village project.

In 2009 Topic Records included in their 70-year anniversary boxed set Three Score and Ten Spencer the Rover by Bob & Ron from the album Come Write Me Down – Early Recordings of The Copper Family of Rottingdean as track two of the second CD in the set.


  • Traditional Songs From Rottingdean (English Folk Dance & Song Society LP, 1963)
  • A Song For Every Season (Leader 4-LP box set, 1971)
  • A Song For Every Season (Leader LP, selections from the box set, 1971)
  • The Banks of Claudy (Folktrax LP, 1975)
  • Twankydillo (Folktrax cassette, 1975)
  • Sweet Rose in June (Topic LP, 1977)
  • Come All You Bold Britons (Folktrax cassette, 1983)
  • Adam and Eve (Folktrax cassette, 1983)
  • Coppersongs: A Living Tradition (English Folk Dance & Song Society LP, 1987)
  • Coppersongs 2 (CD, 1995)
  • Coppersongs 3: The Legacy Continues (CD, 1998?)
  • Come Write Me Down (Topic CD, 2001)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nidel, Richard (2005). World Music: The Basics. Routledge. p. 90.
  2. ^ Hunt, Ken (1 April 2004). "Obituary from 'The Independent'". The Copper Family. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  3. ^ Coppersongs at BBC Four, archived from the original on 8 January 2009, retrieved 26 July 2013

Further reading[edit]

  • "Bob Copper – for the Sheer Joy of Singing" [radio interview transcript]. 2008. In Talking to Kinky and Karlheinz – 170 musicians get vocal on The Music Show ed. Anni Heino, 171–185. Sydney: ABC Books. ISBN 978-0-7333-2008-8.

External links[edit]