A Long Way from Pasadena

Back

Brian Innes(1928-2014) a founder member and former percussionist with the Temperance Seven, wrote an extremely entertaining and amusing book, 'A Long Way from Pasadena' about the life and times of the band. We are delighted to reproduce some of his thoughts on Alan Cooper.

He came from one of those vastly interconnected Yorkshire families; toyed with the idea of taking orders; served his time in the RAF; won a scholarship to Leeds School of Art, where he was a fellow student with Frankie Vaughan and guitarist Diz Disley; played clarinet with Bob Barclay's Yorkshire Jazz Band; and came to London in 1956 to study sculpture at the Royal College.

At that time he was tall and elegantly slender in a 20s style, and he took to the tight black tailcoats of the Seven with aplomb. He had a wife, Peggy, a silver-haired schoolteacher, and they lived aboard a small motor cruiser moored out in the stream just upriver from Battersea Bridge.

It was some years later, when Cooper and Peggy were living apart, and she had a small ground-floor flat in Colebrook Row, Islington, that she earned herself a place in history. She was in the Camden Head late one Saturday evening, and a young hooray Tempswas making a bore of himself, rounding the bar to ask if anybody had a French letter to spare. Eventually Peggy stood up, put her foot on a stool, and reached one hand under her skirt: "Well," she said, "if your girlfriend doesn't mind borrowing..."

When he is at his best, Alan Cooper is an outstanding jazz clarinettist - something he's proved with almost every band in the land; at his far from best, which can be much of the time, he's still worth hearing; but catch him on the wrong occasion, speak the wrong word into his ear, and he can play, with malice aforethought, the vilest, most out-of-tune rubbish you never expected to hear.

Let's look at Cooper, Alan Swainston Cooper, sometimes called Henry MacHooter, in 1961. The slimness has gone, developing into a pear-shaped form on legs (his back hurts him); the hair is slipping too, off the head and down the chin. Peggy's gone as well; although they are still technically husband and wife, she lives in Islington and Alan in a tiny bedsitter on the corner of Hollywood Road in Fulham, which he shares with about 30 instruments in various stages of decay, including an enormous bass phonofiddle that hangs menacingly over his head as he lies in bed, and a very little monkey that Cephas Howard [former Seven trumpeter] gave him for his 30th birthday. (Not long after he found it strangled in its chain.) But the eyes haven't changed , they've become even more so: hazel in colour, broodingly intent, partly hidden under huge, arched lids. The big nose and slightly fleshy lips look almost semitic, but they're half concealed by the full brown beard: he resembles one of Queen Victoria's younger sons, one of those dukes who went mad - the real Jack the Ripper? - and were locked up for ever, or committed suicide. And there's a strange smile on his face. It may be just fun and enjoyment, or perhaps he's about to come out with some cynically bitter condemnation of the scene around him.

He's wearing a tweed suit, almost certainly one that he bought in a secondhand shop - perhaps Alfred Kemp's (We Can Fit Anybody!) in Camden Town - and a similar but unmatching tweed hat. The pockets of the jackert are huge and swollen; there's a Leica camera in one, and a worn and bulging notebook in the other. His hands are black with grease; he's just spent most of the morning tuning his 3-litre Lagonda, or dismantling the gearbox of his Vincent HRD Rapide.

On stage, however, he is immaculate in white tie and tails, or the magnificent frogged smoking jacket in plum velvet that he had specially made for the Royal Command Performance. His bearing is regal, his presence gracious. But he's still a monster.

Cooper's regal eminence was at its best one evening in September 1961, when we played for a charity ball at the Savoy River Room. We had just formed ourselves into a limited company, and Ralph Peters thought that a photograph of a board meeting at the Savoy would make a good piece of publicity.

We descended to a large basement room, followed by a giggle of hoorays. One of them had a handsome gold and enamel medallion hanging on his chest. "I'd look very good wearing that for the photo," said Cooper. "Will you lend it to me?" "

You can't wear this!" was the horrified reply, "it's a baronet's badge." "Then," said Cooper, wagging his saxophone sling in the hooray's face, "I shan't let you wear this. It's a clarinet's badge."

With his talent, it's extraordinary that he stayed with the Seven, through all the hard days of coping with Douglas's cornet, Joey's gaspipe clarinet and Paul's trombone. Of recent years, he's takern to referring rather condescendingly to "the funny band", but (again, like Colin) he really preferred those early days of unprofessional chaos. He seldom missed a date - only once did I have to speak harshly to him, when he sent Goff Dubber, without any excuse, to dep for him (Cooper was probably doing a better-paid job with another band) - and I get the impression that he actually found great pleasure in playing with us.

From Hollywood Road, he moved to a ground floor flat opposite St Paul's School in Baron's Court, painted dark brown and hung with hundreds of old photos and song sheets; and then in the late 60s, he bought a house opposite Wandsworth Common. It had belonged to the daughter of Thomas Crapper, the appropriately named founder of the sanitary merchants in the Kings Road, and one of the conditions of the sale was that the house be left in its original condition. Cooper took this literally, keeping the same decaying curtains at the windows, the same ancient light brackets on the walls, even the same lino and the paper-lined kitchen shelves. He filled it with his collection of vintage cameras, innumerable musical instruments and glass-fronted cases crammed with a tumble of clockwork cars and toy railway engines. The magazine "Interiors" was delighted to photograph it, complete with "Professor" Cooper and his parrot, in November 1989. Continued on Pasadena 3

After graduating in the sculpture school of the Royal College, Cooper - as far as I know - never took up the chisel again. He went to St Martin's as a teacher, and remained there for nearly 30 years, before moving to Chelsea as assistant principal. Freddie Gore, who was his head at St Martin's, told me what a tower of strength Cooper had been to him.

But after that ecomium, here's one last story of Cooper the monster. One night (I'm told) he gatecrashed a party in Douglas Fairbanks Jr's house in the Boltons. In due course he was rumbled and a young woman asked him who he was and what he was doing there. "Come to that," said Cooper, "who are you?" "I'm Douglas's daughter," she replied. "You don't look like him," said our hero. "Oh, I don't know, though. The moustache is familiar..."

And a final story of Cooper at his best. One time in Hong Kong, the band (long after I had left) were staying at one of the top hotels, perhaps the Mandarin, and they were overwhelmed by the efficiency of the room service. They claimed that, if anybody dropped a towel in the bathroom, the door would fly open and a racing waiter would catch it before it reached the floor. One afternoon Cooper decided to make the final experiment. He picked up the room telephone. Immediately a voice spoke in his ear: "Yes sir, how can we help you?" "Oh," said Cooper, "come and put the receiver back in its cradle, will you?"

 © 2018 Alan Cooper fondly remembered   |   DCP : Web Designers
logo