Tony Cummings quizzed blues rock singer DAVE COOPER about his highly eventful life
Dave Cooper has what you'd describe as an "interesting life". He's a veteran of the music industry who has worked as production manager for acts like Michael Jackson, Bob Geldof and Prince. He's sung a solo with the Vienna Boys Choir. He's been held at gunpoint on three separate occasions. And Dave technically "died" when he was 18. Now in September Dave will be undertaking one of his most exciting, and nerve-racking, adventures ever when he will be singing the Lord's Prayer in front of 80,000 worshippers at Wembley Stadium. The paths God has made for this 52 year old, Midlands-based gospel blues singer would make an epic movie.
Dave's story began on 1st November 1959 when he was born in Pershore, Worcestershire. His childhood was a contented one. Said Dave, "Although my parents lived from hand to mouth, ours was a happy home. My mother was a regular churchgoer and was keen to see us children (I have one older sister) grow in the sight of God. My father, a wonderfully skilled and hard working Master Carpenter, had no time at all for any 'nonsense' such as church! I was a regular attendee at our local Sunday school and Pershore Abbey from as early as I can remember. I joined the Abbey choir at the tender age of nine (I think), having displayed a notable soprano voice which was a great surprise to everyone, not least me. Highlight of my choral career was singing a solo ('Jesu, Word Of God Incarnate') with The Vienna Boys Choir at Worcester Cathedral."
Dave discovered rock music, and particularly Slade, at the tender age of 14. Around the same time his tenure as a choir boy was drawing to a close. He recalled somewhat ruefully, "Having organised a 'strike' by my fellow choristers over pay and conditions and with my soprano voice cracking under the strain of puberty, the church and I went our separate ways. I left Pershore for Birmingham University in 1978 (my choice of educational establishment due to the fact that Birmingham was where all the best groups came from and I wanted to be a rock star!). In 1981, having graduated with a Combined Honours degree in English Literature and Modern History, my singing career had started to take off. By 1984 the group Scorched Earth, with whom I was lead vocalist, had risen to prominence as part of what was later to become known as The New Wave of British Heavy Metal or NWOBHM for short! We were heavily featured on Radio 1's Friday Rock Show with the late, great Tommy Vance (our manager was married to the show's producer!). We signed a recording deal with Carrere Records (who were number one in the charts at the time with 'Move Closer' by Phyllis Nelson) and a publishing deal with Virgin. We supported Bryan Adams on his record breaking first UK tour and everything was looking good. Scorched Earth released a four track, 12-inch vinyl EP entitled 'Tomorrow Never Comes' - which today you'll find listed in the Rare Record Guide going for anything up to £70 per copy!"
The dreams of rock stardom with Scorched Earth came to nothing. Explained Dave, "I woke up one morning and realised that, apart from the bassist, I was the only original member of the band left standing, following a series of interventions from the label and management. An offer, which would have taken me to America, where Bruce Springsteen's lawyer wanted to 'build' a band around me, was enough to see my 24 year old self run screaming from the performing side of the industry. It would be more than 20 years until I sang again. Giving up singing meant I needed a job. One morning, shortly afterwards, I found myself shivering in the freezing cold as the truck doors opened at the NEC Arena and I had made the seamless transition from signed artist to production technician in one easy motion.
"It just so happened, at the time, that I became friends with a wonderful man named Mick Owen (known affectionately as "The Mick") who had been Bob Geldof's merchandising man in the '80s. When 'The Mick' became 'The Manager' I was soon engaged as drum technician for the next tour which progressed to taking the responsibility of Stage Manager and Production Manager (two additional jobs, but for the same money!). From there, news soon spread of my 'maverick' approach to the job at hand and I continued to move from tour to tour, at bigger and better venues as the years progressed."
The next two decades ensured Dave saw the pop and rock world from very close quarters. He commented, "I've been told many times that I should write a book about my exploits but, in due deference to those with whom I worked, I have always maintained that what happened on tour stayed on tour. Boring, I know! The only thing I will say is that rock and roll really is everything you think it is...it was a wild lifestyle. . . I loved every minute of it, but I wouldn't change the life I have now. Being 'on the road' with God is far more exciting than anything that ever happened on a tour bus!"
In 2008 Dave, more as a hobby than as a serious musical adventure, recorded a CD 'Welcome To The Neighbourhood' with the band Badland. Three years later after a lengthy period of spiritual questioning, Dave became a disciple of Christ. He remembered, "On Friday 13th May 2011 I sat in a busy restaurant and began to pray openly and declare my new-found faith but it had been coming for quite some time. My wife, Mandy, had worked with our church for some seven years previous, taking care of their media and marketing, and she gave her life in February of the same year. I went from being tolerant of the church to being defensive and protective. . . maintaining the stance that I would be there to 'pull her out' when it all 'went wrong' and, under no circumstances should she entertain the idea that I would join her in her new found faith. I had no idea how quickly God was going to move in my life. I tussled with him and tested him over the weeks that followed, 'encouraging' him to make himself known to me. I asked for signs - and got them - and then asked for more. This period of months culminated in a trip to visit friends who pastor a church in Ireland. We were due to visit the grave of our friends' daughter, Emily, who had died four years previously at the age of seven. I had gone walking by the side of Lough Ree in a very dark and angry state of mind and demanded to know how, if he actually did exist, God could allow such tragedies to befall such good people. As I brooded, Mandy received a text from our friend, who suggested that the Lord might have a Scripture for me to read at the graveside and that I might like to bring along the Bible which the church had given me just a few weeks earlier. In a gesture of defiance and with no small amount of anger I held up my Bible and shouted 'Come on then. . .show me this Scripture' and allowed the Bible to drop open. It was Isaiah 37:28 - 'But I know your dwelling place, your going out and your coming in, and your rage against me. Because your rage against me and your tumult have come up to my ears, therefore I will put my hook in your nose and my bridle in your lips, and I will turn you back by the way which you came. This shall be a sign to you.' My estimation of my own self importance was severely under threat and I began to think maybe there actually was a higher authority in my life than me. I sobbed as I read the Scripture at the graveside that morning. By way of confirmation, later that day, I sat on a picnic bench with a coffee, the bench tipped backwards and I ended up on my back, gazing heavenwards, covered in steaming hot liquid. All the anger went - I started laughing and said, 'Ok, he's just proven that he is the highest authority in my life by dumping me unceremoniously on my backside!'"
Dave and Mandy attend the Renewal Christian Centre in Solihull, the fellowship planted by pastor David Carr which over 40 years had grown from four members to over 2,000. It played a key part in Dave's unexpected entrance into the world of Christian music. He explained, "Just two weeks after I gave my life to the Lord, Pastor Dave announced he was finally going to begin his 13 part teaching series on the Lord's Prayer, something he had been talking about for some time. In our media capacity we decided to create a 'blockbuster' style video trailer to promote the series, for which I also wrote the music. Two days before the video was due to be shown, in the dark of night as I was putting the finishing touches to the video edit, Mandy said to me, 'You should sing it'. Rather than arguing (which I normally did whenever she suggested that I might sing) and much to my (and her) surprise, I agreed! So, I set about writing an arrangement of the lyrics to the music and, on Sunday, I sang live to accompany the video. The reaction was, to say the least, overwhelming. The next week, I wrote another song to accompany the next part, then another. By about week four we realised that this was turning into an album! What made it all the more remarkable is that I had obviously written songs before, but my usual time schedule was about one every year, not one a week!"
The recording sessions for what was to be 'The Lord's Prayer' album took place in a blur of creative and spiritual energy. "Recording the album was an emotional roller-coaster. At the time we had an old Victorian schoolroom down in the village where we live. The vaulted ceiling, the calmness and the overriding sense of serenity provided the perfect environment. The entire writing, recording and mastering process, for all 13 tracks, lasted just four months - with times when I laughed, cried, got angry, frustrated and even came close to giving up on more than one occasion. I have absolutely no doubt that I had more than my fair share of help from the Holy Spirit. I still hear themes in the songs that I don't actually remember playing in the first place! Apart from the flute on 'Forgive Us Father' - played by my dear friend and amazing musician Andrew Moss - I played and sang everything on the album. Oh, apart from Pastor Dave's duet with me on 'Amen' - getting the Bishop down in the studio to record was amazing!"
'The Lord's Prayer' was much more than a recording project. Explained Dave, "Last September I was invited to sing 'The Lord's Prayer' at Wembley in front of over a thousand church leaders, as they met to discuss the vision of filling the stadium with 80,000 worshippers. It was an amazing experience and I met so many remarkable people. Singing again this September is an awesome opportunity. . . but I don't plan much now. I've learned very quickly that the best way is to leave all the planning to God!"
One of Dave's deepest convictions today is that it is God who has so suddenly opened doors for the Church to hear his music. "God has no need for time - it took 33 years from my near fatal car crash at 18 right through to last year when I was flung to the ground to be left in no doubt as to his existence. He had plans for us all even before we were born and, no matter how rebellious we are and how far we go away from him, he will always love us and be there waiting for us to realise that he IS the only way. Having 'trained' for all those years, once I accepted him into my life, God has given me such wonderful opportunities to glorify his name."