By Andrew Liddle
Article reproduced from Just
Jazz Magazine July 2008
By kind permission of Andrew Liddle, Dave Copperwaite and Just Jazz Magazine
Dave Copperwaite, one of the hottest trumpeters on the Northern circuit, was just about to set off to Belgium with Martin Bennett's Old Green River Band, when I caught up with him at his home in Romiley, near Stockport.
More than forty years ago when I first saw him at the Plebs' Club in Halifax, his hair was burnished the colour of his name - and he had a penchant for sharp leather jackets and used to play the trumpet with a fag jammed between his fingers. Now he is older, greyer and wiser (he's stopped smoking), but his eyes have the same slightly roguish twinkle and the deep-throated chuckle remains.
It seems Dave's interest in Jazz began as a 14-year-old pupil at his school's Jazz Club, where he first heard Bunk Johnson's 'Dark Town Strutters Ball', which got him hooked for life. I put it to him that Keighley Grammar must have been a hotbed of Jazz at the time, with Arthur Stead, John Kirkham and Pete Cridland being among his contemporaries. 'Everywhere was at the time,' he says. ' There was also Dennis Armstrong up the road at Skipton Grammar and Malc Webb at Keighley Technical College.'
Later, whilst studying at night school, he was given a cornet, at about the same time as he was seeing bands like Chris Barber's, The Saints, Johnny Dankworth's Seven, Mick Mulligan's and, above all, the Yorkshire Jazz Band, at Keighley Baths. 'I went for New Orleans' music preferentially, but listened to anything I could.'
He is grateful for this and advances the theory that learning jazz from records is incidental as it is necessary to see people play in order to learn.
Around 1957, like so many at the time, he became caught up with Skiffle and played washboard in a band with Ken Turner and Brian McHale (guitars), Eric Wright (bass) and Dave Humphries (banjo). Though he can remember, down the vista of years, the personnel, he can no longer, alas, remember the group's name. 'We did Skiffle because it was easier to do,' he chuckles, 'but I was learning cornet and Ken was learning the clarinet and we always knew we wanted to form a jazz band, which we did called the All Saints' Jazz Band, around '58.' This later became the Crescent City Jazzband, with a residency at the Students' Club in Bradford and a good following.
Briefly he discusses his indebtedness at this time to Bunk and to Ken Colyer who he later had the pleasure and privilege of sitting in with, playing second trumpet, and then launches into a spell of Ed O'Donnell hagiography and reminisces about being in parade bands with Jim Fuller whom he rates very highly among local trumpeters. Other influences he is keen to acknowledge were Kid Howard and Henry Red Allen.
For a time, Dave inexplicably gave up regular playing. 'I lost interest not in the music as such but in what we were doing. There were pressures of work as well and I had a spell out, apart from sitting in occasionally.'
By the late 1960s, however, now living and working in Leeds, his appetite was reawakened when hearing Jeff Milner's Band, and by sitting in with Dan Pawson, who Dave later describes as his absolute hero. It was on this fortunate occasion that he first met Dave Donohoe, who a few weeks later invited him to be part of the band he was putting together. 'It was a fantastic band,' Dave recalls with obvious pride. 'There was Dave on trombon, Rod Chambers, alto sax, Ian Rose, drums, John Johnson , bass and that great trumpeter Ged Hone on piano! They had a wonderful residency at the Nag's Head in the middle of Manchester and played with some great visiting musicians, including Louis Nelson, Alton Purnell, Wingy Manone and Wallace Davenport.
One of the greatest unsolicited (and highly fortuitous) compliments came when a long article written by Len Page appeared in Footnote Magazine, discussing Bunk's influence on Wingy. Several of the tracks cited for praise had, in fact, been recorded by Dave rather than Wingy!
Dave left this memorable band in the mid-1970s and was encouraged by his wife, Carol, to carry on when he was once again minded to give up. It is fortunate that he did because his next project was to found the French Quarter Band, with Dennis Brown , Les Moore, Tom Alker, Annie Hawkins and later Ron Mckay, not forgetting the late Jack Jenkinson on trombone. They went all over the country - some of the highlights being Bude and Keswick - and on the continent. On one occasion they backed Gregg Stafford, with whom Dave later became friends when first visiting New Orleans in 1996.
'It was a great time, playing the music I wanted to play,' he recalls of this halcyon period. 'It became my life for the best part of twenty years.'
There followed work with Annie Hawkins' New Orleans' Band, another fabulous line up, including Louis Lince on banjo, Dave Vickers on trombone, the late great George Berry on reeds and Gordon Pettit on drums.
One of his few regrets in life is the gigs that never were with Walter Payton who offered Dave two blows. Unfortunately, however, Dave was unable to change his flight to Florida in time to take up the chance of playing with one of his heroes.
One of Dave's happiest memories of New Orleans was visiting a new club, Sweet Lorraine's, on St Claude to see Walter's band. 'We were the only whites there, along with two jazzers from Dover who we'd met earlier that evening at The Palm Court. It was a fabulous night and must have been like the clubs in the Forties. Gregg Stafford and Kermit Ruffins were also in the audience and three guys from Fats Domino's band turned up and sat in. Brilliant music and fabulous atmosphere.'
After his first visit to the Crescent City he returned every eighteen months or so, always finding somewhere to sit in and meeting jazz people, including Lionel Ferbos and renewing acquaitance with Walter Payton, from whom he always learned something new. One thing he took on board was never to look back but always to try new things. Another was to concentrate on the melody and let others worry about other aspects.
These days he does about four gigs a week, many of them with his own Louisiana Highway, playing in the contemporary New Orleans' idiom, with his good friend (and best man) Derek Galloway on trombone - or with Derek's own band The Milneburg Boys. He has a regular weekly gig in Romiley, at The Duke of York with another good friend, Noel Nicholls, on guitar. The parade band, The Eclipse, he formed a decade ago is still going strong and in demand and he also works, intermittently, with the Red Rose Brass Band.
One of his main interests is now Martin Bennett's Old Green River Band which he describes as possibly the best band he has ever played with.
Chris Burke and, until recently, Les Muscutt, Barry Martyn and Sarah Spencer visit annually and Dave plays with them in various line-ups.
Dave is clearly a happy and fulfilled man these days with as many fascinating stories to tell as there are jazz men of his acquaintance. Before I leave, I wish him a very happy seventieth birthday which is coming up in a few days' time. He will certainly have a lifetime in Jazz to celebrate and to reflect on.
© ANDREW LIDDLE