I was privileged to be there in Treorci for the last gig by Ray 'Chopper' Cooper with Oysterband. It was a very emotional performance/evening as Ray said his final goodbye to his days with Oysterband. Ray had joined the Oysters for their 1998 album Ride and had become an integral part of the band with his multi-instrumental & vocal skills.
So that day came in Treorci in February 2013 when Ray left the Oysterband - I even got to shake the man's hand and wish him well on his solo career. And made him promise to come back to Wales!
Ray had already released one solo album - Tales of Love, War & Death by Hanging back in 2010 and I was intrigued to see which direction Ray would go on his second solo outing.
Oysterband have gone on to release my favourite album of their whole career this year (without Ray).
But the key question has to be, has Ray's decision to leave the band to realise his own vision been justified?
I can answer with a resounding YES. Now we have two stunning albums from the Oysterband camp this year.
Ray has produced an album worthy of his Oysterband history and marks the beginning of what should be an impressive and rewarding solo career. It is not Ray Cooper (ex Oysterband) - it is NOW Ray Cooper.
Ray has picked the perfect time to present his solo album, Palace Of Tears to the world. The album has a beautiful autumnal feel which probably has as much to do with recording in his Scandinavian home - complete with the area's aching melancholia. And Ray has not put his head in the sand as far as subject matter is concerned.
For example, the album's opening track, A Line In The Sand, deals with conflict in the Middle East and is even more poignant today with what is happening in the Middle Eastern countries.
It is a plaintive ballad that begins with solo piano and is joined by intertwining violins. It sets up the tone of the rest of the album perfectly.
'So the black snake will wind through the valleys, through bones and empty farms and poppyfields'
Ray has produced the album himself with executive production and mixing by his replacement in Oysterband, the rather excellent Al Scott. Ray plays the majority of the instruments on the album including Cello, guitar, kantele, mandolin, harmonium & bass guitar. Keyboards are by Gustav Andersson, Jenny Tidman & Patrik Andersson on violins and harmony vocals by another excellent female singer Rowan Godel.
The title track Palace Of Tears is another poignant song which deals with the building in which East/West Germans met their family and loved ones in the Cold War. It's a very moving track with a a piano and orchestra.
'Now the checkpoints are demolished, the city has survived, the losers and the winners just get on with their lives'.
Ray, whose home in now in Sweden has also looked to his local landscapes and history. A product of this is Destroying Angel with Ray's trademark Cello playing and includes strings and tuned percussion.
'Is it me that brings corruption to this quiet wooded glade?'
My favourite song on the album is Tears Of Isis, which features the lovely harmony vocals of Rowan Godel and has acoustic guitar, piano, and tuned percussion and bells. While working on the album, Ray was keen to point out he was using instruments that were Scandinavian based such as the Kantele - and they bring a unique sound to much of the album, together with the harmonium he purchased. The song is about looking back into our past and being aware of your hertiage and your ancestors.
'And I'd like to meet all of my fathers and mothers, All the way back through the shadows of time.'
Ray with Al Scott
Ray has done a splendid job of producing an album of depth and interest. He has kept the production minimal and tasteful, keeping with the majority of the reflective songs on the album. It is an album that looks back as well as forward and promises much in his new solo career.
So then Ray, it's time to keep your promise and head on down to Wales so we can hear the songs live.
all photos of Ray courtesy of Ray's Facebook page & website
Oysterband photos are my own.
Twitter - @RaycooperRay