Ambrose Cooper

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Ambrose Cooper Gypsy singer and songwriter who lives near Epsom, Surrey. He is Jasper Smith's nephew and Harry Lee's grandson.

Unsung hero: Ambrose Cooper is a Gypsy man who sings for passion not profit.
Ambrose Cooper is almost unique amongst British Gypsy performers. He loves country music and he’s keen on English folk too. But unlike many others he sings about recent Gypsy experiences and sets it all down to a country rhythm. The songs he’s written over the years are known and sung by Gypsies across England, yet he rarely gets the credit for what he’s created. For Ambrose, singing is a passion and not a profession. And his talent is as hidden away as the site he lives on.
In his kitchen block at the corner of the Cox Lane site in Epsom, Surrey, Ambrose is jamming with his son Ambrose, playing everything from guitar boogies and English folk, to Elvis. Ambrose senior plays the accordion, guitar and banjo expertly. He says he got his interest in music from his granddad Harry Lee.
“My granddad used to get his living with his violin years ago,” says Ambrose. “They’d make a fire and get a board to tap dance on and he’d play jigs and reels on the fiddle. That was their entertainment. The trouble is now, everything is ready made. You’ve got CDs, backing tapes and karaoke and the music is already there. The younger generation don’t play instruments like they used to. Karaoke’s alright, but it’s not real music, is it?”
“When I was a little boy I used to say: ‘Let me have a go on your banjo grandfather’ and he’d say: ‘No son, that’s a violin.’ But it got me interested in music. When I got old enough I got myself a guitar and used to listen to old Jimmie Rodgers’ records and taught myself.”
Ambrose’s best-known song, ‘Will There Be Any Travellers in Heaven?’ is a good example of how he creates music, but gets little credit for it. His late cousin Derby Smith is often named as the song’s creator.
“People take my stuff and say they’ve done it. I can’t read and write, so I’ve made a song up on a tape, played it to somebody and they’ve written it down and said that they’ve done it. Jimmie Rodgers said: ‘Will there be any brakemen in heaven?’ So it was his tune but my words.”
From his song ‘Old Motors’ to the ‘Travellers’ Blues’, his songs are widely known, but have never been commercially released. “What I’ve wrote about is what’s really happened,” he says and launches into a song that all Gypsies in the south of England know and love: ‘Now you get some old motors, they’re going everyday, some of them, they need a tow, before you can get away …’''

from Traveller's Times issue 33, Autumn 2007

Some of Ambrose's songs are included in 'Romano Drom songbook: Songs by Ambrose Cooper, Kerieva & Others', Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month, June 2009.

YouTube links:

Travellers Tales part 1 (Surrey History Trust)

'Reuben And Levy'

'Old Motors', written by Ambrose Cooper

Audio links:

Ambrose Cooper sings Hartlake Bridge - linked from