Success has been a long time coming for JP Cooper and he’s grateful for the push he got along the way from Ed Sheeran, writes Ed Power.
IF HE’D known how long and exhausting a journey stretched ahead, JP Cooper wonders if he’d have set his sights on pop stardom in the first place.
“Had I’d realised when I was 15 what I do now I probably wouldn’t have even tried,” says the chart topper, who, at age 33, has become one of the year’s hottest new songwriting talents and will shortly play to a sold out Olympia in Dublin.
“It took a lot of hard work and a lot of stubbornness. I’m trying to enjoy it. However, I realise I’m in a highly privileged situation.”
Cooper has a powerful soul voice and a way with emotive lyrics. Yet, as is often the case in modern pop, he had to rely on a feature appearance on another artist’s record for his breakthrough.
That track was Jonas Blue dance-floor smash Perfect Strangers, to which Cooper supplied wistful vocals.
“It’s definitely been a springboard,” he says, nodding. “It brought me attention across the world. Afterward, I turned down a lot of offers of dance collaborations. It’s definitely opened doors, but I don’t want to be a dance artist.”
Cooper — JP stands for John Paul — grew up in Middleton, the Manchester suburb that also gave the world the Mock Turtles and comedian Steve Coogan. That upbringing is the inspiration for his debut album and its appropriately Mancunian title, Raised Under Grey Skies.
“It’s a funny place,” he says of his hometown. “Not very artsy at all. A lot of football fans. A very working class area. People don’t really wear art on their sleeves. The Courteneers went to school with me.
“The Mock Turtles are from there. My family are close friends with the Coogans. There’s always been a thing about lads with guitars from Manchester. There’s still an amazing scene. I didn’t really come from a musical family. I had friends with guitars and it rained a lot. We spent a lot of time inside learning songs.”
“There were moments I wasn’t sure the album was going to be finished. It’s weird. You have these dreams as a kid — but since working in the industry, I understand just how small a window of opportunity I have had.”
His rise has been helped by big-name endorsements. Teen pop star Shawn Mendes tweeted his appreciation, as has Ed Sheeran. When Sheeran recommended that fans check out Cooper, the Manchester singer’s social media profile exploded.
“Oh it’s definitely helped,” says the down-to-earth Cooper. “Their fans stop and ask: ‘Who is this guy?’ You gain thousands of Twitter followers overnight. Any tip of the hat is appreciated. It’s gives me more confidence, for sure.”
Is it strange to become famous, finally, in his thirties?
“I’m grateful it’s paid off. I spent my twenties doing clubs and open mic nights. I never busked, because I was worried about my guitar getting stolen. I was up and down the country in a transit van with a mattress in the back playing to one man and his dog. Great times — but you were lucky if you had enough to buy chips at the end. You spend years not making any money out of it. The thing that keeps you going is your own growth.”
Now that success has come he is anything but overawed. He’s performed at Wembley Stadium (as part of the Summertime Ball pop festival) and packed London’s 5,000 capacity Brixton Academy. In each case, standing before a huge audience, he has appeared perfectly at home.
“Every time I go into a room that’s a little bigger than the one before, I feel I’m ready for it,” he says. “I’m massively grateful and sometimes a bit wide eyed. However, nothing feels like it’s too much. I’m really glad that I have that attitude, because otherwise I’d probably crumple with nerves. At the moment I am taking things in my stride.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved