Interview with Sophie Cooper (Tor Fest)

Our special guest on our February livestream was the fabulous Sophie Cooper: trombonist, composer and one of the promoters from Tor Bookings, who put together the eclectic, psychedelic weekender Tor Fest in Todmorden.


First of all, tell us about Tor Festival – who’s involved, how long have you been going and how would you describe the event to the uninitiated?

Tor Festival is run by me and my partner Jake Blanchard and we’ve been running the festival, alongside a year round events programme, for the past 8 years since moving to Todmorden. We’re really keen to promote new, experimental music and offer a platform to artists who exist outside of the mainstream. If you’re totally new to the UK Underground DIY scene, regarding the artists we book, expect to be challenged and say WTF a lot. Also expect a fun atmosphere and a really friendly vibe, which is super important to us. 


For those who don’t know the Calder Valley, they might be surprised at just how much of a brilliant little self-contained cultural ecosystem it is, especially if you like it weird and psychedelic! Who are your fave collaborators and venues in the area?

It is a beautiful place to live indeed and I’m fortunate to have seen the place evolve over the time I’ve lived here. Artistically I’ve especially enjoyed collaborating with writer, Roy Claire Potter, who is a fantastic artist operating in a crossover area between visual art, text and sound. I’ve also worked closely with Alison Cooper, a psyche folk artist on a range of music and education projects locally. 

Venues wise, we don’t have loads to choose from but the ones we’ve got are wonderful, namely The Golden Lion, who have given us so many opportunities over the years, and Nan Moors, which is a smaller space and fairly new, over the road from the lion. I’m also a big fan of The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge and have programmed a few events over there. 


If you had to pick a couple of stand out moments from Tor Festival so far, which are the acts / sets that you’d like to go back to?

So many to mention… but I don’t think I’ll ever forget watching Nurse With Wound’s Andrew Liles performing at The Todmorden Unitarian Church for us. He insisted that we project red lights onto the walls to make it look like they were dripping with blood, as well as hiring in smoke machines and a Marshall Stack. It looked brilliant. He was performing with Maniac from Norwegian black metal band Mayhem and he was up in the church’s pulpit pouring candle wax into his mouth for most of the set. Carl Stokes from Cancer was on the biggest drum set up I’ve ever seen. Liles blew the stack about 2 mins into the set but just whipped his guitar lead into the PA immediately and carried on. They covered an Aphrodite’s Child track, twice, and the crowd loved it. 


You’ve got quite a varied and diverse creative career, not just as an organiser but also as a musician. What piece is the best introduction to your music?

I got nominated for an Ivor Novello Sound Art award last year for my piece ‘Intact’ which is on my Bandcamp page. I’m really proud of this work and it really represents my current point of view as a composer. 


I’d also turn your attention to my band ‘The Slowest Lift’, which is a collaboration with my friend Julian Bradley. Our last album ‘Plutonic Shine’ is something I’m really proud of. 


It’s been a very testing year for all of us, but there have been some wonderful shoots of outstanding creativity. What art / performance created in lockdown have really impressed / inspired you?

Right at the beginning of lockdown I was watching weekly online DIY shows hosted by a noise artist from Leeds called Territorial Gobbing. I really enjoyed the sense of community that surrounded them making it a great opportunity to chat to friends and effectively just watch a gig. The quality control of the curation was a bit questionable at times but I really liked how that evidently wasn’t a huge priority for the channel as it encouraged artists to have a go at the new medium of video. 

Personally I’ve found it a year of learning and have taken advantage of various online courses in topics I would normally have to travel to access. I did a notational composition course, a spatial sound course, one on mixing and mastering, music for early years, and I’m still learning French on the DuoLingo app. I really hope that organisations continue to take advantage of the educational opportunity that being online offers because I certainly would continue to learn in this way given the chance.  


Which artist or album is on heavy rotation on your turntable / MP3 player / listening device of choice at the moment? 

I’ve really enjoyed the new series of releases out on the Café Oto label, Takuroko. Especially the latest ones by Eleanor Cully and Duncan Chapman, Tina Jander and United Bible Studies. If anyone would like an insight into my incredible music taste (ha!) you can listen to my radio show: Tor FM that can be found on The Neon Hospice radio station. 


Is there a musician who you think is an absolute genius but who isn’t as well known as they should be? 

I don’t really subscribe to the idea that someone should be more well known than they are despite whatever musical level of genius they happen to have, it’s all so subjective. That said, I do believe that some artists keep their heads down a bit when they should be playing out live more often and I think Andy Jarvis of Vile Plumage falls into this category. 

Finally, imagining the future with as much hopefulness as we can muster, what are you most looking forward to over the coming year?

Seeing my mum.