As overnight success stories go – ones that took ten years of graft – JP Cooper had
quite the start. Let us count the ways.
Two Top Ten and platinum-selling singles in Perfect Strangers (with Jonas Blue) and
September Song. A Top Ten album, and the equivalent of 835,000 worldwide album
sales, for his 2017 debut Raised Under Grey Skies. Over 274 million total audio streams
– in the UK alone. Widen the gaze to the global impact of the Mancunian singersongwriter, and Cooper’s total streaming number tops over two billion: 2,337,986,851
at time of writing. Although, such is the ongoing earworm ubiquity of September
Song, expect that tally to have notched another 1000 or so by the time you’ve
finished reading this.
“I had no expectations,” admits the self-effacing Cooper, a man who’s had a song
in his heart and a microphone in front of his mouth from his early teens, and a guitar
in his hands for almost as long. He remembers how his 2016 Jonas Blue collab, the
follow-up to the dance producer’s 2015 tropical house smash Fast Car, came out of
nowhere to reach Number Two in the UK, and the Top Ten in multiple European
“I found myself thrown into a pop world I never expected to be in,” this proud son of
Manchester’s Oasis Generation admits with a rueful smile. “Up until then I’d done
every single gig I’d ever played with a guitar round my neck. Then all of a sudden, I
found myself on an MTV stage at a dance festival in front of 45,000 people with a DJ
behind him, two-stepping. And then I was in Ibiza…”
But Cooper barely had time to stop and smell the cocktails. September Song was
released in (of course) September. It spent the next three months climbing… and
“Streaming helped a lot,” he says. “It went on tonnes of playlists, then radio followed
suit. It was a slow burn, which I thought it was a good thing. It was being discovered
by people, naturally. Eventually it charted in the Top Ten in December or January.
And it just kept getting played. It was nuts.”
Raised Under Grey Skies was released in October 2017, its title a meteorological nod
to his Lancashire roots. Like the album itself – which spun off seven singles – the title
struck a resonant chord. T-shirts bearing the slogan became a bestseller, especially
in the north, and a favourite tattoo amongst his fans – and for Cooper himself.
“‘Raised Under Grey Skies’ was the first one I got,” he beams, proffering a bicep.
And now, after a solid year spent chasing the international success of Raised Under
Grey Skies, comes a new single that we might say was baked under blue skies. Sing It
With Me, featuring Astrid, is a summertime smash-in-waiting, birthed in Los Angeles
with Scandinavian production duo Electric, fine-tuned in London with Steve Mac (Ed
Sheeran, Chvrches, Years & Years), and finally topped off with a sweet, ear-tickling
guest vocal from the fast-rising young Norwegian singer.
“It was really like an old bedroom band session,” Cooper says of the first writing
session. “We all just picked up guitars and started stomping our feet. And it started as
this little folky-dokey thing. Then when I worked with Steve back in London it just
became this pop monster!” he laughs. “It’s not typical of the new album,” he adds
of a song that feels destined for the dancefloor as much as it does daytime radio,
“but that’s what makes it the perfect first single.”
It’s all a long way from Cooper’s first musical thrill.
“My first gig was Oasis at G-Mex. I was young and I remember being pretty nervous
’cause there was so many people, and we were sneaking in beers that our mates’
older brothers had got for us,” he laughs.
Cooper came of age in Peak Oasis, and in the city that birthed the Gallaghers.
“Back then, it felt like a lot of kids like me, living in the satellite towns of Manchester
at that time, had an acoustic guitar kicking about the house.” It wasn’t a musical
household, but his dad was a visual artist and all his sisters had similar interests. “So
my interest in music was all about environment. It was just all around us then.”
In his teens Cooper spun a love of English and a gritty, soulful voice into school
bands and, later at college, his first (semi-) proper outfit.
“It was rock stuff. When we got four out of five in Kerrang!, that was a proud
moment! We could sell out small venues in Manchester. We toured up and down the
country in the back of a transit van, 50 quid a night, if we were lucky. If there was
enough for a kebab at the end of the night, that was a bonus,” he grins.
For the best part of a decade that, and working in bars, was Cooper’s life. But
before long his bandmates began fading away, settling down and/or lacking the
drive for another overnight schlep up and down the M6. So, Cooper decided to
strike out on his own, hitting up the Greater Manchester open-mic scene.
“I could play a few chords on the guitar but not very fluently. So I set myself little
goals: I’m gonna learn to play standing up rather than sitting down; I’m gonna write
four songs and record them at home; I’m gonna sell enough CDs to replace my shit
Tanglewood guitar that cost 100 quid with a 30 quid plastic pick-up. So, the first
demo CD I put out was called For A New Guitar. I sold it for three quid at open mic
nights and saved up enough to buy a Martin acoustic.
“I’d get on my pushbike, my guitar on my back, and go: Manchester city centre,
Rusholme, Fallowfield, sometimes Chorlton, hitting all gigs I could find. So, I might do
three in a night, and do that a few nights a week.”
Also singing in a gospel choir at the time, “immersing myself in that sound. After a
year of that, I drafted in some of the singers, got a couple of mates who were
musicians to back me up a bit, and I put on my first show at the Deaf Institute. We
sold it out, and I sold about a hundred CDs that, a fiver a pop. I called it EP 1. So that
night I made a grand. I had management but we’d just started working together so
they said: ‘Dude, we’re not gonna take a cut of your first show.’”
“Then the next day I played a little festival, got paid 500 quid and sold another 100
CDs. So, in two days I’d made two grand.”
Soon Cooper was selling 500 tickets for shows in Manchester, London and
Birmingham. He’d cultivated something upwards from the grassroots, taking
chances, trying things, building things on his own terms. It was an approach that
would stand him in good stead after he signed a deal with Island Record, as he
pushed himself out of his comfort zone with the Jonas Blue hook-up, and then rode
the wave of the runaway international success of September Song.
“It’s really been a case of learning on my feet as I go along, keep a smile on my
face, and enjoying the ride and being grateful for it.”
And now, the next chapter in the rise and rise of JP Cooper. His second album is, he
thinks, pretty much finished. That said: as someone who never stops writing, he’s
keeping his options open, in case a new banger – or, just, a new keeper – pops up.
“This time, I think I’ll do a lot more singles before the album,” he says, aware that he
has more where Sing It With Me came from.
“Call My Name is sounding strong, a bit more in keeping with the last record, more
quintessential me: lot of soulful elements in there, but it’s got a huge chorus again.”
Then there’s Time Of Our Lives, which he describes as “another pop monster”. And
there’s In These Arms, written with Jamie Scott (Justin Bieber, Jamie Lawson) and
recorded with producer Al Shux (who’s most recent hit was Kendrick Lamar and
SZA’s All The Stars, from the Black Panther soundtrack).
“So, like on the first record there’s a lot of different sounds going on. But the thread
that always holds it all together is the lyric and the vocal. No one can really say ‘he
does this kind of music’, and I really like that.”
Here, then, again is JP Cooper, singer, songwriter and explorer extraordinaire. After
the infectious September Song, get ready to sing it with him all over again with Sing
It With Me.