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Mick Cooke

Doing it for the kids (Belle and Sebastian man heads down to the zoo)

By • Jul 18th, 2011 • Category: Feature

‘Curating” is one of those terms that has crept into the world of pop music, from the polar-opposite world of dusty museums and art galleries. Often it’ll mean a familiar musical figure will select some of his favourite acts to play a festival somewhere (ATP, Meltdown etc). And on the surface it sounds like a good deal for said curator – can’t be much effort, maybe spend the budget on reuniting whatever a load of bands you never saw live, and sit back and enjoy.
Mick Cooke

Belle and Sebastian’s Mick Cooke ‘curated’ an album in 2006 – Colours Are Brighter, a collection of children’s songs, written and performed by acts including Flaming Lips, Half Man Half Biscuit, Four Tet and Jonathan Richman. Some powers of persuasion must have come into play to get this diverse range of acts to appear, though Franz Ferdinand, Snow Patrol and particularly Belle and Sebastian might have proved less hard to pin down. The fact that the proceeds went to Save the Children wouldn’t have hindered the process either.

Doubtless inspired by this project’s success, Cooke has produced a further release, Down At The Zoo. Aimed at under fives this time, it’s still a fun set of silly singalongs which can be appreciated by all ages (though its target audience seems particularly impressed). And although there are a few bandmates from Belle and Sebastian roped in to help out, it, frankly, looks like it was a harder slog to put together. Cooke has written the songs, done the arrangements and pretty much delivered the product – if there was a ‘theme tune’ as such, he’d have sung it, I’m quite sure.

And of course, the responsibility of answering all the dull publicity questions has also fallen on his shoulders…

So, on the first album first of all for context – you ‘curated’ the first one, who did that come about, was it easy to persuade the more famous acts to do a charity thing, and were the artist choices mainly yours (the mix is very across-the-board).

Well, most of the bands were friends anyway, so that made it much easier to persuade them to take part. Although, it did take a long time before Franz and Snow Patrol could make time in their busy calendars to actually record something for the record. It was worth the wait in the end, the album was so much stronger for their contributions. The choice of artists came from my choices, and our manager at the time, Neil Robertson. And Geoff Travis suggested Kathryn Williams. The Kooks connection was though the main contact at Save The Children, who was the mother of Luke Kooks.

Music for children is pretty unusual as you have said yourself, were you aware of any others doing this kind of thing and did you take any lessons on form or marketing? (I’d just been reminded that They Might Be Giants spent a few years doing songs for children).

It’s a much bigger thing in the States. There seems to be quite a big market for children’s music there. I didn’t have any marketing strategy at all, just put it out, and promoted it on Facebook. Hopefully people who are interested will find it.

To the new album: was there an initial temptation to go again for major celebs who might provide a good selling point; if not, what inspired you to go ahead with another album which is again aimed at kids?

No, I just asked friends to help out. People who I thought were right for the songs. And besides, children don’t know famous people from the people who live next door. It’s all about getting the songs and ideas across as effectively as possible. I’m happy with the job everyone did on the record, I couldn’t imagine it being better with anyone else involved. To answer the second part, inspiration took hold after I was told by friends who were parents how much their kids were enjoying the Monkeys Are Breaking Out The Zoo. There’s nothing like positive feedback to motivate you, personally speaking.

I know you have your own ‘test group’, did this influence the age group that it was aimed at? Have you cracked the Cbeebies generation market?

I didn’t have a test group when I made the record, it was quite a few years back now, long before my son was born. Although the album was tested at some nursery groups by a family friend who works in that field, with very positive feedback. I’ve recently been doing music for children’s TV production companies, so I must be doing something right. Last one I worked on saw me working with Jason Donovan as the singer, which was quite an experience. He’s a lovely bloke actually.

Did you do this in ‘downtime’ when not doing B&S stuff, and how much was it intended as a bit of a solo project – you obviously rope in some of the band to help out here and there with this one.

It was actually when Stuart and Stevie were still in LA mixing The Life Pursuit, back in 2005, that I recorded the majority of the album. It wasn’t really intended as a ‘solo record’ as such, but it was obvious it wasn’t going to be a B&S release. The band are supportive, but I know that with Colours Are Brighter, Stuart was a little concerned that our last release for a long time was going to be a kids’ song about monkeys breaking out the zoo! Luckily the next B&S record overshadowed the memory of ‘Monkeys…’.

Any plans to do Mick Cooke solo stuff that is ‘regular’ songs? Obviously you have the ‘meanies as a bit of a side project but any burning desire to do your own material beyond this?

I’m working on an adult comedy musical just now with a couple of friends. The total opposite of Down At The Zoo in some ways, but actually kind of similar in others. The songs are catchy in a similar sort of way, and there will be many different genres. Although there’s tons of smut and innuendo. I suppose also what links most of the stuff I do outside of the band is humour, I love using music to make people happy, music as escapism.

What’s next for the kids’ material? A third album? And any plans to play live – am thinking that the audience and venue selection could be interesting (parties, sleepovers?)

No plans for live shows, there are so many people involved it would be quite unmanageable.

And, predictably, any Belles news ? (tying in with how this project has perhaps held up any new material from the band!)

No danger of holding up B&S. We’re working on some new material for an EP release later in the year.

Down at the Zoo is available now.

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