John Cooper Clarke is the Bard of Salford, he is hilariously irreverent and most importantly, my idol. His words and the way he delivers them in a strong Salford slur have been admired by me for years and even have been replicated to a select lucky few in drunken states of the past. There’s not a subject I am more passionate about than the fact you should be reading and listening to this man. He is a pioneer of the punk movement both in style and talent. He read supporting bands such as Joy Division, Sex Pistols and the Clash and getting an unwelcome reception, by the end of his set he won over the audience and became the talking point. I’ve reached the peak of being in a pub talking about influencers over one impotable drink or another, and being met with a blank look when I enquire about my company’s opinion of John Cooper Clarke. You need to appreciate this man and I’ll make it my life’s mission to recruit people to the ultimate cult of Cooper Clarke.
A poem you will find deep satisfaction learning is Twat. My ability to recite word perfect his lyrics is one I am proud of but this poem is one that gets the most exercise from my lips. It can be used for any situation of discontent whether that be after a disagreement or after hearing another policy laid out by Theresa May. Picture the person who pokes your patience the most and listen as he spits out the lines ‘like a sucked and spat out smartie, you’re no use to anyone’. My personal favourite is when he adjusts his smug smirk to say ‘like the shadow of the guillotine on a dead consumptive’s face. Speaking as an outsider, what do you think of the human race?’ Watch his performance of Twat on After Dark in 1982 and feel yourself fall in love for his wit and the slick thick way he delivers insult after insult whilst smoking and looking effortlessly cool.
John Cooper Clarke doesn’t shy away from making important social comments as already noted but Evidently Chickentown is one of his most popular poems. He prides himself in it being featured at the end of an episode of The Sopranos as he tells every crowd he performs it to, behind a smug smile that resembles a little boy doing something to impress a girl in the playground. He jokes that this poem doubles up as his investment plan for retirement as he depicts the grime of 1970’s through many, many, expletives. “The fucking cops are fucking keen to fucking keep it fucking clean the fucking chief’s a fucking swine who fucking draws the fucking line”. He delivers without breath before his audience join in with “everywhere in chicken town”. A hypnotising observation of the do’s and don’ts and injustices and casualties of the 70’s. This was my gateway to Cooper Clarke before he seeped into my veins, with Christopher Eccleston’s brilliant passionate performance of this that can (and should be) marvelled by you on the internet.
“This is the sad tale about the dissolution of my previous marriage from another planet”, effortlessly explained before a story of intergalactic heartbreak is told to us in I Married a Monster from Outer Space. Showcasing his talent of simultaneously keeping an air of seriousness surrounding a funny story and his electric wit, this poem has become one of my favourites of his. His live performances always get a huge roar of laughter when he delivers the line “it’s bad enough with another race but fuck me a monster from outer space?”.
One of his most praised pieces of work is Beasley Street. It’s a tale of the gritty realities of a northern area, a dark insight into the ignored corners of the city he was brought up in and remains relevant to many topics in society today. “It’s a sociologist’s paradise, each day repeats”, he describes, “on easy, cheesy, greasy, queasy, beastly Beasley Street”. It is real and raw and doesn’t mask or protect you away from any of the harsh truths of this street, where babies’ deaths and poisonous poverty and spits through broken teeth plague the day. A line that sticks out for me is “hot beneath the collar, an inspector calls. Where the perishing stink of squalor, impregnates the walls.”
Before we were so *lucky* to be able to see nipples in the Daily Express, John Cooper Clarke penned the appropriately named (You Never See a Nipple in the) Daily Express. This typically sharp poem of tabloid hypocrisy is as relevant today as it was back in 1977, a quality he seems to possess across all his work. “This paper’s boring, mindless and mean. Full of pornography, the kind that’s clean. Where William Hickey meets Michael Caine again and again and again and again”. He blends important social commentary with witticisms and clever remarks, ending my favourite verse with “Margaret Thatcher looks stunning YES, but why no nipples in the Daily Express?”. Now nipples are plastered across the Express and of course he takes full responsibility for this.
As I’ve hammered into you by now, John Cooper Clarke does humour but not with half effort. His live sets could be stand-up ones, many reviews describe them as exactly that. Some jokes have followed him around for over 40 years but his natural wit allows him to have to crowd in stitches as he interacts with them between anecdotes. He places down a carrier bag with him on stage full of his life’s work of poetry which makes me love the man more. He delivers line after line of funny stories that never get old such as Get Off Drugs You Fat Fuck, inspired by a fans cruel words, and also Majorca, a poem about holidays (of the package kind he assures us). Majorca is something we can all relate to where he lives through his experiences of going on a cheap package holiday with inadequate hotel staff and drunken Englishmen making their acquaintance, “I got drunk with another fella who just brought up a previous paella”.
To continue the Roddy Doyle quote, ‘I was recently asked if I read poetry. I answered, “not unless it’s written by John Cooper Clarke”. I’d said it before I realised it was true.’ John Cooper Clarke has been performing for years and even as he pushes 70 he still lights up venues with his funny stories, clever lines and sharp witticisms. He continues to influence artists and have an impact on modern day poetry and the punk movement. Without wanting to sound like I am making a dating profile for the man, it really would be a disservice to him if I never made it my life’s mission to get younger people carrying on reading and appreciating him. Effortlessly cool, the Bard of Salford will always live on.
(Words: Jack Wager)