John Cooper Clarke
Nov 4th 2012
We are sat back stage with a herd of poets, or a gaggle of wordsmiths or a shoal of prose botherers or however you want to call it. To be honest its not a room but a backstage caravan and it’s not a room full of machine gun prose merchants, it’s just the two of them. Aided and abetted by the legendary Clash tour manager Johnny Green and to be honest that’s all you are going to need.
Mike Garry is the latest word merchant from Manchester and hes the support on this tour, more on him later because it’s John Cooper Clarke who is holding court.
The great John Cooper Clarke understands one of the key unwritten rules of rock n roll- that you got to dress like you talk and walk the dandy walk and his stick thin frame is crammed into a typically idiosyncratic clothes collage.
He looks fantastic, the last of the Englsih dandies, with his fine head of bird’s nest hair exploding like a wild tangled mane of outgrown Dylan that has got so outrageous that it resembles the forestry that sat on the late and great Johnny Thunders head when he zig zagged across the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973. Many at the time thought such a mane would never be bettered but it has tonight in a follicle mushroom cloud that frames Cooper Clarke’s distinctive features.
His stick thin legs are encased in skin tight black pants and he has a cool mod jacket on, a genteleman’s scarf and this brilliant pair of snakeskin boots with Cuban heals spitting attitude. The best of all he has brought his gob and is laying out the wisdom with an endless surreal stream of lines and quotations that are a mixture of his sheer inteligence and idiosyncratic take on life. He tells us about knowing Mark Smith since the Fall frontman was 13 and his morher own the local post office and how Smith looks on him as an uncle type figure, he tells us about Plato, Stanley Mathews, ballroom rock n roll and he talks politics, more rock n roll and the beats and he is as funny as fuck.
And he has not even gone on the stage yet!
In the meantime Mike Garry is up there winning over new fans with his sharply observed poems and his off the cuff ad libs that talk about life and the human experience with an innate inteligence and a deadly certainty. Mike has been around ages years in Manchester and for the poet laureate of the rainy city, on this showing, national acceptance can’t be far off. His St Anthony poem about Tony Wilson is funny, moving, clever and quite brilliant.
You must listen to it.
Cooper Clarke has had his ups and downs but his now ona fast forward super up on this endless tour- an endless victory parade in one of those rare heart warming cases when the talent actually gets the acceptance. He burst onto the scene in punk era Manchester as the Salford bard and was dubbed the punk poet because of his rapid fire, speed driven, monologues that were faster than the Ramones and without the aid of a fuzz box. e wad the only poet ever you could pogo to and his brilliant words had their own insane logical and adrenalin that still sound thrilling to this day.
His roots, though, go back so much further. Obviously a Dylan freak, he has gone deeper than that and has the surreal touch of prime time Alan Ginsberg and also the fastest man alive word spiel of the great beat hero Neal Cassady rapping at an acid test or driving the Kesey magic bus.
Mash that up with an acerbic northern soul- a smokey club comic with a sharp and surrela eye for the observation of the decay of the real city and the sharp as fuck cynicism of someone who is wide awake criss crossed with the stand up’s sense of humour and you have something utterly unique.
Cooper Clarke may have come out of punk but he makes perfect sense now. His set these days is a mixture of old classic poems and rants and lots of new poem material which he delivers from sheets of paper, sometimes unable to read his own hand writing. In the professional world of showbiz this should not workbut the more he gets his sheets of paper out the better it seems. It feels like you are right in there watching him come up with his brilliant creations with him endlessly pacing his bedist or the cosmos or wherever he rests that incredible thatch and the words just pouring out of him.
He also does a neat line in stand up, telling terrible jokes that are utterly hilarious and ad libbing whole bizarre takes on life. He somehow does all this for an amazing hour and a half but he could be up their forever, the company of John Coper Clarke never gets boring.
Later on we all go out for a meal, in this really cool jazz cafe in Beflast, the poet with the MoÃ«t gets up and sings with the band. He deals out several jazz standards in a great smokey, lived in voice, he is the monster munch Sinatra, the Salford surrelaist who tells the truth behind a rapid delivery of hilarious yet profound northern vowels and the dapper deliverer of Vegas rat pack classics and the coolest man in town.