John Cooper Clarke: Just the Tonic, Nottingham – live reviewJohn Cooper Clarke

Just the Tonic, Nottingham

Feb11th 2014

I first met John Cooper Clarke back in October 2012, with the intention of interviewing him. Anyone who read the Louder Than War article documenting this will know that this was the single most impossible thing I’ve ever attempted to do. He was more generous with his time than any other interviewee I’ve ever had (and really incredibly lovely, as well as every inch as naturally funny as you might except), but try and do anything in a straighforward fashion without digression? Not a chance…

And much the same can be said of the Bard of Salford’s live show, and all the more entertaining  for it it is. Firstly, though, are two excellent support acts. Mike Garry has the wry Northern wit of Cooper Clarke, but with a darker edge that brims with sharp social comment, whilst Luke Wright provides the Southern, middle-class humour delivered with a kind of rich humour I find myself identifying with throughout (particularly his tangent in which the baby-faced 32 year old shares his experiences of frequently failing to get served alcohol.)

Of course, most modern poets such as this owe something to John Cooper Clarke. He emerges, recognisable by silhouette alone, something he’s clearly aware of as he opens with an ironic “so you’re probably wondering why I’ve piled on the pounds…”, as an into to a poem responding to the frequent sarcastic chant of “get back on the smack, you fat cunt!” he often finds himself on the end of, before digressing into various tangents including a selection of terrible old jokes that when delivered in Cooper Clarke’s inimitable fashion become eye-wateringly hilarious (“What is occasional furniture the rest of the time?” “How deep would the sea be if it didn’t have any sponges in?”)

Possibly his finest moment, “Beasley Street” is a high point of his set, chased up with its recent sequel on the regeneration of such streets “Beasley Boulevard.” His newer poems stand up strong besides the classics – a new poem on his advertising (Sugar Puffs, Dominos Pizza and most recently McCain oven chips) becomes even funnier when embedded into his winding, somewhat lengthy talk about his role in such adverts (which is in itself a tangent on from a talk about his role in poetry in relation to Roger McGough’s, in which he says “what does it tell you about the difference between us? He advertises Waitrose, I got oven chips!”)

It would probably be fair to say I will never see a poetry performance with so little poetry. Instead, John Cooper Clarke’s live show digresses into being far more like stand-up comedy, but it is absolutely none the worse for it. Naturally hilarious, warmly conversational, and an absolute national treasure. Just don’t except to see him succeeding on ‘Just A Minute’ any time soon….


Many thanks to Just the Tonic Comedy Club.

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Notts born and bred contributor to Louder than War since 2011. Loves critical theory and Situationism and specialises in cultural "thought pieces" and features, on music, film and wider pop culture.


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