tue 23/07/2024

John Cooper Clarke, Town Hall, Birmingham | reviews, news & interviews

John Cooper Clarke, Town Hall, Birmingham

John Cooper Clarke, Town Hall, Birmingham

The alternative Poet Laureate and National Treasure hits the road

John Cooper Clarke - the Bard of Salford

John Cooper Clarke has assumed many roles since he came motoring out of Salford in the mid Seventies, spitting out poetry from a distinctly untraditional view point. There were tales of how you’d never see a nipple in the Daily Express (“This paper’s boring mindless mean, full of pornography, the kind that’s clean”) and marrying a monster from outer space (“We walked out tentacle in hand.

You could sense that the Earthlings would not understand”) and then there was hair, sun glasses and tight suit, which gave him an air of mid-1960s Bob Dylan. Since then, there’s been heroin addiction (now knocked on the head), advertising Sugar Puffs and a place on the GCSE English Literature curriculum.

Dr Clarke struts onto the stage with a shout-out of “Evening Birmingham, the atomic city!” and launches straight into “The Official Guest List” – which manages to name check both Michael Caine’s greatest cinematic moment, Get Carter, and Tory novelist Jeffrey Archer. We then get a long pre-amble into “Get Back On The Drugs You Fat Fuck” in which the good doctor explains that what sets us apart from the animals, is the ability to generalise, hold prejudice and judge by appearances. Being Johnny Clarke, this is all punctuated with asides like: “Hitler – there’s a guy who got the face he deserved” and “If Jesus was Jewish, why the Spanish name?” – to much laughter from the middle-aged, middle managers in The Damned tour t-shirts and the sprinkling of younger hipster types.

There was time for plenty of Clarke’s “greatest hits” during his hour on stage. “Hire Car” was rattled off with the machine gun delivery that has become the Salford Bard’s signature style, as was “Twat” – introduced as “A love story in reverse – I wrote it in a garage and couldn’t back out”. Then there was “Beezley Street” (“Where the action isn’t. That’s where it is”) and its post-gentrification sequel, “Beezley Boulevard”. However, Birmingham also got to hear the first performance of new poem, “In The People’s Republic of Doktor Klarke”, which was described as “a vision of Utopia”.

“Bed Blocker Blues” was introduced as being about “Age – the silent killer” and with an irreverent discourse about the advantages of having Alzheimer’s (apparently, they are: you can hide your own Easter eggs; you meet new people every day; and you can hide your own Easter eggs – Boom! Boom!). This was followed by a handful of haikus, including oldie “Haiku Number One” – “To freeze the moment in seventeen syllables is very diffic”.

After this, Cooper Clarke hit the home straight with arguably his most famous poem, “Evidently Chicken Town”, which was introduced with “When I tried to do this on the BBC in 1978, the bleep people sued for repetitive stress injury” and finally, “I Wanna Be Yours”, which was dedicated to Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. Turner’s Sheffield troupe, of course, put the poem to music on their AM album – “By not doing very much, he made it go global,” said Dr Clarke. But that’s what you have to put up with when you’re a poet and not a songwriter.

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