Thursday, May 25, 2006
Back in the days when London Buses were always red routemasters, when you could smoke on the tube, when CCTV still only existed in Orwellian fiction, as punk gave way to new wave there was a skinny stick insect like man who you would bump into at gigs looking slightly out of place in his black two piece suit, shades and that hairdo, he always seemed to have a carrier bag at the end of his long arms. When seeing him for the first time you would have been forgiven for wondering whose father he was, and what the hell was he hiding in that carrier bag. Long before the headline band took the stage all would be revealed it was none other than John Cooper Clarke, Britain, the worlds, no the universe's first and greatest punk poet, who was opening that night.
He had been around for a good few years before his surrealist verse found a welcome home with this younger new audience. A native of Salford, one of Manchester's more working class suburbs, legend has it that his first poem was written as a response to the spectacle of seeing/hearing a Catholic priest farting while celebrating mass, truly the stuff that legends are made from! Having been taken with Dylan, his later look owes much to the radical folkie circa 1966, he took up the musical option and played bass in obscure local psychedelic band as the sixties drew to a close. During the early seventies he started out on his own as a poet, obviously he had no desire to be a star, it was during this period that he started appearing under the name of John Cooper Clarke, to avoid confusion with another poet called John Clarke who was playing the circuit at the same time. He went along to see the Sex Pistols at their first Manchester gig that was organised by the Buzzcocks and liked what he saw so much that he hitched a ride and ended up playing support to the Buzzcocks at London's Vortex club, rival to the better known Roxy club. He latter claimed that he was doing similar poetry when playing jazz clubs but punk gave him more exciting gigs. He released a debut 3 track EP of his poetry with musical backing on Manchester's punk label Rabid. 'Innocents' (citizens arrest / you've got to give Joe Public his cream / murder is a powerful picture / it's food for the famished masses), was one of the three songs and quickly found favour with John Peel and the London based music press. This newfound media interest in poetry led to him being snapped up by CBS. Now Poetry might be fine on paper but his label needed some music to help sell it and so JCC recruited the help of up and coming Manchester producer wizz kid Martin Hannett as producer and band leader, the result was three rather mixed LP's of his poetry backed by what was at that time rather radical electronic music, 'Disguise in Love' (1978), Snap Crackle & Bop' (1980) and 'Zip Style Method' (1982), this unholy alliance also gave us the excellent live 10" EP in 1979 called 'Walking Back to Happiness'. Despite his popularity on the gig circuit he was unable to sell in the large quantities that a major requires, for such a marginal artist it is almost a miracle that his first two albums are still available along with a compilation and a rather rough live and demo's LP from 1978 on Rabid 'Ou Est la Maison De Fromage'. During the eighties he very much disappeared from view, a heroin addiction, a long term relationship with Nico, the nineties were maybe a little kinder he had kicked his habit and fathered a child with his French partner and found himself living in Colchester. He has even played the opening spot again on a recent UK tour by fellow Manchester outsiders the Fall. He still writes poetry but it is of more sinister nature and so would not go down well in the sort of places he likes to play and so his recent set has been very similar to those of 1978, but sadly his live outing seem to be only to rare.
If you ever get the chance to see him do treat yourself as I can confirm his reputation on stage, and this is how I prefer him, looking so much as he did like an older Joey Ramone, spattering out his rapid fire social commentary, both comical and intelligent and all of this in his thick Mancunian accent. I will leave you with three of his poems as recorded live and so without a band.
1. 'Twat' (you're like a dose of scabies / I've got you under my skin / You make life a fairy tale ......... Grimm!)
2. 'I Married A Monster From Outer Space' (it's bad enough with another race / but fuck me ... a monster .... from outer space)
3. 'Beasley Street' (the boy are on the wagon / the girls are on the shelf / there common problem is / that they're not someone else).
For those of you discovering JCC for the first time do buy the CDs while they are still available and you never know if he sells enough maybe he'll get his act together enough to record a new one. To me it is almost criminal but there is no published book of his poems though most of them you can find here. And if anybody out there could provide me with a copy of 'Walking Back To Happiness' on CD or MP3 format I'd be eternally grateful.