John Cooper Clarke
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by Margaret Chrystall
THERE’S something of "the alien being" about JOHN COOPER CLARKE — the Salford punk who married a monster from outer space in one of his most famous poems from the late 70s.
At the end of that poem, she left him for a blob of slime. But she might regret that these days — he’s wearing well, despite a heartfelt new poem called Bed-Blocker Blues about the perils of ageing and some witty chat around it - "I’ve seen the future and I’m not in it."
Like a well-dressed daddy long legs in a dapper Chelsea cap and his regulation sunshades, "Dr Clarke" as he referred to himself throughout, bounced onstage at the Ironworks on Sunday and into a routine that is as much stand up as poetry recital.
But Clarke has always had a skinny foot in both camps. And the perfect timing with which he rolls out a laugh on top of a laugh reminds you of Ken Dodd of all people and the fact Clarke paid a long apprenticeship in the clubs of Manchester — Bernard Manning’s included.
There might have been a tiny moment, not so much of racism, as Invernessianism well into the night’s entertainment. An elaborate set-up had got us to the point where the poet asked us to choose living in Congo or the North Pole, confident we’d pick the Congo. But we yelled back "North Pole!".
"For a minute I forgot where I was," he said." That’s like Butlin’s for you."
A decade ago just 16 people had turned up, he told us, so he couldn’t have been happier with the turnout – which had robbed the vicinity of its more mature punter, discerning enough to laugh in the right places, cheer classics such as Beasley Street and its yuppie follow-up Beasley Boulevard — and also cashed up enough to ensure much poetry merch found a new Highland home.
And it’s easy to forget that the punk novelty value of Clarke’s work can’t disguise the fact the man’s a proper erudite poet who sometimes talks in deliberately gorgeous big words or likes to roll out a throwaway thumbnail sketch of haiku history, Basho, the Floating World school and all of that.
When discussing the power of the limerick, he misrhymed "prick" with "f*ck" to tease us: "I subverted the form in order to point out a higher truth!"
But there were plenty of bawdy jokes too — I won’t go into Clarke’s one about the difference between a Lada and a sheep here.
Yet it’s the rapid-fire machine-gun poetry that got the biggest applause — a set-closing Evidently Chickentown with the litany of F-words reduced to pure sound, thanks to his speedy delivery. Then there was a bonus encore of wry love poem I Wanna Be Yours, such a favourite of Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner that the title’s tattooed on his arm and his version’s on AM — Clarke: "2014’s second biggest album worldwide".
The punk poet has the last laugh again.