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John Cooper Clarke

“The Bard of Salford” or “Punk Poet Laureate”, Manchester’s JOHN COOPER CLARKE was a welcome diversion to the manic, pogo-fied new wave movement that unfolded in ’77. Reciting social commentary in a rapid-fire Manc drawl, CLARKE’s pulverising but witty and often hilarious verbal assaults saw him adopted by some learned punks; his uncompromising comic attitude and disregard for standard poetry mores drawing comparisons with the 50s beatniks, while influencing such early 80s English wordsmiths as ATILLA THE STOCKBROKER and SEETHING WELLS.
Born 25th January 1949, Salford in Lancashire, John began his illustrious career in the city’s folk clubs, where he met and subsequently hooked up with Rick Goldstraw and his band The Ferrets. Quickly abandoning a career as a pioneering pub comedian after shows supporting Bernard Manning, the self-styled “punk poet” John Cooper signed to the independent Rabid label, releasing his debut EP, `Innocents’, in October ‘77. A classic record of the time, featuring as it did the title song and two parts of `Psycle Sluts’, it was augmented by the Curious Yellows (an outfit that included producer Martin Zero/Hannett).
After subsequently touring with BE BOP DELUXE, CLARKE secured a deal with CBS/Epic. Adopting a “freewheeling Dylan” look that comprised shaggy black hair, cool shades, winkle-pickers and suit to boot (many punks had tried to dish out the boot at gigs!), the funky, IAN DURY-esque `Post-War Glamour Girl’ was chosen as his major debut, although it was the short-shrift B-side `Kung Fu International’ that stole the show. The punnily-titled DISGUISE IN LOVE (1978) {*7} saw production from Hannett and, with musical backing from The Invisible Girls (Steve Hopkins, Paul Burgess, BILL NELSON, BUZZCOCKS’ Pete Shelley, et al), the record kicked off with `I Don’t Want To Be Nice’, a tongue-in-cheek rant for the teenager in all of us. It also featured `(I Married A) Monster From Outer Space’, a comment on racial prejudice via a highly amusing tale of intergalactic love, as well as masturbation ode `Readers Wives’, set of course to a mellow piano groove. Tours as support to The SEX PISTOLS, BUZZCOCKS and ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS helped give the poet exposure and a high visibility factor, although sales of the set were disappointing.
Helped by the first triangle-shaped, orange-vinyl disc that one couldn’t store among one’s 45s (or LPs!), JCC scored his first and only Top 40 single with `Gimmix! (Play Loud)’ early the following year; yet CLARKE wasn’t so popular with music critics who saw him as an extension of the emerging alternative comedy scene. Concert work was certainly his forte. CLARKE released a live set, the 10” mini WALKING BACK TO HAPPINESS {*6} later that summer of ‘79, the record boasting one of his most vicious broadsides, `Twat’, apparently dedicated to leading “Tarzan Tory”: Michael Heseltine.
In 1980, the quick-fire Bard of the Broadsides toured with reggae poet LINTON KWESI JOHNSON and appeared in the Poetry Olympics at Westminster Abbey. That year’s SNAP, CRACKLE & BOP {*8}, was an altogether more accomplished collection, drawing praise for such gritty, dead-end pieces as `Evidently Chickentown’, `Beasley Street’ and failed single `The It Man’. While the album cracked the Top 30, CLARKE’s career subsequently went into decline, the cause probably the pressures of touring with his band The Invisible Girls (a group shared by ex-PENETRATION’s Pauline Murray).
John Cooper’s third and final studio set, ZIP STYLE METHOD (1982) {*5}, was issued to a muted response; each lyrical song sounded repetitive and formulaic. Flop 45s `The Day My Pad Went Mad’ and `Night People’ had a serious element, while it seemed the music was ill-suited to several of his drowned out readings. Later in the year, his docu-film `Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt’ (based on his book of the same name) was viewed as one of the first programmes on the newly-founded UK-TV Channel 4.
The poet succumbed to heroin abuse as the decade wore on, co-habiting with fellow addict NICO; she sadly died in 1988. Overcoming his problems, the 90s found CLARKE (who’d moved to Colchester, England) once again venturing on to the stage although new material failed to surface via record. Something of a cult character of late (Alex Turner of ARCTIC MONKEYS is a noted fan), fresh material could be obtained on a DVD from 2010 entitled `South Of The Border’. Back in the limelight, the Bard was the surprise subject of BBC4’s `Evidently… John Cooper Clarke’ Punk Britannia season, while he also cameo’d in the 2012 Brit movie, Ill Manors, starring PLAN B.
Marked out as the funniest poet ever (some might say there was no competition!?), TV celebrity contestant and Salford University honorary degree recipient Dr JOHN COOPER CLARKE paired up with punk die-hard HUGH CORNWELL (on guitar and production) to unfetter a most unique covers collaboration, the Top 40 placed THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL (2016) {*6}. Cherry-picking ten songs from bygone days, from `MacArthur Park’ and `Spanish Harlem’ to `Johnny Remember Me’ and one of many Leiber-Stoller cues `Love Potion No.9’, JCC put on his karaoke blue suede shoes to re-educate today’s dysfunctional youth. Lessons should be learned… mmm.
© MC Strong 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2013-Oct2016

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