Dr John Cooper Clarke

Dr John Cooper Clarke


That’s Dr John Cooper Clarke, to you, son.  The bard of Salford sewers, now elevated to the rarified realms of the academy; his romancing of the gutter now held in the same esteem as, who knows… Keats ?

But that’s for later.  Because before the long-haired dark lord of the pen steps upon the stage, the Albert Hall has a many-layered warm-up session.  The last time I was here the main floor swayed like one gargantuan many-headed beast to the electro-pop of Blossoms.  This evening, by contrast, the floor is covered by rows of chairs, seated punters less likely to mosh to poetry, the last of the daylight streaming through the large side windows, Clarke like a pale vampire singed by the crepuscular light, until it dies, replaced by a much more sympathetic, subterranean artificial red light.

First up is Luke Wright from Essex, as incongruous as, in fact, the incontrovertible truth that Clarke himself has made the move from Salford to Essex. Well, it is the ‘only way’, we are told.  Wright’s humorous, engaging poems about subjects such as his Mancunian wife are followed by Manchester’s Mike Garry and his eulogy not to his wife, but to another son of Salford, Anthony H. Wilson.  Garrys’ ‘Ode to St. Anthony’ is delivered at a shattergun pace, droving me straight back to the fabulous, icon-laden video which is always worth another look.  Next up is the Yorkshire poet Geoffrey Allerton who looks a lot like Brian Pern wrapped up inside Simon Day, under a flat cap inside a tweed jacket.  Very funny material – from Nutribullets to odes to England.

Then a brief break to make our own break to the bar before Dr Clarke (Clark with an ‘E’, natch) steps onto the stage.  Despite the almost impossible thinness to the man (as though he might disappear if he were to turn to the side) he owns the room; swaying, rather than stalking, across the space.  This is rock & roll poetry, each lyrical blast a track in a set list, the big ones held back until last.  Clarke is dressed all in black, of course, a stick-thin Blues Brother fresh from the Clarksdale Crossroads, with his long hair pulled back into a brace of ponytails rather than backcombed into his more iconic Rovers Return bouffant.  Although many of his poems are accompanied by music in their recorded version, the whole of the room – the whole of the evening – is tonight entranced by Dr Clarke’s voice alone, from the guest list spiel that opens the set, through to ‘Beasley Street’, brought bang up to date and re-invented as ‘Beasley Boulevard’, complete with references to Urban Splash and the brushed steel Manchester of 2016.

Dr Clarke may well not even recognise his hometown anymore, commenting at one point, “I’ve never been in this joint before; never knew it existed,’ of the lost upstairs room at Brannigans now itself reinvented as Manchester’s best mid-size room.  And throughout the Albert Hall is church-like, reverential, although also forced into paroxysms of giggles by Clarke’s jokes and one-liners, his tangential explorations into subjects such as hookers and caves.  He adjusts his voice through his longer poems as if cranking up through the gears; his is an old-school manual technique, working it.  He even swears poetically, elegantly.

As the set moves towards a conclusion (Clarke stays on stage for his encore, because ‘there are stairs’ and he can’t be arsed going through the artificial rigmarole of the exit and return) you remember how far his very unique voice has reached – from ‘Evidently Chicken Town’ featuring on one of the closing episodes of The Sopranos to the poem ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ featuring on Arctic Monkeys’ fifth long-player, AM.  Makes your realise what we have in this poet laureate of the underground, and what we might miss, if he were to lose any more weight and disappear completely.  Clarke himself quips ‘It’s never been a better time to be alive but it’s never been a worse time to be old’. One poem features the cutting line:  ‘I’ve seen the future and I ain’t there’, although in the celebration of northernness and commerce, ‘Trouble At Mall’ Dr Clarke does at least provides us with his funeral wishes. ‘Bury me at Clinton Cards.’

Before then, of course, we must keep hold and cherish Dr Clarke.  How strange it is when these northern dark lords of hedonism and immortality such as Shaun Ryder and Dr Clarke become national treasures.  Arise Sir John.  Why not?

JOHN COOPER CLARKE Official | Facebook | Twitter

Simon is a writer, broadcaster and countercultural investigator. Over the last 15 years he has written for everyone from The Guardian to Loaded magazine, presented television for Rapture TV and hosted radio programs for the likes of Galaxy. He has also found time to earn a Masters Degree in Novel Writing and write three books (a collection of journalism, a guidebook to Ibiza and one on financial planning for young people – the most varied publishing career it’s possible to have) and establish and run a PR company, Pad Communications, looking after a range of leisure and lifestyle clients.He currently splits his time between researching his PhD at Leeds University, looking into various countercultural movements; consulting freelance for PR clients; writing for the likes of Marie Claire in Australia, The Big Issue and the Manchester Evening News, where he reviews concerts, theatre and is their Pub & Bar Editor. He is also broadcaster, appearing regularly on Tony Livesey’s late night 5Live show for the BBC, and also for BBC Radio Manchester Gourmet Night food and drink show.Simon’s main focus has been music and travel. His career has included editing Ministry of Sound’s magazine in Ibiza for two summers and also writing two long-running columns for DJmagazine – ”Around The World in 80 Clubs” (which took him everywhere from Beijing to Brazil, Moscow to Marrakech) and “Dispatches From The Wrong Side”. A collection of the latter was published in the UK and US as the book Discombobulated, including tales as varied as gatecrashing Kylie Minogue’s birthday party, getting deported from Russia, having a gun held to his head by celebrity gangster Dave Courtney and going raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers. He has recently written for the likes of Red magazine, Hotline, Clash, Tilllate, Shortlist and the Manchester Evening News. Pad Communications has recently consulted for clients as varied as Manchester nightclubs and New Zealand toy companies.On a personal note, Simon is a Londoner who left the capital at the age of 18 and never looked back. He sees himself as a citizen of the global dancefloor having lived in Sydney, Los Angeles, Ibiza and Amsterdam. However his life is now rather more sedentary. After all his adventures he bumped into and subsequently married his highschool sweetheart from their North London Grammar. They now live in Stockport with their four children and four chickens, trying to live the good life. Simon recently turned 40 and is steadfastly refusing to have a midlife crisis – as in, growing a ponytail and buying a shiny red sports car.OK, maybe he’ll buy the sports car…