John Cooper Clarke

Dr John Cooper Clarke and Friends: Lighthouse, Poole (Wednesday 10th February)

“His Chelsea boots are pointed, his knees are double jointed, you won't be disappointed - Good old Johnny Clarke!”

With the immortal words that have now accompanied him for the best part of four decades, the Bard of Salford lopes onto stage.

The one-time king of the punk rock poets John Cooper Clarke originally emerged in the late 70s with a delicious armoury of barbed verse, snarling at the woes of social depravation with a rapid-fire delivery and wry twinkle in his eye.

Back then he cut a strange figure - stick-thin, a crazed puppet-like caricature of Bob Dylan c.1965. Today, at the age of 67, he looks even stranger and perhaps half-a-pound heavier.

The Chelsea boots are pink and appear to anchor his pipe-cleaner thin legs to the stage.  The hair, long and unruly, has been gently hennaed.  He fidgets and blinks from behind substantial shades and his face has a complexion that was once likened to that of a compulsive blood-doner.

The material - now here’s a problem. The stuff the crowd has come to hear, like Beasley Street, Evidently Chicken Town, I Fell in Love with My Wife and I Wanna Be Yours, are decades old. This is a nostalgia trip.

But they’re all on Anthologia, the newly released 3 CD/DVD set, so Cooper Clarke obliges swaying on the microphone stand as he performs his classic hits. The delivery is brilliant but bloodless. This is JCC going through the motions and I suspect it feels like it.

Of Beasley Street - routinely held up as a condemnation of the Thatcher years - he says: “I actually wrote it 18 months before they voted her in. I feel a bit guilty that maybe I gave her some ideas.” In reality John Cooper Clarke had little idea of what was going on in the Thatcher years. He spent most them in the grip of a fearful heroin addiction. Happily he cleaned up in the early 90s and, against the odds,  has slowly but surely become something of a national treasure. He’s even been awarded an honorary doctorate by Salford University.

I suspect that he’s a little lost artistically but way too smart to be sidelined by an annoyance like that and 2016 finds him in fine fettle, moving towards a form of pure, if surreal, stand-up comedy and embracing his love of the absurd.

His support act on this tour are two superb poets, fellow Mancunian Mike Garry whose social observations are chilling but apposite and Essex boy Luke Wright whose dextrous wordplay includes the impressive party piece of writing and performing poems that use just one vowel. Class acts both. An evening of curiously English entertainment.

Jeremy Miles

© Jeremy Miles 2022