The Bard Of Salford: In Praise Of John Cooper Clarke

Still relevant after all these years, the inimitable Bard of Salford is a true British great.
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Still relevant after all these years, the inimitable Bard of Salford is a true British great.

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I’ll never forget the very first time I heard a John Cooper Clarke poem. ‘Twat’ boomed from the speakers of my Sixth Form Literature class and flooded the corridors of the English department with "You put the Shat in Shatter, Put the Pain in Spain, Your germs are splattered about, Your face is just a stain.”

My adolescent mind was being blown, hanging onto every word of ‘Evidently Chickentown’, artistically it was one of those moments of discovery that changes everything, like when people say they’ve heard Hendrix for the first time or in my case for those who know me well enough will know, The Smiths.

For anyone not familiar with the Bard of Salford, the punk poet or the genius that is John Cooper Clarke you need look no further than the last song on Arctic Monkeys’ AM, ‘I Wanna Be Yours.’

The lines are taken from Clarke’s poetry book. Alex Turner has frequently cited as an influence after being read the poem by his GCSE English teacher and like many others falling in love with the wit, comedy and Lancastrian twang that the front man would later state made him comfortable singing in his accent (the pre-LA, Sheffield one).

JCC is an Icon’s icon, a David Bowie of the literary world, and despite the exhausted comparisons that he looks like a cross between Bob Dylan and Ronnie Wood, he does. And then there’s his place in the world of British style royalty: he hasn’t changed his look in forever, the man oozes cool from every orifice in his stick thin body, you’d sooner fit in his shoes than his drainpipe skinny jeans. Thick rimmed sunglasses, razor blade earring, black suit, white shirt, skinny tie, buttoned down collar.

Starting life as a Lab Technician at Salford tech, he has gone on to release a number of anthologies including ‘Ten Years In An Open Neck Shirt’ and made it to number 26 in the charts with the 1980 album ‘Snap, Crackle & Bop’.

“She had the big bug eyes and the death-ray glare, Feet like water wings - purple hair I was over the moon - I asked her back to my place, Then I married the monster - from outer space.”

• (I Married A) Woman From Outer Space

You could say the Punk Poet is back, but then again he never left, except when the world briefly lost the quick witted Clarke to heroin and very little was written, but alas you can’t kill off a personality like his that easily and he was back ready to be discovered by another generation.

The Mancunian sums it up in his own words in conversation with The Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone, he says: "Everybody that read one of my poems went off and wrote poetry. They said that about the Velvets, didn't they? They didn't sell many records, but everybody that saw them formed a band."

“The kitchen has been ransacked, Ski trails in the hall, A chicken has been dhansaked, And thrown against the wall, In walks this dumb waiter, With a fountain pen and pad, Saying how do you want this alligator The day my pad went mad”

• The Day My Pad Went Mad

He’s gone on to feature in Plan B’s Ill Manors, presented on BBC 6music, been awarded a doctorate of arts by the University Of Salford and just last week became Q Magazine’s first Poet Laureate, a privilege to which he tells Q a lifetime supply or a year’s supply of the latest records will do – whichever is more.

“They packed us into the white hotel, You could still smell the polycell, Wet white paint in the air-conditioned cells, The waiter smelled of fake Chanel, Gaulois... Garlic as well, says if I like... I can call him "Miguel"”

• Majorca

His career has spanned decades and at 64 he still extensively tours, at a time where the subject of my sixth form essays focused on themes of suicide explored by Sylvia Plath and the existential angst felt by Phillip Larkin, a Kung-Fu fight outside a chippy came as a welcomed break and proved that poetry doesn’t have to be so bloody bleak.

He is incredibly entertaining, sharp, iconic and punk in every single meaning of the word, having toured with The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Buzzcocks.  My best advice would be to see him before he retires, however knowing The Bard, that’s unlikely to be anytime soon.