John Cooper Clarke, Northcote Social Club, April 4
John Cooper Clarke’s career is the stuff legends are made of. He has toured with the Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Fall, Joy Division and New Order on their tour Down Under. He’s a key figure in the punk movement of the late ‘70s, and, as I would later discover, is a fantastic entertainer.
What makes JCC so unique is that he’s not a musician, he’s a poet, and a great one at that. His poems range from the sarcastic to the political to the romantic, and his style is nothing short of haphazard. As he walked out to a sold out Northcote Social Club crowd his legendary status was reinforced by his get up - a trademark slim-fitting suit, black sunglasses (on, of course) and a hairstyle reminiscent of a birds nest. Accompanied by a glass of scotch and a handwritten book of poems, it was his words that would take the reigns for the next hour and a half.
Johnny Green, former road manager for the Clash, warmed the crowd up. Reading from his book, A Riot of Our Own, Green re-lived some of the memories of the band on tour before introducing the maestro himself. Slightly startled at first, it didn’t take long for the wordsmith to settle in. His opening piece ’Guest List’, a clever medley of rhyming names, was delivered at a lightning fast pace and provided a snippet of what was to come. This was no ordinary poetry reading, and this is no ordinary poet.
In between each poem the crowd was peppered with jokes, stories, questions and quirky observations. He raised the point that Greek mythology has little respect for health and safety, ridiculed Ainsley Harriott and made up advertising jingles on the spot. It felt as if it was these in between periods, these detours, that he enjoyed the most - his chuckle keeping the rhythm of a metronome as he weaved his way through the vast web of thoughts. The simple became trivial and the dull, downright funny.
Nothing was off limits as he danced with topics such as chlamydia, Jews and masturbating. A story would lead into a joke, which would lead back to another story and just as it seemed that he had lost his chain of thought he would take a deep breath and begin reading - the verbal assault that ensued interrupted only by a flick of the page or the need for more air. Even a crazed fan who jumped on stage and proceeded to yell out comments didn’t rattle the old timer. Instead, his silver tongue quickly put the gentleman back in his place, and the show went on.
Every poem was read with passion. The classic ‘Beasley Street’ got the expected response, and was backed up by ‘Beasley Boulevard’, a modern re-work inspired by urban regeneration in Clarke’s hometown, Salford. The expletive-heavy ‘Evidently Chickentown’ - which found fame after its use in the final Sopranos episode - is John’s favourite poem to perform live and fittingly, it closed the set.
In a world swimming in LOLs, OMGs and WTFs, it is inspirational to see the beauty of the English language presented in a manner which is both exciting and engaging. This was my first poetry reading and not only did I leave feeling entertained, but more importantly, in awe of an artist who is damn good at what he does.
WORDS: Gerard Wilson