Rychard Carrington reports on John Cooper Clarke – The Junction, Cambridge 20 February 2009

Cooper Clarke
John Cooper Clarke


Bluebirds sang our favourite tune,

That scented summer's afternoon,

When the shadows vanish and the flowers swoon,

It's her sweet smile what dazzled 'em,

By the Hanging Gardens of Basildon.


So long Charlene, see ya Shirl',

I'm stronging it with an Essex girl,

One of the several wonders of the world,

Turn left at Dagenham,

For the Hanging Gardens of Basildon.


John Cooper Clarke, now resident in Essex, looks quite similar to how he always did: shades, punked-up Dylan hair, spindly legs. He delivers poems much as he used to:


Double park - don't lock the door,

Push the pedals through the floor,

Give it loads and then some more,

It's a hire car baby.


Grip the stick - grind the gears,

Watch that distance disappear,

Never yours in a thousand years,

It's a hire car baby.


Hire-car, hire-car,

Why would anybody buy a car?

Bang it, prang it, say ta ta,

It's a hire car baby.


There's a compelling air of authenticity, of the ‘the old geezer doesn't give a toss, therefore he'll do what the hell he likes' variety. There's definitely a sense amongst the audience of witnessing a special talent, a special - potentially scary -  person in the flesh. Cooper Clarke reads from handwritten sheets of paper in an old file, carried on in a Tesco's bag. When someone claps he tells them to ‘save it up for one lump sum at the end; one person clapping feels placatory.'

Cooper Clarke renders poetry instantly enjoyable. The rhythm carries a  lively energy, the rhymes are exciting, the selection of words, the down-to-Coronation-Street imagery impressively astute, the sum of the parts exhilarating. Each poem is a tour de force of sardonic social commentary, delivered in a fetching and fitting Lancastrian accent. The newer poems are much like the older ones, really, except with less aggression, a slightly softer amusement: as in his poem about gender realignment, Crossing The Floor:


Sick of picking up all of these cheques,

Putting up shelves, wearing these kecks,

I want to be one of the weaker sex,

I'm crossing the floor.

The darts team are going to show me the door,

The barbers, the bookies, the B & Q,

I was a geezer just like you,

It started with a handbag now I got to get the shoes,

Crossing the floor,

I'm not exactly Diana Dors,

I'm trapped in a man's body,

I feel like Madonna but I look like Bill Oddie,

I feel like The Shirelles but I look like Showaddywaddy.


Less than half the performance is actually poetry, though. The rest is a seemingly loose stand-up comedy routine, including jokes which Bob Monkhouse would envy, which might sound incongruous but actually fit well:

Doctor: ‘I'm afraid you've got bronchitis and Alzheimer's.'

Patient: ‘We'll at least I haven't got bronchitis.'


There are three good things about Alzheimer's:

1)      You can hide your own Easter eggs

2)      You meet new people every day.

3)      You can hide your own Easter eggs.


A graceful way for a punk hero to grow old, I reckon. And ageing is a topic Clarke takes to naturally: ‘I asked for a lifetime's supply of Martini, or a year's supply, whichever lasts longer.' Things, of course, are gonna get worse:


Shit for brains, wire for hair,

I've seen the future and I ain't there,

Things are gonna get worse.


Velcro slippers and a spandex wasteband,

Washed up on Planet Wasteland,

Zipped up like a nylon spaceman,

Things are gonna get worse.


Things are gonna get worse, nurse,

Things are gonna get rotten.

Make that hearse reverse, nurse,

I'm trying to remember everything that I've forgotten.


Euthanasia - that sounds good,

An Alpine neutral neighbourhood,

Then back to Britain, all dressed in wood,

Things are gonna get worse.


Brazenly frank, dourly amusing, commanding the language as ever, Cooper Clarke stood a hero still, before fitting his poetry back into his Tesco's bag and returning to Colchester.


Writer: Rychard Carrington