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John Cooper Clarke, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, July 9th 2010

July 16, 2010

So was this a gig or not? There was no music, no band and John Cooper Clarke doesn’t sing. It was also part of the Southbank’s London Literature Festival. This included a Brazilian film-maker discussing her documentary, a smattering of Brazilian jazz and two events with truly horrible names: the ‘Litweeter Festival’ and the ‘Story Slam’. God forbid a literature festival should confine itself to, well, literature.

From the literary perspective, yes, JCC’s a poet, but he’s also a bit of a stand-up and he used to be backed by a band, the Invisible Girls (including Martin Hannett on bass and guest appearances from Bill Nelson and Pete Shelley) – I remember back in the 70s enjoying my brother’s copy of Disguise In Love, with the immortal tracks Readers Wives, Psycle Sluts and (I Married A) Monster From Outer Space. So, yes, it’s a gig.

Mr P was keen to come along, as JCC’s acerbic poem Evidently Chickentown appears in the first pages of Mr P’s now burgeoning commonplace book (and thanks to Mr P for the ethereal photo – left). The two of us took our seats and enjoyed a good hour-and-a-half of gags, daft observations, ranting verse and more from ‘the bard of Salford’. The gags are mostly crap – not that the audience minds – and the observations are those of a man who spends much of the day watching TV (‘GMTV? Stands for “Give Me The Valium!”‘). Actually, not all of the gags are crap. He spieled about ‘health and safety’, before observing, ‘Those ancient Greeks didn’t care for health and safety – a cyclops and a unicorn? That’s a f***ing accident waiting to happen…’

It’s the poems that form the heart of the show, though, and what I like about his material is how he delights in words and phrases – unusual ones, ordinary ones and everything in between. In this he reminds me very much of Mark E Smith (indeed JCC’s often supported The Fall in concert) in his appetite for a certain richness of language. There’s a lot in both of them of the auto-didact’s verbal peculiarities that nevertheless hit the mark. And there’s no better display of JCC’s talents than perennial favourite Beasley Street:

Vince the ageing savage
Betrays no kind of life,
But the smell of yesterday’s cabbage
and the ghost of last year’s wife,
Through a constant haze
of deodorant sprays,
He says… retreat,
Alsatians dog the dirty days
Down the middle of Beasley Street…
People turn to poison,
Quick as lager turns to piss,
Sweethearts are physically sick
Every time they kiss,
It’s a sociologist’s paradise,
Each day repeats,
Uneasy, cheasy, greasy, queasy
… beastly, Beasley Street.

Not content with resting on his laureate’s laurels, JCC has updated the poem to reflect the upward mobility of modern Manchester (and possibly Salford) but, with his eye, he’s not fooled by appearances – here’s a bit of Beasley Boulevard:

The Hoxton fin
With a nervous trim
And a fragrant disregard,
It’s an urban splash-art ghetto gym
Beasley Boulevard…
Anything could happen
But it hardly ever does,
There’s a pub but the regulars are barred,
Nobody there to harsh your buzz
On Beasley Boulevard…

He’s a unique talent, but not getting any younger. A sad note of the evening was his mention of the passing of Chris Sievey aka Frank Sidebottom, his long-time pal and collaborator. But old age holds no fear for JCC. He alluded to the famous Dylan resemblance, but said instead, ‘These days, my rock star looks make me perfect as Ron Wood’s decoy – and believe me, that Jo packs a hell of a punch…’ And as for his new passport photo, he commented, ‘My face looks like that of a man whose obituary ends with the words, “… before turning the gun on himself.”‘ Brilliant stuff.

Here’s a clip of Evidently Chickentown used as a Sopranos ending:

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2010 3:06 pm

    I’m enjoying A Gig’s A Gig soooooooooo much! I have to refrain from leaving a comment after almost every entry. It’s odd that JCC hasn’t updated his set much since 1980. He doesn’t seem to write poems anymore, at least not poems to ‘perform’. He writes ‘gags’ now, as you say and fills out his set with them. A slight shame this, I think. Like CS&N ten or so years earlier, he had a purple patch from which, you might say, he’s never recovered. I don’t know what a music fan does in this situation. Do you still keep turning up to the gigs, or do you give up and move on to artists who are still properly creating? Finally, can’t leave without pointing to this youtube classic; Christopher Eccleston reciting Evidently Chickentown.

  2. brandnewguy permalink*
    July 18, 2010 9:50 am

    LOL – brilliant video, Dave! Thanks for the kind comments. Yeah, as I get older I get less tolerant of artists treading water. JCC I can forgive, as I’m sure he needs to keep bread on the table, but CSN have grown accustomed to a very opulent lifestyle that they think is theirs by right – and they won’t even work hard for it.

    In fact, good old Neil Young slagged off CSN way back in ’79 in “Thrasher”:

    “They had the best selection,
    They were poisoned with protection
    There was nothing that they needed,
    Nothing left to find
    They were lost in rock formations
    Or became park bench mutations
    On the sidewalks
    and in the stations
    They were waiting, waiting.

    So I got bored and left them there,
    They were just deadweight to me
    Better down the road
    without that load…”

  3. Paul Higham permalink
    July 18, 2010 2:42 pm

    Great review and I’m very envious that you’ve seen him recently. Back in’t late 70’s / early 80’s he was on virtually every bill in Manchester; the last time we saw him was introducing an act at Latitude a couple of year ago.

    Sounds like he’s not changed the structure of his set much; he always filled it out with cr*p jokes.

    His purple patch was a period of addiction that he shared with Nico. He spent some time in a kind of halfway house during his period of recovery, and one of his “normal” tasks was to pick up his hosts’ children from primary school. That must have been the talk of the shool gate.

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