John Cooper Clarke
Bakewell Town Hall, Bakewell, 1/6/2016
published: 16 /
Nicky Crewe watches John Cooper Clarke perform an exuberant set of punk poetry at Bakewell Town Hall
'Beasley Street' comes to Bakewell at last.
I have been a fan of John Cooper Clarke since he was a lab technician in Salford. His poetry readings accompanied the punk scene in Manchester and Salford back in the late seventies. He seemed to be the support act of choice for many a band in pubs and clubs back then. All he needed was his A4 notebook.
When he walked on stage he was clutching what could have been that original notebook. Looking well, he was sporting his new hairstyle, trademark dark glasses, and, dare I say, a few extra pounds. It suits you, John. Don’t let the hecklers tell you otherwise. There have been times over the decades when I have feared for him, but in the last few years I have seen him perform at a handful of concerts and festivals. He’s as much a stand-up comedian as a performance poet nowadays.
Bakewell Town Hall was a sell out, with an audience made up mostly of fans rather than the curious.
Cooper Clarke, or Dr Clarke as he likes to be known, thanks to his honorary doctorate from Salford University, is also a national treasure. The Bard of Salford’s work has found its way onto the exam syllabus and a National Trust campaign. He has made poetry accessible to generations. The hairstyle may have changed, but the image hasn’t and he rings as true today as he did back in the heady days of punk.
He wove poems and patter in his performance. I had heard some of the links and jokes before but it still sounded spontaneous and off the cuff as he took off at tangents, some easier to follow than others. A good line is always worth hearing more than once. He took us from Phil Spector’s approach to life through homicidal thoughts and filthy limericks. He introduced us to Chet Baker’s version of ‘Look for the Silver Lining’ and revealed his own silver-tongued singing voice.
Starting with ‘Hire Car’, we then got ‘Beasley Street’ and its gentrified version, ‘Beaaley Boulevard’. ‘ I’ve Fallen in Love With My Wife’, ‘Evidently Chicken Town’, and ‘I Wanna Be Yours’. 'The Sopranos' and the Arctic Monkeys got a mention too, his involvement with them both part of his rehabilitation.
It’s wonderful to see him touring again. I would have loved to hear more of my favourite poems, but I’m thankful for what I got. Nobody does it quite like him and nobody does it better. Speaking of which, Mike Garry was his support on this tour. Once a Manchester librarian, he has recently been working with the likes of Iggy Pop and Philip Glass. He had a surprise hit last year with ‘St Anthony’, a poem set to music, a tribute to Tony Wilson.
Many years ago, when I was part of the team behind the now defunct Bakewell Arts Festival, I had a dream to book John Cooper Clarke for Bakewell Town Hall. He wasn’t in a good place at the time, and I was warned off by someone who knew the score. So this Wednesday night gig was a version of that dream come true for me. Once upon a time John Cooper Clarke’s manager was Manchester music promoter, Alan Wise. Sadly by that Thursday afternoon the news had broken of his death. Another great loss. It made me appreciate Dr Clarke’s continuing success and growing reputation all the more.