The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Mon 30 Apr.
“Will you please welcome on stage… Dr John Cooper Clarke!” The introduction is met with applause from the growing crowd, and the man of the hour appears as the theme to 1950s US cop show Dragnet fades. Dr Clarke (University of Salford) resembles a well-dressed stick figure. He thanks the audience for coming out and announces that he needs to read out the guest list as he has arrived late. Cue Official Guest List. After that faux-formality, the next hour comprises a selection of 69-year-old Clarke’s poems, a raft of observations, and a few jokes that wouldn’t be out of place at The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club.
He sounds like he’s never left Salford, such is the richness of his accent, but he’s actually lived in Essex for decades. When he does affect another dialect it seems that he’s fond of the sounds of the Essex hard-man and the New York gangster. He tells the audience he’s been “piling on the pounds lately” (he hasn’t) and that this is due to a “cessation of the use of opioid drugs in a non-therapeutic milieu”. This monologue leads him into Get Back On Drugs You Fat F*ck, another poem that has the audience laughing out loud.
Clarke is as sharp as a tack but every now and again the rapid pace of delivery seems to lose everyone, himself included. It’s probably all part of his shtick. He tells a story of meeting the Dalai Lama at Glastonbury and his light-hearted take on minimalism.
Beasley Street, well-known as a “searing indictment on Thatcher’s Britain” even though Clarke tells the audience that he wrote it some 18 months before Margaret Thatcher came to power, is followed by its sequel, Beasley Boulevard. He says he’ll perform them quickly so “we can all see Squeeze and get home in time for Family Guy.” Despite the humour, there’s no doubting the passion of the pieces.
Moving deliberately from the sublime to the ridiculous, Clarke proceeds to give a wonderfully cheesy plug for his merchandise.
The relentlessly obscene Evidently Chickentown, a poem that has been good to Clarke, features as the last piece of his set, before Twat and I Wanna Be Yours (adapted by Alex Turner for the Arctic Monkeys’ AM album) make up the encore and finish off his evening.
“You’ve been wonderful; let’s do it again sometime.” Dr John Cooper Clarke, rambling, reciting and ranting, has delivered an hour to remember.
Exit, Johnny Clarke.
by David Robinson
Image courtesy of David Robinson