Delivering Words at the Speed of Sound


Posted by in April's Magazine

Gordon Munro on a great survivor who surfaced during the first wave of ‘Poetry as the new Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and actually made that media truism a truth 

It was The Sopranos that did it. Episode ‘Stage 5’ of series 6 ended with a sublime piece of television. With all the main characters present the scene played out in silence and, in place of dialogue, John Cooper Clarke’s 100 mile an hour speed spattered delivery of Evidently Chickentown, remarkably, played out the scene. Remarkable because they didn’t tone down his buzz saw Mancunian delivery. Not even subtitles. On prime time American TV! 

It worked spectacularly. Indeed the scene works brilliantly on its own, out of context. You can of course find it on YouTube. For those who followed the series, though, this was a ‘wow’ moment, one of those Soprano moments that you knew could not end well. 

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Mind you, it ended very well for John Cooper Clarke. Interest in his work mushroomed and a whole new generation became familiar with his clever, relatable, fiercely honest, and stand up hilarious poems (often set to music). Tributes started to pore in for his work, academia taking a particular interest. Indeed he even makes a few bob these days writing and presenting programmes for radio and TV, while proving to be an insightful, empathetic and sidesplittingly funny (dry) DJ. 

“It’s taken me 30 years to become an overnight success,” he often says in interviews. Showing the neat line in self-deprecation that he has employed throughout his career. And, when appreciation came, it came via unlikely sources:

Listeners and readers who became teachers got some of his work onto the syllabus. Which in turn led to Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys seeking him out and citing him as a key influence on his work. Plan B used him on the Ill Manors album where he performed Pity the Plight of Young Fellows. A documentary that played almost like an obituary, Evidently John Cooper Clarke piled more plaudits on his body of work. Somebody even managed to upload that Channel 4 documentary he made in the early 1980s and I’ve no doubt you’ll be able to find the Sugar Puffs advert he shilled for in the late 80s somewhere there too.

John Cooper Clarke is back and on blistering form. Here you will find poetry for people who did not know they liked poetry

There was even talk of new work being published in 2012. True to form it arrived at the tail end of 2018. The Luckiest Guy Alive is out now in hardback from Picador poetry and to this pocket it is a bargain at £14.99. Encomiums on the cover come from the likes of Kate Moss, Sir Paul McCartney and that Alex Turner again. All heaped with praise and rightly so. Our man is back and on blistering form. Here you will find poetry for people who did not know they liked poetry.

Bed Blocker Blues will be recognisable to any hospital visitor and can prove a bit too close to home for those of us who remember Clarke first time round!

Things are gonna get worse nurse

Murder by logistics

Take me back to the first verse

The last one’s too pessimistic 

Euthanasia- that sounds good

A neutral Alpine neighbourhood

Then back to Britain all dressed in wood

Things were gonna get worse – apparently.

He has fun at Bono’s expense, quite rightly too, with Bongo’s Trousers and shows a softer side with I’ve Fallen In Love With My Wife. He is on trend too with Your Metrosexual Ex:

Gym trim is it really him

Startled eyebrows pencilled in

Taking compliments on the chin,

Your metrosexual ex. 

And bang on with Crossing The Floor. We all know at least one. (Taking this to be a political reference Gordon? – Ed)

The humour is still sharp, like his attire. Not many people are recognisable as a silhouette but Cooper Clarke is unique in that he is actually more recognisable in that form than in the flesh. 

More fun can be had with Six Haikus In No Particular Order, The Hanging Gardens Of Basildon or The Man Who Didn’t Love Elvis. My favourite in this vein, and it shows that his self-deprecation is still in full flood, is Get Back On Drugs You Fat Fuck, which is self-explanatory and should be read in full.

Just like Leith, Beasley Street has had a makeover and is now Beasley Boulevard. If you’ve been lucky to see him live recently you’ll know the new stuff is bang up to the mark, spry and fighting fit and the poem is a fitting one with which to close the new volume of poetry.

Slaked and gutted and sated

Hunger has no home

Pampered, preened and patinated, 

In a multicultural tone.

Looking good, lose the hood

Or lose your loyalty card

Here comes the neighbourhood 

Beasley Boulevard.

His debut volume Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt has recently been republished and an anthology of his recorded work is now available. Is there a Doctor in your house? Every home should have one and Doctor John Cooper Clarke (he really is) should be yours. 

All we need now is that scurrilous, Albert Goldman style, 900 page biography on the good Doctor to complete our collection and realise the man’s dream.

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