John Cooper Claaarrrke
outside the takeaway saturday night...
John Cooper Clarke – Poetry/Emotion

“Word Of Mouth – The Very Best Of John Cooper Clarke” – Epic 506343 2


John Cooper Clarke shot to fame during the Punk Rock wars of the late 1970s performing 150mph gutter poetry to pogo-ing Punks all over the UK. With a broad Manchester accent, an expansive vocabulary & an image not a million miles away from Bob Dylan circa “Blonde On Blonde”, Clarke confessed to influences as varied as Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Ian Dury, Lord Buckley, Micky Spillane, Magrite, Dali, Beefheart, Zappa, Velvet Underground, The Wailers & I-Roy.

“She left her heart in Frisco,
She left her room in a mess,
She left her hat in the disco,
She never left her address.”

– “Valley Of The Lost Women”

Johnny Clarke was born in Salford sometime around 1950. He left school aged 15 & passed through a succession of dead-end jobs, including dishwasher & mortuary assistant, whilst honing his skills as a performance poet. He added his middle name to his stage name, becoming John Cooper Clarke, to differentiate himself from other Johnny Clarkes on the Manchester circuit in the late 1970s.

“The boys are on the wagon,
the girls are on the shelf.
Their common problem is that
they’re not someone else.”

- “Beasley Street”


JCC released his debut 7” EP on Rabid Records in late 1977. Rabid Records, one of the UK’s first Punk independents, was founded by local producer Martin Hannett (aka Martin Zero) & his associate, Tosh Ryan. Rabid was already home to Slaughter & The Dogs, & Clarke’s “Psycle Sluts EP” soon joined “Where Have All The Bootboys Gone” in the Small Wonder Punk charts.

“People turn to poison as quick as lager turns to piss.
Sweethearts are physically sick every time they kiss.”

- “Beasley Street”

JCC followed The Clash & signed to CBS in early 1978. His first LP for the label, 1978’s “Disguise In Love”, utilised a specially assembled backing band: The Invisible Girls. The Invisible Girls were put together by Hannett & featured ex members of 10CC, Be Bop Deluxe & Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks. The music they created for JCC’s vicious words was so far ahead of it’s time it often met itself coming back from the pub on it’s way out.

“Like a death at a birthday party,
you ruin all the fun.
Like a licked & spat out Smartie,
you’re no use to anyone.”

- “Twat”

JCC’s first 45 for CBS was “Post War Glamour Girls” which sank without a trace. It was followed in 1979 by “Walking Back To Happiness”: a 10” live album (with 1 new studio track: “Gimmix! Play Loud” – later released as a 45 in it’s own right on triangular shaped orange vinyl becoming JCC’s 1st Top 40 hit) featuring JCC sans backing band & in particular vitriolic form. Stage favourites such as “Twat” & “Majorca” soon firmly established JCC amongst his Punk peers as an entertainer par excellence. The press went along for the ride & JCC enjoyed much critical acclaim.

“They packed us in to the white hotel,
you could still smell the polycel.
Wet white paint in the air-conditioned cells,
The waiter smells of fake Chanel.
Gauloise, garlic as well,
says if I want I can call him Mig-U-El,
well, really.”

- “Majorca”

1980 brought a 2nd LP in the form of “Snap, Crackle & Bop” (a reference to a breakfast cereal advert), still widely regarded as JCC’s finest hour. The LP’s pivotal moment, the harrowing 6-minute plus “Beasley Street”, painted a similar picture as Dylan’s “Desolation Row” had done a decade or so earlier.

“For the man with the Fu-Manchu moustache,
revenge is not enough.”

- “Beasley Street”

JCC toured extensively throughout much of 1980, often in support. By this stage it was already becoming painfully apparent that JCC was destined to remain a much loved cult figure rather than a star. A somewhat premature compilation LP, “Me & My Big Mouth”, was released by CBS in 1981. A 3rd LP, “Zip Style Method”, followed in 1982 but Punk’s grip on the public imagination was already in decline & it did not sell well.

“Conditional discharge, a sticky deposit”

- “Conditional Discharge”

By the end of 1983 JCC had faded back into the wallpaper with 3 LPs, a few volumes of poetry & several mesmerising performances at the Poetry Olympics clutched to his chest for posterity. The ensuing 20 years have seen very little JCC action bar the odd performance, a support slot with Joe Strummer & an alleged life long battle with opiates.

“Like a night club in the morning,
you’re the bitter end.
Like a recently disinfected shithouse,
you’re clean round the bend.
You give me the horrors,
to bad to be true.
All of my tomorrows are lousy cos of you.”

- “Twat”

No place for “Why No Nipples In The Daily Express?” or “Sleepwalk” (his finest hour), but “Word Of Mouth” is still a timely reminder of the power of poetry. JCC practically invented “alternative comedy” single-handedly - Alexi Sayle must have spent hours dissecting & reconstructing Clarke’s work – translating it into Scouse. 2002 has seen the arrival of a young man named Mike Skinner who operates in a very similar field to JCC & Ian Dury (Both Clarke & Dury were using the dance music of their day as a vehicle for their poetry, after all), except with a Brummie accent & garage beats. “Original Pirate Material” owes a considerable debt to John Cooper Clarke – go buy “Word Of Mouth” & pay a little bit of it back yourself.

“Enter the dragon – exit Johnny Clarke”

- “Kung Fu International”

Guy Debored – trakMARX.com – Sept 2002


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