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Monday 22 July 2019

Review - Poetry: John Cooper Clarke, Vicar Street

John Cooper-Clarke.
John Cooper-Clarke.
Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

In a recent documentary on Mancunian performance poet John Cooper Clarke, the actor and comedian Steve Coogan reflects: "If I'm talking to someone and go, 'Do you know John Cooper Clarke?' and they say, 'Oh yeah, he's a genius', I'm then, 'Good, you've saved me a lot of time'."

Unsurprisingly, the remarkably coiffured John Cooper Clarke is often mistaken for Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. Add a pair of shades and tight drainpipe jeans that are truly remarkable for a man of 65 to pull off (or on) and you've got a one-off look for a unique man.

Clarke can be savagely funny, but also tender and romantic in the space of the few seconds it takes to deliver a couple of his lines. His repertoire is part poems, part rants and part surreal stream of consciousness.

Clarke's 'poems' can be extremely short and succinct like 'I Want to Be Yours,' which also closes the most recent Arctic Monkeys album, or long rambling epics such as 'Beasley Street'.

The poet also has a few knockout lines that he casually delivers while jabbering on between his poems. At one point he muses: "If Jesus was a Jew, why did he have a Spanish name?"

Once memorably described as an encyclopedia of modern culture but with added jokes, Clarke whizzes through the evening with a selection of fine new poems entitled 'Psychedelicate,' 'The Paperboy's Wife' and 'She's Got a Metal Plate in Her Head', a title that tells you a lot of Clarke's punk rock origins as the stick insect poet used to deliver his work to unsuspecting audiences at gigs by The Buzzcocks and The Fall.

There appears to be reams of new material, which comes as a relief as a few years ago Clarke gave the impression of endlessly rehashing the work that made him semi-famous.

Clarke consults his "2,000 carat Argos watch" and mourns the passing of time. The evening has quite literally flown by, but he still finds time to shoehorn two of his greatest hits into the set, namely the aforementioned 'I Wanna Be Yours' and the motormouth epic 'Evidently Chickentown' which closed the finale of The Sopranos.

Clarke milks this bit of trivia, plus the fact that Alex Turner has made him a pop star. Rapper Plan B has also doffed his cap to Clarke of late.

It is very intriguing that Clarke's contemporary Mancunian maverick Frank Sidebottom is now the subject of a movie loosely based on his life starring Michael Fassbender.

Slowly but surely, John Cooper Clarke is also rising out of the shadows of the underground and infiltrating the mainstream.

Irish Independent

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