3 Mar 2012

John Cooper Clarke: poetry and punk

From Saturday Morning, 9:05 am on 3 March 2012
John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke Photo: CC2.0 Bryan Ledgard

An English performance poet who rose to prominence in the 1970s punk scene, John Cooper Clarke continues to entertain and has just announced he'll be visiting NZ in April. He had a good old natter to Kim Hill in 2012.

Skip to tour details.

Copper Clarke left school at 15, a mod with a love of classical literature and word-play.

"The best advice I ever got - and I think I might have given it to myself - was that, if you're going to write poetry, find a poet you like, swipe their style, only: write about the world that you know. And that's what I did... swiped the style of Alexander Pope, and applied it to life in the North West of England in the mid sixties.

"And I've kinda stuck with that rhyming kind of style. Quite old-school in many ways.

"I've kept everything low tech. There were people doing what I'm doing now a thousand years ago."

John Cooper Clarke came to prominence performing alongside Manchester bands including Joy Division and the Buzzcocks. His occasional backing band The Invisible Girls included Factory Records producer Martin Hannet and other well-known musicians of the time.

Clarke was in the audience for the first Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1976 - a show famous for the number of people who claim to have been there, and for inspiring those who were there to give it a go themselves in bands like the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Fall, The Smiths, and more.

"I had great hopes for them [the Sex Pistols] at the time because they were so very very different from everything that was around when they happened ... I'll tell you what confounded my expectations ... I was expecting a large degree of technical ineptitude, you know what I mean? Music-wise. But the one thing that blew me away was, they were fantastic! They were better than anyone around. Steve Jones has always been, and certainly remains a kick-arse rock'n'roll guitar god."

"I'll tell you who was tougher than the punk audience. This is why the whole punk thing held no terrors for me. For a couple of years preceding the punk thing I'd been doing gigs in the Working Men's Clubs of the Manchester area. And one thing you could take for granted about those audiences was: none of them was particularly interested in poetry. When punk came out, it seemed like a doddle compared to the Working Men's Clubs."

John Cooper Clarke remains a popular festival and touring act. His profile got a boost when his (Not Safe For Work) poem 'Evidently Chicken Town' was used to powerful effect in the closing scene of a Sopranos episode.

"That did fit in extremely well, that did. I just said, "Yeah, yeah, of course". Just being associated with that in any way ... that's TV's greatest hour, after The Simpsons"

Tour details:

  • Sat 21st April - Crystal Palace, Auckland
  • Sun 22nd April - The Vic, Devonport
  • Mon 23rd April - St Peters on Willis, Wellington
  • Tues 24th April - The Piano, Christchurch