John Copper Clarke and guests, live at Royal Festival Hall, October 4th
As one of the highlights of the London Literature Festival, legendary Salford artist John Cooper Clarke, the Punk Poet par excellence, graces the stage of the Royal Festival Hall with his gangly and audacious presence.
He is supported by a selection of British comedian-cum-poets; the first half of the show sets the bar for an evening, with a quatraine of artists presenting distinctly bleak and British landscapes, imbued with images of bitter Sunday afternoons, scummy pubs, chilly beaches under grey skies, grey like the tower blocks of council flats erected against backdrops of industrial gloom.
First on is Phill Jupitus – here presented as Porky the Poet, with a weary “Alright” – highlight of whose performance is Schrodinger’s Hat (a haiku), and definitely not his hateful slagging off of Jeremy Clarkson. He welcomes to the stage the “great Yorkshire artist Geoffrey Appleton” (more commonly known as Simon Day), whose tweed and flat cap ensemble is charmingly contrasted by the iPad from which he reads his work. Bleakly British and it-doesn’t-get-much-more-kitchen-sink-than-this, his performance is perfectly summed up in his delightfully melancholic poem titled England, received by the Royal Festival Hall audience with jubilant cheers. Next up are Luke Wright and then Mike Garry, with an A-Z celebration of Tony Wilson and all things melancholic Manchester music scene.
A brief break, and then John Cooper Clarke himself struts onto the stage, with lengthy stride and looking unbelievably thin. He begins his set by rattling off his “official” guest list of rhyming names of famous and not-so-famous friends. Dressed in his signature black jeans and black suit jacket, somehow he hardly looks any different from when he first took to Britain’s stages in the late seventies. “I’m an existentialist,” he declares, “all my friends are existentialists”.
When he’s not going off on his frequent (highly entertaining and, I daresay, occasionally enlightening) tangents, John Cooper Clarke treats his audience to his new work – such as Get Back on Drugs You Fat Fuck – anecdotes and skits around themes such as eating disorders, gender politics; between Limericks on necrophilia and a series of jokes about dyslexia – there’s something to offend everyone. The whole time, he staggers around on stage clutching the mic stand and laughing at his own puns, as brilliantly offensive as he was in those distant days when punk still had the capacity to cause outrage. Though it shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise that Clarke still proves to be as relevant as ever, delivering such a delightfully outrageous performance even in a time in which, as he puts it, “you can call the Queen a cunt and get knighted for it”.
Towards the end of the show he returns to some of his older, memorable pieces: “Here’s one from years ago if you fancy it – ‘course you do!” The crowd stirs at the prospect of beholding a live performance of some of the man’s most beloved poems, such as Beasley Street. And afterwards, there follows an updated version of the poem – “You wanna hear the makeover? ‘Course you do!” – Beasley Boulevard narrates the gentrification of a rundown godforsaken street, with references to the differences between a present-day area like, say, Hoxton, and what it used to be like in the late seventies.
John Cooper Clarke closes his show with the classic Evidently Chicken Town, but not before going off on yet another tangent about the four-month holiday he’s just come back from… And finally, he launches into those first few lines of “The fucking cops are fucking keen, to fucking keep it fucking clean…” It’s one he loves to do live, he says, as he’s not allowed to do it on the BBC. And oh, the audience loves it.