John Cooper Clarke Journeys from Manchester to the Moroccan: It felt like all of L.A.’s English residents were at the Moroccan Lounge on Saturday evening to see the Bard of Salford himself, Dr. John Cooper Clarke.
The punk poet with the wild hair and wilder tongue released a string of visceral, hilarious albums in the late ’70s and ’80s — stories of northern English life told by a normal English man with a gift for weaving gold out of grit. It’s that raw honestly blended with an acerbic wit that made him so attractive to the punk rock crowd. Guitars or not (and he has been backed by musicians before, including Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks), Clarke’s spirit is all punk.
Dr. Clarke’s stories are relatable to working class people from pretty much anywhere, but his delivery, his style, his entire fucking demeanor, is so Manchester that you wonder how much sense the non-Brits in attendance make of it. Apparently, the mental translation isn’t too hard because it felt like every single person in the room was entranced by Clarke, hypnotized by his natural rhythm, amused by his banter.
He pulled out all the “hits,” and more besides for L.A. He referred to each poem as “this next number” like he’s a nightclub singer, which is gloriously, ironically, funny. He opened with a number called “Hire Car,” in which he extols the virtues, the advantages, of driving a rental vehicle.
“Hire-car, hire-car; Why would anybody buy a car? Bang it, prang it, say ta ta; It’s a hire car baby.”
Good points, well made. (“Ta ta,” by the way, is northern English for “goodbye”).
Meanwhile, “Get Back on Drugs You Fat Fuck” deals with mysterious weight-related insults that the still-rake-thin Clarke apparently deals with (what hope do the rest of us have?).
Clarke introduces the classic “Beasley Street” as the poem the BBC always uses in their documentaries about Thatcher’s Britain, despite the fact that he wrote it years before she became Prime Minister. My god though, the tale of urban plight is as powerful now as it was way back then.
“From the boarding-houses and the bedsits; Full of accidents and fleas; Somebody gets it; Where the missing persons freeze.”
“Evidently Chickentown” is well known to viewers of The Sopranos, and that got a full airing, as did the audience participation dream that is “Twat.” Clarke introduced his crew, and then he was gone. Presumably to keep living a life that he will then write about as no one else can.
Earlier in the evening, fellow Manc poet Mike Garry opened the show with a set that was maybe less flamboyant than Clarke’s but no less touching, powerful and witty.
Garry has been on tour with Clarke for 14 years and, before that, he was praised and honored for his work with Manchester Libraries. He has a poem about things that his favorite teacher taught him, one literally called “What Me Mam Taught Me,” and he makes a point of stressing that we encourage kids to read, in turn opening the world up for them.
The man is clearly an inspiration. “St. Anthony,” a tribute to British TV and radio journalist, label owner and club manager Tony Wilson, is incredible even when read without the musical backing that you can discover on the video below. The likes of Iggy Pop, Shaun Ryder and Philip Glass (and so many more) contributed to the video, but Garry, alone with a microphone, is just as impressive. Check it out. Check him out. Keep checking out John Cooper Clarke. And yeah, reads books including poetry.
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