JOHN COOPER CLARKE
Born: Salford, Lancashire, England, UK, 1949
Along with Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Patrik Fitzgerald, Andy T and Attila the Stockbroker, John Cooper Clarke was a so-called "punk poet". He looked like a stick-insect version of Bob Dylan circa 1965 and was nearly thirty when he first emerged on the Northern punk scene in 1977, causing much intrigue.
A fantastic wordsmith, his quickfire delivery (in a strong Mancunian accent with lots of half-pauses for breath) was as fast as any punk band’s, but it was just him up there, armed only with a microphone and his book of poetry, providing stand-up comedy at such venues as the Electric Circus, in between sets by The Fall, Slaughter & The Dogs, The Drones etc.
Like normal punk rockers, he used humour (usually surreal) to optimum effect in order to make his observations about the banalities of being alive in the late 20th century, but he is (as far as I am aware) the only punk artist whose work has become part of the National curriculum.
His first release was the Innocents E.P., issued in 1977 on Rabid, initially with green labels, later blue. A three-track affair that featured mainly electronic instrumentation except on the title track, which is pure 1977 garage punk, it is one of the essential artifacts of the period. 'Innocents' itself was selected for the Streets compilation.
In 1978 he also appeared on Short Circus/Live At The Electric Circus, contributing two spoken word numbers.
His first album proper was for CBS, 1978's Disguise In Love (Rabid had previously released Ou Est La Maison De Fromage?, a bootleggy collection of mainly live recordings). With musical assistance from Pete Shelley, Bill Nelson (Clarke had toured with Be Bop Deluxe), John Maher, and The Invisible Girls (another name for producer Martin Hannett and keyboard wizard Steve Hopkins), 'Disguise In Love' is a fully-fledged debut. Heavily reliant on simple drum machines and keyboards, with just bits of guitar thrown in, the juxtaposition of bouncy music and Clarke’s basically non-musical delivery works perfectly, and the likes of 'I Married A Monster From Outer Space' and 'Post-War Glamour Girl' are spell-binding.
Two tracks on 'Disguise' were done a capella style, and Walking Back To Happiness provides more than 22 minutes of the same on clear 10” vinyl (in a stickered PVC sleeve), and ending with a full-on pop song in the shape of 'Gimmix! Play Loud", which was subsequently issued as an triangular-shaped orange vinyl single.
The mini-album is quintessential Clarke, filled with hilarious heckler baiting (“I can’t hear you, your mouth’s full of shit!”), corny jokes and rude poems about wanking and package holidays. And the unforgettable 'Twat’, which deserves to be seen in full:
Like a Night Club in the morning, you’re the bitter end.
Like a recently disinfected shit-house, you’re clean round the bend.
You give me the horrors
too bad to be true
All of my tomorrows
are lousy coz of you.
You put the Shat in Shatter
Put the Pain in Spain
Your germs are splattered about
Your face is just a stain
You’re certainly no raver, commonly known as a drag.
Do us all a favour, here... wear this polythene bag.
You’re like a dose of scabies,
I’ve got you under my skin.
You make life a fairy tale... Grimm!
People mention murder, the moment you arrive.
I’d consider killing you if I thought you were alive.
You’ve got this slippery quality,
it makes me think of phlegm,
and a dual personality
I hate both of them.
Your bad breath vents disease, destruction, and decay.
Please, please, please, please, take yourself away.
Like a death a birthday party,
you ruin all the fun.
Like a sucked and spat out Smartie,
you’re no use to anyone.
Like the shadow of the guillotine
on a dead consumptive’s face.
Speaking as an outsider,
what do you think of the human race
You went to a progressive psychiatrist.
He recommended suicide...
before scratching your bad name off his list,
and pointing the way outside.
You hear laughter breaking through, it makes you want to fart.
You’re heading for a breakdown,
better pull yourself apart.
Your dirty name gets passed about when something goes amiss.
Your attitudes are platitudes,
just make me wanna piss.
What kind of creature bore you
Was is some kind of bat?
They can’t find a good word for you,
but I can...
Album No.2 Snap Crackle [&] Bop was a worthy follow-up, with Clarke again helped by Martin Hannett and the Invisible Girls, as well as members of Buzzcocks and The Fall. 'Evidentially Chickentown' and '23rd' provide the abuse, 'Beasley Street' the melodrama, and 'A Distant Relation' the pathos. Unexpectedly moving in places, this is a top-notch album. The gimmick this time was a songbook tucked into a pocket on the front cover.
With no new material in the offing, Me And My Big Mouth - an eleven-song compilation album with songs from every official album and a few extras (i.e. 'Kung Fu International') - was issued to maintain interest in his work.
In 1982 he starred in the film titled John Cooper Clarke - Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt, directed by Nick May for the Arts Council of Great Britain and Channel 4, and released Zip Style Method, his third and final studio LP, which spawned two singles. The Day My Pad Went Mad and Night People.
ABOVE: Gig review from 1982 and Tour Poster from 1983
Unfortunately, JCC was fond of both alcohol and heroin, and spent much of the 80s shooting up heroin with Nico (yes, that Nico), and as a result couldn't get himself arrested, but he is currently enjoying something of a renaissance, gigging regularly (his shows even get advertised in The Sunday Times supplements), popping up on programs about both punk and poetry, has been the subject of an excellent, entertaining BBC Four documentary, Evidently... John Cooper Clarke, and has played himself in the film Ill Manors (2012).
Singles / Albums
|Post War Glamour Girl (7", 1978)||Disguise In Love
|Gimmix, Play Loud!
|Walking Back To Happiness (10", 1979)|
|Splat/Twat (7”, 1979)||Snap, Crackle & Bop (LP, 1980)
|Me And My Big Mouth (LP, 1981)
||The Day My Pad Went Mad (7”, 1982)|
|Zip Style Method
|Où Est La Maison De Fromage? (LP, 1978)||The Very Best Of
|Evidently - The Archive Recordings Volume 2 (CD, 2012)||John's in the Money: Evidently John Cooper Clarke, Vol. 1
|Airplay Sampler / Snap, Crackle (&) ... No Rude Words!!! (12", promo, 1980)|
Short Circuit: Live At The Electric Circus UK 10”LP 1978 (Virgin): (You Never See A Nipple In The) Daily Express / I Married A Monster From Outer Space
The Last Stiff Compilation Album... ...Until The Next One UK LP 1980 (Stiff): Chicken Town
Fast Forward Australia Tape 1981 (Fast Forward): Interview
One World Poetry Holland LP 1981: several live tracks, apparently
Let The Children Play UK 2xLP 1981 (Panic): Nothing
Poetry Olympics UK LP 1982 (All Around): tracks unknown
Martin UK LP/CD 1991 (Factory): Suspended Sentence
Rabid/TJM Punk Singles Collection UK CD 1996 (Receiver) Innocents / Suspended Sentence / Psycle Sluts
The Best Punk Album In The World ... Ever! UK 2xCD 1996 (Virgin): Kung Fu International
The Best Punk Album In The World ... Ever! 2 UK 2xCD 1996 (Circa): Beasley Street
1-2-3-4 Punk & New Wave 1976-1979 UK 5xCD 1999 (Universal): Psycle Sluts (Part 1)
White Dopes On Punk UK 2xCD 2005 (Castle Music): Innocents