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Performance poet John Cooper Clarke review

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John Cooper Clarke; Wycombe Swan, 22nd November 2013

Clad in animal print leggings and Cuban heel boots, with a vicarious mane of flyaway black hair and darkly elusive Ray-Bans perched on the bridge of his nose, John Cooper Clarke is certainly not your average poet.

Image credit: Johncooperclarke.com
Image credit: Johncooperclarke.com

Emerging in the 1970s on the perfectly-ripped coat-tails of the punk movement, Clark became known as its resident poet, with numerous books and CD recordings of his performances to his name. His poetry deals with the gritty and harsh realities of urban British life, free from rose-tinted idealism and flowery over-production. The echoes of his prose are felt today from festivals to pub nights, in the final scene of the Sopranos, to the present GCSE syllabus. His wit and talent have inspired a new generation of musical poets, collaborating recent with both Plan B and Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, on whose latest album, closing track I Wanna Be Yours is music written to Clarke’s verse. It is a profoundly depressing fact that a man of such cultural and artistic significance cannot sell out a thousand-seat theatre just outside London, but that was nevertheless the case.

Clarke was obviously unwell in this performance, but constantly apologetic, and deserves admirable recognition for choosing to continue with the show rather than cancel. Plied with drink after drink (“for medicinal purposes”) this was a no-holds barred humorous and utterly unapologetic saunter through famous and well-loved classic material, with a good deal of new and unfamiliar poems scattered in for variety. Both Beasley Street and Evidently Chicken Town drew cheers and raucous applause from the small audience, a devoted core of fans whose presence certainly didn’t go unappreciated. Poems were inter-spliced with one-liner jokes, anecdotes and elaborate stories, making this performance in parts more akin to a stand-up gig (and a good one) than a poetry recital. The evening was mismatched and all over the place, much like Jonny himself, but part of the charm and appeal of his performances is never quite knowing what to expect. But one fact remained fiendishly clear: Clarke’s biting satire and often side-splittingly funny work holds the same resonance today as it did when it was first written.

Image credit: johncooperclarke.com
Image credit: johncooperclarke.com

However, the most impressive part of the night’s entertainment came in the form of Clarke’s support act, Luke Wright, a thirty-something Essexonian complete with skinny jeans and even more impressive hair. His set lasted for the entire first half, presenting a thought provoking modern take British culture that seemed to strike particular resonance with the audience: both his live CD Essex Lion and book Mondeo Man had sold out by the end of the interval. If anything, the strength of both his performance and original prose should serve a comfort to both us, and Jonny, that the future and legacy of spoken word is certainly in safe hands.

 John Cooper Clarke still has many upcoming gigs, for more information click here.

Madeleine Soper

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