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“Their common problem is that they’re not someone else” – The Bard of Salford – John Cooper Clarke – will be amongst us in Dublin next month… April 21, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Marxism, Music, Uncategorized.
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For those of us in thrall the early 1980s – probably because we were young at that point in time, it comes as a pleasant surprise to discover that John Cooper Clarke, occasionally termed the Bard of Salford, is visiting Ireland next month. He is appearing in Whelans in Dublin in May….

Cooper Clarke is best known for his rapid fire, monotonic poetry, and a full head of hair that hid a face already partly concealed by dark sunglasses. Half-man, half-thicket was one of the more humorous and accurate terms applied to his image.

He’s also known for what was delicately termed a ‘domestic relationship’ with Nico of the Velvet Underground during the 1980s and unfortunate medical problems that may or may not have been related.

Anyhow, one of his many finest hours was the alliance with Martin Hannett (producer of Joy Division, New Order, Buzzcocks, almost all the early Factory roster and indeed even U2 back in that short but shining moment when they were actually very very good indeed rather than being just alright at best) and a backing band “The Invisible Girls” who provided a musical accompaniment to his poems. On a series of albums some of that Hannett/Factory chill (which I admit I’ve been an enormous fan of over the years, yeah, verily right down to Crispy Ambulance and the fabulous Stockholm Monsters). Opinions differ on the best album during that period. Snap Crackle and Bop? Zip Style Method? Disguise in Love? But all had a crisp, clean almost poppy sheen.

I loved Cooper Clarkes material, image and suchlike. I spent most of the 1980s, poured into second hand black suits carefully tailored by myself on an old Singer sowing machine to have that drainpipe look (truly no favour to my diminishing circle of friends or family) and with long backcombed hair teased into a floppy mop that swayed alarmingly in any passing breeze and Chelsea boots to complete the assemblage. It’s hard now to describe the frustration of the rise of Goth, and perhaps more importantly the Cure who had a similar (but not the same, not the same!) imagery, and having to explain in pubs when asked by bemused but generally affable onlookers, that no I didn’t worship at the altar of all things Robert Smith, but instead was emulating an earlier less fluffy generation of musical imagery. In a way it’s a bit like what John Sullivan wrote in “As Soon as this Pub Closes…” about the Revolutionary Communist Party:

What then gives the RCP’s eclectic mishmash the appeal which made it the fastest growing group of the 1980s, with a dynamism notably absent from both the RCG and the Discussion Group? The answer is style. The group is part of the harder aggressive, post-punk move away from peace and love and the average RCPer looks very different from the grotty SWPers. They have been described as “the SWP with hair gel”, and many a parent, pleased at the improvement in their child’s appearance, has welcomed the move from one to another. Alas! their mind remains just as untidy.

Somehow Cooper Clarkes post punk imagery was just the ticket for those of us who saw wearing sharp, almost mod-like, suits with long hair as subtly undermining not one…but count them… two sets of conformity in society – yeah – upset the suits and the hippies!

Anyhow this being an overtly political blog it’s worth noting that Cooper Clarke was fairly political himself. Take Beasley Street, perhaps one of his finest pieces of work. This anti-celebration of working class Manchester was inherently powerful because it was essentially true and could be applied to any urban context in the late 1970s and 1980s. The couplet “KEITH JOSEPH SMILES AND A BABY DIES, IN A BOX ON BEASLEY STREET” made a direct connection between the new Thatcherite right and life for the British working class. But this wasn’t a sentimental journey caught in fading photographs of cheery Northern folk, but a hard-headed analysis of lives wasted, ambitions rotted and the pernicious effects of low level but endemic violence, boredom and despair.

Put to a throbbing, almost motorik, beat and shimmering keyboards and the words took on a witty, sinister and – I’ll admit it – depressing life of their own (check it out here).

“BEASLEY STREET”

FAR FROM CRAZY PAVEMENTS

…THE TASTE OF SILVER SPOONS

A CLINICAL ARRANGEMENT

…ON A DIRTY AFTERNOON

WHERE THE FECAL GERMS OF MR. FREUD

…ARE RENDERED OBSOLETE

THE LEGAL TERM IS NULL AND VOID

IN THE CASE OF… BEASLEY STREET

IN THE CHEAP SEATS WHERE MURDER BREEDS

SOMEBODY IS OUT OF BREATH

SLEEP IS A LUXURY THEY DON’T NEED

…A SNEAK PREVIEW OF DEATH

BELLADONNA IS YOUR FLOWER

MANSLAUGHTER YOUR MEAT

SPEND A YEAR IN A COUPLE OF HOURS

ON THE EDGE OF BEASLEY STREET

WHERE THE ACTION ISN’T

THAT’S WHERE IT IS

STATE YOUR POSITION

VACANCIES EXIST

IN AN X-CERTIFICATE EXERCISE

EX-SERVICEMEN EXCRETE

KEITH JOSEPH SMILES AND A BABY DIES

IN A BOX ON BEASLEY STREET

FROM THE BOARDING HOUSES AND THE BEDSITS FULL OF

…ACCIDENTS AND FLEAS

SOMEBODY GETS IT

WHERE THE MISSING PERSONS FREEZE

WEARING DEAD MEN’S OVERCOATS

YOU CAN’T SEE THEIR FEET

A RIFF JOINT SHUTS – OPENS UP

RIGHT DOWN ON BEASLEY STREET

CARS COLLIDE, COLOURS CLASH

DISASTER MOVIE STUFF

FOR A MAN WITH THE FU MANCHU MOUSTACHE

REVENGE IS NOT ENOUGH

THERE’S A DEAD CANARY ON A SWIVEL SEAT

THERE’S A RAINBOW IN THE ROAD

MEANWHILE ON BEASLEY STREET

SILENCE IS THE CODE

HOT BENEATH THE COLLAR

…AN INSPECTOR CALLS

WHERE THE PERISHING STINK OF SQUALOR

…IMPREGNATES THE WALLS

THE RATS HAVE ALL GOT RICKETS

THEY SPIT THROUGH BROKEN TEETH

THE NAME OF THE GAME IS NOT CRICKET

CAUGHT OUT ON …BEASLEY STREET

THE HIPSTER AND HIS HIRED HAT

DRIVE A BORROWED CAR

YELLOW SOCKS AND A PINK CREVAT

NOTHING LA-DI-DAH

O-A-P

MOTHER-TO-BE

WATCH THE THREE-PIECE SUITE

WHEN SHITSTOPPER DRAINS

AND CROCODILE SKIS

ARE SEEN ON …BEASLEY STREET

THE KINGDOM OF THE BLIND

…A ONE-EYED MAN IS KING

BEAUTY PROBLEMS ARE REDEFINED

…THE DOORBELLS DO NOT RING

A LIGHT BULB BURST LIKE A BLISTER

THE ONLY FORM OF HEAT

WHERE A FELLOW SELLS HIS SISTER

…DOWN THE RIVER ON BEASLEY STREET

THE BOYS ARE ON THE WAGON

THE GIRLS ARE ON THE SHELF

THEIR COMMON PROBLEM IS

…THAT THEY’RE NOT SOMEONE ELSE

THE DIRT BLOWS OUT

THE DUST BLOWS IN

YOU CAN’T KEEP IT NEAT

IT’S A FULLY FURNISHED DUSTBIN

…SIXTEEN BEASLEY STREET

VINCE THE AGEING SAVAGE

BETRAYS NO KIND OF LIFE

…BUT THE SMELL OF YESTERDAY’S CABBAGE

AND THE GHOST OF LAST YEAR’S WIFE

THROUGH A CONSTANT HAZE

OF DEODORANT SPRAYS

HE SAYS …RETREAT

ALSATIANS DOG THE DIRTY DAYS

DOWN THE MIDDLE OF BEASLEY STREET

PEOPLE TURN TO POISON

QUICK AS LAGER TURNS TO PISS

SWEETHEARTS ARE PHYSICALLY SICK

EVERY TIME THEY KISS

IT’S A SOCIOLOGIST’S PARADISE

EACH DAY REPEATS

UNEASY, CHEASY, GREASY, QUEASY

…BEASTLY, BEASLEY STREET

EYES DEAD AS VICIOUS FISH

LOOK AROUND FOR LAUGHS

IF I COULD HAVE JUST ONE WISH

I WOULD BE A PHOTOGRAPH

ON A PERMANENT MONDAY MORNING

GET LOST OR FALL ASLEEP

WHEN THE YELLOW CATS ARE YAWNING

AROUND THE BACK OF BEASLEY STREET

It didn’t end there. Cooper Clarke encountered a series of personal issues in the 1980s and 1990s which diverted the course of his career, and to be honest his work was always going to have a limited appeal one way or another. Where now are Attilla the Stockbroker and the other punk-poets who appeared in or around the same time. Where indeed are the Blue Aeroplanes – arguably the closest in musical terms to them?

But he’s been plugging away with a good website of his own, and maintaining a sharp and critical view of the world. And worth leaving on another political note which is also very 1980s (and also subverting some of what I mentioned above) in it’s own way:

euro communist/gucci socialist

for a modern home and cheap electricity
streamlined functional neat simplicity
put yourself on the slum clearance list
dial a dialectical materialist
find out what your net potential is
get married to an existentialist
don’t doubt your own identity
dress down to a cool anonymity
the pierre cardin line to infinity
clothes to climb the meritocracy
the new age of benevolent bureaucracy

i like to visit all the big cities
museums and municipal facilities
i strive for critical ability
i thrive on political activity
i’m alive in a new society
i arrive quickly quietly
the car that i drive is the family variety
roman catholic marxist leninist
happily married to an eloquent feminist
a lapsed atheist all my memories
measure the multitude’s deafening density
psycho citizens are my enemies
crypto nazis and their remedies
keep the city silent as the cemetery’s
architechtural gothic immensity
a new name on the less-than-kosher list
the euro-communist / a gucci socialist

Those I know who have seen him live say he’s remarkable.

I’m looking forward to it.

Also good is this

Comments»

1. John - April 21, 2007

I’ll see you there!!!

Just reading the opening lines of Beasley Street brought the sound of his voice straight back. That particular Mancunian nasal whine still raises the hairs on the back of my neck. It brings back a time of menace, hedonism, depression and too many intoxicants.

I lived and worked in Manchester in the early 80s, so was in close proximity to all the Factory goings-on, although I first saw JCC do a gig at the LSE (a couple of petty crim friends from Alty came down and stayed specially). He was on stage for over 90 minutes and did two encores. The audience went crazy but that could just have been middle-class condescension. I suspect half of them needed subtitles.

Sadly, I never had the hair to be a Goth, but that was probably all to the good because I was working in a diecasting factory in Ancoats for the first half of that decade, and it was bad enough having a degree. Besides which ( and partly as a consequence of which, also), me and my mates were more into the Leeds punks: Mekons, 3 Johns, Delta 5, Seething Wells. It’s weird to come over to Dublin and find more than a few Fall and JCC fans.

Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory lane and for the link to YouTube. I wouldn’t have thought to look there otherwise, and I see there are quite several vids.

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2. John - April 21, 2007

quite several?

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3. Redking - April 21, 2007

Great post on the bard of Salford-it’s been 3 years since I last saw him at the Kings Head in Crouch End, London and he was fairly pissed there (could’nt remember the words to Chicken Town) but his humour was a sharp as ever-his musing on the Gallagher bros “They’ve got the OBE, one big eyebrow!” and lots of un -PC but hilarious anti-German ranting about WW2!!
Hope he does a good gig in Dublin-
I love that Euro-communist poem-now I wonder who he’s on about??

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4. John - April 21, 2007
5. ejh - April 21, 2007

Only seen him once, in Stevenage more than twenty years ago. he was very good.

Reminds me – the one time I was in Cork, Jello Biafra was due to be playing there at the same time. I was most impressed and excited to learn this from a poster I saw on the day I arrived.

I was less impressed to learn the following day that the government had refused him a visa.

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6. WorldbyStorm - April 22, 2007

Hmmm John… yes, degrees can be sufficiently off putting on a social level to necessitate concealing – I got mine in 1990 so it was slightly later, but on the other hand just going for a degree was distinctive and not necessarily in a good way.

I think the point about Dave Fanning on the Radio playing people like JCC and the Fall created a micro-environment in Ireland of fans. And then there was a lot of travel back and forth between London and Dublin right through the 1980s long before Ryanair in fact. The ferries used to be crowded.

Redking, I’d heard some of his gigs were chaotic. Sounds good.

ejh , my God, is there no-one who reads this who hasn’t seen JCC, apart from me that is?

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7. John O'Neill - April 23, 2007

redking asked

I love that Euro-communist poem-now I wonder who he’s on about??

I would suggest – all of them!

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8. WorldbyStorm - April 23, 2007

“I would suggest – all of them!”

That made me laugh… 🙂

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9. joemomma - June 1, 2007

Anyone see The Sopranos last night on RTÉ? The episode played out with Cooper Clarke’s Evidently Chickentown.

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10. WorldbyStorm - June 1, 2007

Yeah, someone mentioned that… Great song/poem.

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11. Laban Tall - September 8, 2007

For more on the sordid tale of JCC and Nico

http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Workshop/5083/extract3.html

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12. WorldbyStorm - September 9, 2007

Sad more than sordid surely?

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13. This Weekend I’ll Mostly be Listening to… John Cooper Clarke « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - March 5, 2011

[…] What can one say about Cooper Clarke? Well not a lot more than I already did here. […]

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