The bard of Salford

I thought that poetry is all I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, but John Cooper Clarke changed that.

Explaining about the difference in northern British accents, a conversation metaphorically headed up the M6 motorway, through the inevitable roadworks to Manchester. And what better way to appreciate the delights of that jewel of the north-west than an introduction to the inimitable John Cooper Clarke, The bard of Salford?

John Cooper Clarke I remember seeing Johnny Clarke on TV some time during the early '80s and at a time when for me poetry was all that Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? malarkey.

During the late '70s Johnny Clarke brought poetry to punk by performing support slots for The Buzzcocks, Pistols and Elvis Costello dressed in a black suit with drain-pipe trousers, black shades and with dyed black, backcombed spiky hair. His performances were very different: rude, irreverent, politically incorrect and very, very funny.

Far from the comfortable cardigan carrying poets I had seen during outings to school organised poetry readings, his style was pure stand-up and peppered with anecdotes, obscure semi-random thoughts and often inappropriate gags such as,

Fancy calling it dyslexia, a word no fucker can spell!

We are the mods!

Best of all for me, Johnny Clarke was a mod. In an interview for Idler in 1996, he was asked What did you get up to in the Sixties? and replied,

I was a mod - it's the only youth cult I've ever actually been a whole hearted member of. The great thing about mod was that it was a very snobbish movement. We went to a club in Manchester called the Twisted Wheel - it was the mod club of the country. We used to get people form all over. It was the first place I heard soul music. You never heard any guitar music there - it was all Stax, Motown, Memphis Horns, Booker T and the MGs. Guitar solos not allowed. Strict dress codes, no guitars. At the Twisted Wheel, by 1965, you didn't actually call yourself a mod any more. People in Burnley called themselves mods, people with targets on their parkas. We called ourselves stylists - and shoplifting was the big national sport of the stylists. You'd go to John Michael and pinch things - £80 sunglasses. It was a full time job. Food wasn't high on the agenda, there was no hip food. You blew your wad on cloth, not even records.

Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt

Through the '80s Johnny Clarke battled an addiction to heroin and slipped further from the public eye. The most complete printed collection of his poems, 'Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt - and other poems' (Arrow/Arena Books 1983) has been out-of-print since the first edition (it's currently available on Amazon for a whopping £75.00!) and his web site too looks like a relic from the 1980s. Luckily the bard of Salford's recorded poems are easier to find and if you're interested in hearing some of his live performances from the late '70s, they have been re-released on an extended CD Ou Est La Maison Du Fromage. There are also a few audio files available on his web site including a live performance video of Health Fanatic.

I Married A Monster From Outer Space

Back then I thought that poetry is all I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, but John Cooper Clarke changed that. I'll leave you with one of my favourites and go take in my trouser legs and backcomb my barnet.

I fell in love with an alien being
whose skin was jelly, whose teeth were green.
She had the big bug eyes and the death-ray glare,
feet like water wings, purple hair.
I was over the moon, I asked her back to my place,
then I married the monster from outer space

The days were numbered, the nights were spent
in a rent-free, furnished oxygen tent,
when a cyborg chef served up moon beams,
done super rapid on a laser beam.
I needed nutrition to keep up the pace
when I married the monster from outer space

But when we went walking, tentacle in hand
you could sense that the earthlings would not understand.
They'd go... nudge nudge... when we got off the bus,
saying It's extra-terrestial, not like us
and It's bad enough with another race,
but fuck me... a monster from outer space!

In a cybernetic fit of rage
she pissed off to another age.
She lives in 1999
with her new boyfriend - a blob of slime.
Each time I see her translucent face
I remember the monster from outer space

Got stuff to add?


  1. #1 On February 12, 2006 01:45 AM Matt Robin said:

    Hmm, I wish my trips up the M6 were even half as interesting as all that! Molly was in the right car at the right time!

    (Ed says: Matt, Malarkey said "the conversation metaphorically headed up the M6 motorway".)

    (I thought you high-flying A-Lister types only got about in helicopters though? ....'Air Malarkey'? Mod colours on the tail? I could just picture that!!) :D

    (Ed says: You leave Malarkey's chopper out of this.)

  2. #2 On February 12, 2006 04:02 AM Andy Higgs said:

    John Cooper Clarke was one of a number of poets we had to study for GCSE English four or five years ago. His poetry was the most original of all the samples (compared to the traditional Ted Hughes and Simon Armatige). Anyone who compares their love to a vacuum cleaner or Ford Cortina goes down as a good laugh in my list. Didn't he also do something about the bronze adonis?

  3. #3 On February 12, 2006 09:03 AM Matthew Pennell said:

    I've always liked his haiku:

    To convey one's mood
    With seventeen syllables
    Is very diffi

  4. #4 On February 12, 2006 10:36 AM patrick h. lauke said:

    from the title in my feed reader, i thought for a moment that this was going to be about me...

  5. #5 On February 12, 2006 06:20 PM Phil Sherry said:

    I use to have I Married A Monster From Outer Space on orange vinyl. It was kinda triangular. No idea where it is these days, though.

  6. #6 On February 12, 2006 10:54 PM Matt Robin said:

    Oh yeah...forgot the 'metaphorically' bit..hehehehe (still - discussing that stuff while going up the M6 would be a good thing!)

    Malarkey's Chopper! hahahaha :D

  7. #7 On February 12, 2006 11:22 PM Mark Harris said:

    Thanks for the memories - I'd almost forgotten the unique style of JCC. I now have a bunch of stuff to listen to

  8. #8 On February 13, 2006 12:21 AM Chris said:

    I hope you did your best impression of a Yorkshire accent; ee-by-gum and all that stuff!

  9. #9 On February 15, 2006 11:44 AM JackP said:

    For me, my JCC preference depends on mood. Sometimes I'd go for the more political Beasley Street ("Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies in a box on Beasley Street") or sometimes the ... I hesitate to use the phrase, but I think it's probably appropriate ... ahem... zany, madcap romp that is The Day My Pad Went Mad.

  10. #10 On February 15, 2006 12:49 PM Robert Castelo said:

    I keep seeing him around here, does he live in Shepherds Bush?

    Good thing about his 'look' is that it's hard to see any ageing, bit like Andy Warhol.