‘I’m worth more dead than alive’

Motor mouth: John Cooper Clarke
Motor mouth: John Cooper Clarke
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TO SAY John Cooper Clarke’s has a signature style would be an understatement. Unmistakeable in his dark shades, tight-fitting black suit and the Dylan ’66 hairstyle that defies both gravity and the ageing process, his satirical, hard-hitting and devastatingly funny poems and routines have never lost their bite since he burst onto the scene in the late 1970s.

Nor has his cadaverous appearance changed much, give or take half-a-dozen gold teeth. As he is wont to say, “I’m worth more dead than alive.”

In the early years, with a CBS record deal that pitched him at the charts, he had a backing band, the Invisible Girls. But Cooper Clarke stepped back from the mainstream long ago to work solo, relying on a machine-gun delivery and a wit honed in verbal combat with unruly, spitting punks in rowdy clubs.

He lists Bob Hope, the one-time television talking horse Mister Ed and French poet Charles Baudelaire among his influences, while Arctic Monkey frontman Alex Turner makes no secret of his admiration for Cooper Clarke’s work.

Of Turner, the poet says, “I met the lad about two weeks before they went global. He told me they were in a band called Arctic Monkeys.

“I thought here is a band speaking my language. There’s a whole wide world in those two words. Arctic Monkeys - a monkey in the Arctic - that’s terrible! I mean, good Lord, get that monkey out of there!” Last year he was the subject of a BBC4 TV documentary, Evidently Chickentown, title of the poem that was once featured in The Sopranos. He’s appeared as himself in two movies – Control - a biopic of Ian Curtis of Joy Division - and Ill Manors, where he performed Pity the Plight of Young Fellows. A book of his poems Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt, out-of-print for years, has just been re-published and now he is even on the GCSE syllabus.

There will be some of the old stuff on Sunday night, but expect a lot of new, topical material. He might say “I’ve made a religion of indolence. I eat a third of a Mars bar a day to help me rest”, but the Bard of Salford, now resident in Essex, has been busy.

JP Bean