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Tuesday 19 April 2022

I Wanna Be Your Vacuum Cleaner

I went to see John Cooper Clarke at the rarefied environs of the Bridgewater Hall on Thursday night, an evening of poetry compered by legendary former- Clash road manager Johnny Green, resplendent in suit and thick rimmed glasses. Johnny kicked us off with the first poet, Luke Wright. Luke has published upteen poems and performed up and down the country and on radio. His poem These Boots Aren’t Made For Walking is funny, the Cooper Clarke influence evident in the rapid fire rhymes. He talks about being a parent and the sneering condescension of his ten year old son towards him (‘it’s like living with Stewart Lee’ he quipped) and counters this with the joys of watching children learning to read. He is funny and sharp and in Dad Reins, moving. He explains the background to and then recites his poem inspired by French situationists The Oulipo who demanded restrictions and constraints be placed on artforms rather than absolute free expression. His poem, Ron’s Knock Off Shop, written using only one vowel, O, a tale of London and Bolton is funny and clever (but not too clever). Luke was inspired by JCC aged 17 and his influence is evident but Luke Wright has a style and tone of his own too, honed from a young age from his home in Colchester, Essex.

Manchester’s own Mike Garry performs a poetic tour de force, an emotive set with tributes to his Mum, to the primary school teacher who taught him to read and to dream, and his famous, tearjerking tribute to Tony Wilson, St Anthony. I’ve seen Mike Garry twice before but here, on the big stage with the perfect acoustics of a chamber orchestra’s home, he is in a class of his own. Very much a home town hero, he reads God Is A Manc and breaks off with asides and comments, then dropping straight back into the poem. 

Garry often wanders away from the mic, singing lines of poetry and songs as preludes to the next poem and he gazes upwards, as if seeking inspiration from on high. His poems are honest, real and heartfelt, written from experience of growing up in south Manchester in the 70s and 80s, littered with references to this town and its people (‘Gorton girls know all the words to songs by Chaka Khan’), occasionally sentimental and always affecting. I always find St Anthony moving, especially when listening to the Weatherall remix where Andrew Weatheralll, 80s New Order, Factory and Manchester’s cultural history get bound together in rhyme- it often moves me. In my current emotional state, hearing and seeing Mike perform the poem leaves me wiping my eyes. 

John Cooper Clarke appears after the interval, big cap, long hair, shades and the tightest jeans in the building and launches into his familiar rapid fire, motoric performance poetry, from the streets of Salford (Higher Broughton to be exact) in the late 70s to his recent elevation to national treasure status. The between poem asides, jokes and commentary are as much part of the act as the poems and he doesn’t disappoint- it's a well honed act, clinging to the microphone with his knock kneed stance, firing straight into Hire Car and then Get Back On Drugs You Fat Fuck. He veers between newer stuff and his classics, (I Married) A Monster From Outer Space followed by Bedblocker Blues- age is clearly on his mind as he plays the nations venues after two years of gigs delayed by Covid aged 73.

Beasley Street is rattled out and then followed by the updated Beasley Boulevard, the late 70s slum life contrasted with 2020s gentrification. He reads poems about cars and pies and slows down the pace slightly with I’ve Fallen In Love With My Wife. Throughout the show he frequently flips into a New Yoik accent, this inspired by the films of his youth and the huge tip of the that that came his way when The Sopranos came calling and used his poetry over the end of one of the episodes of the box set, binge TV proto-series. 

The poem in question, Evidently Chicken Town closes the set,

‘The fucking pies are fucking old
The fucking chips are fucking cold
The fucking beer is fucking flat
The fucking flats have fucking rats
The fucking clocks are fucking wrong
The fucking days are fucking long
It fucking gets you fucking down
Evidently chicken town’

There is an encore, which occurs after the briefest of exits- ‘I was gonna milk it’, he says, ‘but there were stairs off the stage’- and gives us Twat, the laugh out loud funny stream of bile, line after line of invective building to the one word finale before finishing with the flipside of Twat, the Yin to Twat’s Yang, I Wanna Be Yours. 

I Wanna Be Yours

Handily, Jezebell (Jesse Fahnestock and Darren Bell) have just done an edit of Evidently Chicken Town, a murky, thumping acid stew poured onto and around John Cooper Clarke. You can get it from Paisley Dark here


Webbie - FootieAndMusic said...

I saw JCC once down in that London. We were in Tower Records browsing the soundtracks and I looked up for a second and immediately froze. Couldn't move, just unintentionally stared at the man himself on the other side. The missus was next to me and asked me what's wrong and then couldn't speak either. Eventually he looked straight at me; "Alright cocker?" and moved on.
After he left I took her to the section with his CD's, it was easier to show her than trying to explain.

Webbie - FootieAndMusic said...

Sorry forgot to add, brilliant review.

The Swede said...

A marvellous review Adam, of what must've been an glorious evening's entertainment.

Swiss Adam said...

Thanks both. And that's an excellent anecdote Webbie.