INTERVIEW: John Cooper Clarke | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Arguably the seminal voice of punk, and an underground poet whose influence reaches from Alex Turner to Mark E Smith, John Cooper Clarke will bring his I Wanna Be Yours Tour to Stockton’s ARC on Thursday 28th and Sage Gateshead on Saturday 30th April.

The tour follows the release of his wry autobiography. “The lockdown served me well, giving me time to focus on my memoir, but yet again, it didn’t serve me well as it gave everyone else the time to focus on theirs!” He quips.

The velvet voice of discontent captured the eyes and ears of the 70s with his slew of acerbic recitals, rife with heart, humour and honesty. Having opened for the Sex Pistols, The Fall and a myriad of punk icons, the legacy of Doctor John is undeniable. With his audience stretching across the generations, thanks to his entrancing appearances on shows like Cats Does Countdown, the people’s poet is fuelled by a tenacious work ethic, and is eager to return to the stage. “Poetry is a phonetic medium, rhythm and sound is the essence of poetry. If there is such a thing as a poetry establishment, that loose collection of artists with a classical education, they may twist it into something arcane and analytical. I’m no performer, but I think poetry is there to be recited and experienced.” 

Poetry is a phonetic medium, rhythm and sound is the essence of poetry. I’m no performer, but I think poetry is there to be recited and experienced

The Northern hero is ‘‘wilfully and deliberately ignorant” by his own account when it comes to classic poetry and Shakespeare, referring to them as “two holes you can disappear into forever” and it is evident that his influences are more immediate. “Muhammad Ali, now that’s poetry! I remember vividly seeing him on the news, clearly conjuring these golden lines off the cuff, it’s up there with the best.” 

An encyclopaedia of music and cinema alike, Clarke admits “I’ve listened to far more records than I’ve read poems!” and this is verified by the multitude of lyrics and quotes that are sprinkled into every avenue of our conversation. From lusting over the Sprechgesang techniques of Phil Harris, chuckling over the dastardly profane lyrics of Snatch & The Poontangs or reciting lines from across the Jimmy Cagney filmography, each time Clarke reminisces about an artist from his youth you can trace how their influence has trickled into the innovative and chaotic cocktail of John Cooper Clarke’s own work

Notoriously referred to as ‘The Punk Poet’ – a title which the writer concedes “didn’t do any favours in the 80s, punk was dead and the title was a plague” – his name is now synonymous with attitude, anarchy and personality. With his art focused on capturing the “magic realism” of the world surrounding him, no one else has defined an era or a movement in quite the same way. “Punk was never about altering yourself, it was liberation. That was the downfall of punk, it lasted only two years before it was commercialised and politicised. I do what I do, it can’t be changed. The title has served me well and it’s here to say. I don’t call myself the punk poet, anyone over the age of 18 shouldn’t be a punk anything! By its very nature it’s a derogatory reference to some form of undeveloped adolescence.” 

John Cooper Clarke performs at ARC, Stockton on Thursday 28th and Sage Gateshead on Saturday 30th April.



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