STAGE REVIEW: John Cooper Clarke @ Sage Gateshead (30.04.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Veteran punk, enigmatic enigma, mystified wordsmith and celebrated pioneer of the craft, the legendary John Cooper Clarke snaked his way onto Sage Gateshead’s stage. 

With limbs as thin as cigarettes, the attenuate poet let out a crooked smile as he arrived, grasping the mic stand between his fingers. With the stage almost barren, and only a copy of Clarke’s most recent poetic publication, The Luckiest Guy Alive, on hand as a prompt for the performer, all the eyes in the theatre latched immediately onto the iconic artist. Now in his 70s, the writer has seen the world in a myriad of incarnations and has lived through its extremities, with a notorious history surrounding turbulent struggles with drugs, finance and love, and while each of these struggles certainly moulded and flavoured the night’s performance, none of them distracted from it. 

Razor sharp, Clarke dazzles from the off with his hypnotic control of language purring out in his beloved Mancunian accent. Essentially a stand-up routine, Clarke romps through stories and misadventures that cover a multitude of life’s greater themes, from age, substance abuse, change and marriage. With every turn, the consummate performer has a plethora of wry retorts chiselled and prepared, raring to go. With each turn of phrase seemingly moulded to perfection, it was an honour to be in the presence of one of entertainment’s greatest speakers, showcasing his verbal fireworks with finesse and charm.  

Shining a light on poems old and new, ranging from Clarke classics like Beasley Street or  Evidently Chickentown to new absurdities that were equally quirky and endearing. Where the occasional crack did show, Clarke’s mind maybe struggled to keep up with his mouth on occasion, as he rocketed through poems only to find himself slightly lost halfway through, but these hiccups were seldom damming to the energy, conviction and charisma that epitomises his career.  Rambling across the hour, in between poems would see the writer filling the time with sprawling tales and anecdotes that had a tendency to divert from the streamlined and robust script Clarke had forged. Jokes that may have felt dated in the mouth of another performer felt renewed and refreshed as punchlines flung out of every angle with a nimble agility and consistency. 

Where age may have restricted aspects of Clarke’s performance, it certainly hasn’t interrupted his rapid fire lung capacity, his acid tongue or his staggering overflow of charisma.  

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