John Cooper Clarke has, arguably, not alone the best recognisable contour in actualization business, but additionally the best communicable of anapestic voices. Mention that the Bard of Salford was to appointment the Observer appointment for this account aftermost anniversary anon prompted snatches of extemporised citation from some of Clarke’s added acclaimed lyrics – I Wanna Be Yours, Evidently Chickentown, I Married a Monster from Outer Space – from those colleagues who had some accomplishments in his snarly Mancunian vowels and those who were not abashed of pretending. Nick Cohen, our columnist, bankrupt off from columnising to recite continued passages of Clarke’s ballad aboriginal committed to anamnesis aback the artist was administration spittle-flecked stages with Buzzcocks and the Sex Pistols aback in the day. Dr Clarke, as he styles himself, cutting his honorary doctorate from Salford University with pride, has consistently had that effect; to the abounding admirers of his animate performances over bristles decades, he is both abundant apish and inimitable.
He accustomed in acceptable garb: acicular boots, strides adhering to stick-insect legs, aphotic jacket, oned-up white shirt, acceptable shades, Ronnie Wood beard below a alpine blah acquainted hat. He will about-face 70 aing year. One of the added advantageous break in his anapestic career, he suggests, was that he looked like a jailbait afore jailbait bedrock arrived. He had anchored on his sartorial actualization in the absurd amphitheatre of Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club, area he acted as compere in the aboriginal 1970s, abating up an admirers affiliated by their aggregate abhorrence to achievement poetry. The accouterments was addition anatomy of angry talk, one he has ashore with in a adventure that has apparent some extremes.
Clarke absent abundant of the 1980s to a heroin addiction, aback he lived in a collapsed in Brixton with Nico, the backward accompanist and brood of the Velvet Underground; he dislikes any attack to glamorise that period, and is afraid to altercate it in detail.
A continued renaissance in the years aback has resulted in conceivably greater acceptance now than ever. His abiding UK tours – he is aloof about to commence on addition – are consistently awash out to audiences of all ages. There acquire been some battleground contest to alert this: Arctic Monkeys’ abstracted 2013 awning of I Wanna Be Yours; the use of Evidently Chickentown as the abetment in one of the best memorable sequences in box-set TV, at the end of an adventure of the final division of The Sopranos; the actuality that his balladry acquire fabricated it on to the GCSE syllabus. But mostly it is bottomward to his ablaze circuitous affecting address of a date show, which has become beneath staccato over the years. He acclimated to acquire to action his audiences to be heard; now they adhere on his every inflection.
Clarke has lived for the accomplished 25 years in Coler, Es. He speaks with adulation of the activity he has created there, apropos generally to his wife, Evie, and daughter, Stella, his allegorical lights. Admitting he has travelled a continued way from his built-in Salford, it has never larboard him. It was already empiric of Alan Bennett that the angel consistently becomes an Alan Bennett account about him. Abundant the aforementioned is accurate of Clarke, from the added ancillary of the Pennines.
I’ve interviewed him already before, that time on the telephone, and was addled how – aloof as on date – there appeared no accountable beneath the sun which he could not angle to his banana will. Abundant of that allowance lies in his voice: you can’t admonition but smile aback he talks. He came into the appointment affairs a attache and anon he sat bottomward he was unzipping it to acknowledge his latest pride and joy, a handsome hardback accumulating of his poetry, advantaged The Luckiest Guy Alive. The awning actualization a Peter Blake painting of his stick man profile, and arresting cartoon in Scrabble tiles. “Kind of community punk,” he said.
I explained to him the architecture of this interview. Some questions acquire been submitted by acclaimed admirers of his, others by Observer readers.
“Fire abroad at me at random, Tim,” he said. “Give me what you’ve got.”
I began with a catechism from one of the abounding performers who, no doubt, owe aloof a little bit of their actualization and commitment to watching Clarke with an audience, seeing how it ability be done.
Where do you get your trousers from?The abbreviate answer, Jarv, is River Island or Marks & Spencer, the skinniest they do. For a while, though, I acquire had some problems with the chic for the low-rise pant, the hipster. Now, I’m no expert, but I anticipate aback it comes to guys, the beneath said about the achievement the better. To accomplish the achievement the focal point of a brace of trousers is, to me, a actualization mistake. It was a aberration in the 60s and it doesn’t attending any bigger on some fat fuck in Shoreditch now.
My trouser needs are simple: a attenuated leg in a aphotic colour, with jean detailing. That’s addition activity I acquire consistently avoided: peg tops. I abstruse a continued time ago that if you abrasion trousers area you can put article in the pockets, you will put actuality in those pockets – and afore you apperceive it you are clad in jodhpurs. Capacious trouser pockets are like a new living-room shelf: the moment you put it up it becomes active not alone by favoured “ornaments” but by half-squeezed-out tubes of Neutrogena duke chrism and stuff. And you will animate with those items for years, center up the lounge wall. It’s the aforementioned with trouser pockets in my experience.
So, to acknowledgment Jarvis’s inquiry: by default, during the low-rise years, I strolled the feminine ambit on the arena attic of Marks & Spencer. I like a aerial waist if anything, like a flamenco dancer… that rakish, adventurous look. I acquire to acknowledge that jeggings were one solution. A abundant underrated garment, the jegging: they never charge bed-making and they authority their colour.
I begin your composition Kung Fu International on one of my dad’s jailbait CDs aback I was eight (I’m 33 now), and I bethink alert to it over and over, and pausing so I could address anniversary chat bottomward and apprentice to recite it. I acclaim this acquaintance as one that led me to a lifetime of writing. What was the aboriginal song or composition you bethink acquirements the words to?That’s a acceptable question, Michael, because that is absolutely how I did get alien to balladry – at school, Michael Gove-style. We had to apprentice The Lady of Shalott, by the late, abundant Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which was 12 pages long, and I acquire to say I am all the bigger for it. The way balladry works is this: you apprentice the complete of the words first. You are not activity to acquire The Lady of Shalott – you are a 10-year-old boy in Salford and it was accounting by a 33-year-old adolescent 150 years ago. But that’s the secret: the complete of the language, those aureate words.
To access a composition as if it is a addle to be accepted is to absence the point. And we had to apperceive the accomplished 12 pages, because on command, at any moment, you ability be alleged on to angle up and recite a accurate verse. I am abiding some of my classmates acquainted their time could acquire been added profitably spent. But I acquire to say that actualization was by no agency unanimous. We had a ablaze English abecedary alleged John Malone, who somehow conveyed his adulation of 19th-century balladry to an absolute chic of asperous kids at Higher Broughton accessory avant-garde school. And it bent on. He brought about this hothouse atmosphere of aggressive balladry recital. In the way I brainstorm that rappers after did in Compton, Los Angeles. Erstwhile louts aggravating to out-verbal anniversary other, in a flamboyant, hardly chichi way.
Tim Adams: I brainstorm you captivated your own in those battles?Oh, I was the baron of the block. It goes after saying. Those English periods were a blessed time. Apart from them, I hated every additional of school.
Who were the lyricists who aggressive you to address the way you do? That’s an able catechism too, from Ben, because lyricists acquire apparently afflicted me added than any added poets.
The aboriginal lyrics I became acquainted of would acquire been in the pre-rock’n’roll 1950s, aback my Uncle Dennis was demobbed from the RAF and he lived at our abode for a bit. He was afterpiece to my age than my parents’. He brought his accumulating of annal and a almanac player, which was new to us. He had Nat Baron Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Sinatra obviously… the abundant American songbook. Those lyrics hit me like poetry. And, again, it is bigger that you don’t apperceive what it’s about at first. Balladry is a phonetic medium. If you apprehend the lyrics to It’s Magic, that absolute developed Doris Day song, for example, you are already singing the song… they leave you no added way to go. I didn’t acquire those lyrics, but they gave me an abstraction of an developed world. And they acquire followed me all my days, because as you get beforehand you accumulate award some new ambit alike in the simplest adulation song.
TA: You were added Sinatra than Elvis aback then?No. I beggarly Elvis was a world-changing accident for me. Elvis and Frank, though, was the aboriginal glimpse of an abiding battle I could never resolve. I will never resolve.
What are your recollections of touring with the reggae artist Linton Kwesi Johnson?They are alone good, put it that way. One thing: aback I met Linton, I knew I had to bind up my d in the apparel department. He set a absolute aerial bar. Aback afresh there was alone me and him accomplishing balladry on stage, so we cranked it up a gear, not atomic because our audiences generally had no above-mentioned absorption in poetry.
I acquire addition acumen to acknowledge Linton: we went on bout calm in 1981, all about the UK, and aback we appeared in Es, that is aback my wife was aboriginal alien to my work. I didn’t accommodated her then, but she was in the audience. So: thanks, Linton! I can’t allocution that guy up enough.
Have you realised you would acquire to change absolute few lyrics of your composition The It Man for it to be a bluster about President Trump. Are you a soothsayer? Acquire you anytime apparent Our Cartoon President? It runs every teatime on television in the States. It is sensationally good, in the address of Ancestors Guy or Baron of the Hill. It is barbarous about Trump, but alike so, you can’t avoid the actuality that alike afresh he somehow still tends to arise out on top. That is the adventure of the Donald, and because in this business I abstruse continued ago you should never beating success, I can’t admonition admiring the crazy fucker in some way. Is that the abomination of the century? He has at atomic chock-full Kim Amiss Un from exploding his bombs.
What is it that address can do that stereo can’t?Hi Lauren. Well, for one thing, address could aftermath the Phil Spector “wall of sound”. You couldn’t acquire that in stereo. That august coffer of french horns bleeding into a blend of cellos and strings. I tend to animate by the adage “less is more”, but that address complete accepted added can be more. It is additionally added accurate to life. If you went to see a band, the Beatles, the Stones, they were up there on the stage; you would artlessly apprehend all the complete to arise from their accepted direction. What do you appetite to acquire to the bass amateur over your larboard acquire for? Stereo is some alarmist twiddling his knobs. The alone stereo I like is a jukebox: two speakers but both on the aforementioned allotment of furniture. Phil Spector is acutely out of apportionment appropriate now, but I am befitting the acceptance alive. Stereo, my ass.
What is the adversity act you opened for, and why? Caius Caligula? Is that a date name? I achievement so. Adversity act? I ambition I had an answer. Actualization business isn’t accessible and it aimlessly goes adjoin the atom to do my adolescent performers down. But let’s arbor our brains. Surely there’s some asleep bloke? No. The accuracy is, Caligula, if I was aperture for them, they were bigger than I was. Otherwise they would acquire been aperture for me.
Which of your balladry are you best affronted with?Well, that is a about able catechism from Christopher, who did a memorable achievement of Evidently Chickentown in that Danny Boyle blur Strumpet, accounting by Jim Cartwright. And aback you ask, Chickentown is amid my favourites, not atomic because of that and its actualization in the penultimate adventure of The Sopranos. There is no greater approval for me.
Is Chickentown about Stevenage? I never put a bounded brand on it. I amount any boondocks in the accomplished angel has an agnate of the aces neighbourhood I describe. I wasn’t cerebration of Stevenage, admitting I did animate there for a brace of years. Bodies acclimated to go on about how apathetic activity in those new towns was, but that was not my acquaintance of Stevenage. I anticipation it was fabulous: abundant amenities and abundantly fenestrated new houses, with acceptable garages. That movie, Actuality We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, starring Barry Evans, for which Traffic did the theme, was set there. Barry Evans and his adolescent accompany were all mods in a mod town.
I was in Salford aback I saw that. And I thought: “Wow, brainstorm actuality adolescent and active in a mod boondocks like Stevenage!” And afresh I did for a brace of years. And the bodies weren’t “soulless” at all; they were absolutely affectionate in my recollection.
You wrote [in the burden in Chickentown] “the fucking alternation is fucking late, you fucking wait, you fucking wait” aback in the backward 1970s. How abundant has privatisation bettered or worsened things? It’s an able question, Phil, not atomic because I am old abundant to acquire a absolute angle of the railways, but not yet too old to acquire absent my anamnesis of how things were. You couldn’t acquire asked me at a bigger juncture. British Rail, like any monopoly, had assuredly got complacent. The standards weren’t high. There is no agnosticism that you can get a bigger cup of coffee aback privatisation; you’d acquire waited a continued time for an espresso in 1975. And the clandestine area has upped the standards of avenue retail in general, which acclimated to abide of a brace of burst cig machines.
I hardly anytime get the trains these days, but I apperceive one activity for a fact: they should absorb a few billion on convalescent the accepted arrangement rather than on HS2. Who on angel needs to get to Maner 15 account quicker? No one can be that busy. And afresh aback you access at the alleged Northern Powerhouse, you will acquisition you can’t get a alternation to Blackpool or Burnley for about two years. It will be Murder on the Bus Replacement Service. There they are, bulldozing these admirable villages so addition can get to Maner division of an hour earlier. Who anytime asked for that? I’m cerebration of denial my tax until they alarm a arrest to HS2. Why not Skype if you are that agog to affix at speed?
TA: Do you do abundant Skyping?Never. I don’t acquire the equipment. But theoretically, on planet Bizarro, area Superman is bad and Lex Luther is good, that is what I would do.
I apparent your music and announced chat aback I was a teenager, and it was absolute adorning to me. What acumen would you admit to adolescent girls who attending up to you in 2018?Young girls who attending up to me? Well, Kate, my aboriginal anticipation is: they should acquisition somebody else. I’ve never been acceptable at advice. I’ve done aggregate the amiss way. If you had any faculty you wouldn’t attending to me for any activity lessons.
What’s your favourite word? Mine is “arbitrary”… I accumulate acceptation to get a favourite word. Anybody seems to acquire one. My acknowledgment is this, though: they all acquire their uses; it’s consistently a amount of context.
Was Jon the Postman the absolute articulation of Maner?I’d acutely altercate not, Jason. Jon the Postman would ascend up on date at any gig he abounding and do an ad-lib a cappella adaptation of Louie Louie by the Kingsmen. That achievement assuredly fabricated him a accepted amount in the Maner pub arena of the mid-1970s. I anticipate he confused to the States for a while, but I’m not abiding the act travelled with him. He knew my brother, who still works for the GPO, the Royal Mail, so we acquire a bit of baggage, you ability say. For that reason, conceivably I am not best placed to considerately barometer the ambiguous address of Jon the Postman.
You helped the Fall in the aboriginal days, absolution them rehearse in your house, and you were a constant acquaintance of the added Bard of Salford, Mark E Smith. Was there anytime any allocution of you aing the Fall?Are you kidding? I’m self-employed, my friend. I didn’t get into actualization business to be pushed about by the brand of Mark E Smith. Accepting said that, every apotheosis of the Fall had article different, but the one activity they all had in accepted was the amazing animate act that was Mark Smith. He was a abracadabra realist appropriate to the end. He had it all.
Is “Vince the ageing Savage, [who] betrays no affectionate of life, but the aroma of yesterday’s banknote and the apparition of aftermost year’s wife” in Beasley Artery based on anyone in particular?
I should say that all my characters are an admixture or something, Craig, but Vince was the adolescent in the bench accommodation aback I lived in Plymouth for a while, absolute name Frank. Every time I saw him he had a meat-cleaver in his duke and the attending of a man who ability acquire been Henry Cooper’s certifiable kid brother. It is fair to say we were not on all-embracing speaking terms. I acquire he remained blind of my anapestic tribute.
Was Nico accessible to animate with? Yes. She was exemplary. You wouldn’t acquire accepted she was there.
Did you anytime anticipate you could stop application accurately [heroin]? I charge some encouragement. It can be done, clearly, but it ain’t easy. I like to say I did it in two ways: gradually, and suddenly. The actuality is you charge help, though. My bulletin is consistently the same: don’t alike do it once. I anticipate it is alarming to anticipate it is annihilation to do with accepting an “addictive personality” or any of that locks. Anyone would dig it. Anybody. Why? Because it is aces the aboriginal time. Don’t anytime do it. And, gadus, acceptable luck with your attempts to rid yourself of this abhorrent affliction. I adjure that you are successful.
What is on your addition [dressing allowance appeal list] these days? The sad accuracy is I never get to pick. It is the assignment of my abiding manager, Phil Jones. It is things that he ability eat if he anytime did about-face up to my show: which is to say assorted heavily flavoured, deep-fried, abundantly absolute chaw treats. And cheese and chutney sandwiches. I occasionally ask him about it: “In all my years on the road, Phil, acquire you anytime apparent me eat a cheese and chutney sandwich, or a distinct Dorito?” I’m no snacker. I don’t graze. If I acquire a cup of coffee, I’ll sit bottomward at a table. I abhorrence that idea: bistro on the go. It’s like men cutting abbreviate trousers. Area will it end? But if I were anytime to be asked for my addition requirements they ability able-bodied absorb a box of Mr Kipling’s French Fancies, which I would backing for a 3am snack. Pink first, afresh yellow. The amber ones I’d accord away. Otherwise, I ask for the accoutrement for a gin and tonic.
When you aboriginal started out, did you get date fright? And if so, how did you action it?I didn’t get it too bad. Partly that was because anytime aback I was a jailbait I had been demography what you ability alarm pep pills, so I was consistently a little bit artificially active up aback I absolved out on stage. This was at Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club in Maner. It wasn’t easy: it is an aberrant act to get out there and draw that abundant absorption to yourself. My acknowledgment aback afresh would be, as they say, to be hopped up on fail balls. But aback then, now I don’t get a bad time from hecklers, and consistently adore the adulation of the poetry-reading public, it has become a abundant added airy affair.
As an admirers affiliate I apperceive what I get from watching you perform. However, I am absorbed in what you get out of it. Do you get some aspect of analysis from autograph and assuming your poetry?
No. No way do I anytime access my assignment as a way of animate out my own problems. Abounding bodies acquire told me that they do use the autograph of balladry to apply their apperception on some acute abstract problem. But not me. I anticipate of it added like Tin Pan Alley work.
The accuracy is I’m not aloof a practitioner of balladry aback I am on stage… I am like the police: never off-duty. It is a adventurous picture, that abstraction of Cole Porter consistently autograph lyrics on the aback of cigarette packs and menus. But that is absolutely the way I do it, befitting that dream alive. I don’t try to explain it. As the abundant Bill Withers already said, “the autograph of songs involves a affectionate of abracadabra I don’t blend with”.
TA: Would not accomplishing it anytime be an option?Not for me. Autograph is the prism through which you see the world. Annihilation can bang you off.
To booty one of my added accepted poems, Beasley Street: I formed my way aback on that one. I had the aftermost line. The arrangement was the 1933 Busby Berkeley cine 42nd Street. The big assembly cardinal at the end concludes, you recall, “Naughty, bawdy, gaudy, sporty, Forty-second Street”. And I anticipation I would do that, but with a awful street. I spent absolutely a while cerebration of the appropriate adjectives: greasy, abominable and so on, and afresh looked for a artery name that bass in, but was credible. And there it was: Beasley, allurement for it.
I absolutely like the abstraction of actuality a anapestic hack. I acquire it’s the affectionate of activity Charles Baudelaire aspired to: you know, the guy with the overview, a mirror absorption the absolute Parisian crowd.
Every man Jacques of them.
Have you anytime been offered an honour by the Queen, Sir John? I’ve never been offered an honour by the Queen, but I’d be blessed to accept.
How do you feel about Brexit… not the applesauce arch up to it, but the absolute exit?I don’t alike appetite to allocution about it, to be honest. I abhorrence the chat itself. Aback it aboriginal started to arise on the advanced of the cardboard – the Guardian was the adversity blackmailer – by the time I begin out what it meant I was too affronted to appetite to anticipate about it. I apperceive for abounding bodies our abandonment from the EU is the adversity activity that’s anytime happened. For me, I anticipate it ability about-face out to acquire some ability – but don’t get me wrong, my wife is French and bisected of my daughter’s ancestors animate in France. We go and see them and they arise and see us and we account from bland bound controls. But if you ask me, I do anticipate the chargeless movement of animate bodies has impacted abominably on the atomic associates of our society, which is bad for both the immigrant workers and bad for our workers, because it has apprenticed bottomward accomplishment and conditions.
What are your animosity about Jaywick?Don’t get me started on Jaywick. It is a affectionate of a dream town, as I’m abiding Wilko knows, advancing as he does from adjacent Canvey Island. Jaywick is aing to Clacton on the Es coast. It was created originally as a anniversary place. Every actualization of English burghal abode is represented there, but all at two-thirds scale. They were congenital as anniversary chalets, but bodies now animate assuredly in them. The Kray ancestors had a thole there. Aback I confused to Es, amid the aboriginal things anybody said was “Don’t anytime go to Jaywick, it’s a toilet”. But I abiding my wife to drive me there one weekend and on accession I angry to her and said: “We’ve never been actuality before, sweetheart, but I abiding acquire dreamed about this place.” The streets are all sand. There are two pubs: the Three Jays and the Sheldrake. If anamnesis serves, you are hardly safer in the Three Jays. The activity of the big acreage is the abundant British automotive industry: Wolseley Drive and Morris Alley and Austin Crescent. Accumulate it quiet, but I plan to accomplish a cine in Jaywick some day.
What’s your favourite gig venue, and why?It has to be the London Palladium, at which I acquire the honour of actualization afresh aing month. That’s the gold standard, not aloof for me, but worldwide. Attending who’s played there: Nat Baron Cole, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, you name them. Aback Lenny Bruce was bargain to accomplishing little 100-seat nightclubs he had this accomplished ablaze accepted about a done actor who’s accustomed one aftermost chaw of the apple. His agent’s saying: “Don’t go blame it up again, you’re aperture for Doris Day at the London Palladium.” And why did Lenny accept the Palladium for that routine? Because he was assured that in whatever borscht-belt dive he begin himself they’d anon get the reference: “Hey, that’s the abode the Queen of England goes.” What a adventure walking out there. If it’s true, as I affirmation in the appellation composition of my book, that I am the Luckiest Guy Alive, it’s for two reasons. First, there’s my calm situation, my admirable wife and family. And afresh this added activity area I am actualization at the Palladium. The Luckiest Guy Alive? I blow my case.
• The Luckiest Guy Animate by John Cooper Clarke is appear by Picador (£14.99). To adjustment a archetype for £12.89 go to guardianbookshop.com or alarm 0330 333 6846. Chargeless UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99. Click actuality for bout details
• John Cooper Clarke will be ablution The Luckiest Guy Animate at an absolute account with Q&A affair at Hoxton Hall, London N1, on 1 November. Tickets accessible here
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