John Cooper Clarke
John Cooper Clarke has been writing and reciting his poetry for over 30 years and for many he is the alternative poet laureate. With a mixture of dry humour and human observation his stature remains undiminished despite the passage of time. He will be appearing at the Globe in Cardiff on Saturday 27 th November and with this in mind we spoke to John by phone and asked him about his life and work.
Who would you say inspired you to start writing poetry?
It was mostly 19th century poets such as Shelley, Keats and poems such as "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Proper rhyming and storytelling. I also really liked John Betjeman. The beatnik poets of the time I was at school did have an impact, but it was mostly older poets. I also read some of the French poets such as Rimbaud and Baudelaire.
What's your working method for your writing?
I never start with a message. Poetry can be used in that way, but it is not the way I work. I usually start with a title. For instance ' Beasley Street' was inspired by the song "42 nd Street" that featured in the1930s film by Busby Berkeley. It contained a big song and dance number that ended with the line "naughty, gaudy 42 nd street". That inspired me to write the line "Uneasy, cheesy, greasy, queasy" then thought what would rhyme with that? I came up with Beasley Street and then constructed the words from there.
Of the work you have published/recorded which piece of work are you most proud of?
If I read my work I usually find things wrong with them! I am probably most proud of ' Evidently Chickentown' mostly because it was used in the TV series the Sopranos which, after the Simpsons, is probably TV's finest hour.
You have worked with some pretty amazing names from the last 30 years opening for acts such as the original Sex Pistols, New Order, Joe Strummer to name but a few. Who was the most interesting one you worked with and why?
Most interesting was probably the Fall. I have always liked them and found them fascinating. They always rocked. As John Peel put it so succinctly 'always different, always the same'. Although I never worked with them I have always loved the Ramones. They were quite traditional and consequently they don't sound old fashioned.
You seem to have had a lyrical impact on a lot of younger musicians, such as Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys. How do you react when people cite you as an influence?
When I hear that young people such as Plan B or Alex Turner like my work it is very gratifying. Some of my poems have been on the GCSE syllabus which is fantastic as that is how I got into poetry in the first place. So when people like Alex Turner get into my work having studied it at school I think it's great.
It's been 28 years since your last album. Surely its time for another one by now.
I have a lot of work that I would like to put out so there should be a new book and a retrospective CD next year. I also appear in Plan B's new film. He's a fan of my work and personally wanted me to be in it.
You have a very strong image how did it develop?
I have looked and dressed like this since I was 16. It's been in and out of fashion at least 3 times.
For someone who has never seen you live and is contemplating coming to see you live what can they expect from a John Cooper Clarke gig in 2010?
The audiences I get are entirely trans generational, very diverse which I think is great. There will be some new gags and poems. I don't try and analyse what I do. It will be more of the same!
If John Cooper Clarke was the poet laureate what would you do?
I would get a new law passed creating a national poetry day making it compulsory for everyone to speak in verse on that day.
A final thought
For me poetry is the best possible words in the best possible order. It has to have some sort of groove to it. It is language with its best suit on.
Recommended CDs and books
Disguise in Love (1978)
Snap, Crackle & Bop (1980)
Zip Style Method (1982)
Ten years in an open necked shirt