Me and my big mouth


As we’re getting near the end of the year, I’m trying to round up a few stray posts that I thought you may have missed. This post recounts a rather memorable hour or two in the genteel surroundings of Ilkley’s Kings Hall.

After a lot of effort, I managed to blag a free ticket for the Ilkley Literature Festival to see John Cooper Clarke (in mitigation, I thought it was sold out). You may have seen a version of this post on Culture Vultures, but I’ve been thinking about The Bard of Salford a bit recently. And I’ve chuckled to myself about some of his lines, so I thought it worth a re-visit.

I first encountered JCC at Leeds University Refectory in 1979 as part of a punk poet triple bill which included Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zephaniah (I think) and back then, he was at the forefront of shaking everything up: if musicians can tear up the musical rulebook, then why can’t writers and poets do the same? This ethos underpinned everything he did at the time and as far as I can tell, everything since then. It was a weird evening for a young art student from Bramley I can tell you, but it was the beginning of a journey for me.

These days, JCC’s work packs less of a punch because there is so much of this kind of writing out there being performed and it’s easy to forget what a visceral thrill his work was back in the late seventies and early eighties. We were easily shocked back then. JCC was the complete package: stick thin demeanor, sunglasses all the time, huge vocabulary of swearwords and an impeccable working class background from Salford.

I saw him live a couple of times and over the years, always loved his work but kind of lost touch with his newer work. When I saw that he was appearing at the Ilkley Literature Festival this year, I got it into my head that I had to go see him. After re-acquainting myself with some of his greatest hits, I headed across to Ilkley to see what’s become of him.

His act has developed from the relentless machine gun delivery of poetry of old into a more relaxed, conversational – almost stand-up comedy act. At first the slow pace of this is hard to get used to but his genuinely funny stories and one liners add light and shade to his act and do allow the poems to shine.

He’s as gloriously potty-mouthed as he always was and there was plenty for the Ilkley crowd to laugh about too. One particular location-based gag around the requirement to wear head-gear when visiting Ilkley Moor being ‘Otley Disputed went down a storm and we were in his hands from there on in.

Delivering only a handful of poems and lots of anecdotes, it seemed like this was a show that had been cut in half. The show started at 7.30, was finished with the encore by 8.45 and seemed to be just getting going – but that’s a small criticism. The old adage of leaving ‘em wanting more was never truer this evening.

When JCC did let rip with some of his well-known poems – ‘Hire Car’, ‘Beasley Street’ and the symmetrically superb ‘Beasley Boulevard’ he was really on form. A couple of new poems included a hilarious diatribe against U2’s frontman called ‘Bongo’s Trousers’ and a tickly chested ‘Guest List’ (JCC hadn’t been well, ladies and gentlemen, but he was here, for us all, laughing through the tears).

The performance was also being signed for deaf people and the signer on stage deserves an award for what has to the fastest signing I’ve ever seen. Although I couldn’t be sure that she was keeping up, it looked pretty sharp.

As the audience filed out, there were a lot of delighted faces, clearly not sure what to expect but very pleasantly surprised. Although I was captivated by the show, I would have liked to have seen more poems and I suspect that this was more about JCC getting caught out with the timings of an early, shorter show than anything else.

One reviewer recently insisted JCC had to decide whether he was a stand-up or a poet. I don’t agree. Both can work together if the balance is right. Although I would have dearly loved to see him perform ‘Kung Fu International’, ‘I married a monster from outer space’, ‘Evidently chickentown’ or even ‘Twat’, that gives me another reason to go see him again when he comes to Yorkshire again.

By the way, the title of this post refers to the first JCC album I ever bought on vinyl when I was at Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds. The album cover is at the top of the post and although a ‘compilation’ of sorts, it was truly an eye opener for me.

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