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.




M1, M42, M5

the steady rythm of motorway miles

is unusually welcome.

The thrum of the engine

eating up the miles

A road trip as a salve




Five hours of travel,

ready conversation ebbs and flows

new stories, old information

gladly retold.

Kernow appears in the dip of a valley

Belatedly, unexpectedly.


Mawgan Porth.


Fresh modernism contrasts

the cheerful seaside

The houses hunched, crouched

betray the winter storms

Nobody lives here.




Gulls wheel and bicker

rooks fuss and bark

the muffle, bored lilt of a lifeguard

surfers to the left, swimmers in the middle.




Impossible wetsuits

spin cycle surf

platefuls of foam

laughing, laughing




Warm cotton against revitalised skin

sun, sea and salt sting my cheeks

the last gasp of summer

cold, pink wine incongruous

in plastic




Basking in the warmth, cyan sky

wood fired hot tubs


only the small logs will do

says the surfer

they get going alright


St. Mawes.


Secret Garden

Cloistered privacy

Red wine and walnut whips

the gulls now creak


The promise of sex

weighs heavy in this place

or maybe thats me,


everyone’s at it in a place like this

Sing ye from the hillsides

Sing ye from the hillsides

Sweeping moorland, three counties on view

Insistent wind from the North.

Generator turning, turning.

Keeping the lights on

And the beer flowing.

Cosy tent, in the lee of a rock

Out of the way.

Hand made egg mayonnaise, salty capers,

You definitely need two layers,

Sea Power sound check.

Warm in the pub, fire lit

Summer hasn’t arrived up here,

No matter what the BBC says.

Signal high up, none among the outcrop

Flimsy perimeter fence dances,

Plastic ribbons, waving flags,

Waving goodbye.

Cool bag gets colder,

Transistor music seeps across the moor.

Content to be still, quiet

No wristwatch, no time

Who cares?

Barman says its it’s going to blow tonight,

Taps the barometer authoritatively,

See 20 mph already, he says laughing.

Tent pitched in a scooped out hollow,

Sheltering from the sky

Close the flap, respite from

The landscape, never ending.

Poetry and Parking Fines

On Friday night we went along to the opening night of the very first Sheffield poetry festival. We made the whole evening even more complete by eating at The Milestone before the readings (if you haven’t been yet, it’s fabulous, just go) and then we soaked up the culture at The Showroom in Sheffield’s cultural quarter.

Headlining poet was Marsden’s most famous son (I think), Simon Armitage, who I have seen before in rock band mode with his 80’s throwback outfit The Scaremongers. This was a concert I despised, by the way, and yet subsequently loved the album – go figure.

Alongside the almost Laureate was a couple of local poets, Ed Reiss from Bradford and Nell Farrell from Sheffield.

Ed was up first, nervous and edgy. Clearly not as practised as other poets, his prose was fast and modern. His experience as an educated white lad living in BD10 had a large influence on his nervously delivered but powerful collection.

Nell was up next: middle-aged, relaxed, funky in a Mohican kind of way. The laughs she delivered came as a welcome antidote to Ed’s confrontational and challenging prose. I was so taken with the title of her most recent pamphlet that I bought it. I love that they use and indeed revere this word in poetry – pamphlet in the normal world is peripheral and transient, but somehow in poetry it is a badge of permanence.

The title of Nell’s pamphlet is ‘A Drink With Camus After The Match’ which caught my ear, given we’d read “L’Etranger” last year in book club, one of Camus’ most well-known books. Camus was a footballer for those of you with lives and I just like the link –  it made me smile – like Nell’s poetry.

Next up was the man himself, poetry royalty, here in Sheffield. Armitage is one of the modern greats and his unpredictable performance was bang on the money. He said he’s never read new stuff before, that he’s always ‘called on his little darlings’ – the previously published banker poems that always give the punters what they want. Fair play to the boy – he delved into new work that was slow and reflective, speaking of night shifts ending in bus shelters and mortality looming. He did dig out a couple of crowd pleasers at the end of his set including Sir Gawain – just as Mozza would play Girlfriend in a Coma or Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now to the faithful acolytes.

Armitage’s flat vowells and deadpan delivery was note perfect and not even a gang of curious booze hounds pressing at the window could put him off his pace – this was an impressively relaxed performance, delivering fireworks and mundanity in equal measure. He knows how to read his work, that’s for sure, and I wonder what Ed Reiss might be like when he’s had as much experience – quite good I expect.

Finally, I thought I’d have a go at explaining the second half of the title of this post, in the form of a stanza…

Stuck to the windscreen, we didn’t see it

A parking ticket

But we thought it was free

From a reliable source, from Sheffield

via Leeds.

Perfect Evening

We recently enjoyed an evening in the avuncular company of Felix Dennis, erstwhile publisher and now fully fledged poet. The tour was superbly monikered ‘Did I mention the free wine tour’ and as promised the sensibly priced ticket did include as much fine wine as one could manage.

Bizarrely set in The Birdcage nightclub (famous in Leeds for transvestite cabaret) this was an edifying and thoughtful evening incongruously set in a basement nightclub in Leeds city centre.

Felix Dennis is genuinely a poet of the people and seeing him read his work was a revelation. His prose is accessible, simple and unpretentious and his readings bring alive the words and bring depth of meaning into every sentence.

If you get the chance read his work or better still, try and catch him live.

Here’s one of my favourites, click this link if you’d like to hear him read it

Perfect Day

Today was one of the best days of my life.
Nothing of any importance occurred—
I cut my finger on a paperknife
And marvelled at a busy hummingbird
Plucking out wet moss by a waterfall;
Broke bread with friends and shared a glass of wine;
Wrote this poem; swam; made love. That’s all.
Why should it be some days erect a shrine,
A cairn, a white stone day, in memory?
Is it, as Buddhists claim, a lack of need,
Or want— or simple serendipity —
The perfect flowering of one small seed?
   The wise will say our frames are none too pure:
   How many perfect days could we endure?