Last night, I was one of dozens of appreciative Limerick giggers and liquor-lovers who congregated upstairs at Dolan’s to witness the Salford performance poet John Cooper Clarke as he wowed the audience with his wonderful words and tickled our funny bones with his tantalising tales and volumes of verse. Shortly after 10.00pm, the tall, thin Mancunian appeared at the back door carrying a white carrier bag provided by Word Magazine and ambled towards the sparsely-populated stage. Born in Salford in 1949, Clarke was one of numerous artists who benefitted from the advent of punk rock in the late seventies. He was part of the Manchester scene that spawned the likes of Buzzcocks and Joy Division and opened for many associated acts at this time. In 1978, he released his debut record, Où est la maison de fromage?, an album that contained both studio recordings and live performances. His distinctive style comprised of scattergun lyrics delivered in a fast-paced rap and backed with rudimentary instruments. His wry observations on local life and popular culture were full of alliteration and heavy on rhyme and owed a great debt to similar techniques employed by Bob Dylan on his Subterranean Homesick Blues single. Clarke’s visual style was, and remains, reminiscent of Dylan’s look during the mid-sixties
By 1982, he had released a further four records along with a compilation album. I own copies of two of these: the Disguise in Love LP (pictured) and the Snap, Crackle & Bop CD. The songs on these albums built upon the styles and themes of his first album and included some of his best work, including (I Married a) Monster from Outer Space, Evidently Chickentown and, a personal favourite, Salome Maloney. He performed less frequently throughout the eighties as he devoted his time to developing a successful heroin habit. His live show is now interspersed with puns and one-liners and has become a cross between performance poetry and stand-up comedy. He opened his set last night with his comedy routine and had the audience in stitches with his perfect delivery and dead-pan style. Occasionally, he threw in some of his shorter pieces, including a funny haiku and a limerick about Limerick that didn’t rhyme and wasn’t even about Limerick! Eventually, he gave us some of his longer poems and a capella versions of the songs from those earlier albums. Twat and Beasley Street were two of the numbers that brought appreciative rounds of applause from the audience and he even treated us to an impressive sequel to the latter one. He read this poem from one of three large, dog-eared, hard-backed notebooks that he would draw upon throughout the night. He ended the show with a wonderful take on possibly his best-known piece, Evidently Chickentown. A fucking brilliant fucking gig!