Thursday, June 01, 2006

Artists Spotlight #1 John Cooper Clarke

back in the early '80's the post-punk, new wave scene was at it's zenith. with the demise of punk, brought about by the death of the Sex Pistols,
the late-breaking news that being 'against' everything and 'for' nothing eventually leads to a philosophical dead-end and the actual improvement
in the quality of material produced by the seminal punk bands, the industry was looking for a new, next-big-thing. a new wave, so to speak. and for
a few years there, it was just like heaven. a time where anything went and we went to anything.

the scene contained a plethora of disparate elements. punk fractured into about 10 different formats; reggae and ska gave us the Clash and the
Specials; the minimalists came out sounding like the Ramones (if they played fast) or the artistes like Talking Heads and Magazine (if they didn't);
the hardcore scene went underground and out of that grew the Industrial/techno bands Skinny Puppy, Cabaret Voltaire and the likes of Bauhaus and Joy Division and Ministry,leading up to NIN today.
there was electronic dance music or synth pop in the form of SOft Cell and Human League...pop dance music from Cyndi Lauper to Boy George.

a little bit of something for everyone. there was a long list of "15 minutes (or less) of fame" bands like Mi-Sex, The Fast,Split Enz, Icehouse and
John Otway. and that barely includes the freak acts...of which i saw a few. prime among them would be Wayne County and, or Jayne County and the Electric
Chairs, depending on what side of the knife you saw the show (i got both). also the sexually confusing Rough Trade...i mean, i like the S&M/leather look
but those songs about rubbing other girls...quite the dissonance. we still had boys who wanted to be rocknroll stars so The Romantics and Simple Minds
could make records. man, there was so much going on, you couldn't turn around without ending up in a club watching live acts. and the clubs too, from
Larry's Hideaway, the Horseshoe, the Edge...and tucked away on St. Joseph's St, the Voodoo Lounge, where we saw John Cooper Clarke - a singularly unique
individual...even in this crowd.

The Bard of Salford was born only minutes from where Jim Johnson now works. (that would be Manchester's west end) he started out as a stand-up comic but
got pulled into a punk band that went nowhere and did nothing. he turned to spoken-word performances of poetry...and then they forced a band on him when
they thought money could be made.(for you Americans, think Jim Carroll but on speed, not heroin) we saw him after a 'composite' album of his early material
was released in NA. he had an alternative-radio hit with the beastly, breezy, Beasley Street single. and that's about it for this side of the ocean.
assorted lifestyle problems turned JCC into the Sly Stone of the UK. which is to say, not too dependable. would have made a great beat-poet if he hadn't been born to late.

quite the talent wrapped up in this tasmanian-devil like artist. his machine-gun delivery, combined with a regional accent, makes him a challenge on first
listen. he's got a biting wit, acerbic and sardonic, reminiscent of Oscar Wilde. he peppers his act with jokes, some silly, others sharp and cutting.
we didn't have much to go on when the tickets went on sale but eventually found ourselves in the dark, dank, cozy confines of the Voodoo. onstage, a
Bob Dylan look-a-like, circa 1966. or just some lanky brit with curly hair in stovepipe pants with a pair of wayfarers sitting on his face.

first surprise for the assembled few was the lack of a band. and not a lot of setting up the pieces either, you were pretty much on your own to try to
decipher what you could. fortunately, even at this early age, i'd taken to studying acts I was going to see. didn't have the benefit of the internet but
I did purchase all the JCC they had (3) in our local independent record store. my guests were a little more bewildered by the whole spectacle. a good
part of the audience was also put off by the lack of musical backing and by nights end there were chants of "bring on the band" and "where's the music."
JCC, who is a master of the witty reparte, scowls back: "If you want the fuckin' music, buy the fuckin' album."

he's still alive, having survived the worst of what his psyche did to his body, and performs sporadically. on our trip to the UK last fall we missed the
opportunity to see him in Nottingham by one-travel day...a shame as he doesn't seem to cross water much. a recent performance from 2005 sees him returning
to his first love, comedy. his act seems to consist of 30 minutes of stand up jokes and 15 minutes of poetry...still no music. it's rumoured the crowd in
Edinburgh was shouting "bring on the poems" and "do some readings", to which JCC, who is the master of witty reparte, replied: "if you want the fuckin'
poetry, buy the fuckin' book."

ok, i made that last part up.

here's a link to JCC performing "Health Fanatic" on YouTube

and a file available at rapidshare containing some samples of his work from the 1981 Glastonbury festival.

JCC Samples

(I Married) A Monster From Outer Space
Kung Fu International
Beasley St.

here's a link to his website page containing a sampling of jokes

here's a link to the lyrics page so you can suss out what he's saying

take some time to browse through the other poems, it's not an onerous task.


ryan the duke said...

fantastic read!!

couple things i thought going through.. first being (obviously) that in that video he certainly has the bob '66 thing going on (which i see you noted as well :D)..

also, "for you Americans, think Jim Carroll but on speed, not heroin".. a very apt description, i think.

i love his delivery... full of venom..spit at an incredible rate.

lastly.. i got a big laugh out of the last line "ok, i made that last part up.".. i kinda thought so :D

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