How John Cooper Clarke Changed My Life

In the 70s and 80s,the poet John Cooper Clarke altered the course of punk, bringing a more witty, poetic, funny and downright Northern vibe to the table. He originated playing gigs with more of a stand-up undertone in his hometown of Salford and soon began writing more biting social commentaries, the renowned Beasley Street being an example.

To a 16-year-old Alex Turner he was the motivation for the lyrics many of us have now come to love. Seeing him support The Fall all that time ago spurred Turner on to want to write material as good as that, and has paid homage to the poet by printing 'Out Of Control Fairground' inside the 'Fluorescent Adolescent' single and 10”.

To the 9-year-old me, he was simply another gruff voice on my post-punk compilation. It wasn’t until I started getting older that I realised the true meaning of the lyrics and the genius that was hidden in and amongst the words. For instance, the lines “Sleep is a luxury, they don’t need a sneak-preview of death” and “Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies” were taking any naivety remaining in my young mind, dousing it in petrol and setting it ablaze.

But the Bard of Salford isn’t merely my continued inspiration, he’s also the root of my very existence; it was at one of his concerts that my parents first met each other. So you can imagine how I started getting all spiritual when synchronicity found JCC himself sitting 2 seats away from me on the London Euston – Glasgow Central train.

The very reason for my existence and the continued reason for my motivation, on the same standard class coach as me – as Ben Fong Torres might say: “Crazy.”

What was it like to be on the scene whilst punk was at its peak?
Shite. Well, in retrospect, it was fantastic. But at the time it seemed shite. I read a figure recently that said at the time there was almost 1 million unemployed and that, in itself, is something to be cheerful about. Whilst punk was social commentary, it was never really that degrading – y’know – nobody died. It was a good gateway into showbiz for the working class, it laid a path for future artists who didn’t own a 3 million pound recording studio. It was an impulse to make music cheaply, without compromising on the quality.

When you think of punk as it is now, what comes to mind?
Well punk came in two waves. The first wave was more what we know it as, with the Sex Pistols and all that, but the second wave had all the semi-skinheads and aggression that really changed things. The old bands that have stuck on are still as good though, and they really do work all over Europe to huge crowds. So the fan base is there. But I’d say the Arctic Monkeys are even punk, so it stretches a long way.

How do you rate music in the north at the moment, like Arctic Monkeys and Elbow?
Well they’re two brilliant bands, and you’ve got loads of them like Morrissey and Primal Spleen who I’ll always be a fan of. When I first met the Arctic Monkeys I could see by the name and their nature that they were going to be mega. I love it all, y’know, but not exclusively.

I was born listening to frank Sinatra and I will die listening to Frank Sinatra. I’ve always been a fan of Alicia Keyes too, and all those singers purely off the merit of their own talent. Beyonce and Alicia and others can all sing like a motherfucker, and that’s what’s important. I just say, sing the goddamned song! Like all the old school soul.

Where does the inspiration for your songs come from; do you write to convey your emotions or to speak for that of your audience? Like Beasley Street – what road did you have in mind?
Well inspiration is a divine thing. And the only way to open up to it is to work, like Justice is a divinity whilst Law is a human attempt to grasp it. Neighbourhoods are always rich with inspiration. But the most important thing is just not to lose concentration. You can start writing about something you don’t give a shit about and find yourself in the midst of a masterpiece. I mean I’ve written two numbers about Belgium recently…

Have you been to any good gigs recently?
Only my own, they’re fucking terrific. Honestly, I’m a bad punter, I don’t like to pay. It puts me off right away. Oh I know! This guy! Essex guy, James Hunter, he’s a singer, fantastic old school talent like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. Van Morrison says he’s the best singer this country’s produced, and he knows his shit.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring artists?
I really don’t know. It’s a difficult world for them really, with people pirating stuff off the computer all the time. I’m lucky in that respect, you’ve got to come out to the gig to really appreciate what I do. But like I said before, it’s so important not to lose concentration – keep your eyes on the ball.

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