Skint & Demoralised – Why I Love John Cooper Clarke

There are certain moments in life when your stomach ties in a knot and for at least five seconds you’re trapped in momentary disbelief at something that’s occurring right before your eyes. The negative end of the spectrum can be the sickening sinking feeling when you miss a flight, the overwhelming devastation when you’re dumped via text message in high school or waking-up after a night-out to find that you’ve lost your phone.

The positive end of the spectrum can be the instantaneous pandemonium when your team scores a last-minute winner, the adrenaline surge of winning house on the Bingo or the butterflies of a first date with someone that you’re crazy about. You know what I mean. They’re the defining moments in your life that you’ll never forget. I was lucky enough to find myself on the positive end of the spectrum on Friday.

If you read the first two blogs then you’ll be aware that I’m currently in the middle of my debut UK tour. Friday night took me to King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow and I was eating sushi with my live agent before the show when she gave me some incredible news. Friday 20th March 2009 will see me supporting the legendary Salford bard John Cooper Clarke at The Duchess in York.

I feel like I’ve been talking more about John Cooper Clarke than Skint & Demoralised on the tour so far and it’s the highest possible compliment that I could possibly receive when people draw comparisons between us after I’ve performed some spoken word. The man quite literally changed my life. He’s one of Britain’s best-kept secrets; a cult hero that has influenced some of our finest musical acts and recently fell into the spotlight after he was championed by Sheffield wordsmith Alex Turner during the early days of Arctic Monkeys.

Many of you will have seen him playing himself in the Ian Curtis biopic ‘Control’ in a short clip of him performing a watered-down version of legendary poem ‘Evidently Chickentown’. His unmistakable look has barely changed since he first entered the spotlight over thirty years ago! Black drainpipes, Chelsea boots, a bird’s nest of hair and black Wayfarer sunglasses.

I told you in the first blog how it was performance poetry that led me to the stage and ultimately saw the birth of Skint & Demoralised in it’s youngest form. At the age of seventeen I was a passionate, creative and confident young man that craved attention and was desperate to enter the musical arena.

I couldn’t play an instrument. I wasn’t a singer. I had no idea how lyricists such as Alex Turner and Mike Skinner were able to write such incredible things… I was in awe, but never considered trying it myself. It was something that I fantasised about every day without taking a moment to consider that it might be within the realms of possibility. Things changed when I discovered John Cooper Clarke.

Poetry is a bit of a dirty word when you’re seventeen; you’ve been studying it for years at school and any excitement is drained after hours of annotating Anthologies. Metaphors, similes and iambic pentameter may have been present nevertheless but Clarke is a man that talks about being beaten-up after a night-out (‘Kung Fu International’), lists some hilarious insults (‘Twat’) and bemoans the level of nudity in a certain newspaper (‘You Never See A Nipple In The Daily Express’). Not only was it side-splittingly funny – his use of words and the way that he delivered them was like nothing I’d ever heard before.

This brand of performance poetry, specifically tailored for the environment of pubs, bars, gigs and comedy clubs, inspired me to pick up a pen and try my hand at writing. As I said in the first Blog, it just happened to be a random day in Blackpool but I was instantly hooked and soon began to build a small collection of spoken word pieces.

They were mainly comedy-based, due to the fact that I was performing them sporadically at gigs and parties, but I took it incredibly seriously and took great pride in other people reading and hearing my work. Poems such as ‘Welcome To Blackpool’, ‘I’d Rather Buy Kleenex Than Durex’ and ‘Barbara From Scarborough’ were soon earning me a name on the Wakefield scene.

The early days in particular saw my delivery take strong influence from JCC and in a bizarre way my accent developed a very subtle Lancashire twang that somehow still remains on certain words. Bolton native Sara Cox thought that I was from Rochdale when she first heard ‘The Thrill of Thirty Seconds’, which I find quite bizarre but highly amusing. I wasn’t meaning to directly rip him off…but every performer will tell you that you wear your influences strongly on your sleeve in the early days as you very gradually begin to develop your own style. Especially when you’re filling the role of frontman.

Almost two-and-a-half years have passed since I wrote that first poem and I still haven’t seen JCC live. Nor have I met him. And in less than a month, I’ll be sharing a stage with him. I still can’t quite get my head around it…I don’t have a clue what I’ll say. I probably won’t be able to form a feasible sentence; instead I’ll return back to the days of the petrified, bumbling adolescent that frequently appeared during my schooldays.

I’ve heard a story of someone that was no nervous upon meeting Prince that all he could say was, “My car’s parked outside.” Hopefully I’ll do better than that. I’ll let you know. I’m doing a lot of dates from March right through until May which I’m about to upload onto the MySpace page now. You should come and check it out if you’re interested. Speak soon.

John Cooper Clarke performing ‘Twat’ in 1979

Skint & Demoralised Tour Diary Part 2

Skint & Demoralised Tour Diary Part 1