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John Cooper Clarke: 'My trousers? River Island or M&S. The skinniest they do'

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The poet-performer talks to Tim Adams about his new book and tour and, further down, answers questions from readers and famous fans

John Cooper Clarke has, arguably, not only the most recognisable silhouette in show business, but also the most infectious of poetic voices. Mention that the Bard of Salford was to visit the Observer office for this interview last week immediately prompted snatches of extemporised quotation from some of Clarke’s more famous lyrics – I Wanna Be Yours, Evidently Chickentown, I Married a Monster from Outer Space – from those colleagues who had some grounding in his snarly Mancunian vowels and those who were not afraid of pretending. Nick Cohen, our columnist, broke off from columnising to recite extended passages of Clarke’s verse first committed to memory when the poet was sharing spittle-flecked stages with Buzzcocks and the Sex Pistols back in the day. Dr Clarke, as he styles himself, wearing his honorary doctorate from Salford University with pride, has always had that effect; to the many devotees of his live performances over five decades, he is both much imitated and inimitable.

He arrived in traditional garb: pointed boots, strides clinging to stick-insect legs, dark jacket, buttoned-up white shirt, generous shades, Ronnie Wood hair beneath a tall grey felt hat. He will turn 70 next year. One of the more fortunate breaks in his poetic career, he suggests, was that he looked like a punk before punk rock arrived. He had fixed on his sartorial style in the unlikely arena of Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club, where he acted as compere in the early 1970s, warming up an audience united by their shared antipathy to performance poetry. The outfit was another form of fighting talk, one he has stuck with in a journey that has seen some extremes.

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