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John Cooper Clarke – review


Palladium, London

The late Factory Records boss Anthony H Wilson was fond of opining that Shaun Ryder was the literary equal of Keats. By this lofty criterion, Salford's rival poet laureate, John Cooper Clarke, must be presumed to be operating at a rarefied altitude just above Shakespeare.

Pencil-thin, in shades beneath a riot of backcombed black hair, Clarke looks identical to his punk-poet heyday, but after years in the wilderness he has come back into fashion. Recent years have seen him pop up on The Sopranos soundtrack, as well as being given reverential props by erudite, current pop stars such as Alex Turner and Plan B.

His metier remains scabrous social commentary, poetic whimsy and surrealist asides delivered at teeth-rattling velocity, but the emphasis of his performances has shifted. Where once Clarke ran through his poems like hit songs, now his show is essentially standup comedy with occasional outbursts of verse.

It works because even this relatively conventional approach is rendered sublime by his mental dexterity and love of language. Riffing on The Blue Planet, he marvels at a TV programme guide that comprises "a million shark-accident channels, usually set around the Pacific Rim"; mourning his chronic memory loss, he ponders aloud: "Has there ever been an Imodium advert that involves a hang glider?"

Spitting vitriol, he shaves a few seconds off his personal-best delivery times for his pair of classic critiques of dysfunctional inner-city Britain, Beasley Street and Evidently Chickentown, before closing with material that recalls Les Dawson: "For my first divorce, we split the house. I got the outside." It's no matter; by now, Clarke's adoring fans will forgive him anything.

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Rating: 4/5

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