Late at night I’ll often tune into BBC4 because it offers an intravenous nostalgia hit for old geysers like me whose passion for music started with Love Me Do and kind of waned after the stunning Nirvana. But one guy’s influence from the late 70’s passed me by until relatively recently, the punk poet John Cooper Clarke. Then tonight whilst browsing for something – anything – decent to watch and I switched on the channel, more in hope than expectation, to find a brilliant study on his life’s work and his influence.
I had some knowledge of his name deep in my memory banks but up until I’d watched the final series of American tv’s greatest export, The Sopranos, I’d never come across his work. They refer to him now as the Salford Bard and a national treasure but back in the day he was an angry northern performance poet, painfully stick thin with a shock of Dylan-like hair.
Now poetry’s not something I’m particularly into but I understand he could silence a wild pogoing crowd with his rapid-fire delivery of cleverly-crafted rhymes, earthy themes and even earthier language. There’s one piece he wrote called ‘Evidently Chickentown’ which, first time I heard it, shook me with its strong relentless language and the sense of sheer futility in the lyrics. Backed by a haunting soundtrack it’s a very bleak piece. And I came across it during the final scenes to the Sopranos episode entitled Stage 5, which for me is the defining 60 minutes in the whole saga because it has the storyline which signals the final outcome. Even if you’ve never seen a moment of the New Joisey crime family story, just appreciate the bitter regret in the words of character Phil Leotardo as he swears revenge against Tony for his brother’s killing, and all this made more intense by the brutality of Clarke’s ode to Chickentown. It’s poetry alright Jim but there are no wandering, lonely clouds in this piece. But it remains a masterpiece.