Salford born and with a head of hair other 60-year-old men would give their left leg for, JOHN COOPER CLARKE is an institution if ever there was one. Sharing bills in the late 70s and early 80s with bands such as Joy Division, The Fall and Buzzcocks, he’s a beat poet who was heralded as a figurehead of the post-punk era, and his way with words has continued to have an impact on generations since (Alex Turner sports a fetching John Cooper Clarke tattoo). Currently working away on a million and one other things, he begins his National Poetry Month UK Autumn tour at the end of this month. As he’s playing in The Philharmonic Hall on 10th October, so Bido Lito!’s Naters Philip caught up with him to chat about what keeps him inspired after all these years, what it’s like being on the GCSE syllabus, and what keeping him busy at the moment.
Bido Lito!: So, we’ve heard on the grapevine that you’re releasing a new book – tell us all about it.
John Cooper Clarke: Well it’s not coming out for a while because I’ve got so much other stuff on! It’ll hopefully be out within the next year though, and it’s going to be a book of poems but there’s so much stuff to go into it. I’m working on it a lot with my wife, she’s typing bits of it up just now actually – she’s much better than me! I’ve also been commissioned to write a song for the Biennial in Liverpool; it’s going to be played over the Tannoy on the commemorative train journey from Liverpool to Edge Hill, which is such an honour.
BL!: Speaking of Liverpool, you’ve got an upcoming show on 10th October at The Philharmonic Hall – are you as excited as we are?
JCC: Oh yes! I love Liverpool, always have; people there are always up for a laugh and Liverpool’s full of interesting, influential people. I played Liverpool last year but I’m looking forward to playing in the Hall this year and going to The Philharmonic pub – what a beautiful building. Didn’t get to go last year because of the renovations, so I’m definitely making sure I get a drink in there this year.
BL!: Sounds like you have a good relationship with Scousers on the whole!
JCC: Yeah I definitely do; Scousers seem to like my stuff. And, like I said, it’s full of inspiring characters, like the late Arthur Dooley – he was docker, a welder I think, and he turned his work into such a craft. Go and look at the station with the cross in the cathedral: it’s stunning, just beautiful work.
BL!: The term ‘punk poet’ is pretty much synonymous with your name, do you ever tire of it?
JCC: Well it’s an inevitable thing really, and I don’t worry about it. It all started back in the 80s; it was a phrase used to describe me and Patti Smith and, well, she’s amazing. Sharing a thing like that with someone like her makes you think, yeah, that’ll do.
BL!: Of course these days there’re a lot of people strutting your particular style of clobber. Do you find it flattering?
JCC: I’m just amazed anyone would want to look like me! I suppose it’s a look though – if it can be said to be a look; I’ve dressed the same way since I was 16 and occasionally I can get clothes to fit me. Although, the shops on the high street seem to be selling the sort of clothes I wear, that sort of mod and Rolling Stones stuff. It’s working for me though, so why mess with it?
BL!: Your work has been put into the GCSE syllabus, most notably your poem Twat; did you ever think you’d see that day?
JCC: Never! It was such a shock, but I’m very grateful. I think it’s how a lot of people have come across my work – people like Alex Turner, for example, which is great. I also had one of my songs in the closing sequence of The Sopranos and people have come to know me through that show, which is another thing I’m so grateful to have done.
BL!: Is that your greatest accolade?
JCC: Oh, I think so; it’s a brilliant show. Although, being on The Simpsons is a contender too; that were good. Maybe Sideshow Bob has got a little bit of me in him!
BL!: I have no doubt! You’ve been doing this for years now, has writer’s block ever struck?
JCC: Oh yes, the 90s were terrible; I basically had it for 10 years which was a bad time, but I don’t seem to struggle with it anymore. It could happen at any time though, but I don’t like to think about it; it’s a superstitious thing, if I can be said to be superstitious.
BL!: What about when you are writing then: I can’t picture you at a computer, what’s your weapon of choice?
JCC: Oh no no, computers are not for me. And typewriters are too slow, a good old pen and pad is what you need – it’s just the best thing really, isn’t it? It’s not the neatest way of doing things but it is the quickest and I tend to write as fast as I think, bit like a stream of consciousness, y’know.
BL!: Inspiration comes in many forms, what inspires you at the moment?
JCC: Everything. Clothing, TV, people and particularly places, broadly political issues; I know that’s a broad statement but in the right light everything is inspiring.
BL!: You said “broadly political issue”: any thoughts on the incarceration of Pussy Riot?
JCC: Well, I don’t know their music, but I thought it was a bit much to be put in prison. That’s where they live for you though, isn’t it? They were trying to piss people off and they did it, so I think they needed a lesson teaching, but community service would have done the trick – a bit of sweeping up and that!
BL!: So you’re touring away, syncing to TV shows, working with the Biennial and a book is in the works – any plans on slowing down, ever?
JCC: No! Why would I retire? And how as well – why and how? This is something I’ve done since I was 13 and I just love it. And I really am looking forward to coming to Liverpool – there’s still tickets left, y’know, so tell everyone and bring your friends.
John Cooper Clarke appears at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 10th October