Nostalgia pays tribute to John Cooper Clarke
Nostalgia looks back on the career of John Cooper Clarke – the punk bard of Salford who continues to perform to this day
PAM Ayres was probably an unlikely muse for Salford punk poet John Cooper Clarke.
The two could not be more different. Ayres was a product of leafy Berkshire and her poems poked genteel fun at everyday family life.
Cooper Clarke grew up in grimy Salford, honed his craft in the world of the Sex Pistols and the Stranglers and released his work on Rabid records!
But it was only through watching Ayres on the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks that he became convinced he could make a living out of poetry.
Born in January 1949, Cooper Clarke lived in Higher Broughton and was first inspired to write by his English teacher. He started performing in Manchester folk clubs while working as a laboratory technician. Early collaborations with Rick Goldstraw and the Ferrets developed his rapid fire style of delivery – and he soon came to the attention of Manchester producer Martin Hannett.
The punk explosion in Manchester, and indeed the rest of the UK, was ignited by the Sex Pistols’ legendary concert at the Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4, 1976.
Only around 40 people turned up – but the roll call read like a who’s who of Manchester music!
Hannett, who went on to found Factory Records and produce the likes of Joy Division and the Happy Mondays as well as Cooper Clarke, was there. So too were Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley, who’d invited the Sex Pistols to play. They went on to form the Buzzcocks.
Presenter and impresario Tony Wilson, who co-created Factory Records and helped launch the Hacienda nightclub, was in the audience along with Joy Division founders Peter Hook and Bernard
Sumner. Also present were Mark E. Smith, who formed punk band The Fall, Mick Hucknall and Morrissey. The stage had truly been set for a punk poet from Salford to emerge.
And emerge he did. Cooper Clarke’s EP Innocents was released on Hannett’s Rabid label in October 1977. It was followed in 1978 by his debut album Ou est la maison de fromage?
He then toured with Bill Nelson’s band Be-Bop Deluxe and was signed by Epic Records.
The studio album Disguise in Love, produced by Hannett, was issued later in 1978.
Cooper Clarke worked with Peter Shelley of the Buzzcocks and Vinnie Reilly of Durutti Column before releasing his seminal album Snap Crackle and Bop in 1980.
It became one of the four biggest selling albums on Sony Records and established Cooper Clarke as the authentic voice of the punk era.
The track Beasley Street, said to be inspired by Camp Street in Salford, was an unremitting attack on the squalor and poverty of Britain under Margaret Thatcher. The BBC even censored one of the lines.
Another track, Evidently Chickentown, featured in Danny Boyle’s 2001 film Strumpet where it was recited by Salford actor Christopher Eccleston. It was also used to brilliant effect in a 2007 episode of American TV series The Sopranos.
Cooper Clarke’s sole Top 40 hit was Gimmix! (Play Loud) in 1979.
During the 1980s, Cooper Clarke performed with Joy Division, New Order, Elvis Costello, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Duran Duran.
He featured as a special guest on shows by the Buzzcocks, the Clash and the Sex Pistols.
In 1982, he starred in the film John Cooper Clarke – Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt. Funded by the Arts Council, it was directed by Nick May and screened on Channel 4.
One of his more unusual gigs was appearing alongside the Honey Monster in two TV adverts for the breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs in 1988.
He also appeared at Ashtonunder-Lyne with the Suns of Arqa in 1992.
Arctic Monkeys’ frontman Alex Turner printed Cooper Clarke’s poem Out of Control Fairground inside the CD of the band’s 2007 single Fluorescent Adolescent.
Another of Cooper Clarke’s poems, I Wanna Be Yours, featured in the Arctic Monkeys’ fifth album AM released in 2013.
Readers can revel in the past 150 years with a brilliant anniversary book from the M.E.N. and local publishers iNostalgia. The Changing Face of Manchester: Second Edition is packed with past images of Manchester contrasted with modern photos of how the same scenes look now. The book retails at £14.99, but M.E.N. readers can order it for the reduced price of £9.99 plus postage and packing.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.
Pam Ayres, whose success encouraged Clarke, on stage in April 1977
The Sex Pistols included John Cooper Clarke at their gigs, December 1976
Arctic Monkeys featured John Cooper Clarke’s poems on their recordings, February 2008
Elvis Costello, who shared the bill with John Cooper Clarke, December 1979
Manchester musician Peter Hook of New Order, October 2016
Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers with John Cooper Clarke, October 2016
Christopher Eccleston performed John Cooper Clarke’s poem Evidently Chickentown, August 2017