John Cooper Clarke, Greenwich Comedy Festival, London
Thursday 16 September 2010
Before his gig I see John Cooper Clarke led across the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, where the Greenwich Comedy Festival is situated, towards his venue, and I am reminded of the comical stick figure he cuts with his pipe-cleaner legs and his wire-brush hair. Had L S Lowry lived beyond 1976, the year Cooper Clarke's poetry was starting to be used to support numerous seminal punk bands, and had he continued to paint scenes of life in Salford, from whence Cooper Clarke hails, you couldn't think of a better subject for him.
The 61-year-old granddaddy of punk poets has recently found a new zeal for performing and has just completed an Edinburgh Fringe run. Before the festival this year, Cooper Clarke admitted that he is a lot more "gaggy" than he ever used to be – and certainly that is borne out by his latest show that makes you pine for more poems.
This is not to say that the dry northern witticisms go unappreciated. Recalling his beginnings in working men's clubs, Cooper Clarke observes that "some were so rough they had their own coroner." Even if you avoided death, he says, you would still be subjected to an unforgiving introduction from the MC such as, "he's not my cup of tea, but you might like him", a sentiment that puts one in mind of Greenwich's most infamous comedy son, Malcolm Hardee, who used to unnerve comics by announcing "This next act's probably a bit shit."
For some young members of the audience, this might be like watching grandad trying too hard to be cool, but, equally, there are a legion of new young poets who rightly pay homage to Cooper Clarke – and with the verve behind compositions like "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" ("50 feet and never been kissed/ all she wants is a lift") and "Things Are Gonna Get Worse" ("Make that hearse reverse nurse/ I wish I could remember everything that I've forgotten") it's not hard to see why.
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