Monthly Archives: May 2014

John Cooper Clarke, Sounds, September 9th, 1978

Just Another Ex-Gravedigger Poet Into Dada and The TV.:

One Tuesday in the office I was heard to remark
That I’d like to write about John Cooper Clarke
“Okay” Alan Lewis said to me
“But only if you do it in poetry”
Well I jumped at the chance coz I thought I could crib
From the poetic meisterwork of E. J. Thribb (17)
Only trouble was it was easy to see
Thribb didn’t use enough imagery
So I dug out my discs by the manchester chap
(Only two singles if you want to be exact)
And listened and listened to inwardly digest
And went off to find him, now read the rest…

Found him washing his hands in a CBS bog
He was chewing a chihuahua and embarassing the frogs
He was using the toilet as a private synagogue
Kept me waiting an hour — he said it was fog
So I smashed him in the face and he fell to the floor
In this shirt he bought in Rhyl in 1964
Without further ado he said he’d show me the door
I said “I saw on the way in,” who could ask for more?
(Not us, get on with the article – Ed) (Thank Christ for That –GB)

Saw this skinny guy in a polka-dot shirt and sunglasses being pursued by a squad of chinese waiters through Soho. He dodged into my doorway, grabbed me by the shoulders and garbled “Can’t go back to Salford, the cops have got me marked.” That was it. Re-enter the waiters, exit Johnny Clarke, known nationally as ‘the punk poet,’ a nervous lean streak from Salford who’s found fame via the new wave but has been going much much longer, is not your usual media image scribe content with sedate Book Club renderings of polite heady verse for polite heady people. 28 years old and thoroughly working class, his poems are vividly forceful surrealistic diatribes steeped in pop culture, libertarianism and music hall comedy, and spelt out in harh Mancunian tones.

In a CBS office and later at a typical ‘grease, grease or grease’ caff (‘Hot dogs direct from Crufts done in diesel oil’) Clarkey came clean about his wretched past.

“Poetry’s a thing I’ve always done but I’ve not always made a living out of it. I worked on the docks as a fire-watcher, and a few extra-legal occupations, was a window cleaner, a grave-digger – they said ‘You haven’t any objections to working with spades have you?’ I said no, not at all. ‘Right’ they said, ‘Get Digging.’ I’m a dosser again now, but I’m not on the dole… I signed off the Nat King Cole when I came down here.

“I was doing similar poetry before punk, but punk’s opened up more exciting gigs. Jazz clubs and pubs are alright, but they’re not so much of an event as new wave gigs. It was more or less reading while people are eating chips.

“I’ve written loads of stuff but the stuff I perform at gigs tends to be be a certain type which isn’t always the kind of poem that I write, but I’m only really interested in poems that get an immediate response. That’s what I’m interested in doing on stage, as opposed to the kind of more esoteric stuff.

“Poems that have built up a large working class audience even if the ‘immediate response’ isn’t favorable…

“I’ve got the largest collection of broken glasses in Britain. They’re all mounted on little plaques at home, ‘Lyceum, March,’ ‘Vortex, December.'”

Ed Banger suffered the same fate at the Lyceum, and I suspect Jilted John would have done four months ago (the blind injustice of it all). Talking of suffering, was the ‘B’ side of the new single ‘Kung Fu International’ where our hero is set upon by an embryonic Bruce Lee outside a Chinkie take-away based on real life?

“Oh aye, yeah, I got jumped in Wally Range. It was half a dozen blokes, they gave us a severe pasting then discovered I was the wrong geezer.”

‘Kung Fu International’ is more representative of the stage Clarke, stripped of musical backing. The ‘A’ side ‘Post War Glamour Girl’ is recited over a disco backing which wasn’t favourably received by the critics… “Yeah, it’s completely different to what I’ve been doing, but all this ‘signs to a record company, they make him go disco’ stuff, it wasn’t like that at all. CBS didn’t have anything to do with the production of the single or the lp, it’s all my fault.”

The album, tentatively titled ‘Bins And Hooters’ is due out in October and “A lot of it is like the single as opposed to the ‘Innocents’ EP which was pretty doomy. It’s been mixed for daytime listening. There’s ‘Reader’s Wives,’ Valley of the Lost Women,’ ‘Tracksuit,’ ‘Health Fanatic,’ ‘I Married A Monster From Outer Space,’ ‘I Was A Teenage Werewolf – Or Was I,’ oh, and a couple of live tracks too, ‘Salome Maloney’, and a live version of ‘Psycle Sluts.’”

Do you ever use a backing band live?

“Well I did one a half gigs with the Curious Yellows, but not usually. I think I’d like to do some gigs with a group, say maybe two distinctly different sets.”

How about talking about some of the poems, like ‘I Married A Monster’ which which is usually interpreted as anti-racist.

“Yeah, that’s the kind of theme that runs through it. I don’t like to put one sort of meaning on anything, not even on poems that are as one-dimesional as that. But yeah, that’s the apparant theme that runs through that one, racialism, extending to intergalactic regions. Racist attitudes in the space age are really anachronistic aren’t they. You’re exploring other planets and people still can’t get on with somebody in Africa…

‘Action Man’ is about the link between impotence and the need for violence, probably. ‘Cos Action Man, as you know, has got all the equipment except genitalia. Quite meticulously completed by craftsmen.”

How about ‘Post War Glamour Girl’?

“That’s sort of a mongrel. I hate talking about poems, specially that one, which is sort of loosely hinged on the glamour theme – the way women are pictured as opposed to the way they actually are, and the way men are supposed to react to pictures of women in certain scenarios, the tiger rug and the telephone. I’ve got this pack of nude playing cards on me that I got from a joke shop that were sort of knocked up in the 50’s and the 50’s idea of what is glamorous is completely different to today’s.

“Health Fanatic’ is my latest poem, it’s about the health trend, the sort of people who run at the sides of roads in the vain belief that they’re getting healthy when in actual fact they’re breathing in eighty times more lead than anyone else. Deep breaths with their mouths open, and all this diesel going down their throats. They’ll probably joss it next year. If they took it easy, that’d have probably been alright…”

I remember when we were about 13 we used to buy health magazines…. “Oh aye, ‘Health & Efficiency’ ‘H & E.’ At one time it was the only magazine you could ever get to see pubic hair in. It’s kinda taking advantage of the nudists, magazines like that. It’s a bit like exploiting children in a way… I’ve written a lot about pornography, it’s a bit of an obsession really.”

Bred of a misspent youth perched over Men Only?

“Yeah, but not only that sort of pornography, soft porn gets me an’ all. Asexual pornography. I think it’s very strange, asexual pornography. It’s like a daft thing to want to do. I think the last thing pornography should do is make sex appear like it isn’t dirty. I think it’ll make people impotent, that attitude, eventually. Like Woody Allen says, ‘sex is only dirty if you’re doing it right’.

Woody Allen meets Lenny Bruce, Ian Dury and British-hipster-comedian-who-makes-it-in-the-States and Lord Buckley are all in the name-checking that constitutes J.C.C’s list of acknowledged influences, along with Mickey Spillane, pop music, pulp sci-fi, television, movies, Dada, and anarchism. What about other poets?

“The first poetry I ever read and was actually excited by was the futurists. Poets like D’Annunzio and Marinetti. Actually they were fascist poets as it happens, they later aligned with Mussolini, but I’m not into that part of it. They were the first poets who used hard imagery, lots of it, spread it all over. Of the surrealists, I love the painters. I like René Magritte especially and Dorothea Tanning as well, and Leonor Fini. I like Dali…’

Shame he’s a fascist… “He’s sort of apolitical, him. But he used to do stuff for Franco and his family. I just don’t think he’s at all interested in that sort of aspect of it, he’d probably say he was apolitical. Well he wouldn’t say that, he’d say something that’d really baffle you. But I think he’s coming from an aploitical direction which is something I’m cynical of. I think an apolitical stance is a political stance. Me, I’m bigotted, I’m biased. There are whole sections of the population that I just put in a bag and say ‘He was bound to say that, he’s right.’

“I see myself as having left-wing attitudes, also libertarian attitudes. But I’m not overtly into politics at all. I’m really suspicious of slogans, they’re like adverts, they make people act without thinking.”

There was a whole link up with surrealism and Trotskyism in the twenties wasn’t there? (Do what? — Street Ed)

“Andre Breton was a personal friend of Leon Trotsky, and Trotsky himself was very interested in the art of the time. Well of course when it went off in Russia, Dada happened at almost exactly the same time. Tristran Tzara, the fellow who sort of invented Dada poetry was writing in Geneva just as Lenin was leaving there for Russia. And with Trotsky, he wasn’t just a propagandist, his work is creative writing in its own right.”

Truly, which is why it’s surprising that most ‘orthodox Trotskyists’ are a pain in the harris. But if this conversation’s baffling you and the nearest you’ve got to surrealism is Monty Python’s or your own dreams, get hold of Bomb Culture by Jeff Nuttall, probably the best intro to rebel culture around (Che and Jimmy Dean are part of the same teen dream after all). Nuttall quotes a US surrealist group who defined rebel poetry and, incidentally, Johnny Clarke as “breathing like a machine gun, exterminating the blind flags of immediately reality…”

Heavy stuff, maan. But Clarkey isn’t really, he’s much more accessible, not the sort of ‘artist’ the middle class will easily stuff into Southbank museums-come-mausoleums. Incidentally that Cooper Clarke bit sounds pretty aristocratic…

“NO, it’s not hyphenated. Cooper’s like Charlie or Harry, just me middle name. I adopted the Cooper because at one time there was this other geezer called John Clarke going round reading poetry at the same time. Talking of names, I was interviewed by this geezer in Plymouth once called Robin Bastard. That was his real name. He was a rich kid, his dad owns most of Plymouth, Lord Bastard, that’s a great name for an aristocrat that, innit. You can tell he didn’t get his money the hard way.”

We’re in the cafe now, chewing the grease, with John coming out with outrageous sayings like “Jonathan King ought to be strangled in his bed alongside the Royal Family.” How true. “This is the sort of thing that influences me,” he says, clutching the menu, “things that read from top to bottom. Look at that, ‘Steak and Kidney pud and two veg, 70p’ — what a dynamite one-liner.”

What’s that album title mean again? I asked in a desperate attempt to bring him back to here and now.

“What, bins, that’s slang for glasses, binoculars, don’t you use it down here?”

Well, I haven’t heard it. London slang changes all the time, back slang’s virtually dead, and rhyming slang’s more a collection of hangovers, barnet, berk, on yer jack, take a butchers…

“I find rhyming slang’s used more in Manchester than it is here. It’s always been big ‘cos you can make your own up, like Mather and Platt which is a large engineering firm in Manchester, it means twat. There’s bottle of acker, Acker Bilk, milk…”

Fancy a pig’s ear?

“That seems like a good idea…”

Garry Bushell
clarkywaitsbigyin
Clarkey, Tom Waits and Billy Connolly… and why not?

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Ranters Cup Final

from Out On The Floor, issue 3, 1985

Ranters Revenge. Cup Final. Challenge Football Match.
The afternoons challenge of a sporting contest on a football pitch was thrown down to Jamming magazine, by the meanest, toughest, ugly looking ranting poets gathered from coast-coast, a last hour switch from Hyde Park to the dark, dingy Hackney Marshes was the agreed venue. The conditions were unquestionably a dis-comfort to all, the meagre spectatorship of 6 were ‘slippin ana slidin’ on the touchline, and the players ? balanced themselves from the quagmire-pitch.
Kool Knotes ‘scabbed’ for Jamming, and was attacked at the end of the game, the result of a rather beer filled stout gutted ranters side, blitzed by a rather more serious minded Jamming/Alarm side 8-0.
Swift Nick, played as he writes, full of enthusiasm and verbally attacking his opponents, and would be ‘star’ ranter, supported by Attila, who did a stout job in the middle of the park and along with Nick, were unlucky not to score after a rather spirited come back in the second half, but the ranters had their revenge later that night.
ranters revenge

Though working on a stall selling the current crop of crazed collect- of fanzines nearly 20 different choices, each the ideal guide to creativity itself there was time on a rota basis to catch parts of the travelling extravaganza.
A box, provided by the Theatre was the vantage point to view the sight of extreme scruffiness (with exceptions) shabbily assembled group of much travelled personage.
The stoutly suited Porky the Poet, sponsored by Man at C&A, an outstanding performance with sparkling amusing repartee.
Susan Wells, tonight was extremely funny changing his somewhat “Alarming”, egoistic self indulgent spew to quite funny material.
Suffering from flu (which the bastard passed on to me) Swift Nick, put on a brave face, and stunned his audience, with his pull no punches type humour.
Little Brother, crisp, Northern, Coolness, was unmatchable, oozes with a style of his own, neat & tidied up phrases, polished set.
Finally the dribbling, rather clumsy Kool Knotes, never short of energy brilliantly funny, enthusiasm, second to nobody, dressed and answering, in favour of Casuals against the bomb, Breakdancers supporting 4th division football clubs, less his Ghetto blaster, he staggers cheekily, through his set, forgetting the odd line or two, but can only improve. Finally well done Attila, a thoroughly organised show, and to the Neurotics for a half-time floor show…
Out On the Floor
From Porky the Poet – The ticket pictured above was from The Ranters Revenge, at b2 studios in Wapping in 1983 when I met the utterly delightful Swift Nick at Wapping tube, when he gave me a copy of New Youth. The football match was on Hackney Marshes before the gig Theatre Royal, Stratford East, The Ranters Cup Final.

What Is Ranting?

This is from So What! ‘zine, their 4th issue, 1984.
This was one of the funnier bits I’ve turned up in my research as I’m actually in this ‘zine but had forgotten all about it. There’s also my mate Leigh (who plays guitar with the Ruts), Attila, Steve Winter and Kool Knotes. This page by Attila is good insight into what ranting poetry was.
so what 84

I phoned Attila and asked him to write something for the fanzine because I used to enjoy the articles he wrote for Sounds, under the name John Opposition. If you read Sounds you may have noticed that his features have virtually stopped now and one of the reasons for this is that he wrote a 3000 word article on fanzines (which took ages to write) and they couldn’t even be bothered to print it. If Sounds is supposed to be a ‘street-paper’ then surely fanzines should be reviewed regularly, or perhaps they’re frightened of the competition?
The Ranters
Ranting verse – a name coined by Seething Wells and Molotov Comics in the early 1980s to describe a new form of poetry which has as its main objective entertainment, information and humour, usually in an oral rather than printed setting. Ranter – a poet who rhymes ‘comet’ with ‘vomit’, who is generally well left of centre and prepared to brave hostile and uninterested audiences to put across his ideas, and wins those audiences over. If you can’t win over a negative audience you’re not going at it the right way. Ranting is about communication, being funny, being political, taking the unaccompanied spoken word to places it has never gone before and showing people who have never trusted words before that they can be a great source of pleasure, enjoyment and information.
Ranting verse – a label, all labels are bad, pigeonholes stink, all positive, articulate, caring and humourous poets are good, whatever they call themselves. ‘Poet’ – a weird definition, someone who uses rhyme + metre: there are many self-indulgent wimps around who have given the term such a bad reputation that if I say I’m a poet to people who don’t know me they expect me to fall over when they poke me with their finger!
Ranters, poets, writers to check out: Porky, Peter Campbell, Swift Nick, Kool Knotes, Dino, Little Dave, Seething Wells, Little Brother, Benjamin Zephaniah, Tony Stowers, Ginger John and more. Many other people write good stuff but I don’t know about them.
We aim above all, to make POETRY a decent thing to write. Poets are, rightly maybe, regarded as weird and psychedelic beings by the majority o0f people – and that’s at best because most people don’t even think about poetry. We aim to change all that by making poetry accessible, by demystifying it and making it available. By showing the way for ANYONE to write and perform punk broke down the barriers in music, so we hope to in poetry. ‘Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people’ (Adrian Mitchell) This is what we’ve got to change. Any ideas, poems, contributions-for my fanzine TIRANE THRASH, the rantzine with the special Albanian bias-to me at 161 Spencers Croft, Essex, CH186JR.
Attila the Stockbroker

Gregory Isaacs/Michael Smith

Live review from Sounds, November 27th, 1982

Gregory Isaacs/Michael Smith Venue
All the signs were there. A ram-jammed polka-dot complexioned audience. . . and gyrating groups of girls. The talk of myriad tongues meshed into a fractured semi-Esperanto. . . and groups of gawping girls. Entry hassles, tempers turning to curses making the night sky blush. . . and gaggles of gallivanting girls.
The lure of Gregory Isaacs could just become an epidemic.
“Do you want the Godfather?” bellowed Bingy Bunny, chicken scratch guitarist Roots Radic style. Sure enough, we did. Then, to squeals of feminine delight, the Lonely Lover finally stepped into the spotlight, stretched an immaculately threaded body, peered out from under the angle poise of a panama, and opened the vocal floodgate drowning the assembled in an ocean of warm emotion.
However, here comes the critical bit. . .
Spies in the women’s toilet reported a lot of hot air being expelled afterwards. No! Not that sort! More like complaints taking the form of “it’s downright disgusting he played such a short set. I went to see George Benson when he was here and he did three encores”.
Too true! Tickets for tonight were the not-to-be-sneered-at sum of five pounds, but that’s neither here nor there. The amount of money involved is irrelevant, it’s a question of principle.
I don’t know how long the Cool Ruler was onstage – I didn’t think I’d need to check, it being the opening night of his tour and presumably raring to go, go, go – but it can’t have been much more than a decidedly uncool 45 minutes.
To add insult to injury, no encore was offered after Gregory exited to the fading wash of Steelie Johnson’s synth on ‘Night Nurse’. The collective look on the face of the audience was one of bewilderment brought on by premature ejaculation. One moment we were cocooned in community singing rocker’s fashion, the next we were trundling out into the cold.
Meanwhile, in the gent’s, grumblings and rumblings were of a different hue. “Chaa! Too much lovers. What ‘appen to the sufferer’s music. . . it was like going to see a rock band play ballads all night. Not enough change of pace.”
With a back catalogue containing some of reggae’s most militant moves, Gregory chose to play safe and shoot arrows at female hearts but leave the cold steel chest of Babylon unscathed. Sure, it was a buzz to experience songs like ‘My Number One’, ‘Tune In’, ‘Stranger In Town’ and other classics of spurned and spermed love, but it would have been even better if he’d tempered them with the righteous fire of ‘Mr Cop’, ‘Black Against Black’ et al.
That said, judging by this outing, Mr Isaacs could be on the verge of a major international breakthrough: An artist to carry roots – as opposed to gimmick reggae – to the masses. The man to let your average punter taste the cream of the crop. Three sold-out-in-advance nights at the Venue may not compare with filling Wembley, but for a reggae artist it’s more than encouraging.
Oh yes! Michael Smith. Unfortunately, due to the queue when I arrived, I only caught the boot end of the dub poet’s set. A charismatic figure in the classic sense – personality, not image – Michael rose magnificently above the anticipatory chat of the audience, barking out lyrics of grave fury to a selection of backing tapes.
“Diamond hard,” was the evaluation of Sounds’ Edwin Pouncey who was in at the beginning.
More forward Gregory, more forward.
Jack Barron
gregory

Zines

Before the interweb ‘zines were how the young people shared information and found out about bands, music, poetry.
Bzag
These were made before people had computers and were done by really cutting and pasting. Letraset letters were popular too.HAN
This documentary is from 1980 and looks at a small town ‘zine and the people around it. Open Door programmes were made by the BBC’s Community Programme’s Unit and were an attempt to get people’s unedited views and ideas on air.
One of the skinheads talking is Matty Roberts who went on to sing with anti-fascist punk band Blaggers ITA.

Linton Kwesi Johnson on Desert Island Discs

This from 2002, the mighty LKJ talking poetry, police and reggae on Desert Island Discs

Some great choices too… ska from Roy Richards and Don Drummond, as well as Vivaldi, John Lennon and Otis Redding.
Linton talks about what black kids and white working class kids have a common. When I was a lad ‘Sonny’s Lettah’ was a poem we all knew.
Linton, as ever, is insightful, thoughtful, measured and entertaining.

lkj