John Cooper-Clarke & The Sopranos


The logical following on, writing the day after publishing a blog on the magic of Nick Cave’s Grinderman project, would- I think- be to write about Cave’s “day job” with the Bad Seeds. Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you? But as the the blog title suggests, today I’m going to talk about John Cooper-Clarke, in particular, the brilliant Evidently Chickentown. Mainly because I booked tickets yesterday to go and see him at the Camden Jazz Cafe in October. Best of all, I didn’t have to pay as I was able to book them as a HMV Pure reward.

Disclaimer: The chronology of what is to follow is accurate to the best of my memory, but I stand to be corrected by my partner, Jo.

The discovery of Cooper-Clarke, or the Bard of Salford as I believe he is also known, was partly by accident and also partly to do with Jo (this may become a common theme of this blog). Jo, it was who badgered me, on and on, about watching some tv show about mobsters in America. The Sopranos, I believe it was called. Now, The Sopranos had begun in 1999, a year which I spent living in Bilbao. Well, to be accurate, it was more like 8 months, with a couple of two week breaks included. My uncle assured me that The Sopranos was genius, but having missed the beginning, I didn’t feel like catching up and so I didn’t bother about it. Fast forward through 5 years, two girlfriends and a move back to London, Jo hammered me until I caved in and agreed to watch it. I was hooked instantly, four hours later saying (begging?) “Another one, another one!” 

We burnt our way through the dvds, 1-5, as quickly as work and social lives would allow and before I knew it, like Jo, I was awaiting the beginning of the 6th and final series on E4 with baited breath. And although the sixth series, the first part of it at least, started slowly, soon it was clear that head of the Lupertazi family (or were they the Leotardo family now?) headed by Phil and Tony Soprano were locked in a mortal combat. As one particularly tense episode drew to a close, a rather menacing sound rose up over the end credits. I didn’t know it then, but it was the work of 70’s production genius Martin Hannett. Hannett was responsible for Joy Division’s two albums amongst others- and there’s another band we need to talk about! I didn’t know what the track was, but featuring some bloke ranting on about about “chicken town”, it sounded exactly like the kind of music I like to listen to.

So I hit Google and found out more- “Look Jo!” I said, all excited, probably the next day, “It’s by a guy called John Cooper-Clarke”. To which she said, “Oh yeah, I knew that. Haven’t you heard of him? He’s a poet from Manchester, didn’t you do him at school? I did him for my A-Levels, I’ve got a book containing all his poems, I’d have told you if you’d asked me.”

Or something like that; talk about taking the wind out of your sails… Anyway, at some point following the Sopranos epiphany, we went to see Damon Albarn’s latest project, The Good The Bad and The Queen (Simonon! Allen! Albarn! Tong- who?) perform their album in its entirety in the grounds of the Tower of London. A very fitting sitting. So we got treated to K’Nan and his song about flags, long before it became a cheesy World Cup Anthem, the fabulously fun Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, a compere in Harry Enfield who told a ridiculously poor taste joke about Princess Di (mmm, topical!)- though I laughed at the time and, you know where I’m going with this by now, John Cooper-Clarke.

He was hilarious, from the minute he arrived on stage, through his refusal to acknowledge the repeated attempts of whoever was in charge to get him to leave the stage, to the minute he finally departed. I can’t be sure of it now, but I’m sure we were treated to Beasley St. Not knowing poetry could be so funny (unlike Jo, I did the War Poets at school), I was delighted. I ended up buying the Snap, Crackle and Bop album from which “Chickentown” was taken. I have to confess that the musical settings for his words were somewhat disappointing, especially when compared to Chickentown. Luckily for me, though, some live performances were also included on the cd and these don’t dim the power of his words.

If the power of the Cooper-Clarke legend was subject to dimming, then Anton Corbijn’s excellent 2007 biopic Control, centred on the life (and death) of Ian Curtis re-established it for anyone who saw the film. I don’t know how many people have played themselves in a film, not many, I’m guessing. Even fewer people will have played themselves as they were 30 years previously and even if there is anyone out there who has done that, I doubt they would have been able to get away with it- albeit due to a combination of judicious lighting and camera angles- as the Bard of Salford did, so nonchalantly too.

Right, I’m off to have a look at the national curriculum now…

Christopher Eccleston performs Evidently Chickentown

Evidently Chicken Town, from Snap Crackle and Bop

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