Dr John Cooper Clarke: The Luckiest Guy Alive
- Jay Richardson
- 14 March 2019
Dry snark and wisecracks aplenty from the Bard of Salford
Promoting a rare book, his new collection The Luckiest Guy Alive, Dr John Cooper Clarke is wittily unapologetic, the flogging of 'merch' a playful but necessary performance for any poet, even one of his fame. Yet watching the Bard of Salford live is to appreciate how much of his appeal resides in the delivery rather than simply what's written on the page, his charismatic grasp of a room's veneration of him matched by some surprising moves.
At times drily sardonic, at others measuredly candid, the 70-year-old often projects himself as an old showbiz lag, indulging in an affected croon or film noirish private dick's drawl, before tossing out a few one-liners about Ladas. There are more inspired gags, albeit some of them pretty hoary and not always original. Yet they're part of a lovely looseness, his scarecrow-legged sway of anecdote, rhetoric and verse keeping the audience entranced, even as he seems as focused as he's ever been during the last decade.
Part of that sense of control comes from him delivering obligatory crowd favourites like 'Beasley Street' and its follow-up 'Beasley Boulevard', which still seems sharply topical despite its relative age, while the original has added a timely nod to Prince Philip's driving travails. Along with a rendition of The Sopranos-endorsed 'Evidently Chickentown', Cooper Clarke has earned the right to play to the gallery. Regardless, these remain stunning rhymes and he does take risks, cracking wise about prostitution post-International Women's Day, with his joy in dirty limericks surely deriving in part from a sense of being part of a long, bawdy tradition.
Acknowledging his doctorate with both pride and irony, he's also embraced Essex living, adopting a hilarious, Ray Winstone-esque growl through the pugnaciously sprightly 'Solid Gold Geezer', while his lairy Mancunian roots still bite in 'Get Back on Drugs You Fat Fuck'. Straightforwardly charming, richly detailed and unsentimental is 'I've Fallen in Love with My Wife. But the pick is arguably 'Bed Blocker Blues', going snarkily, eyes open into the good night.
John Cooper Clarke: The Luckiest Guy Alive is on tour until Saturday 28 September. Seen at City Halls, Glasgow.