Interview: John Cooper Clarke – ‘My bedside manner is legendary’
As the Salford Bard prepares to tour the country, he recalls a meeting with the Welsh mafia and considers his legacy
Is John Cooper Clarke now ensconced deep within the Establishment? Seems like a crazy question to ask about the man who was punk’s unofficial poet laureate and still wears his spiky hair and drainpipe trousers like it’s 1976. Yet, the Bard of Salford’s work has been on the national curriculum, has penned for the National Trust, and in a BBC Four documentary was dubbed a ‘national treasure’.
And there’s also the little matter of him being an official doctor, having received an honorary degree from the University of Salford in 2013. ‘I’m very comfortable in that role: my bedside manner is legendary,’ Clarke japes in his Northern drawl, untouched from two decades living in Essex.
One of the most unlikely introductions to John Cooper Clarke’s work occurred to fans of The Sopranos with ‘Evidently Chickentown’ playing out an episode during the mob drama’s final season. Did HBO need to seek special permission for that piece to be used? ‘They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. As opposed to the Welsh mafia who approached me years ago and made me an offer I couldn’t understand.’
Amid all the jesting, there’s no doubt that John Cooper Clarke’s legacy is of opening up poetry to a legion of readers and listeners who would never have believed verse was for them. His no-nonsense approach meant that poetry wasn’t just about wandering lonely as a cloud. ‘There are people who like my stuff who don’t like anybody else, and I’ve got the poetry lovers on my side for opening up the whole game.’