John Cooper Clarke is an influential punk poet who rocks with lyrical prowess, while rocking sunglasses darker than your ex’s heart. He has released 5 albums, toured with The Fall, and collaborated with The Arctic Monkeys and Plan B. And that only scratches the surface of JCC’s astounding life. I interviewed him to talk all things music.
Growing up who were your musical and poetical influences?
A guy called Phil Harris, who was a character, actor and a bandleader. He did the voice in quite a few Walt Disney films, notably the bear in The Jungle Book. He’d rewrite Victorian poems like one called ‘Woodman Spare That Tree’, originally written by William Pope Morris. He kind of jazzed it up, with comedy lyrics and a swinging big backing band, which I really enjoyed as a kid, I loved all his work. Also Lou Reed and obviously Patti Smith. That was the punk rock end of it all. That’s what showed me there was a place for poetry in the world of punk rock. Plus people were paying more attention to lyrics. Also The Ramones. They are sensational. Very clever lyrics. […]Songs like 53rd and 3rd, ‘I Don’t Wanna Go Down To The Basement’, ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’, and of course, the lyrics for ‘I Wanna be Sedated’. The lyrics for that are sensational.
Music aside, how were musical heros of your generation inspired?
In the days of the Velvet Underground, there wasn’t anything else like them about. Lou Reed had a mentor at college, a guy called Delmore Schwartz and they dedicated a track to him, a song called ‘The European Son of Delmore Schwart.’ It had very few lyrics, and when they asked Lou why hadn’t it got many lyrics he answered, “Delmore hated rock lyrics so I kept them to a minimum”
Arctic Monkeys reworked your poem ‘I Wanna Be Yours’for their album AM. How did your relationship with Arctic Monkeys occur?
I was doing a show with The Fall at The Broadwalk, a club in Sheffield, about a fortnight before they went global and they were just like 4 kids from Sheffield. And someone came in and said there was a young band that were very fond of my work […] I said, ‘What are they called?’ they said ‘Arctic Monkeys’. I thought ‘I’m interested in meeting anybody with that name’. I loved their stuff from the word go.
Both you and the Arctic Monkeys are from the North. Northerners are often associated with cynicism, are you a cynic?
I’m cynical about any promises politicians ever make but so is everybody else, thankfully. I’m not sure if this makes me a cynic, but I’m always aware of the law of unforeseen circumstances – like you get rid of one problem, and substitute 5 more.
Finally, humour plays a big part in your poetry and performances. Will you give us a Joke…
Check out one of my favourite John Cooper Clarke’s poems here —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vs7UJaMJHrc
Interview by Bella Spencer
Art by Bella Spencer and Ana Ovilo