John Cooper Clarke – The Bard of Salford – 2024 Tour

words Ed Charlesworth

jcc tour

The punk poet. The Bard of Salford. The name behind the hairstyle.

Like many artistically inclined, combat-boot clad Northerners my age, growing up I was vaguely aware of these terms, and of the lanky figure lurking just within the periphery of British pop culture.

Gangly beneath a skinny suit, a pair of plastic shades and a shock of black hair, the figure was something of a spectre to me, a piece of Northern culture I understood was present, but that I didn’t have the faculties to fully distinguish from the shadows, at least not yet.

Then, in September 2013, as I clumsily manoeuvred my way through the first year of high school, Arctic Monkeys released their massively acclaimed, enormously successful fifth studio album, ‘AM’.

Ever the contrarian, I refused to buy into the hype, ignoring the album the best I could, though, because of my dad’s love for the record, this proved challenging.

Eventually, several years down the line, after exerting far too much effort denouncing ‘AM’ for being “overplayed”, I found myself being forced to finally pay it heed.

Flying down the M62 in my close-friend Amelia’s battered car, I had nowhere to escape to when she turned up the stereo, plugged in the aux and played, much to my grievance, a track from ‘AM’ she said was “based off an old poem”.

Puffing copious clouds from my lips, contorted in a curmudgeonly half-scowl around a cigarette, I settled back, finally giving in to the incessant squawking of that cultural albatross of mine.

The moody sway of ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ began, Alex Turner’s Northern croon yearning through the smoke to be someone’s vacuum cleaner, to be their Ford Cortina. The grimace fell from my face.

I found myself clinging to each turn of phrase, each mundane, dreary object Turner sang about being lifted and transfigured into something beautiful through rhyme, the highest peaks of romance being traversed and displayed in the relationship between an electric meter and an electric heater.

It was here, just after the final synth-heavy drone of the track, that I heard the name of the poet responsible for imbuing such majesty into such ordinary words.

John Cooper Clarke.

And suddenly, floating forward from the depths of my memory, came images of that tall, looming figure, clad head to toe in black.

That ever present spectre who had for so long existed on the periphery of my knowledge, who had been hovering just beyond the light of my understanding since childhood, was finally given identity.

Delving into his work, I explored his poetry in all it’s acerbic glory, feasting upon each delightfully familiar colloquialism with unrestrained gluttony.

In what I read, I could see shades of myself I thought had been reserved for frail Victorian authors, now long past their sell by date and settled in the ground. In his success, his reputation as a counter cultural icon, I drew comfort from the knowledge that a path did exist for wordy, outspoken outsiders, no matter how strange.

And then, having consumed the entirety of JCC’s online collection, I leapt to the work of other punk-rock affiliates, finding in fellow poets like Patti Smith a source of inspiration rarely surpassed in its potency.

John Cooper Clarke is a counterculture icon like no other, a lightning rod for outsiders and a truly legendary pen. Rightly being recognised for his contribution to the arts, the Bard has received an honorary doctorate from the University of Salford, been made an Honorary Freeman of the City of Salford and is consistently being heralded as a major source of inspiration by many artists.

In my experience though, it’s not the prestige of JCC’s achievements that make him such a compelling and beloved individual, but rather his existence just outside of the mainstream.

His work isn’t rammed down your throat by the media or smushed in the pages of an outdated poetry anthology you’re forced to study at school, it’s reserved for those ‘in the know’, you’ll find it when you need to, and, when you do, you’ll understand.

For tour details visit the JCC website

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