Tag Archives: john cooper clarke

Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt by John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke - Ten Years In An Open Necked ShirtWhile I generally don’t have too much bad to say about the education system I went through, there was one thing throughout my studying of English that they never quite managed to transmit – that poetry really is at its best when read aloud.

Certainly some poetry is a written medium with clever use of form, style and language to make its point, but, much like music, the stuff that really grips me is the performed sort… So enter ‘The Bard of Salford’, Dr. John Cooper Clarke.

First published in 1983, his debut printed collection Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt takes the cream of Clarke’s early work, from his days as a pioneering ‘punk poet’ and captures them in text.

While it’s clear throughout that this stuff was written to be read out loud and, even better, performed, if read with Clarke’s harsh, biting accent in mind it works just as well on the page as beat and bop meet punk and pop in a surreal satire of life in northern England in the 1960s and 70s that, in many ways, still rings true today.

Supporting punk bands in the late 1970s, as he came too early for the alternative comedy movement he no doubt helped inspire, gave Clarke’s writing a certain political position but, in reading it, it is vividly apolitical. In this it allows the reader to get an image in their mind and, at times, create a political context for it of their own, while at other times simply get lost in a flight of surreal fantasy that captures an aspect of the popular culture of the time.

John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke (circa 1982)

A couple of specific examples of this could be the triumphant Beezley Street which presents the feel of a hellish nightmare (but probably more realistic) version of (long running soap opera) Coronation Street and it’s sort of opposite Kung-Fu International, obviously capturing the early 70s kung-fu trend through Clarke’s harsh, street level filter.

Throughout things move from bleak to hilarious, often within a verse or stanza, let alone from poem to poem, but all come with a feeling of something that could only have emerged when it did – with The Goons and Spike Milligan clearly as much of an influence as Ginsberg or Kerouac, or Rotten, Vanian, et al.

Along with Clarke’s words the book features some great illustrations by Steve Maguire that work in a similar way to Ralph Steadman’s work with Hunter S. Thompson, though in a less brutally graphic way, but they too capture the mix of surrealism with intense social realism that is a hall-mark of the collection as a whole.

Unlike later punk poets (a trend that really took off in the 1980s) John Cooper Clarke is not a posturing and ranting presence, though he no doubt inspired those and they have their place in the form, but a remote observer. In reading his words you get the feeling he’s been there and done that but this is the view of it from the outside, through those ever-present dark glasses, and in that he timelessly captures life in a way any other media or style couldn’t quite manage.

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Crowns – Self-titled EP

The young Cornish-men present six tracks of storming high energy folk-punk on their debut full strength EP.

It was in mid-2011 I first encountered Cornish folk-punks Crowns at a gig headlined by the legendary John Cooper Clarke as part of the Sark Folk Festival and Guernsey Literary Festival.

At that time I had no idea what to expect, but, by the time the band had ripped through their set, I knew this was a band to watch.

At that gig I made sure to get a copy of their Cornwall Demos EP that featured three, lo-fi, but still clearly prime, slices of their music.

I followed this up by seeing the band play two sets (one full strength, one acoustic and very sore-throated) at the 2011 Sark Folk Festival and here my initial opinion of them was confirmed.

So it was with some excitement that I put on their self-titled EP earlier this week.

From the start of opening track Full Swing it was clear this was much a more professional sounding product than any of the music they had previously released.

The better production aside, what really stands out across the EP is the band’s unique take on the folk-punk model.

While most bands that fall into this genre lean more to the punk than the folk, some fine examples being Frank Turner and The King Blues, Crowns sit in a much more folk sound just with the attitude of punk rock, somewhat reminiscent of Gogol Bordello, but Cornish folk rather than Ukrainian gypsy sounds.

With a line up led by an acoustic guitar and a mandolin, backed up by the more standard rock ‘n’ roll rhythm section of an electric bass and drums, the band’s sound is a unique one that sees them sit as comfortably on the bill at a folk show as on tour with punk bands and the EP backs this up.

From the all out party sound of Full Swing the ‘disc’ (or in my case download) keeps up a strong upbeat power while frontman Bill Jefferson’s songs span talk of hometown pride (Bodmin Town) and the perennial favourite subject of the young songwriter, love, (Kissing Gates, Hell or Highwater and She Swears Like A Sailor).

While this may sound fairly standard, all the songs comes with a certain extra added salty-ness, both lyrically and in their performance, which goes at least someway to back up their, somewhat silly, genre device of “fish-punk” as proclaimed in a recent issue of Kerrang! magazine.

The other thing that really stands out across the disc to me is that Crowns are capable of doing that great thing of combining what might otherwise be melancholy lyrics with storming, foot stomping, music which really gives an extra something and is what I credit them with making them such a good band and is something that often seems to happen in both great folk and punk music (highlighting somewhat the intrinsic link between these two genres, despite what some purists on both sides might argue).

With only six tracks on offer this is a perfect introduction to what seems to be a pretty unique sound and I only wish there was more to it.

I would also strongly recommend anyone to see Crowns live as soon as possible as the energy of their live performance is really worth catching.

Take a look at my photos from Sark Folk Festival 2011 (featuring Crowns) for BBC Introducing here.

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