John Cooper Clarke (born January 25, 1949) is an English performance poet from Salford, Greater Manchester. Clarke is often described as a punk poet, having initially achieved recognition in the late 1970s during the flourishing punk movement. His recorded output has mainly centred around musical backing from The Invisible Girls, which featured Martin Hannett, Pete Shelley, Bill Nelson, Paul Burgess and Steve Hopkins.
Clarke has opened for such acts as the Sex Pistols, The Fall, Joy Division, Buzzcocks and Elvis Costello and his set was, and still is on occasion, characterized by lively, rapid-fire renditions of his poems, which were usually performed a cappella. Clarke enjoyed some chart success in the UK with the single Gimmix! Play Loud and subsequent album Snap, Crackle & Bop.
He usually refers to himself on stage as “Johnny Clarke, the name behind the hairstyle”. Having released a handful of records into the early 1980s, Clarke performed his live act less frequently and spent much of that decade battling a heroin addiction (and making an incongruous appearance in two UK commercial for Sugar Puffs in 1988, taking second billing to the Honey Monster). More recently, Clarke has turned some of his stage act away from an emphasis on performance poetry and towards more of a stand-up-oriented affair, but poetry is still very much a key part of his performance.
He has in the recent past supported Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros. He also can often be seen supporting The Fall on British tours or performing as a headlining act in his own right. He also duetted with a poem entitled Last Resort with Reverend Jon McClure at a Reverend and the Makers concert at London’s Spread Eagle, which Later was released as the b-side for the bands single Heavyweight Champion Of The World. Clarke also recorded a song with the band entitled Dead Man’s Shoes which is rumoured to appear on the upcoming album The State Of Things.
Clarke’s recording of “Evidently Chickentown” from his album Snap, Crackle & Bop was also featured in the closing scene of the The Sopranos. A live performance of the same poem appears in the film Control with Clarke portraying himself in a re-creation of a 1977 concert where he supported Joy Division, despite having aged 30 years since the events depicted in the movie.
John Cooper Clarke also appeared in the 1982 music documentary compilation Urgh! A Music War, where he performed his poem “Health Fanatic”. The film featured live performances of main-stream artists (The Police, The Go-Go’s, Pere Ubu, XTC, Devo) as well as more obscure bands (The Alley Cats, Invisible Sex, Athletico Spizz ’80, Chelsea) using concert footage from around the world. For many people, this was there first introduction to the works of John Cooper Clarke.
In June 2007, Clarke worked with artist Alan Williams for a piece entitled ‘Ou est la maison de fromage (Translated)’ in the University of Salford Visual Arts BA Degree final exhibition show. The work aimed to be a covert form of appropriation that investigated the potential of literal translation as a visual act as well as touching on notions of authorship and originality. It presented the appropriation and transference both content and context and drew attention to shifts in meaning.
His poem “Out of Control Fairground” was printed inside Arctic Monkeys single “Fluorescent Adolescent” CD, which was released on 9 July 2007. The poem is also the inspiration behind the single’s video in which clowns brawl. Another poem was printed inside the 10″ release of the same single. Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys has said he is very fond of Cooper-Clarke’s work and takes inspiration for lyrics from his poems. A version of his poem “Evidently Chickentown” is performed at the start and end of the video for Joy Division’s “Transmission” single which shows John Cooper Clarke reading the refrain and third verse from the poem whilst coming down escalators and then walking in the Manchester Arndale Centre.
He is a unique artist who’s work connects beyond that of traditional poetry and with new material on the way surely its not too long before John Cooper Clarke’s work is appreciated by a new generation.