It was twelve years ago, in the second ever print issue of Salford Star, that John Cooper Clarke gave us the exclusive preview of his new poem, Beasley Boulevard, a 21st Century makeover of his classic, Beasley Street, that captured the overwhelming sense of grime that skunked up 70s Salford in trademark and landmark terse verse...A place where 'everyone's common problem is that they're not someone else...'
Beasley Boulevard brought 'regime change' to a regenerated Salford, with pubs where 'the regulars are barred' and there's 'nobody there to harsh your buzz'...an
'Urban Splash, art ghetto, Jim
Well, fuck me, twelve years later and there is actually an 'Urban Splash art ghetto, Jim', off Trinity Way, where Tom Bloxham has sponsored a group of artists to live for a year in the new ultra expensive, ultra sterile Urban Splash development, to comment on 'a city negotiating rapid change'...*
Oh how we laugh..."Bloody fantastic!" John chuckles "For the first time a prophet is recognised in his own town!"
Oh and there's more, there's more...The original Beasley Street, John told the Salford Star in that print article, was based on conditions around Broughton's Camp Street, which has, again, now been 'regenerated', courtesy of bucket loads of public money and Countryside Properties cashing in on the non-affordable houses. And on Queen's Terrace, Great Cheetham Street West, the once run-down Victorian flats are being flogged for almost £200,000 apiece...and it's now re-branded as in Manchester...
'Black and white turns pink and grey
On Beasley Boulevard...'
Soothsayer, JCC decides that Beasley Boulevard is his favourite poem in the new book of over forty verses, collected since his last anthology, Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt, was published over three decades ago...
"I do like Beasley Boulevard, and it's great that it stitches this book and the first one together...over 37 years is it? Let's say thirty years" he decides "That update kind of neatly nails them together over the distance of time which is terrific."
...And the Boulevard sentiments have actually come true!..."Absolutely" responds the Salford prophet "It's accurate in a kind of magic real sort of way..."
The new book is titled The Luckiest Guy Alive, which, given the tempestuous past, is also kind of accurate. It comes with a top press release quote from fellow Salfordian Peter Hook, which ends "John is a true survivor. Even after a nuclear war it'll be him and the cockroaches...I should be so bloody lucky!"
The Salford Bard hasn't heard this one before..."What a terrible thing to look forward to, me and a load of radioactive cockroaches...Bloody hell, kill me now Hooky! I don't want that to happen..."
It also comes complete with eulogising quotes from Kate Moss, Steve Coogan and Paul McCartney... "John Cooper Clarke is one of Britain's outstanding poets" he says "His anarchic punk poetry has thrilled people for decades...long may his slender frame and spiky top produce words and deeds that keep us on our toes and alive to the wonders of the world..."
He likes that one... "I mean wow; what can you say? He's a member of The Beatles, I mean wow!..."
For once, JCC is speechless. But there's also a cherry on the poetic cake, as Mr Sergeant Pepper himself, artist Peter Blake, has done the cover of the new book...
"Mr Pop Art, English style, yeah, yeah. I've always liked his stuff, you know, even pre-Sergeant Pepper" he enthuses "I like Lichtenstein and all that too. Peter Blake and that Richard Hamilton really established the English version of it...very different from the American version, 'cos it's American through England. I love it and the scrabble style relief on the book cover..."
All this stuff; the tributes and the Blakes, are all pointing to John Cooper Clarke as a national treasure. Not bad for a bloke from Broughton** who has always enjoyed cult status in the counter culture...
"I never understood that" he says referring to the counter culture status "If you look at my stuff it's pretty fuckin' trad isn't it? It was never modern in style was it, what I did? It was punk but it wasn't modern poetry, like Andrew Motion and that stuff...that's poetry because the guy that wrote it said it is. I've never really got it, blank verse. I do it occasionally but it's always got some other indefinable dynamic. But to purposefully avoid rhyme and meter seems to me that you're nailing one foot to the floor. OK, with rhyme and meter there's a right way and a wrong way and it is kind of rigid but it isn't restrictive."
...Which brings us onto oranges. Years and years ago, we were having a chat about poetry, like you do, and John argued that the job was just about rhyming stuff. Except that when it came to the word 'orange' nothing rhymed, except maybe 'door hinge'. And now, years and years later, he's found something...
"...But it's somebody's name and I don't think you can include people's names... people will always assume that you made it up just to rhyme with 'orange'" he laughs "It's someone called Phil Gorringe..."
He found it on the back credits on one those shows that Channel 4 used to put out late night...It could have been the Larry Sanders Show, or Seinfeld...
"It was Philip Gorringe" John recalls "I remember reading it and thinking 'At last! Call off the search!'...But nobody would believe you if you used 'orange' and set up a level of expectation...People would be, like, 'orange...what could it be?' And then, if it's, like, 'Phil Gorringe' they'd be, 'Oh fuck off, there's nobody called Phil Gorringe!'
A quick Google search reveals that there is a farmer in the UK called Philip Gorringe who got hit by a tractor and invented a new safety device. He got an invite to some royal wedding in 2011...There's got to be a poem in there somewhere...
...But in the meantime we'll have to be content with over forty brilliant verses, with everything from live show classics like Pies, The Hanging Gardens of Basildon, Bongo's Trousers and Attack of the 50ft Woman, to the excellent Psychedelicate, I've Fallen In Love With My Wife and Get Back On Drugs You Fat Fuck. There's also Six Haikus...in No Particular Order, which take the piss out of revered canons of the genre.
The thing about John Cooper Clarke is that he doesn't just knock poems out; he understands the form and crafts it for real people; makes the poems accessible for huge audiences that can't get enough of them...
...And, when you read the poems, automatically John Cooper Clarke's voice comes into your head. You picture him, you hear him, you almost are him...
"You wouldn't be the first person to say that" he responds...
Yes, but it's fucking weird isn't it? "I suppose it is, but naturally I hear them in my voice too" he deadpans.
You don't read these poems, they speak to you in a Cooper Clarke machinegun Salford inflection...No other poet or writer can do that. Fucking weird...
"That's kind of good?" he asks. That's the fucking genius of it all.
The new book kickstarts the JCC in your psyche, but why no new printed collection for so long? "It is an area that I have neglected over the years" he understates "because live performances have always been the main thing for me. I'm always working, whether I've got a book out or not but especially for this one as I've got the repertoire mapped out for me - the stuff that's in the book with a couple of gags in between each."
What is strange is that John reckons he's never done a live gig in proper Salford... "I have to come back at least three times a year for work purposes, what with Media City and the odd gig in Manchester but still no gigs in Salford" he says.
"In the distant past I was in a group called The Mafia with two mates at Salford Art College, at the Tech" he recalls "We had this lousy band and we kind of blagged onto the bill at the freshers' ball but since then I haven't done a show in Salford, but I could be wrong..."
He's done The Lowry and there's a plaque in the Black Lion... "But I never think of Chapel Street as Salford, do you? It's town."
A book signing in Salford Precinct would be ace, and we're working on it. But in the meantime, John's working on a memoir - "while I've still got the time and the memory" - which should be explosive to say the least. And JCC's image is stencilled all over places that waft an authentic Salford feel, from the smoking yard of the Kings Arms to a wall on Blackfriars Road, near Chapel Street, with the scrawled legend 'You and I are gonna live forever'...
In John Cooper Clarke's case, according to Hooky, that might just be true..."Yeah, with them radioactive cockroaches" he laughs "Yeah, yeah...what a nightmare fucking apocalyptic fucking scenario that is..."
John Cooper Clarke – The Luckiest Guy Alive is out now in hardback with that Peter Blake cover (Picador £14.99).
**John Cooper Clarke talking about his Higher Broughton days to the Salford Star twelve years ago has been read by almost 80,000 people and is one of the most popular articles ever posted on this website – it's almost become a forum for people who lived there – click here to read it.
*See previous Salford Star article – Artists Take Up Residence in Urban Splash Salford Development – click here
John Cooper Clarke plays the Bridgewater Hall on 22nd November
Interview by Stephen Kingston