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Green Light in the City

Live: John Cooper Clarke

17 February 14 words: Alex Thorp
"One-liners seemed to take the place of poems, to the extent where you began to question Clarke’s desire to actually read his own work"
John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke underwhelms at The Forum

It was billed as an evening of performance poetry by the people's laureate, but after nearly two hours of rambling, mildly amusing anecdotes and very few poems, the night felt like a missed opportunity. For a man with such an impressive back catalogue, the show’s unorganised and disjointed approach came as a surprise to a sold-out audience at The Forum.

Clarke has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the last few years. His work has been introduced to a whole raft of younger fans after Arctic Monkeys borrowed the words from his I Wanna Be Yours poem for a song of the same title on their latest chart-topping record, AM. Couple that with his appearance on TV shows Celebrity Mastermind and Have I Got News For You? and it wouldn’t be too farfetched to suggest that Clarke has become something of a household name.

The evening began with around 30 minutes from each of his support acts, poets Mike Garry and Luke Wright. Garry’s dark, macabre depictions of life growing up in Manchester silenced the audience, who became hooked on his every word. Wright, a kind of Jack Whitehall-turned-poet, used his energy and exuberance to draw some of the biggest laughs.

But then the evening took a fuddled and slightly disappointing turn.

Striding onto the stage, stick thin, sunglasses donned and jet black mane all over the place, Clarke looked as enigmatic as ever. After some introductions, the punk poet wasted no time in tearing into one of his most popular pieces, Hire Car.

The break neck speed with which he has delivered his poems over the years was thankfully still present and the audience lapped it up with a raucous applause. This left the crowd wanting more of Clarke’s genius, but for some reason, he wouldn’t deliver.

Jokes are clearly a necessary tactic for any performance poet. An hour and a half of reading after reading would no doubt become exhausting very quickly. But the wait for Clarke’s next poem went on an on, so much so that his tour manager began to look increasingly concerned at the side of the stage.

One-liners seemed to take the place of poems, to the extent where you began to question Clarke’s desire to actually read his own work. And they weren’t particularly great jokes either. Though some did keep sections of the audience laughing, risqué quips about gang rapes and eating disorders didn’t go down so well.

Make no mistake though, when the poems did come, they were great. Beasley Street and the new Beasley Boulevard were a particular highlight. Evidently Chickentown sounded as fresh as it did in the 80s, with the poem’s complaints about the mundanity of suburban life an ever relevant feature.

After finishing its last line, Clarke bid the Nottingham crowd goodnight. The house lights went up and the exit music began to play. That was until his tour manager told him to get back on stage and read another poem, presumably concerned that the audience hadn’t received value for their £20 entrance fee. Clarke read I Wanna Be Yours and then everyone agreed to call it a night.

Though he did occasionally show signs of his brilliance, these moments were too sparse and infrequent. The people’s laureate should stick with what made him so popular in the first place - poetry.

John Cooper Clarke was at The Forum on Tuesday 11 February 2014.

John Cooper Clarke website

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