The Cheese and Grain is an interesting venue. Set in the depths of Somerset in the town of Frome, in the middle of a car-park, it is probably one of the last places you’d expect the veritable punk-poet and urban legend John Cooper Clarke to be performing, but this tour takes him to even stranger climes than here, playing in Penzance, Falmouth and Whitehaven to name three.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a concert with such a wide-ranged audience attending, and this is a true reflection of the number of people Jon Cooper Clarke has influenced over the years. There is every type of music fan here. Middle-aged men and women that first saw him supporting the Sex Pistols in 1979, to 40-year old hippies (although that could be because he’s playing in Somerset, probably both factors here), to Arctic Monkeys fans, hearing about him through Alex Turner, constantly singing his praises, to fans of Plan B, as John featured on Plan B’s track ‘Pity the Plight’ in 2012. If the crowd prove anything, it’s that John, or “Clarky”, as he’s often known, is as relevant now as he was in the 70’s.
As everyone takes their seats in the hall (yes, this is a seated gig) the first poet to grace the stage is fellow Mancunian poet Mike Garry. The man’s lyrics are very clever and certainly entertaining, a pleasure to listen to, easy to get lost in, however the Southwest on England just doesn’t feel the place to listen to it. All of his poems appear to be about Manchester, with references to specific streets and districts. Which while it would be fine in Northwest England, most people in the hall have never been to Manchester, and therefore don’t have a bloody clue what he’s talking about.
John Cooper Clarke is also from the North-west namely Salford, or as he calls it, Manchester without the electricity, but his poems are more accessible to everyone. He introduces himself initially as Dr John Cooper Clarke, after being handed an honorary doctorate from the University of Salford recently. His poems are about anything and everything, one entire poem is on a hire car for example, and are incredibly sharp and witty and very entertaining. There is no musical background to his lyrics, like there is on album, but it makes no difference. He stutters over his words every now and then, seemingly forgetting the odd line, but remember, he’s 65 years old now, and spent his entire adult life on ridiculous amounts of drugs, so maybe he can be forgiven. He makes the audience laugh almost every minute, condoning prejudice, complaining about gaining weight (google him, he must weigh 6 stone), before ending on possibly his best known four poems: The Hanging Gardens of Basildon, Beasley Street, Evidently Chickentown, and I Wanna Be Yours, the latter famously covered by Arctic Monkeys on AM.
Charming, witty, and although his age does seem to be compromising his performances a bit, his poems are, in a sense, more relevant than ever before. An enjoyable evening on all accounts