Seeing John Cooper Clarke beatbox the intro to “Health Fanatic” and then launch into his pointed & sardonic poetry was a revelation to my 12 year old self. Poems suddenly weren’t just words assembled to sit on a page – Poetry was a physical, verbal act.
He reminds me of a skinny, cool cartoon rooster – hair spiked high, sunglasses indoors, angular stance & musical delivery. I dug the message, delivered in his Salford accent, and dug the look, a cross between punk and mod, coming off like a kinetic Bob Dylan.
I remember working at KCR College Radio at SDSU and going through the record stacks and stumbling across a couple of his albums. I recognized him immediately on the cover of Zip Style Method, though I hadn’t watched URGH! for a while. It took a bit for me to find “Health Fanatic” by dropping the needle on the tracks because the version on the album Disguise In Love is not a cappella like it is in the movie. Most of the songs have backing tracks, although it sounds like some of the music was added after the fact, as if he had performed the poem and then it had been manipulated to fit over the music. Some of the songs sound more like Ian Dury than the John Cooper Clarke I loved from the movie, which disappointed me at the time because I just wanted the energy and poetry I remembered but without the music.
Listening now, though, the tracks don’t disappoint. “Valley of the Lost Women” has a cadence that reminds me of The Clash‘s “Ghetto Defendant“, which came about four years later. “Psycle Sluts 1&2” is a cappella, though, and still a treat.
I wonder how many fellas in the rap game back then got their hands on John’s work? I wonder when JCC became aware of rap?
Where URGH! They Now?
Mr. Clarke has been cited as an influence by Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys; recorded with Reverend and the Makers; and had his song “Evidently Chickentown” appear in the Stage 5 episode of The Sopranos.
“Johnny Clarke” is touring presently, mostly in the UK it seems. I would love to catch him in the act sometime.
For now, I leave you with the genius that is “Twat“: