Live Review: Dr John Cooper Clarke Gave Up Heroin For This …

jcc1 The Bard of Salford was in Belfast again the other night.

This time, John Cooper Clarke was in the big Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival tent with the stars on the ceiling. “That just puts the lie to astronomy” he told us as he stared up at the plug-in night sky twinkling above us.

He was preceded by Mike Garry, a cocky Mancunean poet with a “mam” from Crossmaglen. He started with a theme that ran through his set – speaking out – looking out for the human. And first on the list were refugees. “Spring Crossing” I think was the name.

Nobody Cares
Everyone Knows
That Sea is Deep
That Sea is Cold

Apparently his mam had told him once that “anyone who wants to blow up the Houses of Parliament is OK in my book.” Then he berated himself, “Oh no, I’m in Belfast, I shouldn’t have said that.” It didn’t come across as spontaneous but it was funny. A point well made.

And the points continued to be well made. “Penny For A Guy” masterfully brought us to enjoy a character whom we may not have liked much in real life. It was about abuse, how we ignore it. It’s true. We do ignore it. Point well made. There was another about a teenager sending a photo to her boyfriend and the desperate stream of events that follow when mistakes like this are made. “Don’t clap” he told us at the end. “You’d be weird”

Twenty minutes or so after Garry left the stage, and an intermission of classics like “Sound Of The Suburbs” and “Suspect Device”, Dr John Cooper Clarke wobbled up to the mic like a sapling that may not survive the sea breeze. And so the stage was set. That very specific JCC vibe was settling in the audience’s gut that he may fall or fail at any point. I imagined I felt the well-attended marquee emotionally wrap themselves around that suited, booted nutcase up there. We don’t care if he falls. Or fails. He’s the Bard.jcc2

Of course there was no chance of a fail. “What is occasional furniture used for the rest of the time?” he asked in a stream of questions that he told us he has no answer for. “Why is there only one Monopolies Commission?” To be honest I was busted from that point.

He went off on one about how crap Hitler would have been as a conspirator – how he would have been overheard. And at this he started miming Hitler giving a speech, complete with fist punches and arm-out-straight gesticulations. He’s a master of this, is Dr Cooper Clarke; of bringing you 9/10 into the joke and leaving you to gather it up.

The dark-dressed sun-glassed hair-banded beanpole stood with his book of words and told us dryly how he had been piling on the pounds recently. In reality, the mic stand looked like a close relative as he gave us “Get Back On Drugs You Fat Fuck“, the ending of which was completed with the strangling of said mic stand.

“The limerick is everyone’s favourite poem” he stated. “You might have an antipathy to it here in the north, but I’m a visitor, that’s none of my business.” He followed this with a limerick about a man from Belgrave and a hooker in a cave. It was neatly tailed by another, this time about a woman in Amsterdam and a bus conductor, and I’m not sure what verb would rhyme with that to end in her now pushing a pram. The point is, they were crap. Truly crap, and utterly genius, and delivered by a mocking dry git who by this stage was not exuding wobbliness. It’s was more an ‘I’m the boss’ vibe.

He gave us some classics, God love him. How bored must he be with them? But he did. There was the speeding train monotone “Beasley Street” for example. Followed by “Beasley Boulevard” (After some lifestyle gurus fixed it up” apparently).

I could go on, but you get the picture. As usual John Cooper Clark brought people to tears in this show. Filthy, pointed, venomous, mocking, side-splitting, the man is an institution. He didn’t get that Doctorate from University of Salford for nothing.

Indeed, it was for bringing poetry to non-traditional audiences for over three decades. Glad you could make it back to Belfast Dr Clarke.

Photo Credit: Bernie McAllister