Q Magazine

Sister, I'm a poet... A National Poetry Day chat with John Cooper Clarke

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Happy national poetry day! To mark today’s (4 October) the annual celebration of verse, we caught up with one of our favourites, Mr John Cooper Clarke. With a career that’s included everyone from Joy Division, Arctic Monkeys, Plan B and the Honey Monster, the 63 year-old shows no sign of stopping. In fact he’s currently on a UK tour

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You are a Salford lad living in Essex. Why?

“Because it’s blue collar heaven. I’ve never been happier. I’ve never lived anywhere for so long – 23 years. It’s God’s own county. You go to a place like Chingford and it’s got booze, chicks and soul music. People knock TOWIE but I can’t work up much animosity towards it. Ok it’s a bit tweaked but there’s a solid blue collar heart beating beneath its silicon implants.”

You were in Joy Division film Closer and again in Plan B’s Ill Manors. But what music do you actually listen to?

“I’m all about big bands and big knockers. Ella Fitzgerald, Big Joe Stafford, Patty Paige and Doris Day are my favourites at the minute. The pre-rock n roll girl singers were classic. Doris Day was the perfect woman . Pneumatic chest but a girl’s face and a beautiful voice. Of course the hippies hated her because she was supposed to be a Stepford Wife who made apple pie all day. But what’s wrong with apple pie? She was one sexy motherfucker.”

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In control You played yourself in Control despite being 30 years older than the events portrayed. Is that a huge compliment?

“Yes. It’s a testament to not going bald. That and advanced cosmetic surgery.”

You look great. Do you diet?

“Do I fuck! I eat like a pig. Tripe is the only thing I won’t eat. My only tips for Q dieters are these: don’t have scales in the house. That’s a disaster. You can’t micro manage your gut. What you do is follow the urgings of your waistband. When it starts to feel a bit tight put your fucking knife and fork down. You’ve had enough. That has kept me in shape all these years.”

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What does a touring poet have on his rider?

“A few beers for the guests. A bottle of Sancerre and then my gin and tonic. I’m delighted I’ve found this new tonic water – Fever Tree, it’s called. It’s got more quinine in it which I like. I suffer from impaludism and I think it helps. As does touring.”

What on Earth is “impaludism”?

“It is the morbid state affecting those who dwell in low lying areas. Essex was largely a malarial swamp until the 18th century. It gets you down.”

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Apparently you weren’t a big Sugar Puffs man then, despite doing the ads?

“That was one of my proudest moments. I came off stage at a gig one night and there was a message for me in the dressing room form someone at Young & Rubican the ad agency. They wanted me as the first sidekick to the Honey Monster. That’s almost like starring in a film with Elvis to my generation. Them ads were so successful they couldn’t make enough sugar puffs to satisfy demand. Did I ego clash with the Honey Monster? No. But it did hurt my ego when they eventually replaced me with Kevin Keegan. It really hurt. They never tell you what you’ve done wrong. One day the car never comes for you and that’s it… .the world of cereal advertisement is far more brutal than rock n roll.”

Which of your young admirers do you admire most? Plan B or Alex Turner?

“Both very talented young men. One the cockney bard and the other the articulate Steeltown urchin. I enjoyed doing Plan B’s film – I wrote that poetry especially. And Alex is amazing. I am very touched that he says he was working behind the bar at the Boardwalk in Sheffield during one of my gigs when he was first inspired. I don’t take credit for that though. It could just as well have been Leo Sayer that night. Genius will out by itself.”

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Do you ever listen to your old flatmate Nico?

“Yes with very great pleasure. She had a wonderful voice.”

When you were living together in Brixton in the 1980s, did she make a good housemate?

“Well she didn’t do much washing up if that’s what you mean. We were house mates and collaborating drug addicts rolled into one. Were we an item? It wasn’t a very sexually charged atmosphere because we were both so out of it we didn’t know our arse from our elbow. You need to know your arse from your elbow in the sexual arena.”

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What was the last great thing you wrote?

“A poem called Parallel Lifetime. I’ve been working on it today in fact. The latest is always the best. It has to be or you couldn’t do it. Can I tell you how it starts? I can, when you buy a ticket to one of the gigs and I appear on the stage…”

What would be your dream night out?

“Me, Martin Scorcese and Quentin Tarantino out on the town in Vegas. It would be a nerd-fest. We’d like the same films I am sure.”

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New Order are squabbling again. What should they do?

“I take a strict Kofi Annan line on that situation. They should patch it up. But ultimately is it Hooky or Barney’s band? It’s not a question I can answer. The band certainly has Hooky’s stamp on it. It’s about bass that band isn’t it?”

You’ve seen it all. But what was the last thing to truly amaze and surprise you?

“I’ve been betting on horses all my life but I went to an actual race track for the first time the other day. Newmarket. Brilliant. Nice meal, loads of characters and I came back 290 quid up on the day. The going was soft ‘cos of all the rain so the favourites stood no better chance than the rest. I picked a few names at random and I won. What I couldn’t believe was the spivs on the track side really do wear window-frame shaped suits.”

Michael Odell

For more, including John Cooper Clarke latest tour dates head to Johncooperclarke.com.


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