My favourite poem is not by Keats or Shelley or even Edward Lear but is (I Married A) Monster From Outer Space by John Cooper Clarke. It includes the classic verse:
We walked out - tentacle in hand
You could sense that the earthlings would not understand
They'd go ... nudge nudge ... when we got off the bus
Saying it's extra-terrestial - not like us
And it's bad enough with another race
But f*ck me... a monster ...from outer space!
I have a copy of the Bard of Salford’s esteemed collection of poems entitled ten years in an open necked shirt, published in 1983. That was a couple of years after the last time I saw JCC live. This was a time when a paperback cost around £3, a LP (as they were called back then) cost about £3 and a ticket to a gig also cost about £3. How the world has changed – a paperback now costs c.£5/6 (thanks to Amazon and the demise of the NBA), an album is essentially free* (thanks to Napster/the internet) and it can cost you up to £50 to see your favourite band (thanks to a multitude of greedy b*st*rds lining their pockets). Why do you think so many washed-up third-rate bands from the 1970s and 1980s are now reforming?
This was the first time I’ve been to Sub 89 – a decent little club, holding about 600, smack in the middle of Reading, not far from the station. Usual hard-looking, but friendly enough, bouncers and beer sold in plastic glasses. We stuck with the Newcastle Brown as there was nothing reasonable on tap. The crowd was perhaps 250-strong ranging from students to pensioners, average age c. 50-ish. Seats were provided for the elderly audience, but we stood at the back – poetry being best appreciated standing.
It was somewhat reassuring that the Support Act was embarrassingly bad. That’s the way it traditionally was, and the way it should be. We took the opportunity to slip away to the Wetherspoons-type pub down the road – decent reasonably-priced real ale (London Pride I think from memory) and haggis, neeps and tatties on special at £1.99. Champion.
Back to Sub 89. The couple of times I’d seen JCC live before he simply stood up and rattled through his poems in about 30 minutes or so. This time he had 90 minutes to fill – good value at £15/ticket.
Enter JCC. Not looking too dissimilar to the character we all remembered. “You may think I’ve put on weight … it’s only since I stopped taking drugs”. However the accent and mannerisms hadn’t changed one iota. It’s somehow as reassuring as the crap support band – it’s like 1977 all over again.
The set consisted of about 30 minutes of poems (at most), the rest of the time being anecdotes, jokes or explanations of the poems. A typical joke: Condoms were very hard to get hold of in Ireland 15 years ago … they had to smuggle them in inside bags of heroin. One anecdote was about his first paid gigs which just happened to be at Bernard Manning’s infamous Embassy Club, and being introduced to the audience with ‘Well he’s not my cup of tea, but you may like him …’
The crowd would probably have been happy enough if he merely repeated his set from 1980. He only did 3 old poems – Beasley Street, Chickentown and one more that
I’ve forgotten. However there is a spattering of new work including an update of Beasley Street about the gentrification of the area – Beasley Boulevard. Another standout was Belgium is the Watford of the World – the title says it all.
All in all, an excellent evening. We can no longer witness the Clash or the Ramones, but the poetry of punk lives on. I definitely won’t leave it 30 years until I see him live again.
* Not me Officer, I pay for all of my downloads