John Cooper Clarke: I Wanna Be Yours
The tale of a young lad from Salford whose colourful life took some dark turns, where diction beats addiction and the hero battles with the heroin… I Wanna Be Yours is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a compelling read with highs and lows aplenty, in every sense of the phrase.
From the outset, Clarke gifts us with indicators of where he learned and developed the dry satire with which he made his name. Advice from his dad (‘Never leave a bookie’s with a smile on your face’), the family dentist whose name was Frankenstein, and his leap from Rupert the Bear annuals to waxing lyrical about Dostoevsky all sound like they could slot straight into his repertoire.
His descriptions of his surroundings conjure up the mysticism of the world seen through a child’s eyes; the Italianante building that housed their apartment with the West Side Story style fire escape, the chemist on the ground floor (‘a wearer of cravats, a drencher of colognes’), being traumatised by Vivien Leigh on a trip to the cinema with his mum, all culminating in his contracting TB aged 8 and a resultant recuperation period in Rhyl. Allowed to wander free until it fell dark, he was drawn to the fairground, ‘It was a zone of full-on sensory overload: the food had too much flavour, the light was too bright, the music too loud, the smell of onions all-pervading; everything was drenched in sugar and colour’. Music became as important as books and a happy combination of the two would eventually catapult him into his always intended career of professional poet.
Live at the Charter Theatre, Preston Guildhall, 2019
© Gary M Hough at allthecoolbandsphotography
Taking his punk-poetry to the stage, Clarke’s initial break famously came from the unlikely corner of Bernard Manning and moved on to him playing gigs with The Pistols and The Fall amongst many others. He also name-checks lesser remembered bands with exemplary monikers like Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds, and his mention of Johnny Rotten having ‘the complexion of a compulsive blood donor’ is typically sharp. It’s easy to see how some of the larger than life characters he encountered along the way might later have morphed into Vince the ageing savage, Salome Maloney and Gaberdine Angus in verse.
But if anyone thought he would skip over the extraordinary range of narcotics that interloped his rise to fame, they would be sorely mistaken. There are no holds barred as he unfolds his progression through every kind of fix imaginable, gun-toting deals, failed attempts at rehab and several short-lived dalliances with death. It’s always honest, never glorified and frankly a wonder that he’s still with us.
Live at Ropetackle Centre, Shoreham, 2017
© Siobhan at 16 Beasley St Photography
Thankfully, his ongoing survival has allowed poetry to crossover to many who would otherwise have rejected its once exclusive status. He references the importance of his English teacher, Mr Malone, making the class read poems aloud and how it taught him that, ‘The main consideration is what a poem sounds like. If it doesn’t sound any good, it’s because it isn’t any good’, a premise that went on to create the most notable bard of our time.
They say that every picture tells a story. Clarke takes that concept and turns it on its head as, from start to finish throughout the book, the words paint pictures so vivid you can see the Salford streets and smell the hair pomade. Take a dip into the weird and wonderful world of Dr John Cooper Clarke, he’ll be there if you want him, ninety degrees in his shades.
I Wanna Be Yours is published by Picador on 15th October 2020 and a UK tour is planned for next year – details for both here
Words by Siobhan
12th October 2020