john cooper clarke zani matteo sedazzari 1

I arrived early at Liverpool Street Station for my meeting with John Cooper Clarke, so in an attempt to kill I time, I step onto the escalators taking me down to the platforms and the shops. In doing so I fondly recall how I discovered John Cooper Clarke.

It was the late summer of 1979, still a school boy, and having spent the summer of that year discovering the wonders and the power of music. And in amongst all the new bands I had stumbled on, one stood out head and shoulders above the rest for me; The Jam. Therefore I was overjoyed when I saw that the BBC was airing a new youth TV programme entitled Something Else with The Jam headlining.

I had heard their music, and briefly seen on them on Top of The Pops, but that was before I became a fan. So like a child waiting for Christmas day, I sat in front of the TV one Saturday early evening, excited and nervous. It goes without saying, that The Jams' performance on the show was breathtaking, and many years later has gained iconic status, as has Joy Divisions' appearance on the same show. I remember well seeing Ian Curtis for the first time, and thinking that is was magical. But was it the footage of John Cooper Clarke going down the escalators to a shopping centre in a northern town reciting the legendary Chicken Town, which seriously inspired and moved me.

From his passionate and strident deliverance matched by his trade mark long and back combed hair, dark glasses and tight fitting three button suit, I was mesmerised an enthralled.

Even though I was still a school boy not long out of short trousers, I could identify with him; I felt his words speaking to me, setting my soul on fire. It was my rock and roll awakening, and a reference point I often refer to.

After the show ended, I went into my bedroom, and penned my first poem inspired by Clarke and Weller, the poem has long been lost, but the memory is still strong.

John Cooper Clarke became prominent within the three years prior to the airing of Something Else due to the punk explosion of 1976 where he opened for bands like The Sex Pistols, The Clash and solo performances across the UK.

He was soon labelled the 'punk poet' by the music media, due his connection with musical genre and for his brash, humble, acutely observant and humorous poems. Clarke's positive aggressive style swept aside all the stereotypes of poets who were self indulgence and wandering around the world in frilly shirts, trying to get laid.

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Yet, it would be fair to say, that if you picked a poetic movement, from the Romantic poets (Bryon, Shelley) to the Beat generation (Alan Ginsberg, Neil Cassidy), the majority of these poets were rebellious and independent thinkers, and John Cooper Clarke certainly fits the bill. A strong minded working class boy from the streets of Salford with his own agenda, and his work certainly proves this.

Unlike his peers from punk, Clarke had been performing since the sixties either as a compare/performer at Working Man's clubs across the north of England or as a musician. Yet it wasn't until 1976, a decade later after his debut and after many mundane jobs that he turned professional, and a record deal with CBS soon followed. Why, the delay? It may have been down to lack of opportunities, fear of failure or maybe Clarke was destined to find fame (not fortune) via punk, who knows?

By 1976 John Cooper Clarke finally arrived and a for a good few years he became performer in demand, and even became the face of Sugar Puffs along with The Honey Monster. However Clarke could have easily slipped in obscurity, and been remembered for a short and tragic career, as he slowly but rapidly descended in heroin usage. And as we know, heroin is the road to nowhere, as is all drug usage, yet with his strong willpower, Clarke overcame his addiction, and carried on performing.

john cooper clarke the arctic monkeys zani matteo sedazzari 1His luck turned when a few years back The Arctic Monkeys and Plan B started to cite John Cooper Clarke as major influence, and this has resulted in a massive surge in bookings and other work, such as acting and a return to the world of TV adverts by becoming the voice of Domino's pizza, and in even 2007 HBO used The Legendary Chicken Town for their world wide hit, The Sopranos.

With a well deserved return to form, it was a privilege and a honour that he agreed to be interviewed by ZANI, and when his train pulled in to Liverpool street station, we wandered off into a nearby café to have a nice chat.

ZANI – In August of 2011, the whole of the UK saw riots spread across the land and your home town Salford was hit hard. How did you feel about that?

John Cooper Clarke – That was well overdue.

ZANI – Really?

John Cooper Clarke – I think they are annoyed the BBC are moving there, no I am joking. But where the BBC is moving to, in Salford is a rough part of the town. My old mate Peter Hook is from that part of town, The Ordsall estate.

ZANI – So you came from a posher part of Salford ?

John Cooper Clarke – Posher is pushing it a bit, but there is the odd tree there. There is nowhere in Salford that is posh.

ZANI – There is a romantic notion about Salford and the music, due to Peter Hook and Bernard Summers from Joy Division/ New Order coming from there and the iconic inner sleeve photo of The Smiths with the band standing outside Salford Lads club on The Queen is Dead album.

John Cooper Clarke - They have opened that place as a gig venue now, and I am sure that is down to Morrissey. It was in a terrible state of disrepair for years and years, then came along Channel Four's Secret Millionaire, and they pushed a lot of cash into to it.

It's dead rough round there, Silk Street, St Ignatius Way and Coronation Street. The houses are all on an industrial estate, it wasn't like the industry was there and they built the houses around it, they were built at the same time. People lived amongst it, the 24 hours a day with crashing of industry, steel presses and things like that. Even my dad was engineer there.

ZANI – Did you decide at an early age, you wanted to leave Salford?

John Cooper Clarke – Anyone with any sense wanted to get out. There were no creative outlets, there might have been in the Victoria times, with Manchester you have Piccadilly, but Salford is just a part of Manchester.

ZANI – I have to be honest, I have never been to Salford, not ever as a pilgrimage to Salford Lads Club.

Moving onto your career, I understand in 2011 you were  touring more than you have ever done.

John Cooper Clarke – Yes more than ever, been dead busy.

john cooper clarke zani matteo sedazzari salford lads club.
ZANI – Do you think that's down to a whole new generation of fans?

John Cooper Clarke – Everything is on a loop, plus I ain't got no problems anymore, and I have got a driver so I can get to places.

ZANI – Also you were the voice of Domino's pizza last summer, how did that come about-was that via your agent?

John Cooper Clarke - A lot of adverts I got in the past was from leaving my phone number at gigs, but this one was via my agent. I am dead professional these days.

ZANI – Would you like to do the Sugar Puffs advert again?

John Cooper Clarke – I wouldn't mind doing a revisit. I enjoyed them, I got on well with The Honey Monster.

ZANI – After you left the Ad campaign, didn't they replace you with Kevin Keegan?

John Cooper Clarke – Yeah , and before me it was the great Henry McGee , Benny Hill's straight man.

ZANI – Remember them well, I mentioned earlier you have a whole new generation of fans, and a lot is down to the Arctic Monkeys and Plan B.

John Cooper Clarke - I love them both, great artists, and with them dropping my name all over the place, it's all good. I mean how can I complain about that? It's great to get recognition from people you yourself you admire. You can't buy those sort of kicks.

ZANI – I agree, and Plan B is producing and directing a film.

John Cooper Clarke – Which I am in, it's called Ill Manors which I am playing myself. I am doing a number which I wrote especially for the movie, which they are chuffed with. I didn't just want to send any old poem, so I asked for the script so I could get a feel of the film; I wanted to add something that had to do with the content of the film.

ohn cooper clarke  ian curtis zani matteo sedazzari 1.ZANI – Sounds good, and it's not the first time, you have played yourself, as you played yourself in Control, the film about Ian Curtis.

John Cooper Clarke – The part was written for me.

ZANI – And you are the only man in the job, who can play that role.

John Cooper Clarke – The part I was born to play.

ZANI – Ha, from my research, am I right in assuming you haven't released any new recordings since the eighties be it vinyl or CD's?

John Cooper Clarke - You are right, no products what so ever have been released

ZANI – With the internet, any plans for people to download your tunes?

John Cooper Clarke – Call me old school, I want to make a record and people pay for it in a shop. Joking aside, The Arctic Monkeys really made the internet work for them. They were the smartest kids on the block, they went to the record label, with a guaranteed fan base, so they was no question that they wouldn't be successful and the A and R man wouldn't um and err. I met The Arctic Monkeys two weeks before they went mega, and I am so glad I was nice to them.

ZANI – Good man, I wouldn't say you are Technophobic , but you don't have an email address or a mobile.

John Cooper Clarke – I might do via my daughter, it's not because I am luddite or anything like that. The simple reason is I haven't got a computer, and because you would never see me again. I know how great a computer and the internet is, and that's why I won't go anywhere near it. I had my daughter sitting down with me once with her laptop, and I said get me Dino and The Belmonts now and within three seconds, she got Run-around Sue, and that is everything I could possibly want out of life. Give me a PC and the internet, and six years later you would found me buried underneath a pile of Domino's pizza boxes.

ZANI – I understand one of your early influences, was Bob Hope and you were luckily enough to see him.

John Cooper Clarke – One of the first major gigs I ever went to, was Bob Hope but I was a big fan of his, even before I had seen him. It was in 1958, in Manchester, all I knew about Bob Hope at the time were the Road movies he did with Bing Crosby. One of my favourite movies of all time is Bob Hope's Son of Paleface with Jane Russell as the co –star. Anyway I was nine years old watching Bob Hope perform in Manchester, apart from me, there was anybody there under the age of thirty. I went with my Dad's friend Will, who was like was a massive Bob Hope fan. My dad was as well, but he could never sit still in the theatre. Bob Hope was telling all these joke about golf and alimony; I just got swept along with it, but what does a nine year kid knows about golf and alimony? But I still thought he was the funniest guy alive.

ZANI – Was that what made you want to become a performer ?

John Cooper Clarke – I think that had a lot to do with it, I loved the way he never smiled whilst he was saying a joke.

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ZANI – Another influence was at school, an English teacher who put you onto Charles Baudelaire and Gérard de Nerval.

John Cooper Clarke - I was dead interested in Charles Baudelaire, and I tell you why I got into him- is because I got into Edger Allan Poe first. And it was because the first X rated film I sneaked into was Roger Corman's The Fall of the House of Usher starring Vincent Price. I found all of Corman's films based on Poe's stories, terrifying. Then I got into reading his books and found the language wonderful.

Then I discovered that Baudelaire was Poe's biggest champion in Europe, and had translated all his work into French. So I thought Baudelaire was fan, I check him out as well, it's funny how one thing leads to another.

ZANI – I know exactly what you mean, how discovering something can lead off into many things. Staying with your youth, didn't you go to the same school as Giant Haystacks?

John Cooper Clarke - He was two years older than me and he used to take my sandwiches

ZANI – You were bullied by Giant Haystacks at school?

John Cooper Clarke – Everybody was, I wasn't alone, he threw his considerable weight around.

john cooper clarke zani matteo sedazzari big daddy.jpgZANI – So he was a baddie in real life, so when Big Daddy fought him, he was doing it for the kids he had bullied.

John Cooper Clarke – He sure was.

ZANI – As it was well documented, you were an original Mod from the sixties, and when the movement became commercial, you started calling yourself a Stylist

John Cooper Clarke - Yeah, that's right.

ZANI – And you used to steal a lot of clothes to stay sharp

John Cooper Clarke – All the time, I was an apprentice motor mechanic at the time, and I was on an apprentice wage, which was about £4.50 a week. It was easy back then to steal and the kids, who worked in the shops, would actually help you out.

ZANI – I understand that Mod helped you to develop a love for Soul music.

John Cooper Clarke – Yeah, Motown, Stax-and none of the clubs played any pop music

ZANI – What about Mod bands like The Who, The Small Faces, and The Action?

John Cooper Clarke – Love them especially The Small Faces, because there was a lot of soul in their music and I liked The Who, like 'Can't Explain' and some of their early stuff.

ZANI – We know you opened for the likes of The Sex Pistols, Joy Division during Punk, but what about in 78/79 did any of the Mod revival bands like The Purple Hearts, The Chords, Secret Affair ask you to play with them ?

John Cooper Clarke – I did a few gigs with the Mod bands, and some of the Two Tone Bands, which I enjoyed a lot. And bands like Q – Tips as well.

ZANI – Nice one, I know you have had a few jobs before you became a full time performer, and one of those was being a firewatcher, was that the worst job who have ever had?

John Cooper Clarke – No that wasn't , I enjoyed that.

ZANI – What was the worst job, you have ever had?

John Cooper Clarke – Building site work, didn't like that, the pain you felt and I was eating four steak and kidney pies and drinking three pints of Guinness every day for lunch, but you wouldn't get pissed because you would sweat it out in three quarters of an hour.

ZANI – Were you writing a lot during this period?

John Cooper Clarke – Yeah I was writing a lot.

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ZANI – Is that why you went for mundane jobs as you use your brain for writing

John Cooper Clarke – Yeah, I went seeking them out. Where you had to be there, but you didn't have to think, a bit like the job I had at Salford tech.

ZANI – I remember seeing the interview of you working at Salford Tech with Tony Wilson interviewing you.

John Cooper Clarke – That wasn't staged, I was working there at the time and it was about two weeks after that interview that I left and became professional.

ZANI – Did you feel a bit humble about turning pro and leaving work behind ?

John Cooper Clarke - Yeah I was humble, there was a bit of an overlap. I used to do gigs before the punk thing happen, but it was sporadic. But it was OK at Salford Tech, I could get in late from doing a gig the night before, and things like that. I used to have make up any flighty excuses as there was this guy who was in charge of clocking me in, and if I could keep him entertained , like saying I tried to get hold of this bird, he would say "what happened?" I would make it dirty, like Robin Askwith. I convinced the foreman that I led this sort of Robin Askwith life. Confessions of a performing poet, if you know what I mean.

john cooper clarke zani matteo sedazzari   howard devotoZANI – Nice one, is it true that it was Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley that introduced you to Punk.

John Cooper Clarke - It was Howard's idea that I did some Punk gigs, because I was doing Mr Smith's, this club in Manchester, a working man's club. They had artists such as Matt Monroe, Shirley Bassey and Tony Christie as the main acts. If you remember The Wheel Tappers and Shunters social club, Granada TV's fictional social club from the seventies, well I was like their compere Colin Crompton. I would do a few poems, say a couple of gags and introduce the main act. But it was good money at the time; I was getting £20.00 for twenty minutes work, whilst my dad was getting £30.00 for a week's work. But even then, I was wondering when the bottom would fall out.

ZANI – I heard you saying you found it tougher at the working man's club then you did at the punk gigs.

John Cooper Clarke – Yeah I did, people say to me it must have been tough doing them Punk clubs, with people throwing things at you. But it held no terror for me, it was a stroll in the park after doing them working men's clubs, by that I don't mean Mr Smith's, because that was the high end.

ZANI – Sounds a great experience and one that certainly toughens you up as a performer. Were you into The Mersey Sound poets like Adrian Henri, Brain Patten and Roger McGough? Three working class lads, and like you, they had a flair for poetry.

John Cooper Clarke – Yeah I was into all that. I liked their work because it mentions everyday life. A lot of my early stuff was more like traditional poetry I learnt from school, so their work was something to aim for.

ZANI – Some of your poems are now on the GCSE syllabus.

John Cooper Clarke – Yeah it is, that is what you get when you put hippies in charge of Education.

ZANI – Never trust a hippy, but that is an amazing feat and well done.

John Cooper Clarke – Thank you.

ZANI - I understand two of your heroes are John Lennon and Frank Sidebottom?

John Cooper Clarke – I liked John Lennon when he was with The Beatles, I didn't like anything he did after that. And Frank Sidebottom was solid gold all the way; Chris Sievey the man behind Frank Sidebottom was a great songwriter and a singer. A sad loss

ZANI – I loved Frank Sidebottom. Talking off recording artists, the record deal that you got back in the seventies, was with CBS, home of The Clash, and you said that was the wrong record label for you, why was that ?

John Cooper Clarke – Maybe, I can't remember. But record labels these days aren't as important or as influencer as they were back then.

ZANI – Yeah, but we will see a new concept, things are changing but they will always been pioneers, like Tony Wilson whom championed you at the start of your career. But why didn't he sign you to his Factory records? When The Happy Mondays made it, around 1989, did they approach you to work with them ?

John Cooper Clarke – Don't why I never signed to Factory, The Mondays did approach me, but by then I was a serious junkie, working hand to mouth, the eighties were a terrible time for me. And I was still labelled the punk poet, and that was a millstone around my neck. I mean apart from Adam Ant, what was really going on in the eighties?

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ZANI – You had The Red Skins, The Smiths, etc.

John Cooper Clarke – That was on the opposite side, I am talking about mainstream pop, it was all about how much money you had and anything that was risqué or a bit weird, was just seen as shit , a loser, and that is exactly what I was in the eighties, a fucking loser.

ZANI – I would say its worse now, and now the once rebellious movement Mod, is the norm, it's not the voice of the outsider anymore.

John Cooper Clarke – Spot on, Millet Parkas are back in fashion.

ZANI - So the eighties was your exile period?

John Cooper Clarke – Yes it was, without a doubt.

ZANI – Was around this time, that Nico of The Velvet Underground moved in with you, when you lived in Brixton.

John Cooper Clarke – Yes it was, Nico was a ray of sunshine.

john cooper clarke zani matteo sedazzari  nico velvet underground zani 1.ZANI – Did she pay her rent?

John Cooper Clarke – Oh yes, she paid her rent, she was the only one working, otherwise I would have been thrown out.

ZANI – In the sixties you too had a shot at being in a rock band, as you were in a band called The Vendettas.

John Cooper Clarke – That was when I had just left school, and first of all we were called The Mafia. We were an R 'n'B band, we wanted to be like The Stones, who were our template. But none of us could really play, apart from the guy who was at Salford Tech. I opted for the bass, thinking that was the easier option, one string at the time. But I soon discovered I couldn't play bass, not many people can, well apart from Sting and I don't admire Sting for any reason, but at least he can sing and play bass at the same time, which is more than I could do. Well that is not exactly true; I could play and sing In The Midnight Hour and Hoochie Coochie Man. But we had camaraderie; it was brilliant, as we were all mates. We originally called ourselves The Mafia, because we had seen this film 'Pay or Die' made in 1960 starring Ernest Borgnine, who played the only honest Sicilian cop, but he was up against the Black Hand gang and the Mafia. We thought the clothes were all ace, and like all kids we looked up to gangsters. We did one gig under the name of The Mafia, at Salford Art College, and we expected to get loads of bookings, but they didn't flow, we thought it was down to the name, the Mafia, so we changed to The Vendettas, but it was down to us being shit not the name.

ZANI- Cool anecdote.

John Cooper Clarke – I was also in a psychedelic band in 1967, called The Lovely Flowers.

ZANI – What was that experience like?

John Cooper Clarke – The jams were great, because I got into smoking dope then, thinking if only the record companies could hear us we would blow their minds. It was around the time when Mods were starting to wear frilly shirts, so it wasn't full on brown rice hippy shit. More like The Move. I loved The Move, saw them a few times, in fact saw most the great sixties bands, like The Action, saw The Who in 150 capacity club, Oasis in Manchester. That was really in their early days, they weren't hardly playing any of their own stuff, doing covers like Martha and The Vandellas, Everly Brothers, Beach Boys numbers.

ZANI – You should certainly write a book about your experience as a Mod

John Cooper Clarke – Text book Mod, I was really in the thick of it. All the people I saw, like Jimmy Reeves, John Lee Hooker, I didn't see them in a theatre, but small clubs that weren't even licensed. If you wanted a drink, you had to nip out to the pub, which we did a lot.

ZANI – Topped up with pep pills.

John Cooper Clarke – Oh yes, we did a lot of pep pills. But we didn't see them as taking drugs, no way because everybody's mum had a prescription. No shady pushers or anything like that, we got them out of our mum's knickers drawers

ZANI – Mother's Little Helpers

John Cooper Clarke – Yes, mother's little helpers.

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ZANI – Talking of The Stones, is it true, you get mistaken for Ronnie Wood?

John Cooper Clarke – All the time.

ZANI – Does he know about this?

John Cooper Clarke – I am sure it has been bought to his attention

ZANI – Well it is a compliment

John Cooper Clarke – It's a massive compliment; I play along with it, at times. I was in Ireland last year and I was sitting in a restaurant, I can always understand being mistaken for him in Ireland, because Ronnie Wood has got a gaff out there. But it was a Norwegian family, I went outside for a cigarette and one of them followed me outside. "Hey I saw your gig at Oslo" he said to me, and sometimes it is less trouble to go along with it, so I replied "Yeah, I will never forget Oslo, what a gig that was". As he left he said "keep on rocking", so he can go back to his mates in Norway and say he had a chinwag with Ronnie Wood, so it's a win win situation.

ZANI – And doing some nice PR for Mr Wood. Would you describe yourself as a performer, as your shows are a combination of comedy and poetry?

John Cooper Clarke – Well it has always had a dimension, of stand-up comedy, but it is more organic now, it's not bang bang like it was in the punk days. How did anyone like it in the first place? I don't know but now it's much more conversational, it's more of the moment and every gig is in some way different. For a start I have a massive collection of poetry, I would never get through all my poems in a normal night, there is so much new stuff.

ZANI – You need to get them published.

John Cooper Clarke – Now that I am going to this year, without a shadow of a doubt.

john cooper clarke zani matteo sedazzari 4.ZANI – You got to, OK final question. If you were approached to design an item of clothing, be it a jacket, a shirt, trousers, shoes or sunglasses, what would it be, what brand and why?

John Cooper Clarke – There used to be these suits you could buy from Marks and Spencer, back in the sixties. Back then there wasn't a lot of choice of style, three buttons, narrow labels, natural shoulders, mainly Italian , Neapolitan or Roman. I loved the Neapolitan suit; I don't think it can really bettered. Like Lenny Bruce used to wear that cut, and he always looked cool. Anyway they made a suit, you could throw it the washing machine, you could hang it like a shirt and it wouldn't have any creases in it. Very smart and based on the Neapolitan style, it was a dark grey. Great suit, wish they made them again, perfect for the travelling performer who wants to look smart every night. You look good, but you feel like you are your pyjamas. Now that would be a great seller, the John Cooper Clarke's washable and crease free Neapolitan style suit.

There is certainly a hive of energy and fervour, coupled with anecdotes and beliefs when Clarke speaks. He is a natural entertainer who delivers his words with punch and wit.

He has been on a journey, full of adventure, joy and a fair bit of pain. Today he has arrived at his final destination, personal fulfilment with a wife and a daughter, respect from his peers and the world in general with regular bookings and other creative projects, because there is a strong vibe of happiness and content from him.

After the interview, we walk back to Liverpool Street station, and were amused when an American tourist asks Clarke if he is Ronnie Wood from The Rolling Stones, a nice smile to end the perfect day. We say our goodbyes, and Clarke steps onto the escalator to take him to the platform to catch his train. I walked round to the side, so I can rekindle the first image I had of him performing on Something Else, and I feel so blessed that over thirty years later that vision still inspires me to be creative.

© Words Matteo Sedazzari/ ZANI Media

NB Personal Footnote

I would say that the debut airing of the BBC 's Something Else, certainly changed my life forever, I have been fortunate to interview all three major acts from that show Paul Weller/Rick Buckler - The Jam, Peter Hook - Joy Division and now John Cooper Clarke.. ZANI or what ...

Please view ZANI's interview with John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke on ZANI TV

About Us

ZANI was conceived in late 2008 and the fan base gradually grew by word of mouth. Key contributors came from those of the music, film and fashion industry and the voice of ZANI grew louder. So, when in 2013 investor, contributor and fan of ZANI Alan McGee* offered his support to help restyle and relaunch the site it was inevitable that traffic would increase dramatically and continues to grow. *Alan McGee co-founder of Creation Records and new label 359 Music..


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ZANI is an independent online magazine for readers interested in contemporary culture, covering Music, Film & TV, Sport, Art amongst other cultural topics. Relevant to modern times ZANI is a dynamic website and a flagship for creative movement and thinking wherever our readers live in the world.