REVIEW: John Cooper Clarke live at Sheffield City Hall

John Cooper Clarke
John Cooper Clarke

Poetry takes on many forms and means different things to different people.

But to the crowd gathered deep downstairs in the ballroom under Sheffield City Hall there was a sense of something shared.

Excitement fizzed in the air as we waited for a first glimpse of legendary frizzy haired motor mouth John Cooper Clarke.

A frenetic fervour had already been whipped up by two talented support acts.

Young poet Luke Wright had the audience howling from the first word, with hilarious tales of posh plumbers, boozy ne’er-do-wells, the Essex lion spotting and, of course, Nigel Farage.

I enjoyed his set so much I went straight to the merchandise stall and bought his CD.

Next up - or should I say down - was Mancunian Mike Garry.

His unique depressive insights into working class culture and his home town were peppered with humour and sorrow.

And his unapologetically abrasive northern tone glazed his words with gravitas.

Garry’s honest observations on human kind brought a tear to my eye and sent me back to the book stand to buy his wares.

Then it was time. Time for what exactly, I wasn’t sure, having never seen John Cooper Clarke’s live show before.

I had an idea of what to expect. The main man’s reputation preceded him and he did not disappoint in the flesh.

The venue rattled and rolled as he stumbled on the stage, all hairspray and drainpipe trousers.

And then it came - that inimitable Manc accent, chucking up world weary wisdom and witticisms.

In his opening number, the 63-year-old reeled off an imaginary guest list of famous names at high speed, followed up by his well-known homage to the Hire Car.

I was surprised to discover just how much of Clarke’s show is pure stand-up.

Bursts of prose were punctuated by extended interludes of side-splitting comedy on topics such as old age, STDs, Terry Pratchett’s Alzheimer’s, golf, alcoholism and Bernard Manning.

It was Manning who gave the young poet his first paid gig at the world famous Embassy Club in Manchester, with the introduction: “He’s not my cup of tea but you might like him. Here’s John Cooper Clarke”.

Back to the poetry and stomping classics like Beasley Street and Evidently Chickentown wound up the performance.

And Clarke illustrated his unwaning influence on popular culture with reference to cult TV series The Sopranos, which used his profane recording of Evidently Chickentown in the penultimate closing scene of the show.

I left the City Hall clutching a library of literary swag and a refreshed perspective on poetry.

It’s no wonder to me that Clarke’s work has made it into the GCSE syllabus, and long may his way with words continue.

I ambled home inspired, concocting my own little ditties and rhymes in my head.

By Hayley Gallimore