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John Cooper Clarke + Mike Garry + Luke Wright @ Town Hall, Birmingham, 23 October 2014

Tonight we’re at the beautiful Town Hall in Birmingham, to see a full on punk-rock gig, with a twist. There is no music, no musicians, no instruments, it is the words that are the lyrics and the melody. Tonight we’re here for rock with words, the punk god-father of the satirical, the political and the scathing courtesy of Doctor John Cooper Clarke.
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Q Magazine’s Poet Laureate John Cooper Clarke remains as important these days,  as he was when he first burst onto the scene in a blaze of vitriol in the ‘70s. Thanks to his biting, satirical, and overtly political verse, delivered in a unique rapid-fire performance style, he became firmly entrenched in the punk movement and toured with the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, while Joy Division and subsequently New Order supported him.

Now armed with an honorary Doctorate of Arts, he brings his treasury of punk poetry and two ‘up and coming’ poets – Luke Wright and Mike Garry – for the holiest of punk poet trinities.

Up first Luke Wright takes to the stage – giving us manic, quick fire poetry. He claims he’s  “a stay at home dandy” – he’s been out on his tour in the Autumn with ‘Fat Dandy.’ A poet and sometime broadcaster he writes a new shows each years and touts it round the country – not as some claim he says to “take poetry to the people” but because it pays his mortgage – and he loves it!  He tells us he met  Lenny Henry, asked him if he was stating in a Premiere Inn – response – “Of course not!” Henry didn’t get the irony and quick witted comedy of Wright in that one. He’s books and CDs – well worth checking out – find out more on his website.

Next up - Mike Garry – he’s from Manchester. His poetry is observational, ranting and a raving and social commentary. And he’s fast – the poetry is the rhythm of his music – the ability to recant the lyrics of his poetry at speed with no reference is pretty incredible and mesmerising to watch. He loves Birmingham. And gives us a poem about a s**t club – the Embassy – and the characters that are there, their lives are maybe what they may seem to be. He’s impressing himself here – and now for a sonnet –  another look at societies throw away attitude – ‘Pay As You Go.’ He’s here with books (a merchandising plug – he be there after his act)  and as one falls off stage he tells us not to knick it. He’s a good as stand up comedian as talented poet, next one to the local Manchester legend Tony Wilson – written after his death and performed with New Order. ‘Antony H Wilson’ another social look on life and Wilson’s impact – and the words take on the alphabet letter by letter – clever and emotive. Birmingham is beautiful, although he’s less complimentary about local councils, and at the end of his set he will jump off the stage – “un-risk-assessed”. “Have you been involved in an accident….” a satirical take on the adverts we see on TV, before a poetry eulogy to his mother who died. Funny but sad too – and we feel.

And now to THE main man. The Godfather of punk poetry – Doctor John Cooper Clarke. “Evening. ” He’s the chairman of the board, dressed in top to tail in black, blackened hair spiked, darkened glasses.

He got here late, he tells us, he’s gonna read ‘the Guest List’. “Would it kill ‘em to buy a ticket?” he quips and leaps into a fast paced rendition of everyone he knows, names rhyming. Apparently Birmingham is an ‘Atomic City.’

And tells of ‘generalisation’ ( we all do it),  which comes with two other important factors ‘Prejudice’ and ‘Judgement’ – a three pronged trilogy. And poetry to recant in full on observational vitriol as only Dr Clarke can do – “Get Back On The Drugs You Fat F**k” . He’s funny and whitty and fast paced and flies off at tangents – continually challenging, asking questions, pointing out the bleeding obvious. “Dr. Clarke how did you get here?” on birth and life and how he got here rather than the car he travelled in, before he leaps into ‘Hire Car.’

A punter’s question to “Is there a God?” doesn’t get the straight answer, but a tangent circle of responses. As he says “the public are in charge – the public is the governor” as he gives us the old and new in his poetry treasury – including his love story in reverse “T**t!” And his poetry can be two lines, limericks, sonnets, Hiaku or the long ones. He’s the “peoples balladeer; the high court judge” in newbie “The People’s Republic of Doktor Klarke.”

From is back catalogue ‘Beasley Street’ – a real life place and it’s social life, plus a an update to the way the place has changed ‘Beasley Boulevard’ – all ‘Urban Splash!’ Irony, and observation – on ‘golf audiences’ and age. “Age. The silent killer” – he’s been around our entire lives, before “Bed Blocker Blues.

He’s been experiments with Hiaku – poems of 17 syllables. he has a list and number 1 will be the final he reads to us. “Smarter than I have ever been, total idiots. I have met them all.” And his number 1. “To freeze the moment in seventeen syllables is very diffic…”

And he completes with his personal favourite – the classic ‘Chickentown’ – used in the penultimate episode of the Sopranos. When played on the BBC in ’78 the bleep operators got repetitive strain injury. Before thanks to the Arctic Monkeys, who closed their critically acclaimed album AM with a version of  ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ which we receive the Doctor Clarke version – in it’s full and scathing and dark glory.

This trilogy of social commentators were tonight, funny and witty, scathing with vitriol, yet caring and thought provoking.  The good Doctor was mesmerising in his words the hour and a half set whizzed by, with that inherent knack of making people laugh.  Doctor Clarke – part poet, part stand up. And still relevant.

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Pictures courtesy of Ken Harrison. Review for Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge.