John Cooper Clarke in Auckland

John Cooper Clarke was like some wordy icarus who flew too close to the sun & got sucked in by a blackhole Never mind the metaphors – on Thursday he was back, better than ever in Auckland town live at the Kings Arms.

“People all ask me the same question  -John – How did you get here? I tell them – In a Hirecar baby

Cue an avalanche of free association poetry all about the things we may have done to a hire car, then it’s on to the next story; chuckling all the way. John seemed very much like Sam Hunts funnier twin brother –  at ease with the world and its ambiguities and evidently pleased to be here.

“Marine Biology is to our decade what media studies was in in the ’90s. Are there any marine biologists in the audience ? Apparently its all because of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. So the question for all marine biologists is – What would the real sea level be  if there weren’t a whole lot 0f sponges down there (under the waves.)”

And so it went. Or as close as I can remember it. Photos below courtesy of Jonathan Ganley from

John Cooper Clarke at the Kings Arms, Auckland, March 22 2012

John Cooper Clarke at the Kings Arms, Auckland, March 22 2012

Something very delicious about hearing a poet in freeflow and especially one who is obviously having such an excellent time of it.

Looking around the audience I spotted a few people who I haven’t seen since the early ’80’s. Good on them for getting off the couch for the night . There is obvious comedy just looking around at an average age 50 something audience. For Cooper Clarke this was a cue for a joke about Easter eggs and Alzheimer’s. So there we were – a whole crowd full of musical time travellers from an age when music really meant something.

The audience all had great stories. One woman told me all about her first year at uni and when I asked her what she studied – it was medicine but it was the music she remembered best. My first year at uni was ’77 and the shock and thrill of watching the birth of punk rock was truly a moment in time worthy of legend. Even if we couldn’t get any of it (the music) right then we felt the seismic shockwave from 12,000 km? miles away.

Johnny Green at the Kings Arms, Auckland, March 22 2012

Johnny Green at the Kings Arms, Auckland, March 22 2012 © jonathan ganley 2012

As Johnny Green said on Thursday “It was all about attitude” it didn’t matter that no one could play or sing. Green who was road manager for the Clash ( Topper Headon story here)  wrote a book about this. He read a few pages from “A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with the Clash” as the warm-up for Cooper Clarke. Green talked about the “London Calling” album – how the record company didn’t want to release it and what do you do after working with the Clash. In his case he went to Texas. Thought I heard Townes van Zandt mentioned here as one of those Johnny worked with but I could be wrong (anyone know?)

When I was a student one big luxury was reading as much poetry as I could get my hands on. I even used to write a few lines. What I loved then and still do now – is the idea that a few words and ideas can resonate in a way that is concise but at the very same time open to multiple flights of fancy.

The closest most of us get to poetry are songs that like some kind of incantation recall a time and a place in our memory. A great song/poem  becomes a stepping off place for the imagination to lift the spirit and move us in a day and age when nothing much else has that kind of cut through. Daniel Levitin is the music and memory guy, but Thursday was all about being there and making a new memory.

It’s a cliche but I can remember whole blocks of life by remembering where I was when I first heard a certain song. Some songs are way better than others at rinsing out every colour and capturing every aspect of their life pulse. Cooper Clarke for me was a master then and clearly still has it in 2012.

Here is one of those songs that for me captures a certain time in 1980 when music reconnected with the street. I still remember it vividly like it was yesterday…

“Spend a year in a couple of hrs, Where the action isn’t , That’s where it is…”

“The rats have all got rickets
They spit through broken teeth
The name of the game is not cricket
Caught out on Beasley Street collide, colours clash..” *

These lines come from John Cooper Clarke’s song Beasley St off the Snap, Crackle and Bop album. For a time there, Clarke single-handedly re-introduced poetry into the culture of the day. So much so that I used his poems to teach high school students cramming for English exams (in 1982.) At the time It was fun and a respite from the official curriculum. Now apparently in the UK Twat is on the official syllabus but we did it here first. Best of all – my students all flew through their English exams.

Clarke’s rapid fire spoken word delivery is still striking even after more than 30 years. A couple of years ago (2009) he gave this interview – a life of rhyme – his first in 20 years.

Many of those at the concert heard the excellent Radio NZ interview on the Kim Hill radio show Sat 3rd Mar.

Full link below if this one doesn’t work for you.

Another recent NZ interview by Marty Duda on 13th Floor

Thank you John Cooper Clarke. Now if only I could remember the rest of the concert – I’m off to hide my own Easter eggs just now.

Note: I wrote the second part of this about Beasley St back in April 2011- just never published it and so the concert was an extra delight to be able to hear Cooper Clarke live and dangerous and seemed the perfect time to refresh my memory.

* For some reason this line connects me straight back to Bruce Cockburn’s Tokyo song from Humans 1980

“pachinko jingle and space torpedo beams. Comic book violence and escaping steam”

Great music makes time travel easy, but that is from another master songwriter and another story for another day.