Wightman Theatre, Shrewsbury – 11th April, 2017

Reviews are supposed be unbiased, aren’t they? Just so’s you can’t say you weren’t warned – this one won’t be.

I fucking love John Cooper Clarke. Actually as most people know, it’s Dr John Cooper Clarke these days, thank you very much – he was awarded an honorary degree by Salford University in 2013 for ‘acknowledgement of a career which has spanned five decades, bringing poetry to non-traditional audiences and influencing musicians and comedians’ (his widely quoted response to the honour was ‘Now I’m a doctor, finally my dream of opening a cosmetic surgery business can become a reality.’)

So, yeah I adore him and have done for decades now (I know, I’m really fucking old). The first time I heard his poetry must have been at some point in the late 80s – it was Beasley Street, which has stayed with me ever since. But it took until 2014 for me to see him live on stage (supported then by Mike Garry, who I’ve reviewed on here previously) and I was surprised at just how funny he is. You don’t listen to pieces like Evidently Chickentown and expect the man behind them to be lighthearted and witty, but Cooper Clarke is more than willing to take the piss out of himself as well as everyone and everything around him.

Even so, I felt a certain amount of trepidation at seeing him at such close quarters. The Wightman Theatre is tiny (and it’s a massive coup on the part of Chairhouse Presents to have coaxed him out to somewhere as benign and suburban as Shrewsbury in the first place). Sitting in the front row, we were barely ten pointy-shoed footsteps from the Bard of Salford himself and I was concerned that we might wither under his glare.

Turns out that I couldn’t tell who he was looking at anyway, cos he never takes his sunglasses off. I shit you not, he could have reflective alien eyes behind those shades and you’d never know. His stage act is a combination of the spoken word poetry he’s best known for, alongside a neat line in what can only be described as ‘dad jokes’ – some more potentially offensive than others. But then it’s unlikely that anyone would go to see Cooper Clarke live without a good idea of the punk mentality behind his work. He might be in his sixties but he’s lost none of the spitting sharpness of his youth and he’s not going to start being polite now. 

He sings as well, turning himself into a half-speaking, half-crooning kind of cabaret act, but it fits together into just over an hour’s worth of intelligent, thoughtful entertainment from someone who looks like he’s released from the crypt just before his set starts and is locked away again straight afterwards lest he corrupt the townsfolk.

Chatting to him after the gig I was surprised to discover just what a nice bloke he is. He probably won’t thank me for saying it, but he’s fucking lovely (and he smells delicious – I informed him of this very loudly because I have no filters and probably shouldn’t be allowed out without supervision, but seriously, more blokes need to realise that smelling good is 90% of the journey into women’s pants). When he asked if I was going to ‘do a hatchet job’ on him it was all I could do not to reply ‘Mate, you could shit on the stage and I’d still think it was the best thing I’d seen all year’. Actually what I really wanted to ask was ‘Are you still planning to take up opiates again if you live to eighty?’ but it’s probably better for all concerned that I forgot that one.

Support on this tour is from the brilliant Clare Ferguson-Walker and Toria Garbutt. Garbutt’s work is equal parts humour and tragedy – she bounces around onstage like JCC brought his mouthy daughter on tour and let her loose just to see what would happen. 

Ferguson-Walker is as much a standup as a poet, rambling at the audience as if they were mates she was explaining her life to over way too many bottles of gin. She is also a fucking amazing sculptor. Accessible and also sharp as tacks, both women are well worth seeking out live. 

Dr John Cooper Clarke is appearing live at venues across the country until the end of November. More details from johncooperclarke.com