Sunday, February 09, 2014

Luke, Mike and John Storm the Royal & Derngate

Johnny's in the basement
 I saw John Cooper Clarke at the Derngate last night. The Royal & Derngate, as two people in front of me insisted on calling it. Two drunken patriots in velvet hats.

I'd been looking forward to this show for months and I wasn't disappointed. John was supported by two poets: first Luke Wright, then Mike Garry. I hadn't heard of either of them before the show, but apparently they're quite well known. Shows you how much I get around.

Luke, who has a quiff that makes Morrissey's early 80s barnet look timid, performed a bunch of rhymers about himself, the honours list and the decline of the English community. (Etc.) It was heavy, insightful (and inciteful) stuff couched in humour. He charmed the hell out of those people in the hats.

Mike Garry's set was more serious. He joked that he was positioned between Luke and John in the running order to provide emotional balance. One of his poems was a half-sung, half-spoken thing about Tony Wilson. It was gripping; and later in the year it's coming out with musical accompaniment to raise money for cancer research. ("That motherfucking disease," he said.) I'll boost it here, when the time comes, if I know.

Mike ended his set with a poem about his mum. I expected a lot when I left for the show last night, but I didn't expect to be reminded so movingly of my own mum's passing in a poem I would kill (almost) to have written myself. He is a good bloody poet. Wish I could get him for Irchester.

John was brilliant. He performed many poems I hadn't heard, including the marvellously-titled "Get Back On Drugs, You Fat Fuck," as well as some of the classics. My favourite JCC poem has always been "Beasley Street," and he coupled that one with "Beasley Boulevard," which describes the same place after it has been given a makeover by the BBC. I don't think I'm giving much away by saying he closed with "Evidently Chicken Town." It's his "Like a Rolling Stone." If old Bob didn't do that every night he'd probably be hung upside down from a lamp post, and John's fans are equally insistent.

In his set there was also a lot of riffing and free association. John's one of the best stand-up comics in the business, even if it's a bit hard to follow sometimes when he starts developing an idea. Last night we were treated to lengthy ruminations on "Grocer Jack" and John's exclusion from that mighty vehicle of the spoken word "Poetry Please." He also briefly morphed into Elvis when he was brought libation. "Charlie Hodge," he said, in a hybrid Mancunian-American accent. "Charlie Hodge."

I came out of the theatre thinking what a fantastic job we all have as poets. Practised at this level, with this kind of intelligence and wit ("what oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed," as Pope says), it's a beautiful thing to behold. I could hardly wait to sit down with pen and paper and write something new of my own. Cheers chaps. Come back to Shoe Town the next time you're on your travels.

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