JCC was not at all a compelling stage presence. Indeed I left early - I was so bored. After an hour, and three or possibly four poems I really did not think I was getting even the £20-worth that I paid for the ticket. His delivery is not what it used to be - not at all helped by the dreadful acoustics. It was virtually impossible to understand him. There were a couple of his close mates in the audience, who they were I am still not sure as I could not work out which bits of what he said about them were true and which "jokes". He appeared to spend most of the night speaking directly to them, with a stream of private jokes that no-one else appeared to understand and the polite laughter waned as time went on. He found himself awfully funny however, and sniggered constantly at his jokes. Mike Garry on the other hand, was totally brilliant and outshone JCC embarrassingly. Although of course I am probably biased because he began by telling us he was a librarian for 15 years, and so was I.
VickyH (Unverified), 31/10/12
As John Cooper Clarke pointed out towards the end of the night, the venue was terrible – Imposing, over-lit, cavernous enough to turn Brian Sewell at his most clipped into a reverberating mush, the Town Hall is the opposite of what you’d get if you tried to design a venue suited to the delivery of subversive, rapid-fire spoken word art.
Maybe this is why Clarke chose not to read much poetry there. All great stuff, naturally. There’s ‘Beasley Street’, of course, and if you can’t enjoy ‘Beasley Street’ then you don’t like the noises words make and should probably ask yourself why you’re at a poetry reading. This was followed by its recent update ‘Beasley Boulevard’, the urban hell-hole now gentrified but no less spiritually defunct. There’s the new poem commissioned by Plan B for Ill Manors, and hot-off-the-notepad Baudelaire homage ‘Radiant City’.
That accounted for about a third of the poetry in his 90-minute set, which was otherwise padded with dry banter and hoary – although admittedly well-delivered – one-liners. This became a source of actual tension over the course of the evening as he would come within a hairs’ breadth of actually reading the poem he’d promised us an age ago (‘…anyway, this is called…’), before veering off into another lengthy portion of inelegantly wasted scally raconteur schtick. The poster called it ‘an evening with John Cooper Clarke’, and at times it came uncomfortably close to the showbiz chumminess and artificiality implied by that construct, Clarke’s sunglasses and skinny jeans as much an object of chortling familiarity as Bruce Forsythe’s toupee.
It may be that he’s aware of this, which would explain his choice of support. Mike Garry could have been a Cooper Clarke clone – a socially conscious Mancunian with a fondness for complex rhyme schemes – but the contrasts were telling. Impassioned where Clarke was sardonic, genuine where he was theatrical and, crucially, inverting the ratio of poetry to repartee, he was an unshowy, welcoming presence who deserved a more attentive audience.
An undoubted legend in a lifetime even he probably wasn’t expecting to stretch this far, Clarke could be forgiven for this at a lower ticket price or in something that isn’t calling itself a ‘National Poetry Month Tour’. He’s the same compelling stage presence he always was, and what he delivers is still done with passion and style. I just wish there’d been less of him, and more of his words.
Matt Bright (Unverified), 29/10/12
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