Lydon, Shelley & Diggle, Strummer and Jones. They were the great punk poets weren’t they? The less cliched among us would cast the net further and point to the genius of Ian Dury, a superior lyricist in every way to his punk peers. And then there was John Cooper Clarke, not a lyricist, but a poet. A poet who jumped on stage to perform his confrontational musings about everyday life to sneering and cynical audiences and won them over.
Such was Cooper-Clarke’s success on stage that he was encouraged to put his poetry to music, music ably provided by the a backing band known as The Invisible Girls (known to include Paul Burgess of 10cc, Bill Nelson of Be-Bop Deluxe and Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks). Although not a singer in the traditional sense, Copper-Clarke was always able to provide a spoken delivery which perfectly suited his poetry, indeed it could be argued that Cooper-Clarke was a prototype white rap act, but that is stretching the point somewhat.
In addition to splendid studio originals like “(I Married A) Monster From Outer Space”, “I Don’t Want To Be Nice” and the often overlooked “The Day My Pad Went Mad”, there are a selection of suitably venomous and sweaty live numbers like the legendary ” Kung Fu International” and “Psycle Sluts” on which Cooper-Clarke’s solo performance is even more powerful than the band-backed studio numbers.
“But he’s not a proper punk!” the unbelievers will wail. Just sit them down and make them listen to “Beasley Street”. And then watch them collapse in tears of disbelief and frustration. No one matched John Cooper-Clarke for literate wordplay in the late 70s, and he even over shadowed the mighty Ian Dury. Everyone else was just playing at it really.