On my radar: John Cooper Clarke's cultural highlights

Kadish Morris
·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Phil Bourne/Redferns</span>
Photograph: Phil Bourne/Redferns

John Cooper Clarke is a performance poet, comedian and presenter who rose to fame in the 1970s as one of the first “punk poets”. He was born in Salford in 1949 and his third album, Walking Back to Happiness, released in 1979, featured the UK top 40 song Gimmix! (Play Loud). Clarke has toured with Linton Kwesi Johnson, and performed alongside the Sex Pistols, Joy Division and Buzzcocks. He released his first poetry collection, Ten Years in An Open Necked Shirt, in 1983 and has appeared on TV shows including Would I Lie to You? and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. His memoir, I Wanna Be Yours, about growing up in a Salford suburb, is published this month.

1. TV

Talking Pictures TV

Sean Connery in The Frightened City (1961).
Sean Connery in The Frightened City (1961). Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy Stock Photo

This is run by a guy out of his shed. I read an article about him and he’s managed to infuse his young daughter with the same taste in movies. It’s all monochrome British crime films and old TV series. They had a particularly good one on recently, The Frightened City, 1961, starring the young Sean Connery, the year before he appeared as James Bond in Dr No. It’s a terrific picture and stuff like that is typical of the channel’s output. They show old public information films too.

2. Art

George Shaw

I recently discovered George Shaw. He paints scenes of Coventry, where he grew up. Talk about hyperreal. I saw a reproduction of his painting Scenes from the Passion: The Hawthorne Tree in the Spectator. It features a retro-looking building in the art deco style. I was amazed to find out it was a painting. I had a look at some of his other stuff via my daughter’s computer and thought they were terrific. I like the banality of the settings. They are places that you’ve been to. I’m sure someone might see his work and think: “Who wants to see a painting of that, I can look out the window.” These people would have said the same to Edward Hopper.

3. Poetry

Bad News by Paul Birtill

I can’t recommend this enough. It’s about the dealings of Birtill’s everyday life at the doctor’s, with a bleak comic slant. It’s the epitome of black humorous poetry. It looks on the grim side of things, but makes you laugh and burst into tears. Every one of them is a killer. One of my favourites is I’ll Take Your Blood Pressure. It begins: “‘Just relax’ he said, ‘try to relax – relax for god’s sake – it’s going up’…” I like rhymes and I’m always looking for a rhyme I can swipe. In my line of work, many young up-and-coming poets want to give me a book of their poetry. I always warn them: “If I see anything in there I like, I’m going to steal it.”

4. Radio

I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, BBC Radio 4

The subheading of the show is the “antidote to panel games”. Like most panel shows, it’s formulaic, but within that formula, hilarity breaks out. Jack Dee is the chairman. It goes back decades and it hasn’t changed in its nature. It’s got this Carry On… vibe, saucy humour, a bit out of step but hilarious. They’ll sing one song to the tune of another for instance. Killing Me Softly With His Song sung to the tune of Colonel Bogey March. It works better than you’d think! The ghosts of all the people who used to be on it are still there. Willie Rushton [a panellist for 22 years] , who co-founded Private Eye… his ghost is still there, at any moment you can imagine him chipping in.

5. Book

Museum Without Walls by Jonathan Meades

This is so elegantly written. Even though you know what’s coming next, it’s like bingeing on candy. It’s a collection of essays about architecture, which is Meades’s field of expertise. I get around a lot and I consider the hours I spend in the passenger seat of an automobile to be golden no matter where I’m going. If I’m going to be stuck in traffic, I like to be stuck in the suburbs. You never get sick of looking at architecture. He concerns himself with modern life, which really speaks to me. I like his style. He’s probably the most elegant writer today and he’s also a cook. A renaissance man.

6. Music

Bob Dylan’s Great American Songbook

Bob Dylan
‘His voice is slightly weathered, but all the better for it…’ Bob Dylan. Photograph: Ki Price/Reuters

I’m a sucker for the Great American Songbook. There is a jazz dimension to it, but it’s as much to do with musical theatre. It features Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer and Jule Styne. I never get sick of hearing those songs. In Bob’s version of the songs, his voice is slightly weathered, but all the better for it. To hear Bob apply himself to songs that someone else has written is a great experience. His phrasing is different. The first version might be the one that defines that song for you, but there is no right or wrong way of singing it.