Bard of Salford John Cooper Clarke is listening to Radio 4 in the bathroom.

"I’ll switch my radio down. It’s background noise, I try not to let it upset me. Radio 4, the drip, drip of misery," he says.

The poet laureate of punk follows the news but wouldn’t describe his stuff as particularly topical or political.

"I write about the world that we share, I suppose," he says.

He believes the state of the world's no worse than it was when he wrote Evidently Chickentown in 1980 - using what was then profanity to express frustration and exasperation.

The bloody scene is bloody sad/The bloody news is bloody bad/The bloody weed is bloody turf/The bloody speed is bloody surf/The bloody folks are bloody daft... and so on. 

"Can you ever remember a time when people thought things were great?" he says. "I know I can’t. I‘ll put a timeframe on it, when everybody seemed to be reasonably happy. The Harold Wilson Years. 1964 to 1970. That's when everybody seemed happy."

Do you mind me asking how old you are? "No not at all."

This summer Cooper Clarke will be sharing some of his new work – and old favourites - at Oxford Playhouse.

He says: "I have some classics in my repertoire that I wouldn’t be allowed out of the theatre without reading. People have their favourites. I’ve got plenty in the bag, I don’t have to write anything special. I’ve got an embarrassment of riches in the bunker. But still I keep on writing the stuff.

"I never really know what I’m going to do until the night – Beasley Street, Chickentown, I’ve Fallen in Love with my Wife, couple of others like that.

"But I never really know 100 per cent. Every show when I’m on the road is sort of peculiar to that gig.

"Stuff goes on in the car between me and my pal Jimmy Green and I think I’m going to take that on to the stage. Every venue has a different vibe.

"Hopefully there is a level of competence below which I never fall."

But Evidently Chickentown, which was used in the closing scene of The Sopranos, he says "is in permanent residence on my run sheet" and he can still deliver it at the breakneck speed he did in the old days.

"Yeah I can if I want although generally I take it at a more leisurely pace than it was back in the punk years. Yeah I can do that, yeah, yeah."

And he says it's not necessarily about his hometown where Cooper Clarke began to write his first poems at the age of 13.

"I would try to avoid giving anywhere a specific geographic location. It’s really a nationwide phenomenon, everybody knows somewhere like that where they live.

"Like Beasley Street, that’s another one. People come up and ask me, it’s a reasonable question, is that some specific location in Manchester or Salford. No, not really, although those places do exist in Manchester and Salford. I’ve lived all over the place and found out there’s somewhere like that everywhere.

"It’s an international phenomenon – bad neighbourhoods.

"Beasley Street, for instance, another one of my classics. They’re both neighbourhood poems. Wherever I recite those poems people recognize the subject."

Lately Cooper Clarke has acquired the status of living legend and national treasure and, having faced a dark period in the 80s, he's not unhappy about it.

"Oh, it's terrific. How could you complain? It’s taken me 45 years to become an overnight success.

"The 80s weren’t too kind to me, partly my own fault with the drug habit – the drug habit really p***ed on my chips – but other than that.

"But being labelled the punk poet was the last thing you wanted to be associated with in the early 80s. You know, let’s face it, punk rock only lasted two years and after that anything that was tainted with the word punk was surplus to requirement.

"It went off to the other extreme, didn’t it? I’m not moaning about it, that’s the nature of pop music but, you know, it went in the opposite direction of conspicuous consumption and throwing money at everything.

"Duran Duran, the New Romantics, it was all spend, spend, spend, and two-minute videos with Hollywood production values.

"Punk was so last week. That so last week lasted for a decade really. But I’ve always worked – I didn’t have to get a real job.

"I was on tour with the Mescaleros. The sudden death of Joe [Strummer], we were going to go on another nationwide tour in a couple of weeks so that was a hell of a shock. Yes, I was on tour with The Clash a lot back in the day, all the big hitters.

"The Fall. We were kind of, me and Smithy [Mark E Smith], I would say we were both coming out of the same place – arcane relics."

And you lived with Nico from the Velvet Underground?

"Nico lived with me – I had the flat first."

Cooper Clarke has long been hailed as an inspiration by Arctic Monkeys who put one of his poems on their album while the band chose their name after Clarke gave it the nod of approval.

He says: "Alex Turner put music to one of my more gentle, romantic numbers I Want To Be Yours. Really the Arctic Monkeys ascertained their huge following before they even got a record deal thanks to the internet. They had a big web following.

"I don’t have any of it. No social media, I don’t have a mobile phone.

"I’ve got an office, I’ve got people look after that end of things and it’s not really something that I need."

He believes he has a common cause with other witty and often cutting Northern lyricists.

"Jarvis [Cocker], Alex – we’re a bit sarky and that," he says. "I don’t know whether it is a northern thing or not but I think we share certain personality traits, yeah."

One of his own great inspirations when it seemed making a living as a poet was an impossible dream was Pam Ayres, who became a regular fixture on television in the 1970s.

And Cooper Clarke has recently followed in her footsteps appearing on hit BBC show Would I Lie To You.

"I very much enjoyed it, it’s a great show," he said. "And 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, I love being on that especially when Sean Lock was alive. He was the funniest guy in the world, very, very sad whe he died."

So is the latest show a chance to see a genuine living legend, poetic phenomenon, at the top of his game? 

"Try to make the event look like as attractive a prospect as you can," he says.

John Cooper Clarke is touring the UK in April 2023 and will be performing at Oxford Playhouse on June 3.


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This story was written by Miranda Norris, she joined the team in 2021 and covers news across Oxfordshire as well as news from Witney.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Or find her on Twitter: @Mirandajnorris

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