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A Life Of Rhyme
He’s the original rock and roll poet, a punk icon worshipped by rock stars, movie-makers and at least one of Galway’s discerning homeless population. Bard of Salford John Cooper Clarke talks about his long struggle with drug addiction, his second career as a Ronnie Wood lookalike and his influence on The Simpsons.
Olaf Tyaransen, 25 Jan 2011
A wet, windy weekend afternoon in the west of Ireland, and legendary performance poet John Cooper Clarke and your Hot Press correspondent are getting soaked to our skins as we sway exposed to the elements on Galway’s Wolfe Tone Bridge, deep in demented discussion with one of the city’s more genial winos.
We’re both hungover from last night’s restaurant wine, and also somewhat stoned from a more recent spliff, but when the guy staggered over asking for the price of “a cup of cider,” we stopped to give him some change.
Taking in Clarke’s distinctive stick-insect stylings – electrified bouffant hairstyle, long Mafia coat, dark shades and drainpipe trousers – the drunk performed an exaggerated double take.
“Jesus Christ almighty!” he cried. “Is it... John Cooper Clarke?” When Clarke confirmed his identity, he grabbed his hand to enthusiastically shake it. “I used to work the sites over in London. I remember seeing you in Brixton back in the day. What was that one again? ‘Beasley Street’! You were fuckin’ brilliant, man!”
Holding tightly onto John’s hand, as though for dear life, he began to tell us his story, reciting an occasional mantra of, “God bless you, Johnny ... God bless you, Johnny ... God bless you, Johnny...” whenever losing his thread of thought.
After a few excruciating minutes of this, we eventually manage to get away only to discover that there’s a couple of soaked but smiling fans waiting nearby waving tickets for tonight’s show in the Roisin Dubh that they want signed. Ever the gentleman, Clarke (Cooper is his middle name) stops to oblige.
“What can you do?” he shrugs. “You get outta bed in the morning and... it begins.”
He certainly attracts a lot of attention. Everywhere we go, slack-jawed locals tend to stop and stare. Some even take snaps on their mobile phones. Mostly this is because they’re mistaking the 60-year-old poet for one of the Rolling Stones. Clarke’s well used to it.
“I was all cramped up with me bag at the back of a bus the other day,” he tells me. “And this middle-aged woman kept staring at me. Like, really intensely! Eventually she worked up the courage to come over and say, ‘Excuse me, I’m really sorry to bother you – but are you Ron Wood?’ I told her, ‘Yes, love, I just decided to give me stretch limo driver the day off and take the bus instead’.”