Jul 062012

Martin and John (not pictured: Abraham).


Dear Fellow Rock’n’Rollers, I have been remiss. Many months ago now I promised to write 3 articles on 3 “very British Johns” and I did not come through on parts 2 and 3, but I do have my excuses.

  1. Band trouble, we can all understand this affliction I hope
  2. I have been trying to organise my life to make studying for my degree at least possible!
  3. Drunk. Yep! Good’ol fashioned drunk

But no more excuses, on with Part 2! Better late than never.

Three Very British Johns, Part 2: John Cooper Clarke, The Bard of Salford

A lot of what people think about John Cooper Clarke is projected on to him. He has always been referred to as a “Punk Poet,” which doesn’t do him justice despite being true. He did arrive on the scene in the ’70s along with punk and he does dress very punk and the machine-gun delivery of his prose in the early days went down well with the punk audiences and he did form part of the punk vanguard, most definitely, but there is a lot more to his work than that. For me JCC is one of the greatest poets Britain has produced; laced with wit and social comment his poems range from the plight of the young to the many plus sides of a hire car.

He was born in Lancashire in 1949 and was inspired by a teacher who introduced him to poetry; his first job was a laboratory technician (he even did a sugar puffs advert in the ’80s). He began performing in folk clubs around Manchester and went on to perform on the same bill with all of the great punk acts of the ’70s. He recorded a few albums, even had a top 40 chart hit “Gimmix (Play Loud),” but after a varying level of success he disappeared off the scene for nearly 20 years. Some put this down to a chronic heroin addiction, which thankfully he kicked, but JCC puts it down to idleness and lack of ambition: “…lots of people take heroin and still keep a career,” as he explained in a TV interview in 2009.

The first time I ever heard JCC was when I caught a an episode of the Old Grey Whistle Test from 1978, with him performing a poem set to music called “I Don’t Wanna Be Nice.” I was convinced that this guy was everything that people had said about him: venomous, bile spitting drug-addled punk poet, but when you look at the body of his work and his demeanor in interviews he is actually a very “nice man” who is so much more than the moniker of Punk-Poet suggests and who only swears when it seems appropriate. Looks can be deceiving.

Continue reading »

Jan 242012

There are three John’s that are peculiarly British to my mind. One is the relatively well-known Folk/Fusion Guitarist and songwriter John Martyn; the second is “Punk Poet” John Cooper Clarke; and the third is a lesser known gem, that is John Otway. Over the next couple of weeks I am going to introduce you to these artists, and I hope you appreciate them for the rarities that they are. I shall start with John Otway, the man who made a success out of failure.

If you know of John Otway at all it will almost definitely be for his calamitous performance on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1972 and his most successful song, until very recently, “Really Free.” He is often described (mostly by John himself) as rock’s greatest failure, but I strongly disagree with this prognosis and I am sure that you will agree with me in the end. If my sources are correct John Otway’s parents supported him all the way through his “career,” so much so that they even remortgaged their bungalow to fund his escapades

In 1977, the song “Really Free” got to #27 in the charts, which got him a 5-album deal with Polydor Records. The album featured a Wild Willy Barrett on guitar and was produced by Pete Townsend; suffice to say that the album didn’t do very well. Polydor viewed John as a punk act rather than what he actually is, which you will have to decide for yourself. John still performs live, records and writes books to this day, and seems to have as much energy as he ever did and is loved by his loyal fans more than ever.

His self-deprecating style is what makes him peculiar to Britain as well as the subject matter he sings about and the humor that he brings to his performance. However, his exuberance led to a series of disasters early on in his career that he never would be able to overcome, and I think this is what ultimately put the kybosh on any commercial success he could have had. To truly appreciate what a liability John is must be seen to be believed. Following is the infamous 1972 Whistle Test performance that will make everything clear. Please watch before continuing to read as it is genuinely gut-bustlingly hilarious. How Wild Billy Barrett doesn’t kill him is an act of phenomenal restraint. Enjoy!

Continue reading »


Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube