‘This Time It’s Personal’ With John Cooper Clarke

By Nina Antonia 



The first time I met John Cooper Clarke, he was on the prowl for a new pair of skinny black jeans, down in the basement of Kensington Market. How the half-centuries fly! We palled up in mutual appreciation of the Only Ones and the jukebox of dreams. Though Kensington Market is now long gone, John’s look has remained a staple, complete with black winklepicker boots and exploding pompadour hair-do as has his poetry. Hail the Mancunian candidate, purveyor of wry vernacular and witty barbs, a backstreet Belloc and versifier supreme, kind enough to give a few words to ‘Cold Lips.’ Despite a late night and an early start, he’s in good spirits, the consequence of a new album of covers recorded with Hugh Cornwell, entitled ‘This Time Its Personal’. 

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Dr JCC: ‘Nobody else was at it. I had an aptitude, a gift. Some people have the gift but ignore it. I saw it as a door to showbiz. I started writing poetry when I was 12. Didn’t get any encouragement at school but I did from my immediate social circle. Whenever anything funny or peculiar happened, they’d say ‘You want to write a poem about it.’ So I did.’ To admit to wanting to become a poet was seen as madness. When I was at school, Phillip Larkin was considered the most modern of poets but he was also a librarian. Poetry was considered to be a hobby and if you were going to write, then you better have a paying job like Larkin, preferably one connected to literature. The other option was a stipend or an inheritance but if you were working class, forget it, it was madness to even think about becoming a professional poet. Then I tried to get a publishing deal, but no one was interested, so I realised I was going to have to enter the world of entertainment. I had to consider the material, weigh it up, was it entertaining? Is there any point of contact between me and the public in the poem? It’s certainly taught me to be judicial about the material. ‘


Dr JCC: ‘Rex Harrison. He doesn’t sing, he speaks in key at concert pitch. He was part of a music hall tradition. Stanley Holloway is another one but the most important was Phil Harris an American bandleader and comedian who was also a character actor.  He was the voice of Baloo in Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book.’ He performed ‘King of The Swingers’ with Louis Prima. I enjoyed the rhythm and the rhyming of what he was doing, songs like ‘Woodman Spare That Tree.’

Household Linguistics

Dr JCC: ‘My wife Evie is French. Apart from writing the odd snotty letter to the gas-board, she’s an expert at linguistics.’

Snobbery in the English Literary Scene

Dr JCC: ‘I suppose it’s a bit like the movie industry, it’s in a decline so everyone wants guaranteed success on who is going to the fill the house. People in the industry have become cautious. And everybody wants everything for nothing.’

The ‘something for nothing’ seems particularly acute in the UK at the moment, but it doesn’t seem to be the same in the U.S

Dr JCC: ‘America is the home of Capitalism, why would you work for nothing? There is still a belief, over here that if you are a ‘real’ artist then you should give it away and if you want to be paid, then you are a capitalist bread head. This attitude has been in place since hippy time, 1967, when you were supposed to play festivals for free.’


Dr JCC: ‘A dictionary

A bible – fabulous language and it’s full of important stuff

Dr JCC: Anything by Jonathan Meades. ‘

Cold Lips?

Dr JCC:‘Artistic and fabulous. Loved the layout. Something has to look good And read well.’

Advice for the young and poetic? 

Dr JCC:‘Poetry is a lot more inclusive than at any previous time in history, especially in terms of gadgetry, getting it out there. But there’s no substitute for literacy, it sets you free.’


Nina Antonia was introduced to Cold Lips first on an email by Johny Brown of Band of Holy Joy – and later, she arrived in sunglasses at the anti-lit nite that birthed Cold Lips.  She was in tow to the shamanic sister and creative force majeure, Anne McCloy, one of the resident poets at these nights above a strip joint in Shoreditch.  Nina Antonia is the author of the elegantly penned, and most stolen book ever, the In Cold Blood biog on Johnny Thunders, currently in pre-production in Hollywood.  She’s the rock-lit queen, and has written other biogs, including one on Peter Perrett of The Only Ones.  Which is where the exclusive podcast with the good Doctor begins – airing on Soho Radio Saturday 22nd April, 11am…


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