Dr. John Cooper Clarke: Unity Works, Wakefield

The largest crowd I have ever seen at Wakefield’s Unity Works gathered for an evening of poetry combined with whit and social commentary. The audience were treated to the wonderful lyricism of Toria Garbutt and Mike Garry before a headline set from the legendary punk poet Dr. John Cooper Clarke.

The entertainment began with Knottingley based poet Toria Garbutt. Each of her poems perfectly balanced light and shade. The lighter side came from her comedic lyrics, delivered with perfect comic timing in a thick Yorkshire accent. The grittier edge to her work came from the vivid descriptions of a drug riddled past and of the surrounding social deprivation.

It was then the turn of Mike Garry to capitalize on the enthusiastic applause that signaled the end of Toria Garbutt’s set. The Manchester based wordsmith also possessed comic whit and timing, which sat nicely alongside his bleak social commentary. His style was reminiscent of a stream of consciousness broken up with segments that were similar to a traditional song chorus. His Mancunian tones draw graphic pictures of Tory induced desolation and invoke feels of despair. Each of his works has the ability to make you feel utter desperation at the current political and social climate, transport you into that situation via his fantastic descriptive techniques and to make you belly laugh, all in the space of a couple of minutes. He combines sparkling intelligence with gritty observations at a rapid pace. A thought-provoking and truly impressive set concluded with a moving personal tribute to Manchester’s sweetheart Tony Wilson.

Then came the main event, the legend, the original punk poet John Cooper Clarke. He arrived on stage looking equally dapper and disheveled, as is his trademark look, with his book of poems clasped to his side. This wasn’t simply an evening of Doctor Clarke reciting from his poetry collection, the poems were interspersed between moments of stand-up comedy and the great man displaying his renowned skill as a raconteur and comic. He was everything you would expect him to be, his dry whit and sarcasm were razor sharp and despite his advancing years his rhythmic delivery was still as rapid as ever. He references his age with the poems “Get Back On Drugs, You Fat Fuck” and “Bed Blocker Blues”. He also demonstrates that he shows no signs of slowing down by treating the audience to the first ever live performance of his latest work, about how you can’t trust your chimpanzee butler with a razor.

One of the many laugh out loud moments that he induced came after a long ramble about limericks when he recited one he had written himself. “Two ugly sisters from Fordham, took a walk one day outta boredom, on the way back, a sex maniac, jumped outta a bush and ignored ‘em”. Doctor Clarke treated his fans to classic works such as ”Beasley Street”, “Evidently Chickentown” and “ I Wanna Be Yours”. The whole evening proved that although he is the original of his kind, influencing many others and also inspiring quite a few imitators, he is still the best and on top of his game, long many it last.