‘Punk poet laureate’ John Cooper Clarke turns 70: Happy birthday to the Bard of Salford

The Bard of Salford John Cooper Clarke turns 70 today, and doesn’t look a day older than when he burst onto the scene over 40 years ago.

The punk poet has had a rich career, born in Salford in 1949, he toured the pubs of Manchester in the early 70s, desperate for an audience, and then came punk.

As he remarked in an interview, he had the advantage that he “already looked like a punk when punk arrived.” Despite this, he still had to battle audiences to be heard, not a problem he faces often these days.

He lived with singer and actress Nico for most of the 80s, before returning to music later in the decade and has toured ever since, with a nationwide UK tour scheduled for this year.

Dubbed ‘the punk poet laureate’, he’s become a cultural icon. The Ronnie Wood doppelgänger is often remarked to have the most recognisable silhouette in show business.

His dark sunglasses are permanently perched below a jet black birds nest haircut, topped off with his trademark super skinny jeans and pointed boots. Despite this somewhat peculiar look, he remains a style icon.

The agelessness of this attire seems to have had an anti-ageing effect on the man himself, managing to convincingly play himself 30 years ago in the Ian Curtis biopic Control, where he reenacts a late 70s performance in which Joy Division also appeared.

He’s played with The Fall, New Order, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Elvis Costello, The Mescaleros and Squeeze over the years, never looking out of place once.

He reached a massive audience when his poem I Wanna Be Yours was covered by Arctic Monkeys, with singer Alex Turner citing him as a big influence on his songwriting.

His appearances on the screen stretch far and wide also, showing up on panel shows left right and centre in recent years. His Mancunian twang has appeared on 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, Pointless Celebrities, Would I Lie To You?, Have I Got News For You and Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

For a voice that seemed out of place after punk faded away, his influence continues to spread far and wide, with I Wanna Be Yours appearing on the GCSE syllabus, perhaps to show the kids that poetry doesn’t have to be sonnets by blokes from the 16th century.

Here’s five of the best poems from Johnny Clarke, the name behind the hairstyle, as well as some upcoming tour dates

Evidently Chickentown

Perhaps one of his most famous poems, due to its liberal, and that’s an understatement, use of various f-words. Over the 275-word poem, 83 of those are variations of f*ck. Not many other people could get away with this, but if anyone can, its Dr. Clarke.

The poem appears in Danny Boyle’s 2001 made-for-tv film Strumpet, with fellow Manc Christopher Ecclestone reciting it a cappella to a packed pub with added vitriol. Evidently Chickentown has reached well beyond the shores of British TV, with it featuring during the credits of an episode of The Sopranos.

Johnny talking about cold pies and flat beer seems the perfect antithesis to a New Jersey mob bosses frustration, but it works a treat.

I Wanna Be Yours

Love, the Johnny Cooper Clarke way. I can’t think of any other piece of art that makes an electric meter and Ford Cortina seem so romantic. This poem received a major revival to a new audience when Arctic Monkeys released their cover on the 2013 album AM, and now appears on the GCSE syllabus.


“Like a recently disinfected sh*t-house, you’re clean round the bend” – this one serves as the direct opposite of I Wanna Be Yours, an acrimonious ballad, with the title appearing in the final line.

Every line of this poem is a perfect fit for his smoke scarred voice, as even with the break neck delivery he seems to emphasise every syllable, taking equal care and measure over each. Full of zingy one liners and black comedy, this is sure to put a smile on anyone’s face.


This from the Dr’s first album, Où est la maison de fromage?, is an ode to budget foreign holidays, filled with caustic lines about perilous paellas and beach brokering. This early recording of him performing the poem sees him looking more Bob Dylan than Ronnie Wood.

Kung Fu International

A tale of being beat up by an ‘embryonic Bruce Lee’ outside a take-away. What more could you want? This poem sees Johnny explicitly reference Salford, even if it is through the medium of a ‘black belt karate cop’. This performance from the Old Grey Whistle Test, recited with his signature fast delivery, is a delight to watch. “Enter the dragon, exit Johnny Clarke.”

Image courtesy of John Cooper Clarke via Twitter, with thanks.

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