Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.


July 5, 2011

Evidently Cooper Clarke

I’ve neglected the graffiti-wall for almost a month, sidetracked, or maybe mainlining on a little surge in illustration projects and teaching work. [More than a month now – I began this almost a week ago – more diversions]
I’ve been waiting for a moment to collect my thoughts on the surprise of hearing a voice-over in a TV pizza ad. Could it be… and as it turned out, yes it could… the voice of John Cooper Clarke, listing all the heartwarming things ‘we do’ as a pizza-chain?
This is John Cooper Clarke, the rasping angle-grinder voice I first heard on a 10” translucent blue vinyl EP compilation of live acts from The Electric Circus. How much more punk could an artefact be? ‘Daily Express’ and ‘I Married A Monster From Outer Space’ rattled out between tracks by The Fall, Steel Pulse, The Buzzcocks… Johnny Clarke with his audible gobful of Wrigleys, doing poetry to the crowd.
JCC’s albums with The Invisible Girls’ smart eerie soundtrack were regulars on my record and tape-decks at the turn of the 80’s, prompting me to revisit John Betjeman’s albums with Jim Parker’s musical arrangements. Both poets seemed to have struck improbably lucky with collaborators who saw more in the words than an opportunity to play to the public image, both sets of arrangements struck the tone of the poetry like good illustrations, echoing the words in unexpectedly apt ways. Sir John had recorded readings in the 60’s for specialist audiences, as poets did, though the poetry belonged on the page; Johnny Clarke’s natural habitat was the stage of clubs, barking into a stand-mike. Parker enlivened the reading, Clarke’s backing band allowed him space to breathe.
A few weeks ago now I added a performance of JCC’s juggernaut dystopian panorama Beasley St. to my Favourites on YouTube. Until I get the necessary tech advice and more importantly, the nerve to upload anything of my own, I’ve discovered this facility to make a scrapbook of vids.
Beasley St. is one of those ‘total performance’ moments. Take away the shadowy band and it’d be an unusually slow reading; the music is no surprise, just as you’d hear it on the record; add the presence of JCC, a stretched-out scarecrow effigy of Bob Dylan circa 1967 – the slab-black shades and the back-combed back-lit bombstruck bouffant halo – expressionless, relentless, reciting the deadpan litany of squalor over a delicate piano line that wouldn’t have been out of place in a John Barry spy-movie and you have something queasier and more compelling than the page or the recorded track allows.
So there was that pizza-ad on TV, that is-it-is-or-is-it-ain’t Our Johnny moment. JCC, whose previous outing into Family Life was the ‘what do we look like?’ snapshot-album parade, A Distant Relation. Well blow me down and bravo!, Mr. Clarke.
Older readers may remember a previous TV outing for – gulp! – Sugar Puffs, featuring JCC in his stage uniform and shades, looking like a Sinister 5th Banana Split. It must’ve pre-dated the defensive dawn of preventive PC. I don’t know what the target audience made of it – remember, that’s Mrs. Mum, not the kids – but I rather like the idea of kids asking Mum ‘Who’s that?’. Oh he’s a poet, darling; he wrote Chickentown.
Now the commodity for hire is a trademark timbre and a laconic delivery. You made a bit of useful cash and you didn’t let them talk you into writing parody couplets in celebration of branded fast-foods. You didn’t let the costume dept. throw you into pantomime costume or allow the affable ad execs to persuade you that yeah, sure, you’d be in the ad but, you know, subverting it with your, like, individuality.
Like Some.
Naming no names.

  1. Maybe, just maybe…in years to come…this guy will be doing the adverts…
    somehow I doubt it!

    Comment by Just me — July 10, 2011 @ 11:43 am
  2. Ah yes, when we saw him as support at the JCC date in Bromsgrove, there was the poem about insistent peristalsis between motorway service stations and – forgive me if I misremember the title – ‘The Turd That Wouldn’t Flush’. A Birmingham Poet Laureate bravely confronting issues that bourgeois society refuses to examine. I didn’t mind that he seemed to be going through the motions, I just didn’t particularly want to go through his.

    Comment by admin — July 14, 2011 @ 11:09 am

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