From a Particularly Charismatic English Teacher to the Heart of Northern Soul, John Cooper Clarke has been Inspired by the Best

The original Punk Poet, John Cooper Clark, in conversation with old friend and road manage, Johnny Green

Millie Porter, Journalism Undergraduate, University of Roehampton

John Cooper Clarke experienced life in the honest and permissive way you would expect from a punk poet. It all began at his school which he described as a “hothouse atmosphere of poetic inspiration”. Although he hated school. His life so far is enviable: meeting prominent artists of the 20th century; dancing to music never before heard and inspiring society with his frank prose and poetic truths.

Cooper Clarke is a poet born in post-war Salford, then a “dirty old town”. ‘Tuberculosis came to the rescue’ in his early years though, as John was sent to the fresher air of the north coast to recuperate, and where his performance confidence blossomed. Meeting him at the Wimbledon Bookfest Sunset festival 2021 was a privilege. I wish I got a selfie but honestly felt a little star-struck – up close to his gold-toothed grin and iconic style. He came along to speak about his recently published memoir, I Wanna Be Yours. A poetic depiction of his life’s journey. The readings he gave at Bookfest, in conversation with his road manager and friend Johhny Green, rolled rough yet graciously in his inimitable style.

Totally wired, read a small badge on Clarke’s jacket. His stage presence perfectly embodied this motto: cool yet jittery, his words potent yet rough, he held a copy of his book like a prop and wore two pairs of glasses as one. Sunnies and prescription, of course, he’s not crazy.

Cooper Clarke’s collard grey jacket, skinny blue jeans, and wispy brown hair bursting freely from his tossed-on newsboy cap transported him back to the real beatnik vibes of his youth.

The Left Wing, a small coffee shop that used to stay open all night, was for the “radical listeners'', Johnny told me. “It was a Beatnik hangout for people that listened to people like Jimmy Smith, you know stuff you never heard on the radio really... You can't imagine what it's like if you never heard anything like James Brown”. The Left-Wing modern jazz coffee bar soon had another dance floor for dancing and was named The Twisted Wheel club in 1963.

The Twisted Wheel was a disco, which occasionally had live RnR acts from America, but was also a place to hear Northern Soul. Cooper Clarke was there right from the very beginning when it was a modern jazz, left-wing coffee bar. “The Twisted Wheel is always an interesting subject, one day I'll write an entire book about it”.

Cooper Clarke’s memoir covers the incredible life of our British superstar poet, rock-n-roll icon, from the very beginning of his days. Originally a mummy's boy, and cinema fanatic from Salford, I Wanna Be Yours records the films he watched and the streets he roamed with his friends, who called themselves the Blue Orchards. ‘Delicate kids, delicate flower,’

Clarke’s work has even been studied in schools across the UK which has inspired other new names like Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys) and Ben Drew (aka Plan B).

John Cooper Clarke's I Wanna Be Yours is available to buy from the links below: