Born on 25 January 1949 in Salford, Manchester, John Cooper Clarke enjoyed a brief vogue as a ‘punk poet’ with his 1965-style Bob Dylan look and quickfire verbal delivery, with his compositions showing the influence of the punning wordplay of Roger McGough and also the tougher approach of the American Beat poets.
Clarke recited his poetry in local folk clubs and – working with a band called The Ferrets – he began to mix his poems with musical backing, leading to the release in 1977 of the single Psycle Sluts – “Those nubile nihilists of the North Circular, the lean leonine leatherette lovelies of the Leeds intersection, Luftwaffe angels locked in a pagan paradise – no cash, a passion for trash…”
With the onset of punk, Clarke found himself encountering livelier audiences when he shared a bill with The Buzzcocks. The popularity of spoken-word performances with these audiences led to an increase in the phenomenon of ‘punk poet’, giving rise to such artists as Attila the Stockbroker, Seething Wells and Joolz.
After touring with Be-Bop Deluxe, Clarke was signed to Epic where Bill Nelson produced his debut major-label album, Disguise in Love (1978). The single Gimmix – produced by Martin Hannett and with backing music by The Invisible Girls – was a UK Top 40 hit in 1979.
Clarke went into semi-retirement later in the 1980s, forming a domestic partnership with ex-Velvet Underground singer Nico. He returned to live performances on the pub and club circuit in the 1990s and was also engaged in various film and book projects. One of his more unusual gigs was appearing alongside the Honey Monster in two TV adverts for the Sugar Puffs breakfast cereal.