Sunday, April 19, 2009

FEATURE 25 - John Cooper Clarke - I travel in biscuits

I've been rediscovering the delights of John Cooper Clarke's early albums - Disguise in Love - Snap Crackle & Bop - Zip Style Method. The rich variety of musical styling that Martin Hannett glues Cooper Clarke's poems into, is impressive. It brings aural longevity to his work, which despite the obvious grittier punch of his naked live delivery, can become a bit wearing without these musical embellishments. There is only so much of the cynical tone and strangulated Salford vowel sounds you can comfortable stomach. But he is almost the archetypal performance poet, he has to be seen to be believed.

Perhaps we may have forgotten now how he almost single handed(Lynton Kwesi Johnson & Benjamin Zephaniah were two others) made poetry an acceptable and vital part of popular culture once more. The impact of this revival has somewhat diminished now, but Clarke's influence on it is still huge. For sheer energy of delivery, verbal facility and dexterity with which he makes his observations, Cooper Clarke is unmatched. My current favourite is 'I Travel in Biscuits' from Zip Style Method. I've been trying to find a You Tube video of John Cooper Clarke performing it with Martin Hannett's backing music. So far I have failed. I like this poem, not just because of its a good example of his trademark sparky word play, but also for the genuine sympathy he communicates for the dreary nature of a travelling salesmans life, selling products he doesn't care anything for. Anyway, here is the text version.


the sound of the daylight
the smell of the urine
the rain on the drainpipes
the filthy two-two time
i should know better
how an animal feels
a real go-getter
a wolf on all wheels
white collar whizz kids
button three mohair
i travel in biscuits
getting me nowhere

munchety munch
this is the punchline
crunchety crunch
they last you a lunchtime
who can resist it
who can be so square
i travel in biscuits
getting me nowhere

can you afford it
this is the crunch
orders are audits
a kiss or a punch
a dangerous neighbourhood
don't push it too far
i feel like
i'm made of wood
i stay in the car
i have to risk it
i have to go there
i travel in biscuits
getting me nowhere

they keep their crispness
more than just one day
got some for
ate them last
if you resist it
i'm gonna go spare
i travel in biscuits
getting me nowhere

the critical daylight
the smell of the urine
the rain on the drain pipes
the filthy two-two time
life is precarious
a long way from home
in alien areas
always alone
i look like a misfit
no one i know there
i travel in biscuits
getting me no where.

From - Ten years in an open necked shirt.
Published by Arena Books Ltd 1983.

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