Ever been dragged to a gig by a mate and had your eyes opened a new and unexpectedly amazing experience?
As a young impressionable schoolboy in Liverpool during the punk rock explosion of ’77-’78, I was asked by a classmate, John, if I would go with him to see John Cooper-Clarke, as he also wanted to be a punk poet. I said, “Who’s he?” …Come on, cut me some slack here…it was March 1978 and there was no internet, only the music press for info…JCC was just starting out.
And so I went to my first ever night club gig at Eric’s in Liverpool, on Mathew Street, opposite the once famous but derelict Cavern Club (it had been closed for some years, before it was revived as a tourist attraction). It was 7th April 1978 and was billed as ‘The Fall plus Special Guest’ (see attached flyer with JCC autograph!). The special guest was a lanky Salford punk poet with dark glasses and a mop of black hair – pretty much identical to how he looked a few months ago in 2015 on TV in ‘Have I got News For You’. The Salford Bard, now being touted as the next Poet Lauriat and with poems on the school curriculum, was unexpectedly brilliant. I still remember ‘I Married a Monster from Outer Space’, and ‘Kung Fu International’, apparently recorded ‘live’ at that gig and used as a B side. He was followed by Mark E. Smith and The Fall, at that time a rough punk-imitator band, as most new bands felt they had to be. ‘Last Orders’ was the stand-out track from this early punk thrash.
Now, the reason I’ve put finger to keyboard with this blog post is that it just occurred to me that both these unwell-looking acts ARE STILL GOING! Both are gigging in 2015, John Cooper-Clarke down the road in Guildford this week supporting Squeeze. I loved the last scene of the last episode of ‘The Sopranos’ played out with JCC’s ‘Evidently Chicken Town’. Now cropping up in TV commercials, the former coke and brown addict is an inspiration to us all in….well….survival.
The Fall, who released their first album the year after I saw them in 1979, have gone on to be one of the most prolific recording acts in British music history. With 31 studio albums to date, and many more live albums, Mark has tried his level best to bore us all to death. Although not such a big fan, I was persuaded to see the Fall in the late 80’s twice, and enjoyed both, very different, performances.
One was in a dingy club in Croydon, where, with Brix on bass, they belted out classic and memorable versions of ‘Eat Yourself Fitter’ and ‘Cruiser’s Creek’. The other was at Sadler’s Wells Theatre (I kid you not) where sometime in September 1988 I was dragged by mate Jimmy to see ‘I Am Curious Orange’ with The Fall on stage with the Michael Clark contemporary dance group cavorting around them to quite brilliant versions of ‘Curious Orange’ and ‘Big New Prinz’ (scan of programme cover shown – anyone else go to this?). Inspired and innovative…
What impresses me most about JCC and Mark E. Smith is their unshakable belief in what they’re doing – in their art. They have spanned the late 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and are still batting on in 2015 and, no doubt, beyond. They must have met virtually everyone in UK showbiz….a kind of anti-advertisement for Manchester. Keep Away! It’s all like Beezley Street! But bizarrely, Manchester and Salford acts like The Fall, The Smith, JCC, Joy Division/New Order (Happy Mondays, Oasis in the 90s) have all tickled my imagination, tuning me in to a grim Northern outlook that is remarkably tough, resilient and strangely uplifting. Hell, they’re even thinking of taking tourists there!
I say, Rock on JCC and Mark E. Smith. You have inspired a generation and now reach a younger audience who see the Punk Era that spewed you out as a kind of Golden Age. We grew up then, and understood the value of questioning the Establishment and of rebellion…without questioning, without perspective, the country will end up being run by someone like….errr….David Cameron!