`I could hear them spinning all their smash hits
At the Mecca of the modern dance, The Ritz...'
Errrrrmmmmm. This is bizarre. Standing in the mosh pit while Johnny Clarke croons Leiber and Stoller's fifties tune Love Potion Number 9. And. Yes. Someone is fucking pogo-ing!
The song made more recently famous (like 1970s) by Salford's proper singer, Elkie Brooks, is taken by JCC and kind of forced down the mic, as Stranglers' legend Hugh Cornwell and his band musically egg him on. This isn't punk. This isn't poetry. Like it says on the album tin `This Time It's Personal'...
Leonard Cohen did an art exhibition in Manchester, so why not? And for the first half of the set the Salford bard sets off on a musical journey through r 'n r standards from the year dot, like It's Only Make Believe, Spanish Harlem and Johnny Remember Me; tunes, as John giggles "written or arranged by murderers" Phil Spector and Joe Meek.
In between is a rather crude but funny joke about sisters, brothers and six fingers in the Forest of Dean, and a cover of Way Down Yonder in Newall Green, with the lyrics rearranged for a home town audience... "I thought you were from Essex" quips Hugh Cornwell.... "I'm from no fixed Adobe" responds Higher Broughton's most famous son.
Certainly John seems well pleased to be back in Manc-land, looking around the faded splendour of The Ritz... "I once wrote a poem about this place" he laughs. But he ain't doing it... `Chickentown' shouts someone in the audience. Instead they get a rendition of MacArthur Park, incredibly difficult to do, although Richard Harris had an epic go at it.
Tonight, struggling with a cold, the good Dr Clarke gives it all he's got, before launching into a tirade against Harry Webb/Cliff Richard pre-Donna cover. Next up is Jezebel... "Any Frankie Laine fans out there?" he asks to a Stranglers and punk fixated crowd. One person squeals approval... "Just you and me then?"
It is brave to get a set full of numbers that were mostly hits while your fans were barely out of nappies. But JCC and Cornwell loyalists would crawl over broken bottles to see these two fart. And even if they were just farting they've got presence that would make it all worthwhile.
Anyway, the second half of the set sees the rewards for half the crowd as Mr Cornwell launches into a few greatest hits, like Black Hair, Black Eyes, Black Suit, Walk On By, Nice `N' Sleazy and Stuck in Daily Mail Land, and the old Stranglers fans bounce about on the sprung dancefloor, while John goes off for a fag.
Refreshed, he re-takes the mic for rock n roll versions of a couple of his own poems, I Wanna Be Yours and 36 Hours, before diving into Stranglers' classics No More Heroes and Get A Grip On Yourself.
It's an uplifting end to the night that has a 10pm curfew, and having performed fucking Chickentown and queasy Beezley Street for eons, anyone can afford Johnny Clarke a bit of indulgence.
The spoken word was provided pre-Clarke and Cornwell by Mike Garry, who did his Manc and St Anthony stuff with merch-plugging aplomb; and was hinted at by support act the Larkins, a local-ish band named after Philip Larkin. Now he never did a poem about `Standing in the dandruff light/Trying to get pissed/Amongst the head-lice, Old Spice, Brut and Body Mist...'
Tonight John Cooper Clarke was the El Supremo of The Ritz...