With mad hair standing on end, like a darker version of comedian Ken Dodd’s, and a gravelly Mancunian voice that is as arresting as Richard Burton’s, John Cooper Clarke is the quintessential figure of an eccentric English poet but one that has inspired some of Britain’s more outrageous bands, including The Sex Pistols.
He has been a performing poet since the 1970s, appearing alongside such as the Fall, Souxsie and the Banshees, Elvis Costelloe and the Sex Pistols, released albums, published a book, been in films and videos, and had his poems featured by the Arctic Monkeys.
Despite, or perhaps because of, frequenting such company, Clarke turns out to be a thoroughly down-to-earth guy, funny, sharp and stylish.
“I’ve always loved clothes,” he said, “but had trouble finding any that coped with my long thin body and long thin legs. And then in the ‘80s, I used to see this fella. Tom, in Manchester, who had a similar figure, with the long thin legs. And he used to wear these great styles and I asked him where he got them. And he told me he made them himself.”
Fast forward a few years and both tailor and poet were by then in London, bumping into one another at various gigs. And it came to pass that Clarke became a customer of the tailor’s burgeoning business, Sir Tom Baker in Soho.
“I love his stuff,” says Clarke. “I can’t always afford it but I’ve got some great jackets and overcoats he’s made.” And he very much supports the bespoke ethos and the craftsmanship that goes into it.
“Some people look upon Savile Row and its bespoke standards as elitist, that bespoke is just for rich people. But it is a craft and the people making the clothes are not rich, but workers who deserve to be well paid for their talent.”
He goes for lean, fitted jackets, as here in velvet, and skinny trousers, with exuberant shirts for his on-stage appearances. He performs gigs around the country, and there are plans in the pipeline for one in London, and perhaps one at Tom Baker’s shop.