– reviewed by Charlotte Henson –
Towards the end of last year Apples and Snakes put on a number of poetry and spoken word events to celebrate ’30 years of spoken word’ – aka, their 30th anniversary. One of these events, and one I had the pleasure of attending back in December was a night at The Albany featuring John Cooper Clarke, supported by Mike Garry and Salena Godden.
As expected at any JCC gig the venue was packed out, with the words ‘sold out’ plastered loudly over the event posters. At £16 a pop, it definitely wasn’t the cheapest gig, but it’s about what I’d pay for a music gig and so there’s no reason I shouldn’t pay it to hear some damn fine poets.
The first poet to be introduced by compère Penny Arcade was Salena Godden. Now, Godden is a poet I had previously never heard of, but after such a fun set I feel as if I should have. After all, she says she’s been in the game for no less than twenty years now. Her theatrical style and knack for ingenious insults had the audience in hysterics. And it was a joy to watch an act who was so comfortable on the stage, was excited about the event and was obviously having such a fabulous time. Though she did comparatively few poems compared to Mike Garry and headliner John Cooper Clarke, her slot was still a big highlight.
The second support was from Mike Garry. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of Mr Garry and tonight was no exception. Mike has a rare ability to build up characters in a matter of seconds, make you love them in milliseconds, and then destroy them in nanoseconds. This may sound like an awful experience, but his poems are so profoundly affecting that they’ve had me close to tears before. His work is steeped in his Manchester background, full of references that resonate strongly for any proud Mancunian, while still being easily accessible those who aren’t familiar with Manchester geography. The addition of another Manchester voice supporting John ‘The Bard of Salford’ Cooper Clarke’s made the evening feel more cohesive as a whole.
And then of course there was John Cooper Clarke. Now I have to admit that I’ve never really been a fan, but he is much more personable and endearing in person than on any youtube video I’ve seen; his pre-poem banter is especially hilarious and he’s got a real skill for driving along the rhythm of his poetry. But the banter does lead into one of the two main problems I had with the performance: first, there was too high a waffle to poem ratio, and second, he ran somewhat over schedule. While he has had a long and very interesting career, and admittedly some of the audience were probably there to experience his larger-than-life personality as well as his poetry, it’s possible that fifteen minutes of preamble for a two line poem is overdoing it. He also regularly interrupts his own poems with various interesting interjections, which can work if done occasionally, but again it seemed overdone. In the end his set ran over (despite the stage manager’s exasperated watch-tapping) and I had to leave before the end (as did a few others) to avoid missing the last train. No one can deny Cooper Clarke is very skill and truly entertaining, but perhaps his timings could be improved.
All in all, the gig was a good one – with plenty of high points offsetting comparatively few low points.