Danny Bakers Internet Treehouse



FOR the last two and a half years Box Scaggs has only been kept alive by rock crossword compilers desperate for two other letters on which to hang the obligatory floating Z. For a period at the beginning of 1977 he rode the charts with a string of hits from his swish "Silk Degrees" album, a triumph only fair seeing as how his fine 'Slow Dancer' set had previously gone ignored.

WeIl, back he bubbles with "Middle Man" and already you can hear the Billboard presses rolling with glossy four page "BOZ IS PLATINUM" ads. However, despite his image of a cultured man with knowledge of fine wines, Boz Scaggs has matured like a brown ale with the stopper left off. The music is air-brushed so smooth that you'll need a pile of old pennies to hold the needle in the grooves. It's all pure Martini ad stuff, custom made for the record collections of tousle-haired Californian TV actresses, for British record company execs to play while okaying the plans to the latest artist reception party.

There are nine tracks that despite regular and logical chord changes can't quite hold down a tune, with instruments arranged sensibly and in single file so that in the end you can't pick anyone out. Back-up players Toto are partly to blame there, but Scagg's' voice is so creamy sickly these days, especially wafting lyrics like: "What would you think of gentleman wearing mink / Gentle and soft?"

The absolute low points comes in the title track - a mixture of the previous allments and a garish crash of heavy metal chords so predictable that dry- ice began to billow from the speakers and the cover of the album, which forges ahead in the horno-porno
st (e) akes. Get this: there's no face or even tits this time, just a fierce close-up of a leotard crotch in fishnet tights (It's a women by the way). In a few years Boz will simply be remembered as the man who made a great single called "Low Down". For now he's living that title. Very low down.

John Cooper Clarke
Britain's alternative poet laureate visits dockland for a laugh and a joke
DANNY BAKER gets in the wets and between the lines

Snap, Crackle & Paradox: Pennie Smith

John Cooper ClarkeTWISTING white cigarette smoke hangs festooned against the green flock wallpaper of the pub, before rising to join the Los Angeles-like carpet that's gathering below the off-cream ceiling. The succession of 40-watt bulbs create an illusion of actually making the place darker and the air is dank and heavy with that musty pub smell that used to reek from your parents' clothes when they came in after a Saturday night out. On a small raised 'stage' three middle-aged men are playing to about twelve regular patrons with voice, drums and Hammond organ. It's for their benefit as much as the gathering's-typical pub performers, they truly believe that had they devoted more time to it they'd have made the grade, and even sadder, they still believe there is time. They belt away through speakers that at other times crucify the juke box selections, act as PA at raffles or, if conditions allow, will receive the radio signals from the cab office down the street, just as the guest singer is climaxing "I Ain't Half Proud Of My Old Mum'.

The only other sounds to cut the general air of depression are the sensuround rumble as a train goes overhead or the short blasts from the fruit machine as it signals 'Nudge Now'. Everyone is silent and miserable. From the Public Bar comes the sound of conversation and laughter. It's brighter round there and they don't switch the jukebox off for every piss artist who wants to jerk your tears with Ken and Harry-South London's answer to Sounds Incorporated' accompanying. But going to the Public is not a proper night out, is it? People like to be entertained.

As the unbearable swelling of "Fool's Rush In" finally collapses end the song ends, the singer tells the uninterested ensemble that "We're gonna take a short break right now but……….." and, snapping out of it, we feel obliged to talk. Immediately deciding to move on, my company and I don coats and hastily make for the door ashamed at the decision to enter in the first place. (It was the Sounds incorporated sign that swayed us). Just before leaving somebody asks me what I did yesterday.
"Oh. I met that John Cooper Clarke bloke. He's all right." "Y'should've hired him f'this place." Taking a last look over into the dismal tavern I shake my head. "Well…….you wouldn't believe it…..but he's already done it: The chap's moved on.'

THE Chap's moved on. The best album released so far this year is John Cooper Clarke's "Snap Crackle and Bop". This being so it's a fine time to underline his position, sorting out the man, myth and magic. The myth: The myth runs that JCC is some quirky, fun offshoot from rock'n'roll, an acceptable casualty, the underdog tagging along back there, a sign of rock's all-embracing conscience for the misfit artist, but essentially some idiot scratch'n'sniff hoolahoop gadget, a family pet. Less damning he's the loveable nut at the broad front of rock's search for something new, something diversive, somebody whose career can be dropped in and out of when the serious contenders get too weighty. A wild and crazy guy.

The Magic: The magic came the day Clarke met and teamed up with Martin Hannett. Instant success was achieved with "Suspended Sentence", overlooked in the shadow of "Psycle Sluts", the featured track on that first EP for Rabid. Suspended Sentence came brooding over the airwaves one night at a time when brooding was strictly for the birds. I remember getting bowled back by his restrained brilliance. Here was someone who knew what humour was and even knew what to do with it! With "Suspended Sentence" Hannett-tagged Zero on the day-crafted the same distant thunder production he was later to shape an unruly Joy Division with, while Clarke took the Daily Express code for Better Britain to it's lunatic conclusion.

"Bring Back Hanging Far Everyone. ./They took my advice, they brought it back/National costume was all over black/There were corpses in the avenues and cul-de-sacs /Piled up neatly in six men stacks/Hanging from the traffic lights and specially made racks/They'd hang you for incontinence and fiddling ya tax /Failure t'hang y'salf justified the axe/A deedlee dee a deedlee dum/Looks like they brought back hanging for everyone! The only off-putting thing was that, by appearance this bloke seemed to be bringing back Dylan for everyone. The Man: Yesterday, at London Bridge and three years since Rabid's baby, I met John Cooper Clark….

"Sorreh I'm late everybodeh ..." and he lopes into the room a full two hours late. (A blow much softened by the location, I'd been showing Pennie Smith the hidden face of forgotten London). Clarke's a little shorter than you'd imagine and though wiry, still wears his jackets at button-bursting point like a streamlined Tweedle Dum. I spend most of our initial introduction figuring out whether the suit he's wearing actually fits. He must take a keen awareness in his physique I decide, because the very first thing he does is ask one of his press officers whether she has any slimming pills to spare. "Be with yer in a minute, Danneh. Shall we go fer a drink, know any pubs around here?" One or two. "Snap Crackle (&) Pop", even with my faith in him, comes at the most perilous time for Clarke's association with rock, fame and wealth. Since the patchy first album was released only the live LP which saw his unbacked delivery strained to the full. He was milking it, in short. Pressure to bare?

"Oh aye... I was feeling it all right. Every time I asked someone for money . . . It never came through y'know, my name's shit/" John Cooper Shit, hmmnm. "I was the great lost cause and you can always find someone t'listen to yer if vou shifted a few units, in those places." He talks slowly constantly nodding the high piled hair, which is becoming uncomfortably close to 'an anarchist powder wig. I'd always thought he'd talk faster then a Virginia auctioneer, but there you are.

"Especially after the clear one, the live album that is... I don't think that one did too well. Everybody kept saying, you should release a live album that's where your appeal lies. Then no bugger bought it" In the book that comes FREE with "SC (&) B" there's a short scribbled autobiographical story, "Ten Years In An Open Neck Shirt". It's no more than a loose teaser, but I wondered if this saw the beginning of-or rather return to JCC storyteller. "Oh no . . that was just a press hand-out I did for CBS. They were gonna write it themselves which would have been doubly embarrassing so I said give me an hour and I'll knock one out rneself. I already had the "TYIAONS" idea worked out so I just truncated it down into one page. One page, aye. But I've got the proper one coming out in me next book, character studies and things, y'know. Like Charles Dickens"

John Cooper ClarkeAnd you feel comfortable writing about yourself? "Oh yeah. Writing a story around meself I can always write meself in as the 'ero" It doesn't take long to notice that John Clarke is at his happiest when cracking a gag or reliving a story. His speech picks up speed and he laughs a lot. As for the mundanities of straight q & a interview, he answers dutifully, but the accent on certain particularly dull words or passages tips the wink that he sees the job of satisfying his press office as an especially ludicrous one. Not that he's patronising to me, the choice extracts you've read above were wheedled from, our first hour's talk -the rest of the time was spent solidly going over Great Gags Of Our Time. Like me, Clarke never forgets a punch line or a routine and we laughed like idiots……..Oh yeah. the interview. 'Well I did the northern clubs y'know. Not the full circuit, but I did some really rotten dives. In between jazz bands and strippers and that, I used to get up and read about ten minutes of this Mickey Spillane type story I was writing. But it began to catch up with me and I couldn't ever end it. It just used to go on".

You must've taken a lot of heckling? "No not really. Each episode had equal proportions of sex and violence every week and they just used to sit there. It used to go down quite well actually" How very different from your public in New York……… "New York was bloody great," he giggles rubbing his hair, looking out over the Thames and its ghost town of rotting wharves. 'A great place. Walking out y'door at two in the mornin' and have to dodge past the crowds on the pavement. . . the nutters skateboardin' down rniddle of the road….." But they weren't quite ready f'you though eh? "Well the Mudd Club, 'Ooorahs and Cee-beh-Gee-behs were sound. I got on really well there. That Mudd Club is the ultra poseurs place though.. .the proprietor stands at the doorway lettin 'em in by what they're wearing, y'know. Y'see 'em hangin around there all night, beggin to be let in, but it's "Not in that jacket!" Like 'rip the lapels off and y'might be in business."

What happened at the Palladium? "Oh aye. The Palladium." he pushes the glasses backup his nose and just lets the sentence rest there awhile. "lt were 'orrible really. That was the one I 'ad t'do t'pay far the trip. Supporting Rockpile and David Johanson. There's about eighty balconies. I'er, I didn't do too good, no...." I chuckle away but JCC is reliving the catcalls. His career these past few years has had more than a generous share of raspberries, roughs and rejections, The most vivid one I remember was the boneheaded bunch of guillotine hags who pelted him during his initial London appearances at The Vortex club. No good hearted ragging of rubbish was that display but a sickening pointer to the terrace mob jackass vandals that were to strangle the revolt of rock for the price of acceptance in the eyes of their barrel chested mates. Today the field is all theirs. Others like JCC and the few keep themselves to themselves and etch the living with distance and caution. The others, still crooning for peace and understanding, go like lamb(retta)s to the slaughter. "I were only in New York about eight days though. There's always gonna be one guy who's local to yer. There were this guy, this Manchester geyser workin' fer 'is paper out there who came round t'see us, y'knaw, he did an article on us."

Do they treat you as though you've got this speech defect? "I spose they do, yeah. David Johanson Thought I were a cockney," When I was in Carolina everyone kept asking me to "talk like a Londoner" as though this delicate phrasing I possess was some kind of Scottish drawl. "Still, I wanna get back there. I never slept at all first time out, went into a few comas though" AGAINST all the odds in a pub around Rotherhithe, at ten past three we were asked to drink up and go. We walked down river and around the bombsite that was once Surrey Docks. Up until about fifteen years ago here was one of Europe's busiest timber ports. Now all that remains are a couple of huge tyres and, here and there, a few links from the monster chains that held Russian ships to quay. As soon as dockers began getting paid a living wage the docks began to close. TV comics began to make dockworkers the standing joke for the striking, never satisfied working class animal. It was their own fault that the ships moved to Europe you'll hear, centuries of poverty and exploitation forgotten because of fifteen of fair wages. History will make the dockers out as the oafs who killed the goose that laid the golden egg and it won't be only them. Already the British public have learned to despise and laugh at those greedy miners and car workers.

Walk around London's idle 'docks and bust a gut. Or walk up to any messenger running letters through the City or office cleaner or casual labourer and ask them how much easy money they made from the great dock bonanza. Because those are the jobs into which dockland dissolved, the only doors left open when you're forty and finished. They were bought off with a lump sum, the alternative being work available at ever-increasing distances-the London Dock's now at Tilbury which, of course isn't in London at all. And so the lure of a new start with that 'security' in the bank - initially the dockers were creamed off for - is accepted and that's when the businessmen have the last laugh. The indoctrination during the "boom" years becomes revenge. Employ a stevedore and he'll be nothing but trouble-the lesson has been learned. Today, you can stand in the middle of Surrey Docks and scream 'Never Let The Bastards Grind You Down' until you're blue in the face The only people who'll hear will be the developers drawing up plans for offices, luxury flats and Olympic Villages.

John Cooper Clarke'I can't get down... I can't bloody get down. Help." Clarke's stranded atop a ten foot high rubbish mound left by a skip lorry and, looks genuinely concerned. It's possible that had Pennie Smith not acted as Sherper Tensing he'd be up there even as you read this. "I broke me bloody ankle a couple of months ago and it feels proper dodgy" he begins to brush imaginary dust from his coat sleeves," I thought I were gonna die up there for a moment.. .D'ja get yer picture alright though, Pennie?" The derelict bombsite of the Surrey obliques with a backdrop that could steal the shot from any subject. John Cooper Clarke, Salvador Dali, Ronald Reagan having a to-the-death list light with Leonid Brezhnev you name it, it's the wastes with their odd clumps of abandoned offices, huge vacant sheds off towards Deptford and the snakey forgotten roads going no place that snap down an my attention. Every new year's eve at midnight. the whole port would be full of Scandinavian and Russian timber ships and…..at the first stroke. they'd all sound off their foghorns and whistles and hooters so even young kids with no concept of "out with the old, in with the new" would be sharply dragged from steep and then made to tremble as the docks bowled. The din would shriek for about two minutes and then stop, leaving only the sound of your tense swallowing as a six-year-old brain tried to reason why the sky was singing.

Seventeen years on, here's the whirr of a camera's motor drive echoing. Ambling down the 'road', John mentions that if ever a promo film were needed for 'Evidently Chickentown' - the stunning opener from 'Snap. Crackle & Bop - here's the location, exaggerated true, but every bit as stark and twisted as the speed babbling, slicing, belting assault that introduces his LP, 'Chickentown', with Hannett's crazed and relentless drum machine gunning, was a quickly scribbled goodbye to Manchester. 'The bloody cops are bloody keen/Bloody keep it bloody clean/The bloody chief's a bloody swine/Bloody draws the bloody line/The bloody fun and bloody games/The bloody kids he bloody blames/The bloody weed is bloody turf/The bloody speed is bloody surf/The bloody train is bloody late/Yer bloody wait and bloody wait/A bloody bloke got bloody stabbed/Waiting for a bloody cab/The bloody pubs are bloody dull/The bloody clubs are bloody full/With bloody girls and bloody guys/With bloody murder 'n their eyes/It bloody hurts t'look around/Evidently Chickentown'. A bloody Good riddance it seems.

"Well I figured if I'm gonna live near a citeh, y'know, I may as well live near the big one, and so a year ego I moved down t'Stevenage. It's a bit like Australia was in the last century - a new town, like - I've got the pioneer spirit." By now his speech and thought are getting very spacey and slow. It's that dread time when the alcohol had drained through you and worn a hole in that part of your head that usually stops daylight from hurting you, obviously his slimming aids had burnt out without much fuss, and the pair of us are secretly dying to get our heads down for a half hour. (Though this usually results in waking at eleven thirty when everything is closed and dark and you feel wide-awake and useless). "I attract stares still. I suppose and I've had a fair deal of violent reactions. 'Kung Fu International' was done after I got jumped by six, uh six kids - somebody did a drop kick on me, BAM! I was the wrong guy apparently" Looking at him -the hair, the glasses, the gangle-it's little wonder he gets singled out. Even my dad, on seeing him on TV, noted that he 'looks like a leg of mutton handcuffed' whatever that means. (Unlike David Bowie, of whom the same source commented 'looked like six pound of shit in a five pound bag'). I remembered JCC's last NME interview where he stated that him relationship with rock is the same as Lenny Bruce's was to Jazz in that he liked the clothes and the attitude. I reminded him of this, wondering whether the position had changed, His answers are, anti-climatic to say the least. "Oh aye, I read that. Tell ya the truth... I don't remember saying that. I couldn't believe I'd said it," Why? "Well" he's laughing slowly - one of the few people who can laugh slowly - "It's not the type of thing I go round saying - not the sort of thing you can slip in a conversation," and by now he's laughing fast. And so am I.

He enjoys the absurdity further. "Yes I was only saying to Alfie Higgins the other day, I said, 'Y'know now Alfie my relationship with rock is very much the same…….." but he can't get the rest of the line out. I don't think he doubts that he does say these things. it's just.. well so what? There we are both are keeping straight faces trying to pay each other respect and the pair of us scratching around looking for something that will cause people to say 'Hey, did you see how that Cooper Clark fellow summed up his life and the world in general?' And of course, when we found this one tiny piece of quotable meat, it sounded as silly as arseholes: But do you still listen, still buy records? "Oh yeah, I bought... 'ang on I can't remember what the last record I bought was. But, y'know, it's The same old story - you play it five times and 'then start working yer way backwards again. I can have anything I like from CBS for free but I……." "…….. don't like anything on CBS, right? "Seems so."

"Seems so." Was there ever a golden era for you? I see his face pondering on whether to point out the egg on my chin. He decides to. 'Yeah, the seventeenth century." Walked right into that. No I mean in your career". "Well the Vortex has got t'be among the top ten nighlspots". OK. let's talk about dying the horrible death. Those nights when, if laugher is infectious, you seem to have found the cure- What do you remember about that Vortex appearance? 'Well on nights like that you get anaesthetised very quickly The main thing is you can't be precious about it, specially not in those working clubs. Often I used to cop right out and just tell jokes. You can buy this book, Call and Response it's for handling hecklers. Like 'They wasted a good arse when they put teeth in your mouth mate - proper gentle stuff' like that. But you're usually given about five minutes to grab their collective imagination. At the Glasgow Apollo they don't even give you that.

Ah, Glasgow, where under a hail of cans John pronounced the bout a draw and strode off. Good line that about 'a draw. "Well you've got to say something,' Ha." As he says that it hits me that though I can relish a death at a distance, his tone hints that the degrading, lonely memories are still just a bit too painful to chuckle about. That night hurts and still stings. Are you a success now then? "Er. . yeah, yeah. I suppose so. yeah. But I've always wanted t'be on tele. I've done all the music things, y'know, but I'd love a talk show, really. Actually talking to others. I mean I'm sure I'm better questioning than I am at being questioned." Are you having any bother writing stuff these days? "Well since we done the album I've been having a rest," Again, the tone drops to a hollow raw-nerve level. 'Which……..which is a nice way of saying I've got a block, a writer's block, at the moment" There's no nasal laugh for once. "It's quite frightening actually…..yeah."

How long ago was the new record finished then? "Well we'd been doing it for a year. One side of it is actually a year older than the other. But we actually finished up not that long before release. Not that we take so long recording it right only we couldn't always get studio time" Are you always gonna work with Martin Hannett? "Well yeah, but er, always is a bloody long time? The cliché being too apt to resist, Lets leave the interview there. The days of the interview are over. Not just the couple of days I knocked about with Clarke - yeah, we met up later on to laugh with out the tape recorder, that fridgidaire in that strangles bath parties' ability to relax.- but also the days of expecting the 'goods' from these woodworkers we shape as rock' n' roll stars. Most of them are idiots and the few others are just going about their business, like Paul Weller and JCC, while a thirsty, public and drunken press squeeze their heads for a few thousand droplets of assurance that the rest of use are either too lazy to figure out or else too scared to assume. John Cooper Clarke, well John Cooper Clarke smokes too much dope and, in the thumbnail sketch I cart patch out, has too few genuine friends. He'll never be assertive enough, that's just the way he is, but his sense of humour- and more importantly his sense of history in humour, his gag file - is unmatched in his field. I suppose the way he lives can be described as pottering. He potters about and in the course of it manages to knock together an album, great album, but one that he wouldn't really have minded had it not came out at all. Not that much.

The attitude, the clothes be damned, rock'n'roll.is Clarkey's hammock and he'll swing with it so long as no-one shines a torch in his face for too long. The glare and the pressure he really doesn't need, whereas most rockers need a good amount of 'anguish' so as not to feel total sponging shits, 'On man. You think it's easy, but the pressure man." There's a touch of the Ian Dury school too, the understanding whereby the public and the press have got you totally sussed out, all your angles, all your thoughts whereas only you know that they don't know or understand a thing about you. But what has been arranged is that people can feel absolutely safe in the knowledge that they share you - you're a mute - while you know that you need never open up the real secrets whilst these ………. well not exactly suckers, but similar, are content to think they've bothered you enough, they know all there is to politely know. Journalists are never bought with trips, drink end free gifts but by 'the goods', an artist letting them think they've caught him with his pants down, the 'private' tears, shared laughter. (No writer ever gets very close to Ian Dury but ask anyone and they'll swear to die for him. Trying to get his 'goods' is like being at a Dutch auction. Oh yeah, sure he is a lovely bloke, but for canniness and cunningness he leaves Lydon end McLaren at the post - . And so with Johnnie Clarke, I'm feeling safer, mainly because he has no team around him. He forgets too many appointments, gives too many half-arsed answers to be consciously playing Mr Nice Guy. The difference is, JCC would really have to sit down for about two weeks before hand if he wanted to get together some kind of strategy for selling himself. He's not together enough, he's not bothered. So many will claim to be uninterested in selling themselves but paradoxically that is their angle. Clarke really does try, but as an interviewee he's lousy, Thank God for that. I can play 'Snap Crackle & Bop' without weighing it against a personality and an approach. Yes I like John Cooper Clarke, I think you should too. Because the man is clean. Really clean.

Danny Baker in New Musical Express 1980

Thanks to Nick Ratcliffe


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