Review: John Cooper Clarke and Luke Wright at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, December 2

John Cooper Clark

John Cooper Clark - Credit: contributed

This isn’t so much a review. Consider it a mild rebuke. After all, if you weren’t huddled under the roof of the Apex on December 2 to see the respective bards of Bungay and Salford – what exactly were you doing?

Striding on stage, resplendent in spray-on skinny red trews and a liberal slap of kohl, Luke Wright is a worthy headliner himself. He has sold out Edinburgh Fringe runs, toured Australia, China and Europe, is a regular fixture at Latitude and got five star reviews from the likes of The Scotsman and The List.

Here supporting the governor of performance poetry John Cooper Clarke, it doesn’t take him long to find his pace and for the audience to relax into his guided tour of kitchen-sink ambitions, Tory grandees and motor-mouthed Essex campers plagued by ‘lions’.

Wright opens with Stay-at-Home Dandy, the title of his eighth and current show, his tongue-in-cheek tale of juggling the life of a touring poet with caring for his kids – or as he puts it: “It’s Oscar Wilde meets Mother Hubbard in an East of England suburb”.

The audience seem to embrace him with The Toll, an account of Tracy who spends sad afternoons staring at the Dartford crossing from her tower block bedroom window; wishing she could throw a quid in a bucket and escape into a tunnel and out of sight.

For me though, Wright always excels when puncturing the gilded whoopee cushion of the Establishment, this time sending-up silver-spoon toting Westminster rogues and the honour system in Have a Gong.

“This fellow here, he sank a bank and this one gave us cut-price tanks... Is that for us? You should have, thanks. Have a gong, have a gong, have a gong!”

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There is a physicality to Wright’s performance that seems to build in intensity with the lyrical density of his poems, culminating in him crashing to the floor for the reprise of Essex Lion – delivered from the point of view of an indignant Clacton camper who insists he spotted “Aslan’s nephew, Simba’s sire”.

It is a hard act to follow, but John Cooper Clarke’s fans love him intensely and his arrival on stage brandishing a power drill “shifted” from backstage is greeted with adoration.

Pencil-thin, bedecked in shades and with his usually backcombed black hair almost smoothed down, Clarke still trades in a mix of surrealism, bizarre social commentary and jokes that your dad would think twice about, all delivered at a teeth-chattering speed.

Clarke (or Dr Clarke as he calls himself following his honorary doctorate from the University of Salford) does seem to have shifted emphasis slightly away from the verse, but the big hits are all here. His rendition of dysfunctional sink estates in Beasley Street and ‘sequel’ Beasley Boulevard are delivered with machine-gun panache, while Evidently Chickentown, Clarke’s scorching dystopian commentary on everyday life, is also performed at blistering speed.

For an encore Clarke wraps himself around the microphone to perform I Wanna Be Yours. It is an apt choice to finish on. The poem, recently used by The Arctic Monkeys on AM, marked Clarke’s completion of a come back to the mainstream after years in the wilderness.

Judging by tonight’s performance, he’ll be there for some time to come.

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