Credit: YouTube

Watch John Cooper Clarke recite 'TWAT' on 'After Dark' in 1982

John Cooper Clarke is a bona fide national treasure. The punk poet has been an icon since the ’70s, and his poignant punk ethos has never waned over the decades. His role in the punk movement was unique, and the anger that oozed out of his work is equal in ferocity to anything that the Sex Pistols ever did in their career.

The great Steve Coogan once perfectly summarised the greatness of John Cooper Clarke when he said, “I say to people, have you heard of John Cooper Clarke and if they say, yes, yeah he’s an absolute genius and you just go, ‘oh – ok, you’ve saved me a lot of time”. Not many poets could survive playing to thousands of thirsty punks waiting to watch bands like the Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks and The Clash, but, John Cooper Clarke is no ordinary poet.

He’s inspired every generation since his arrival. This influence is still significant today, Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner cited him as a lyrical god and paid homage to Clarke on 2013’s ‘I Wanna Be Yours’. The track turned one of the poet’s pieces into a gorgeous song which not only saw Turner paying tribute to one of his heroes, but it did much more than that and helped revive Clarke’s career. He sells out theatres with his one-man show all over the country, playing to thousands every night after battling a heroin addiction for 17-years which took a sizeable chunk out of the middle of his career.

Turner noted in 2013: “I’ve met him a couple of times. I’d say I know him, yeah. He’s great. There’s a movie about him. They made that documentary [Evidently…, 2012]. He’s awesome, man. I love his show where he just stands there and walks out with a carrier bag, a shopping bag, full of scraps of paper and just rants for an hour. That’s the best. I love that. ‘Kung-Fu International’ is me favourite.”

Looking back at the punk movement, Clarke is one of the few characters that is still going strong today and his legacy continues to grow year on year. “Punk was a really big event for me because, when it became an international thing, I became associated with that,” Clarke recalled to The Face in 2020. ​”At the tail end of the ​’70s, it took me to countries where English wasn’t even the first language.”

Clarke became christened as The People’s Poet which was the perfect summary of everything John Cooper Clarke represents. He has an unshakeable affable charm, and his poems don’t have that pretentiousness that seems intrinsically linked to the world of poetry, what you see is what you get with Clarke. That nickname is one that he approves of, noting: “It’s fantastic, and very accurate as well. Punk ain’t big enough a catchment area to encapsulate my audience. I never objected to it – why should I? I jumped on that high-speed bandwagon with both eyes open. It’s a handy title. People remember it.”

Clarke became a star with his albums in the ’70s and ’80s, unlike other poets his style was both enticing and accessible. In 1982, he appeared on Australian TV show After Dark and the clip shows precisely why so many people feel so strongly about John Cooper Clarke. His humour is infectious, and this performance of ‘TWAT’ is effortlessly cool. If you’re new to the world of this British icon, let this be your gateway drug into his world.