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John Cooper Clarke
Benjamin Zephaniah

Denbigh Town Hall – Wednesday 4th February 2004

(REVIEWED BY NICK HILL)

With my rucksack bulging with my teenage collection of Cooper Clarke rare albums – hopefully to be signed by the great man himself – I set off with my girlfriend Bon on the heady road to Denbigh.

Even though we had the best of what British poetry can offer on show tonight, I couldn’t help wondering how many people would brave the area’s flooding crisis on a cold February night. As we entered the Hall, there was truly an eclectic mix of people present: from 30-something punks through middle-aged poetry club members to bemused sixth formers dragged along as part of their school curriculum. Oh, and several members of staff from Llandrillo College, my place of work.

Much to my surprise, I was told it was totally sold out by the overjoyed assistant on the door. After a couple of glasses of wine, we took our front row seats. After 20 minutes or so, Bon caught a glimpse of JCC sneaking into the Hall and straight backstage. With the stage hoarding decrying "Denbigh Words", the organiser came on and thanked the crowd for their overwhelming support.

First on was JCC, who loped onto stage like a giraffe on speed, clutching his poetry bag. My first impression during the thunderous ovation was how little he had changed: the bird’s nest haircut, tight Oxfam-like jacket, drainpipes and compulsory dockers. For a man in his mid-50’s he had aged surprisingly well.

The biggest surprise was how little poetry he actually read. Seventy five percent of the show was stand-up comedy, and how uproarishly funny it was!

No jokes, just hilarious anecdotes from a surreal yet child-like mind.

Starting with the classic "Day My Pad Went Mad", to rapturous applause, you realised the night was going to be something special. This was followed by a couple of newish poems and the fans’ favourite "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" to culminate the reading. My only gripe is that he didn’t recite ‘Beasley Street’, ‘The Pest’ or ‘Kung Fu International’ – three all-time classics!

Thinking he would be staying for the next reading I relaxed into my chair and had another wine (all that was available in the alcohol stakes) during the 20 minute interval. I then realised he was making for the exit. I surreptitiously grabbed my rucksack and made for the back of the hall.

A small crowd had gathered, adjacent to the toilets. I could not see him, but after a few seconds, those nasally, lilting Salford tones emanated from the floor: he was signing a t-shirt, to the joy of one ecstatic fan. I introduced myself and he explained that he had to rush off to Leeds for another gig, constantly apologising during the conversation. He signed my "Snap, Crackle & Bop" album, inside the book of poems, which was attached to the front of the LP. "Wow! I haven’t even got a copy of this myself" he shrieked with laughter. Much cheery banter and a few handshakes and a photo later, he went on his merry way.

Wondering how Benjamin Zephaniah was going to cope after such a crescendo for JCC, I eagerly took my seat. Famous for his refusal to accept his OBE some months ago, he gingerly took his mark to a rapturous welcome.

He again, spent a lot of time ‘introducing’ each poem with interesting and amusing stories from his time spent in the likes of Jamaica and India. We knew little of his work, but by the end of his performance we were both converts. His collection of poetry ranged from political outbursts to the hilarious finale on how we should be nice to turkeys at Christmas. All had depth and great intuitiveness.

Filing out into the biting night air all aglow, I kept thinking of the last thing I said to JCC……"It’s only taken 24 years for Jim to fix it for me!" He is supporting The Fall on a few dates soon, so it certainly won’t be another 24 years!

(REVIEWED BY NICK HILL)

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