This film is part of Free

Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt

Discover the 'name behind the hairstyle', in this essential portrait of the bard of Salford, aka John Cooper Clarke.

Documentary 1984 61 mins


The near-legendary bard of Salford, aka John Cooper Clarke, aka the 'name behind the hairstyle', is the focus of this essential documentary. Nick May's film wisely sets aside narration to give space to Clarke's sharp, take-no-prisoners words: in live performance, interviews and simple but striking impromptu 'videos' for tracks from his LPs with producer Martin Hannett. The film climaxes with a grim tour through Manchester slums to accompany Clarke's magnum opus, Beasley Street, a despairing hymn to the urban devastation and human casualties of the Thatcher era.

This is no conventional biography; the title comes from Clarke's surreal chronicle of his alter-ego Lenny Siberia, which he performs near the end (with a neat dramatisation of Lenny's school-aged encounters with The Knights of the Sacred Orchid). But we do learn about the competing influences of his leftwing parents and Catholic education, and that his machine-gun live delivery was (apparently) inspired equally by Futurist poetry and horseracing commentator Peter O'Sullevan. The film also serves as a useful introduction to the shortlived 'punk poetry' scene that rose up around Clarke at the turn of the 80s, with cameos from Attila the Stockbroker and Seething Wells (aka the late music journalist Steven Wells), plus dub poet master Linton Kwesi Johnson.