Everything seems to be running a little behind at the moment, and this column is no exception.
Due to the unpredictable vicissitudes of life I missed my annual round-up of weird Christmas presents. There, I told you I was running behind: I'm still thinking about Christmas. But, despite years of reporting on the strange cosmetic products my special lady friend receives as gifts, this year I find myself at a loss. After last year's snail mucous (no, I still don't know what it does!) I was expecting a bonanza for Christmas 2016 but the oddest thing to arrive was a face mask made of potato. Which is a bit of an anti-climax, though I was chuffed to read the description: “Potato mask pack that is containing potato extract moisturize skin damaged by UV rays immediately”. I'll put it next to the bag of peanuts with the helpful descriptor: “May contain peanuts”. But, while skincare products failed to live up to pressie expectations, one other present reminded me of a valuable musical lesson that is often forgotten.
A Christmas CD
It's a CD. A collaboration between John Cooper Clarke and Hugh Cornwall. John Cooper Clarke, for those otherwise occupied during the late-1970s, was England's “punk poet”, a sort of Sam Hunt but with a seriously anarchic attitude and access to a never-ending supply of amphetamines. He opened for punk bands and had genuine “hits” with his blistering poems set to music. I met him once, back in those heady punk days when much like a brief period in the sixties the rebel yell of youth was taken seriously by the cultural establishment. Thus we met after a poetry reading at Westminster Abbey of all places, where he performed along with the distinguished likes of Gregory Corso, Stephen Spender and Anne Stevenson. And Linton Kwesi Johnson, the “reggae poet”. It still somewhat amazes me that a mere couple of years after Sex Pistols gigs were cancelled and their songs banned from radio that anti-authoritarian artists such as Cooper Clarke and Johnson were promoted in such a bastion of culture. The English can occasionally be strangely accepting. (By the way, he was excellent company, kind enough to buy drinks, outrageously punning through almost every sentence; and, I assume judging from the machine gun pace of his talking, high as a kite). So back to the CD. Hugh Cornwall, for those otherwise occupied during the late-1970s, was guitarist for The Stranglers – ‘No More Heroes', ‘Peaches'; those Stranglers.
Looking more closely
Now I'm a big fan of both these guys, or at least I used to be. Can't say they've been on my radar for decades. An album together promised to be good. Maybe. Let's look more closely... The CD is called ‘This Time It's Personal'. John sings, Hugh plays guitar (there's a band). They do old favourites. ‘It's Only Make Believe', ‘MacArthur Park', ‘Love Potion No. 9', and more. The arrangements are lacklustre; JCC is not what you'd call a natural singer. The whole thing sounds like nothing more than your embarrassing drunken uncle leading a karaoke sing-a-long. I listened to it once. It's awful, simply awful. Then I remembered another trait of the English. If some outsider rebel manages to survive being trashed by the gutter press for long enough they become a loveable old rogue – much like Bill Nighy's ageing rock ‘n' roller in ‘Love Actually' – and they can do any dodgy old bollocks they like. So, time for The Lesson. A few days later was New Year's Eve. Midnight hit; fireworks sparked; everyone formed a circle and sung ‘Auld Lang Syne'. It fell to me to put some loud music on the stereo. Hmmmm... Diverse bunch, different ages, different tastes, it needed something universal; something perhaps where enthusiasm overrides excellence. Yep, you've guessed it. John Cooper Clarke and Hugh Cornwall saw in the New Year for us and everyone sang along, just like a drunken karaoke. And had a brilliant time. Sometimes it's not about quality. There's music for every occasion and sometimes that music is rubbish.