Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dylan, Clarke and Bragg

John Cooper Clarke's moment of fame came in the thick of the punk era, though at the time he said, "My relationship with rock is like Lenny Bruce's with modern jazz - I like the clothes and attitude." While Clarke owed a massive sartorial debt to Bob Dylan (and some attitude debt to Bruce) his oeuvre is pure, amphetamine beat poetry with accompaniment ("I try to talk in tune" he once said), eschewing the vintage folk, blues and gospel which power Dylan's work.

In contrast, Billy Bragg gained little fame during his tenure as leader of '77 punk band Riff Raff but when he returned from driving tanks for the British army to take up arms against Spandau Ballet in the mid eighties he grabbed his nation by the throat. Bragg, to commit an over-simplification, mixed up musical and lyrical elements of the Clash and Bob Dylan till you couldn't tell which was which. Now here, in the midst of his 2009 Canadian tour, he tries that mash-up trick with John Cooper Clarke and Bob Dylan, trying to do Clarke's "Evidently Chickentown" (with the original lyrics) in a Bob Dylan (circa "Desolation Row") style. There's almost four minutes of chit-chatting to begin with but the end result is fascinating.

Fittingly, Bragg praises Clarke as a poet and as Dylan has said, "Everyone admires the poet, no matter if he's a lumberjack, a football player or a car thief. If he's a poet, he'll be admired and respected." Of course this was also the man who said, "I don't call myself a poet because I don't like the word. I'm a trapeze artist." For proof of that statement, here's Dylan working without a net.

P.S Those intrigued by Clarke shouldn't miss his beat-punk cum hip-hop, "Health Fanatic" from Urgh: A Music War.

A big thank you to regular reader/commenter Biopunk without whom this post would never have happened (though he is not to be held responsible for the rambling herein).


  1. Brilliant. More Bragg. More Clarke. Thanks for all your work on this blog. FC

  2. I've seen that Billy Bragg clip. An interesting version of JJC (evidently) Cheers Jeff and Biopunk

  3. Oops that should read "never seen"

  4. Nice one Jeffen! Did you get to see him @ the BCT on the 28th?

    I almost missed this one myself, due to the length of the "Bragg-Banter" beforehand...

    He also reprised his cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain" on this tour and played it at one of my favourite record stores:

    Now if I could only find a live version of "The Tatler", I'd be a very happy boy...

    Yours in musical solidarity!

  5. JJC looked incredibly good playing himself in that "Control" movie. You could not tell he was a former junkie lost somewhere in his 50's, that's for sure!

    And very nice to hear the Braggification (via The Big D) of Mr. Clarke's chart topper. The question remains, however, who will do a Christmas album next?

  6. Oops! That should be JCC not JJC.

  7. FC
    You're welcome and thanks fo the good words. More Bragg is inevitable, after all he is where this blog started.

    Yeah that clip was cool, I quite like the idea (even though the tune sounds suspiciously like something from "Don't Try this at Home".

    I haven't seen Billy for years (those between song banters have spiraled out of control) plus I really haven't liked an album in a long time. I tried to go see him when he played the Folk Festival a few years ago but got there too late.
    Thanks for that video, like any good Canadian of a certain age, Lightfoot's in my blood.
    Did Bragg ever do the Tattler live? I've kept that "Greetings.." 12" since the eighties and it's one of the reasons I so loathe those Bragg re-issue on Yep Rock.

    "Fuckin' holly
    Fuckin' bells
    Fuckin' eggnog
    All holy hells!"

    Nope, it's not going to be JCC, no matter how well the smack preserved his gauntness.


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