I have four pubs within a 5-minute walk of this house. The trouble is, like most pubs in this city, they are all awful in one way or another. Either the beer is vile and/or overpriced or the clientele are aggressive or zombies or both, or the decor is like a 70’s themed MFI nightmare – and usually a combination of all of these. The only redeeming feature is that one of them – ‘The Hare & Hounds’ – is a well-established music venue, which is at least something. For most of the time I have lived in Kings Heath, the H&H has just been a large, scruffy street-corner boozer with few pretensions and a lot of harmless ‘Care in the Community’ types who would come into KH to shop and then spend the rest of the day in the pub getting quietly hammered. The joys of modern British life, eh? Welcome to Chickentown….
I used to go to the H&H only to watch footy games, but even that stopped when the owners decided to ‘reposition’ the pub as an upmarket establishment aimed at a much younger and more affluent audience. Out went the big TV screens and the slot machines, in came a sprinkling of retro furniture and up, up, up went the beer prices. The real joke was that they didn’t even really redecorate the place but just replaced some of the furniture. The H&H remains what it has always been – a fairly grotty pub- but has now won over a much younger crowd – it’s become the venue of choice for my daughter when she’s home from Uni and meeting up with her KH buddies.
As for me, I found somewhere else to watch the football and might never have set foot in the H&H again, until one night, my friend, the immensely talented & charming Tom Bellamy was playing in the upstairs room, so I wandered down there to see him. What a surprise I got, because the upstairs room is just a terrific small venue that would comfortably hold between 100-200 people. The stage is quite high up, so you get a good view from anywhere in the room.
Anyway, the point of all this is that the H&H have become far more ambitious in terms of the bands they are putting on and, to my considerable surprise, John Cooper Clarke , the rumoured ‘punk poet’ from Sunny Salford is on there tonight and I am going along with my buddy Adrian and some other friends.
It’s been a good many years since I saw JCC, but there was a time (the late 70’s) and a place (Manchester) when/where he seemed to be performing wherever I went – from the Electric Circus to Rafters to the Factory and eventually to the International and the Hacienda. I also used to see him around town a lot – an unmistakable figure, tall and whippet-thin with that extraordinary ‘Blonde on Blonde’ hairdo and shades – often in the ersatz bodega bars and late night Mexican takeaways of 70’s Mancunia….
John always seemed to wander on between the bands at gigs, sometimes unannounced, often with a Sainsbury’s carrier bag, which (he told us) contained gas bills, random pages from the ‘Manchester Evening News’ and 3-month old shopping lists plus some of his (often very funny) poems, which among boys of a certain age are still quoted enthusiastically and verbatim. How sad we are….. but they were and remain very funny.
Later on as the 70’s turned to the ’80’s John abandoned the solo poet routine in favour of working with a band of itinerant Manchester musos who went by the name of The Invisible Girls, featuring some of the Durutti Column and the late and legendary Martin Hannett. JCC’s band recordings were surprisingly effective and on his 1981 album (‘Zip, Style, Method’) he began to move away from the raucous crowd-pleasers towards a more thoughtful lyrical approach which shone a light on some of the darker corners of modern life. Not sure what happened next as I was in the process of leaving Manchester myself but I gather that John’s health demanded that he too get out of town for a while. The flow of records stopped, there were rumours that he was living in (cue sound of jaw hitting floor….) Stevenage and he only seems to have reurned to performing (solo again, I think) regularly in recent years.
I’m not sure how kind the intervening years have been to either of us, but if he’s retained a modicum of his skewed Salford wit, it should be a pleasure….here’s hoping.