John Cooper Clarke

Riverfront Theatre, Newport

AS national treasures go, John Cooper Clarke is an anomaly.

Pipe-cleaner thin, sporting his trademark unruly thatch of hair and ever-present sunglasses, this 69-year-old who steadfastly refuses to conform to the norms that society might expect of him.

And for that, thanks be to whatever deity you prefer.

Dr Cooper Clarke continues to trade in the earthy, edgy, 'punk' poetry - delivered as ever in Gatling Gun-style - that fans have come to expect and respect, in a career spanning more than 40 years.

I first (and last) saw John Cooper Clarke 37 years ago, and his delivery remains breathtakingly quick and dexterous, though he derailed himself a few times.

At times too, said delivery descended into the realm of rote, witty and insightful lines tumbling out devoid of feeling. That is a shame, for John Cooper Clarke on top form is a force of nature, simultaneously railing at and celebrating life, its minutiae, absurdities, casual horrors, small triumphs.

Beasley Street, his evergreen commentary on inner city poverty, suffered somewhat from this tendency, though a post-regeneration version more subtly and no less powerfully lambasted the unintended consequences of gentrification.

The standout performance however, was Bedblocker Blues, a venomous tale of a sick old man, raging for the dying of the light. Cooper Clarke on this form is thrilling.

In between, the good Doctor crooned secular hymns and delivered lashings of witty banter and some dodgy, but very funny, limericks.

Illness and the Beast from the East contrived to make it third time lucky for this show. Good things come to those who wait.

Andy Rutherford