John Cooper Clarke was the poet laureate of punk. Along with Linton Kwesi Johnson he was everywhere, filling in at gigs as a kind of cross between an MC and a support band.
That’s where I first heard him and towards the end of 1977 he released the Innocents EP, credited to John Cooper Clarke and The Curious Yellows, underlaying his fast-talking wordplay with an electronic sound bed of drum machine and distorted guitars.
It was – I think – the first record to be produced by the great Martin Hannett under his punk pseudonym Martin Zero, before he went on to make his name producing Joy Division, New Order, Magazine, Psychedelic Furs and many more.
It had three tracks – the first, Suspended Sentence, a typically spiky satire aimed at the insatiable tabloid appetite for a return to capital punishment. The title track is pretty much a straight-up punk number, albeit with JCC’s characteristically Mancunian spoken word delivery.
The B-side, Psycle Sluts, is an epic two-part poem, and one of his best; this version very different from the one that would appear on JCC’s debut album, Disguise In Love, containing several extra verses.
The Curious Yellows were so named because, according to JCC, they all had hepatitis at the time. They consisted of Anthony McGahan, aka ‘Eric Echo’, on guitar, Joe Viality operating the drum machine that gives the tracks their pulse and Phil Middleton, aka ‘Middie’, on bass.
On the epic Psycle Sluts, guitar and bass are played by a fellow called John Scott, possibly because Eric went on to join an early line-up of The Fall but left after only three months on the eve of a John Peel session – he refused to get in the van when he saw the driver had packed some congas – and later became a member of the Blue Orchids under another alias, Rick Goldstraw.
The EP was released on Hannett’s own Rabid label.