JOHN Cooper Clarke’s unique Salford voice has long been associated with the punk movement.

The defiant semi-skeletal image, the raven hair, sunglasses and stick-thin trousers sitting perfectly at home alongside the anarchic, stripped down music of the late Seventies.

But if you read his poem Salome Maloney and listen very carefully you can here Bernard Manning in among the lines.

Surely not, you say? What connection could the master of the mother-in-law joke have with the master of modern poetry?

It transpires that Manning in fact

set Cooper Clarke on the road to lyrical fame.

In the build-up to his Glasgow appearance tomorrow, the poet flashes back to late Sixties Manchester, to Bernard Manning’s Embassy Club, where plastic pint pots were heaped on metal trays and dumped on to cheap formica tables – while punters listened to gags as abrasive as the cleaner used to clear the lager pipes.

“It all sounds very incongruous but what had happened was I had pounded the pavements of Manchester trying to get a gig for ages,” Cooper Clarke recalls.

“It was a long time before the punk rock days and I suppose I was channelling Stanley Holloway and the music hall monologues.

“Anyway, there was a raft of clubs in Manchester at the time; Fagan’s, Gerry Harris’s Piccadilly Club and

Foo Foo’s Palace, drag act, a cabaret joint. But they weren’t interested

in poetry.

“They thought it was high fallutin’ s*** that the punters ain’t gonna dig.

“So there was only Bernard left and by the time I went to see him I were a bit desperado. It was my last chance to make something work.

“So I said ‘Mr Manning, my dad’s a massive fan of yours.’ Then I told I him I were a poet.

“And he said [does very good Manning impression] ‘They don’t like poetry here, son. Have you seen my audience? They’re f***** ignorant!’ They’re not going to like it.’ But I persisted. I said ‘I think they will, Mr Manning.’

“Bernard wasn’t convinced, but I knew he had once been a singer with a dance band and he knew the world of Mecca ballrooms, so I hit him with this ballroom poem I’d just written, Salomey Maloney.”

Cooper Clarke recites part of his classic tale: ‘Lacquered in a beehive. Her barnet didn’t budge. Wet-look lips, she smiled as sweet as fudge. She had a number on her back. And sequins on her t***. The sartorial requirements. For females in the Ritz . . .’ ”

By the end of the poem, Manning was laughing hard. He said “I’ll give you 20 minutes.”

Cooper Clarke was in the door. His showbiz career officially running. And he survived and thrived.

“People say it must have been rough doing them punk gigs later on, but they were a f***** doddle compared to working Bernard’s place.”

Cooper Clarke’s word creation skills had developed, oddly enough, as a result of contracting TB as a child (leaving him with an emaciated look) and being sent to live with an aunt in Wales.

“I had to stay indoors. I think that made me cultivate an inner life.”

On leaving school, Cooper Clarke became a lab technician, but meantime had been sending manuscripts to publishers.

The writing dream floated in the back of his mind.

There was a pivotal moment as a teenager when he’d joined a beat group and in a bid to impress a young lady showed her his lyrics.

“She thought they were pretty

good, so I recited them as poetry at this beatnik event. It went down really well – but then I didn’t do anything about it for 15 years.”

Life got in the way. Inbetween times, Cooper Clarke married at 21 then became an apprentice type compositor, based in Dorset. Neither marriage nor routine employment suited him at the time. He moved back to Manchester, focused on his art and was eventually spotted by the head of CBS.

In the late Seventies he “fell into” punk. His poems about everyday life, about going on holiday to Spain, for example, summed up the essence of punk, a distilled simplicity and rawness.

He also fell into drug abuse. As a result, Cooper Clarke lost pretty much all of the Eighties to drugs but gave them up in 1992. Today he lives in Essex. At 70, he’s clean and healthy and has published a new book of his poetry, The Luckiest Guy Alive.

“It’s been a long time since I had a published work out there,” he admits of the 30-year hiatus. Why so long, John?

“I think I’m the only poet these days who doesn’t have a book out. It’s jealousy! What about me! No, I’ve been working on live shows. It wasn’t planned. It just happened. For a long time I didn’t have any representation. It was just me.”

Has he enjoyed that haphazardness? “Well, it turns out it was the right thing to do. I think poetry is a frenetic medium. It should be performed.”

He adds, grinning: “But I don’t want to put people off buying the book. Consider it as you would a lyric sheet. Come to the gig and see me live, then buy the book. When you read it you’ll still see my face. And hear my voice.”

He’s happier with his voice these days. “Of course you still occasionally have that voice in your head that says: ‘You are going to get rumbled; what you’re doing is just a piece of p***’. Because what I do isn’t ‘work’ as any sane person would understand the term. But I love what I do. I think I’m blessed. And finally I would like people to say it was special.”

John Cooper Clarke, The City Halls, Glasgow, March 9. The Luckiest Guy Alive, Picador Poetry is out now, £14.99.