Its half past eleven on a Friday night and it has just started to rain (admittedly not uncommon in Edinburgh). Bristo Sqaure is steaming and heaving, to the point where it resembles the seventh circle of something, raucous, clattering, and by now somewhat fluid-flecked.
Amid all this a queue of people are filing up the entrance steps of a giant upended purple cow, the bovine nexus of this chaotic scene, to see a man read some poems.
Which might sound odd if the man in question was not John Cooper Clarke, playing for a one-week run at the Udderbelly; oddly ageless in black spray-on jeans, with his trademark Tim Burton hair, and tinted glasses, hes like a creature made of pipe-cleaners dipped in ink, spidery and wired.
Its still possible to hear the late night festival buzz from outside and the noise seems appropriate, going some way to counter the incongruity of the cow. Clarkes set has a shambling, rambling quality. He ambles on, grabs the mic, doles out a few well-worn jokes for good measure, standard club stuff, polished smooth with use. The voice remains instantly recognisable as he explains how hard it is to write limericks about people from Limerick and recites his now classic haiku: To-con-vey one’s mood. In sev-en-teen syll-able-s. Is ve-ry dif-fic.. He punctuates the poems, these verbal eruptions, rapid and rattling, with more jokes, more banter.
Next he takes a nostalgic run along Beasley Street, a piece he has now rewritten and updated for a different urban scene. Its now Beasley Boulevard, a place of noodle bars and poodle parlours with a pub where the regulars are barred. He even does the expletive-riddled Evidently Chickentown (which even cropped up in an episode of The Sopranos, something he seems genuinely chuffed about). Theres new material too, including one called Ive Fallen in Love With My Wife. These are poems that need to be spoken, that require that distinctive Salford twang to really come alive.
And then its over and the crowd spills out into the Edinburgh night. Its still fizzing with bodies and beer outside, fuggy and foggy and damp but this feels apt, a fitting finish, and it seems the rain has stopped.