Saturday, 14 June 2014

Pulp - Growing up with dirt in your fingernails and the stars in your eyes.

I didn't think much of music until the early 90s when I stumbled on the works of Bob Dylan.  It was there in the background (my sister loved music) but I guess as a prolific reader, shy and introverted, it passed me by.  I was 18 before music really gripped me, although significantly, it was the lyrics that grabbed me first.  I then stumbled on Elvis Costello by accident then quite by chance, Pulp.

Boring introduction leading to the eventual point of this blog entry.  Yes, today, children, we are exploring the band Pulp and their significance to me (not unlike the importance their music and myriad personalities have had on so many people).

I saw Pulp on the then seminal music show, 'Later with...  Jools Holland'.  This was back in the mid 90s when the show was more about the music and Jools Holland was contented to simply introduce the acts (in recent years, the show feels as though it is more about him but that's my personal opinion).  Pulp performed as is customary on the show, a couple of songs.  The song that grabbed me was 'I Spy'.  'I Spy' is a wonderfully angry little song from the album 'Different Class' expressing an individual's rage at his place in the world, fantasising about a woman from a 'higher' social class.  I loved 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning', the novel and film, so I appreciated the anger that permeated the song.  It also had a line that still makes me cheer and ironically now means little to anyone not versed in the popular culture of the moment, 'Take your Year In Provence and shove it up your arse'.  'A Year in Provence' was a novel by Peter Mayle before it was adapted for the BBC as a miniseries that was widely dismissed.  Fortunately, I missed that although I have always liked Lindsay Duncan.  Anyhow, the sentiment was there in that Pulp line, a succinct up yours to a cloying upper middle class. 

From then on, I gradually encountered Pulp more often as 'Different Class' was released.  I confess to being one of those guys who milked the album in the Student Union Bar,  whilst I was at university.  It amuses me to reflect that the bartenders were the arbiters of cultural taste as they had the ability to turn the volume down on the juke box and the connected sound system.  After a couple of months of 'Common People' played at ten minute intervals by students who didn't get Oasis and Blur (I remember being asked by friends at university, 'do you prefer Blur or Oasis?'  I answered, 'Pulp and Suede'.  Pulp had an authenticity about them which I didn't get from the PR hungry activities of Blur and Oasis.  I still find it hard to listen to Oasis for more than a song or two, although I tip my hat to Blur now.

I saw Pulp for the first time at the Wembley Arena in 1996.  A friend bought me a ticket as a Christmas present, she had tried to get Brixton Academy tickets, but those gigs had sold out.  The Wembley gig was post Jarvis' 'Brits' arse wriggling incident, which was his instinctive reaction to Michael Jackson's 'Earth Song' performance, which is still nauseating to recall.  Jarvis Cocker jumped on stage and wriggled his bum in the direction of the cameras as Jackson posed like Jesus Christ saving the world from its troubles.  Jarvis Cocker's reaction was very honest and the over-reaction spoke more of a music industry pining to the needs of faux deities.  Jarvis ended up down the police station accused of man handling kids (who were featured prominently in Jackson's performance).  Anyhow, needless to say, he was cleared.  My enduring memory of the Wembley gig was the moment when Jarvis did an edgy 'Moonwalk' across the stage, which generated huge applause from the audience.  I also have memories of missing the support acts, one of whom was Edwin Collins, owing to a drinking session prior to going to the gig.  I also bought a slim fit girls t-shirt and it was only when I got home that I realised this! 

I next saw Pulp in 1998 at Finsbury Park where they were supported by a truly eclectic range of artists ranging from a weird covers band called the Bikini Beaches who performed instrumental versions of songs wearing shorts and Fezzes, a really irritating dance band called 'Add N to X', 'Bentley Rhythm Ace' (who were good), Bernard Butler (he came out onto the stage playing 'Not Alone' on a guitar and was in a really bad mood as someone had stolen his guitar (I believe at Glastonbury) and also Catatonia.  Catatonia were the band on before Pulp and by this point were actually becoming a pretty big band in their own right.  Cerys Matthews always seemed to perform with some variety of bottle to hand.  It was part of her image at the time but definitely not now and sadly, Catatonia no longer exists.  Pulp were promoting the 'This Is Hardcore' album, which was the band's deliberate contrary reaction to the horrors of fame.  It is worlds away from the upbeat pop of the albums 'His and Hers' and 'Different Class'.  It opens with a song called 'The Fear', which is effectively a song about losing your sense of self and panic attacks.  The gig was filmed and the whole show minus one song was available on video as 'The Park is Mine'.  It was a well performed gig, although the humour was less apparent.  I still marvelled at Jarvis' subtle hand movements and body gesticulations.  Twisting and undulating around monitors.  The song 'This Is Hardcore' live also became more sordid in performance.  Jarvis simulating the sexual act with the use of a pointed and thrusting finger.

The remaining two Pulp gigs I attended were at the Brixton Academy in 2001, where they were effectively promoting 'We Love Life' (an environmentally friendly album, well in terms of lyrics anyway) and one of their comeback shows in Hyde Park in 2011.  The 2001 gig springs back to memory on account of the support act, The Fat Truckers, who were quick to introduce themselves in the following way, 'We are not fat and we are not truckers' and also by Pulp's use of a bizarre artificial parrot in a cage, which flapped its wings in response to the music.  I also found out that one of the friends I attended the gig with was pregnant, so it has a certain piquancy for that reason.  The Hyde Park gig demonstrated to me how necessary the band had been to me and to so many others.  In 2011, their music was even more relevant as a response to a government and society drowning in apathy.  'Common People' was like a beacon and a call to arms.

Last week, I attended the film 'Pulp: A Film About Life, Deaths and Supermarkets' at the BFI.  This documentary film explores the band's final gig in Sheffield in 2012 (I hadn't even realised that they had put the band to one side again, although when I attended the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2011, Jarvis Cocker did announce in a talk that the gigs would not continue forever) and also explores Sheffield.  This screening of the film was accompanied by a couple of Q and As from a Sheffield Documentary film festival where the director and band were involved.  The most powerful aspect of the film is its focus on the fans and the people of Sheffield.  Bands are important but no more so than in relation to their birthplace.  They are the product of a shared history.

As this has been a personal insight into the band and how they have been an important factor in my life, they have also helped me to develop friendships.  Pulp were and are a band for outsiders and individuals who dare to question, explore and play.  They are a celebration of all that matters in life.

Barry Watt - 14th June 2014.


'Later with... Jools Holland' is copyright to the BBC.

'I Spy' is on the album 'Different Class' and is available from Universal Island.

'Different Class', 'His and Hers', 'This Is Hardcore' and 'We Love Life' are all available on Universal Island.

'The Park Is Mine' is currently available of DVD as 'Pulp: Ultimate Live', which includes two concerts, one from the Brixton Academy in 1995 and also the Finsbury Park gig from 1998, which I attended.

'A Year in Provence' was written by Peter Mayle and is published by Penguin and is available on DVD from Second Sight Media.

'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning' was written by Alan Sillitoe (currently published by Harper Perennial) and the film is available from BFI video.

'Pulp: A Film About Life, Deaths and Supermarkets' is in all good cinemas now and is well worth a watch.


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