Pulp has been one of my favourite bands ever since I was nine. Maybe that’s why I turned out so weird. To think that I grew up listening to that mucky man’s tales of debauchery. I can’t have known what he was on about until I was well into my teens. I remember asking my parents what Jarvis was on about when he said, “Grass is something you smoke, birds are something you shag.” How embarrassing!
Still, I think I can be proud of the fact that I was heavily into such a good band when I was as young as nine. I did take a bit of a detour in my early teens, but we can gloss over that.
A lot of people might think that it’s a bit strange that I’m still heavily into Pulp. But it actually makes a lot of sense. When I was young, it was their futuristic, spacey sound that initially captured my attention. Pulp were influenced more by techno and Steve Reich than the insipid Britpop bunch they were more commonly associated with. How many of those bands had a member whose primary instrument was the violin?
There has never been another song that sounded like ‘Common People’. When I saw them perform this song on Top of the Pops I was amazed. (I must be one of the last people in the world to have been moved to buy a single by a performance on TOTP…) ‘Disco 2000′ is simply genius for the way it builds up and up without employing ham-fisted techniques like upping the tempo or the volume. And Jarvis’ songwriting is responsible for just about the only times I’ve been interested in a song’s lyrics as much as its sonic qualities.
With the triumphant return of Jarvis Cocker with his new solo album, I’ve entered a bit of a Pulp nostalgia trip. I’ve even dug out all of the old books and other paraphernalia I collected ten years ago, at the height of my obsession. Pulp’s story is probably one of the most interesting in the music business. Most people probably don’t know that they were hanging around the fringes of Sheffield’s music scene for over a decade before they hit the big time in the mid 1990s.
It would be easy to think that their early music must have been a bit rubbish if it took them that long to become successful. The band members certainly had plenty of derogatory remarks about it. But in truth their early songs were quite good, even if they weren’t quite as polished as their more successful songs.
Pulp’s relationship with their record company, Fire, was not easy. For their second album they were given the budget of £600, and had just a week to record it! The end result was slightly rushed and rough around the edges, even though the songs had plenty of potential. The producer refused to have his name associated with it!
Still, the budget stretched to the odd video. I had read about these videos, but I thought I would never see them. Enter YouTube, the intarweb’s single greatest invention. All manner of obscure videos can be found on YouTube. And the other day, while I was idly searching for Pulp videos I found a few gems that have got me very excited. I present them to you below the fold.
Click “click for more” for more.
They Suffocate at Night promo video
Even though this is from their more obscure period which doesn’t attract much attention, this is one of my favourite Pulp songs. Despite what must have been a tiny budget (which apparently stretched to just one roll of film), it looks fairly good to me. I wonder, though, why they even bothered to make a video. Who would have seen it? Pulp were still several years away from success. I doubt MTV were too interested. I suppose you must try though. Here it is in almost all its glory.
It is quite a strange video. Why is Candida playing the guitar? And why has she got such a maniacal grin?
Despite getting the video under their belt, it wasn’t a good night for Pulp. They didn’t finish filming until 4am, and at the end of it all the tension between factions in the group became unbearable and they split up. Not to worry though, because soon enough they were to re-form in a guise that will be more familiar to chart watchers.
My Legendary Girlfriend promo video
This single marks the turning point in Pulp’s career. People were beginning to take notice, and NME even made it their single of the week. Unfortunately, the video is a bit of a shambles. It was originally shot in a pub, but the lighting was so bad that you couldn’t see anything. So what you see here is their second attempt, shot in a photo studio at St Martin’s, where Jarvis was studying.
Unfortunately, they had blown their budget and couldn’t afford to transport the drum kit. So Jarvis made a makeshift drum kit out of cardboard and tinfoil. Potentially embarrassing, but they kind of get away with it because it just looks kind of arty rather than cheap. A less arty band wouldn’t have got away with it.
Unfortunately the video is incomplete, but you get the idea. It’s not the greatest video really, is it? It doesn’t even look like they’re performing it. Most of the band is just sitting there clutching their instruments. Jarvis looks downright uncomfortable, especially on that absurd turntable.
Countdown promo video
Fire kept on refusing to release ‘Countdown’, so Pulp kept on reworking it. The version in this video is very different to the one on the Separations album. I definitely prefer this single version. Much punchier, and some great guitar flourishes as well. As you can see, the video is also much better than ‘My Legendary Girlfriend’. Although you can’t see a lot, I suspect this is as much down to YouTube as the poor quality of the video itself.
I love the bit when Russell Senior comes sliding across!
Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) live
Here is a performance from Channel 4’s The White Room. Pulp had just become big. But what’s unusual about this is the song, which was one of their earliest singles. Jarvis wrote it after seeing a photograph of his mother, pregnant at 20. And what a fine song it is too!
Unfortunately, Pulp’s period of success only really lasted a few years. Their career fizzled out in much the same was as it began. Their greatest hits album didn’t even reach the top 70! But their last album, We Love Life, is possibly my favourite of theirs. Here they are performing one of the best songs from the album, ‘Sunrise’, on Later… With Jools Holland.
Space Oddity live
This video is much more recent. In fact, it’s only just over a month old. Jarvis Cocker performs David Bowie’s classic at Koko. It seems to be taken from somebody’s phone, which is why the sound quality is so awful. But you get the general idea.