Jarvis Cocker – Life, Career & Where He is Now

Jarvis Cocker shot to fame throughout the 1990’s with his band Pulp who became a major force to be reckoned with in the Britpop era. Throughout his fame, there have been many controversial moments that are still remembered to this day.

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Growing Up

Jarvis Branson Cocker was born on the 19th of September 1963 in Sheffield. His childhood was spent with his sister and mother after his father abandoned the family and moved to Australia when he was 7.

When Jarvis was only fifteen, he decided to set up a band along with his good friend Peter Dalton. At the time, both Jarvis and Peter were attending Sheffield’s city school.

Arabacus Pulp

The two friends decided to call it Arabacus Pulp after a commodity used in economics and the Michael Caine film. Their other friends David Lockwood and Mark Swift, along with Peter’s brother Ian, completed their first line up.

Arabacus Pulp’s first gig was at the Rotherham Arts Centre in 1980. It was here that their music style was described as being somewhere between ABBA and The Fall. In 1981, the band gave a demo tape to DJ John Peel which resulted in them recording a session for his show.

Their sound was becoming ever more like other bigger Sheffield acts at the time such as The Human League. However, unlike them, Jarvis Cocker and his friends were only known within the city’s boundaries.

A Change in Musical Direction

In 1983, a change in their musical direction saw them record their very first mini-album “Everybody’s Problem” along with their single “There Was”. These songs had a folk-pop element and didn’t give the band its much-vaunted breakthrough.

During this time several of the original members, including Jarvis’s school friend Peter Dalton, decided to quit the band. These members were soon replaced by others.

By the end of that year, Jarvis Cocker was on the verge of breaking up Pulp. However, he was soon persuaded by new band mates Russel Senior and the drummer Magnus Doyle to take their sound in a new, noisier direction.

A New Edgier Sound

Pulp’s new edgier sound also attracted a different audience. In 1984, they had several gigs lined up, however during this time there were riots which meant that they had to abandon them.

Around this time, Jarvis Cocker famously fell out of a window. He was trying to impress a girl but in the end was wheelchair bound for several weeks due to his injuries.

Pulp signed to Fire Records and brought out a hurriedly produced album called Freaks in 1987 which wasn’t well received. This disappointment ended up with another new dissolution of the band, especially when Jarvis started an Art and Design course at St Martin’s College in London.

A Different Musical Influence

Once again, Jarvis Cocker was persuaded to stay in the band. The acid-house sounds of the late 1980’s once again changed the band’s musical influences causing them to make a different type of music.

The lineup in 1989 consisted of Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey who had persuaded Jarvis to let him join the band as a bass player. They were joined by Candida Doyle, the sister of their former drummer Magnus, Russell Senior, and Nick Banks on the drums.

Pulp’s New Sound

In the early 90’s, the barriers to fame were starting to break down. The musical tastes of this era was a mix between rock and house music which suited Pulp’s new sound.

Their 1991 record “My legendary girlfriend” taken from their new album “Separations” was the influential music magazine NME’s single of the Week. However, a frustrating delay in the release of this album by Fire Records held back Pulp’s progress and their breakthrough underground success with this track was in jeopardy of counting for nothing.

Island Records

The band left Fire and joined Gift Records which was a subsidiary of Sheffield’s new Warp label before finally moving to the very established Island Records. This move led to the start of Pulp’s commercial success.

A move to a high profile label, plus the explosion of new British bands such as Oasis, Blur, Suede, and others, finally gave Jarvis Cocker the success he had craved from being a 1970’s schoolboy in Sheffield.

The type of songs that they wrote during this time also reflected British issues of class, underachievement, and realism which lay at the heart of the early 90’s Britpop movement.

jarvis-cocker-sajat-munka
Jarvis Cocker performing in Budapest. Picture credit Sajat Munka wikipedia creative commons.

Supporting Band

Pulp supported Blur on their U.S tour of 1994. This was coupled with the releases of “Lipgloss” and their first top 40 single “Do you remember the first time?” from their new album “His and Hers”.

Height of their Success

The year 1995 saw Jarvis Cocker and Pulp at the height of their commercial success. “Common People” reached number 2 in the charts, a song about class tourism and “Disco 2000”, a real life story about unrequited love. Their album “A Different Class” topped the album charts and won the Mercury Music Prize.

Controversy

Pulp’s reign at the top of British music wasn’t without controversy. Their song “Sorted for E’s and Whizzes” was criticised for being pro-drugs due to its lyrics around the time of a media moral panic over several high profile drug deaths.

Moreover, at the 1996 Brit awards, Jarvis Cocker invaded the stage in protest at a Michael Jackson performance of “The Earth Song”. This ended up with the Yorkshireman spending the night in a police cell although no charges were made.

The Beginning of the End for Pulp

As the 1990’s wore on and the Britpop implosion began to fade, Pulp slid back towards obscurity. Their 1998 release “This is Hardcore” took two years to make and the band’s descent into drugs resulted in a lack of creativity that was beginning to take their toll.

The subject matter in this album became deeper which reflected Jarvis’s disillusionment with fame. Moreover, the influential Russell Senior left the band and a three year hiatus on either side of the Millennium signalled the beginning of the end for Pulp. 

Incidentally, Cocker had put a ban on any Millennium related media using “Disco 2000” which further sent the group’s achievements off of the radar. In 2001, a new album came out called “We Love Life” but unfortunately not many people loved it and along with an ominous Greatest Hits album, the following year Pulp finally broke up.

Individual Projects

However, Pulp’s rise to the top would keep Jarvis Cocker in good stead. He engaged in numerous individual projects with multiple artists throughout the rest of the decade.

Jarvis gave his vocals to a couple of “Air” tracks on their albums “Pocket Symphony” along with an album of his own named “Jarvis” in 2006. He also provided music for one of the biggest films of the decade, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”.

Radio Show

In January 2010, Jarvis was given a radio show on BBC Radio 6 Music called “Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service”. As a result, he won the Sony DAB Rising Star Award for that year.

Performing Together Once Again

In the new decade, a surprising announcement was made that Pulp were to reform and play at the Wireless festival in 2010. The six-some – Cocker, Doyle, Mackey, Senior, and Webber – were back performing together once again.

This was soon followed by a tour of Europe and Australia in 2011 along with a surprise appearance at that year’s Glastonbury festival. The following year, part of their back catalogue and previously released albums under “Fire Records” were re-released and a one-off gig in their home town of Sheffield was held.

Where is Jarvis Cocker Now?

He was a presenter for the BBC 6 Music show, “Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service” and has appeared as part of The Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

During December 2017, Jarvis announced that he was presenting his Sunday Service for the last time. He said:

“It’s not goodbye, it’s just farewell. We wanted to say farewell properly and so we’re going to do a run of five extra-special shows throughout December, starting this Sunday. Let’s keep warm together.”

In 2022, Jarvis began to do voice work for a stop-animation film called “The House”. He was the voice of a rat called “Developer” and also wrote and performed “This House” which was the closing song.

Jarvis Cocker overcame more than a decade of struggle to reach the height of his fame. What started out as a school boy from Sheffield with a dream led to a known musician that was renowned for his interesting actions and words.