People of Yorkshire volume 15 – Jarvis Cocker

Musician, Jarvis Cocker was born in Sheffield on 19th September 1963. He shot to fame in the 1990s with his band, Pulp, who became a major force in the Britpop era. There have also been moments of controversy, such as when he invaded the stage during a Michael Jackson performance at the Brit Awards in 1996.

Cocker’s childhood was spent with his sister and mother after his father abandoned the family and moved to Australia. He first set up his band aged just fifteen, along with friend, Peter Dalton, while attending City school. They called it “Arabacus Pulp,” after a commodity used in economics and the Michael Caine Film. Two other friends, David Lockwood and Mark Swift, along with Dalton’s brother, Ian completed their first line up. Arabacus Pulp’s first gig was at the Rotherham Arts Centre in 1980 and their music style was described as being somewhere between “Abba” and “The Fall.” In 1981 they 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 of the time, such as The Human League but unlike them, Jarvis Cocker and his friends were only known within the city’s boundaries.

In 1983 a change in musical direction saw them record their first mini-album plus a single, “Everybody’s Problem” and “There was.” The songs had a folk-pop element, but did not give the band its much-vaunted breakthrough. During this time several of the original members, including school friend, Peter Dalton had quit the band and been replaced by others.

By the end of this year Cocker was on the verge of breaking up Pulp, but was persuaded by new band mates, Russell Senior and drummer, Magnus Doyle to take their sound in a new, noisier direction.

Their new edgier sound also attracted a different audience and several of their gigs in 1984, had to be abandoned due to rioting. Around this time, Jarvis Cocker famously fell out of a window while trying to impress a girl and was wheelchair bound for several weeks. Pulp signed to Fire Records and brought out a hurriedly produced album, “Freaks,” in 1987, which was not well received. This disappointment ended up with another near- dissolution of the band, especially when Jarvis started an Art and Design course at a familiar sounding place, St Martin’s College in London.

Once again Cocker was persuaded to stay in the band and the acid-house sounds of the late 1980s once again changed the band’s musical influences. The line up in 1989 consisted of Cocker, Steve Mackey, who had persuaded Cocker to let him join the band as a bass player, Candida Doyle, sister of former drummer, Magnus, Russell Senior and Nick Banks on drums.

In the early 90s the barriers to fame were starting to break down. The musical tastes of this era, mixing rock with house music suited Pulp’s new sound. Their 1991 recording, “My legendary girlfriend,” taken from their new album, “Separations,” was 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.

The band left Fire and joined “Gift Records,” 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 1970s schoolboy in Sheffield. The type of songs written during this time also reflected British issues of class, underachievement and realism, which lay at the heart of the early 90s Britpop movement.

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

Jarvis Cocker performing in Budapest. Picture credit Sajat Munka wikipedia creative commons.

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.

Pulp’s reign at the top of British music was not 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,” which ended up with the Yorkshireman spending the night in a police cell, although no charges were made.

As the 1990s 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 resulting in a lack of creativity was beginning to take their toll. The subject matter in this album became deeper, reflecting Cocker’s disillusionment with fame. Moreover the influential Russell Senior left the band and a three year hiatus 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,” further sending the group’s achievements off the radar.

A new album came in 2001 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.

However, Pulp’s rise to the top would keep Jarvis Cocker in good stead. He engaged in numerous individual projects with other artists throughout the rest of the decade, giving vocals to a couple of “Air” tracks on their album, “Pocket Symphony,” along with an album of his own, simply named, “Jarvis,” in 2006. He also provided music for one of the biggest films of the decade, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

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

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

This was followed by a tour of Europe and Australia in 2011, plus a surprise appearance at that year’s Glastonbury festival. The following year some 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.

Currently he is a presenter on the BBC 6 Music on his show, “Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service” and is appearing as part of The Proms at the Royal Albert Hall this summer.

Jarvis Cocker overcame more than a decade of struggle to reach the height of fame, from a Sheffield schoolboy with a dream to causing controversy in front of millions at the Brit Awards, he has always had something interesting to say and do.

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