Teenage Kicks riff on ½ acoustic guitars but different words. They claim to have written "Stepping Stone" - it's the definative version! "Subtlety time, dedicated to Elvis" sounds like "Don't Fear the Reaper" a bit. A dirge. "Message for the Marshians" with a keyboardist who hadn't learnt the other songs. Another dirge. The appearance of the front man is entertaining. A fun band. Tuning up of hopelessly out of tune semi-acc. "Happy House" riff out of tune, different words. "I won't say that this is the penultimate song because that's pretentious. "This is for dancing but I don't suppose anybody's going to dance. Sounds like "Christine" and is a disco spoof! I wonder what Kieth Strong would say. Vast cheering for encore.
Flying Alphonso Brothers and Pulp.
First up tonight were 'Pulp' who in terms of gigs played are a fairly new band to Sheffield with an even newer drummer now making up their number. The first time I saw Pulp was at a Limit local bands gig towards the end of September at which everyone played terribly, including Pulp who, however, did have the valid excuse of being unrehearsed due to being offered the chance to play only a few hours beforehand. This time however I found them to be greatly improved and really quite enjoyable with the singer loosening up, even dancing by the end, and the drummer getting less basic and more confident by the minute. All in all they provided a good support for the 'Alphonsos' and at their present rate of improvement should certainly be worth seeing for themselves.
The Alphonsos are likewise worth seeing but unlike Pulp, they've now got a substantial following to prove it, [...]
There's very little I can tell you about Pulp, because I asked them to send me some information about them and they never did (if you're reading this, why not? Don't you want to be famous?). I saw them at the Royal, which despite the (lack of) atmosphere is by a long way the best place for discovering new talent in Sheffield, and their music seems to be a mixed bag of all things modern, as if they listen to the John Peel show every night in an endless quest for influences. They look so young you think they ought to be too busy studying for their 'O' levels to be messing about with these damned pop groups, but I understand one of them works in the fish market. Anyway, they don't appear to have seen enough of life to be obsessed with doom and despair, instead covering more superficial subjects such as 'Message From The Martians' and 'Disco Baby'. Despite comparatively elementary musical ability and a slight togetherness problem they're a fun band and definitely one to watch for in the future.
[...] After that it was a relief to get back to the comparative organisation of Pulp. Pulp look about five years older than when I saw them a year ago and they're much better, great in fact. They remind me of Big In Japan (remember Big In Japan? If anyone's got a copy of their EP they want to part with let me know), The Dole, I'm So Hollow, Cult Figures, Soft Boys and a million garage punk/ pop bands with a touch of sixties weirdness in the hearts and guitars. The singer wins my nomination for any snappy dresser of the month award going, psychedelically tasteless in faded pink trousers, pukey green shirt, suede jacket, glasses and dorky non-hairdo, and they deserve credit for trying to stir interest among usually apathetic audiences. After all, when a group stick something like a cross between a dunces cap and a multicolour cardboard KKK mask over their heads one tends to sit up and ask why? Not to mention the dancers, two girls in black, complete with veils, who would undoubtedly be in the Human League now if they'd been down at the Crazy Daizy on the right night. The dramatic impression was spoiled somewhat when one of them fell off the stage and I never did discover why they were carrying toilet rolls (unless they were just nicking them from the pub), but it all contributed to the sense of occasion. It was enough to make me make a mental note to go out of my way to see Pulp again as soon as possible and make more detailed analysis of their music and socio-political relevance.
I first saw Pulp about a year ago when they livened up a depressing night at the Royal Hotel with their youthful energy and sense of fun. Still, I thought they might be one of those bands you see once and then never again, as they sink into the realms of the millions who never carry on in the face of apathy. Pulp did carry on, even though at the time they didn't send me details about the group so I could write about them then. Pulp are still injecting colour and light into mundane, grey lives, as you'll realise if you read my review of their gig at the Hallamshire in Issue 21. Pulp are a pop group, so perhaps it's wrong for me to write about them, except I still like pop music when it's pure and honest, and anyway, ever since I started printing I've spent days on end listening to Radio 1, which tends to warp the brain a bit, and I find myself liking a lot of music which I find quite immoral.
Pulp are four persons, ages 15-18, who go to City School where they have to listen to teachers lecturing on the virtues of work over playing in bands. Perhaps they'll take the band a bit more seriously after their session is broadcast on Radio 1. They gave John Peel a tape at his Sheffield Polytechnic roadshow date, and spent the next two weeks glued to the radio every night between ten and twelve in case he mentioned them. Two weeks later he did. And as if that wasn't enough he then phoned them up to arrange a session, which was being recorded on 7th November in London.
'We used to practice round me Grandma's using the coal scuttle for drums', says gangling lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Jarvis Cocker explaining the group's humble origins. 'The first song we learned to play were 'House Of The Rising Sun'. Then we wrote one called 'Shakespeare Rock'.
Armed with their own songs they stunned the world first at Rotherham Arts Centre in July 1980, then progressed to other local venues and the highlight of their stage career so far, supporting Echo & The Bunnymen at the Limit. They recorded some songs at Ken Patton's Handsworth home studio with a view to releasing a single but decided they couldn't afford to follow it through. In any case, they say the recording was 'a bit smoothie'.
The thing which immediately sets Pulp apart from other bands if you go and see them live (a recommended experience) is their sense of EVENT. 'Lots of groups just go and stand there and don't do anything' bemoaned Jarvis in explaining why they do things like wearing cardboard cones over their heads and having girls come on stage and drape toilet rolls round them. Incidentally, one of the girls was quite upset about falling off the stage when they played at the Hallamshire, and even more upset when the incident was reported in 'NMX', but has now come to terms with fame and acclaim and is quite proud of it. 'It's something to look at.... makes it a bit more interesting. One thing that sparked it off - I read in that Grey Matter magazine about Prior To Intercourse, that performance art thing.... it were all supposed to be meaningful. We're taking the piss out of things being artistic and meaningful, because it weren't'.
Musically, Pulp churn out catchy, short songs with a definite bizarre touch. Their sound is ramshackle, twanging and clanging guitar, tinny synth, pounding drums. The songs fall into three categories - 'Nice love songs, well they're not really nice ... alright they are I suppose, I have to admit it, other ones with stories like waking up and finding you haven't got the same face you went to bed with and nobody else notices, very existentialist and another about being trapped on a South Sea Island by this woman with voodoo powers .... then there's the social comment ones (much laughter). We haven't got much social comment.' Which isn't to say they don't feel strongly about certain issues, just they can't see the point in singing about them unless they can think of my anything original to say on the subjects.
Influeunces? Devo, Bunnymen and punk, though to educated ears they have more in common with the best music of the late sixties era, none of which they've been exposed to. Last words from the group: 'I want to be a pop star but not like Phil Oakey'. Can't say I blame them.
PULP - Pulp sound deceptively cheap and throwaway but maybe they conceal a deeper meaning. Pulp have developed the art of fly-posting, they are a totally valid organisation. Can you cross the Beatles with a comic strip and The Fall? Well we just did, and came up with Pulp. Jarvis Cocker, the front-man, has a bizarre appearance/smell/taste/movement/walk. The gigs 'clean fun with all 8 members of Pulp cheering through good and bad. Rough, catchy, amateurish. Tongue in cheek love songs and quatermass experiment riffs.
From ecstasy to suicide
"As a yardstick, I suppose you could see our inclusion on 'Your Secret's Safe With Us', the only Sheffield group on the album, as fairly indicative of our development." Jarvis Cocker, Pulp's supremo, is almost shouting down the phone, and I wished I'd never asked him to convince me just why I should travel to Sheffield to find out about the poppier side of life there.
After all, there now seem to be an altogether exaggerated number of hopeful pretenders appearing every week, in the wake of the Human League's success.
But after listening to the deliciously innocent pop session they produced for John Peel and finding myself unable to resist the track they have produced for the aforementioned LP (which is the successor to the diversely genial "Hicks From The Sticks"), how could I resist their invitation to meet?
Pulp proved to be a most bizarre visual proposition. Fronted by Jarvis, the tallest teenager I've ever shook hands with, they flocked round me like curious vultures eyeing up a prey. I'm haunted by splashes of wild colour, off-beat clothes and hair and an underlying purity which just doesn't seem to fit.
Pulp tell me who they are too quickly; they don't want to spend too much time on such tedious formalities.
Innocence. Pulp admit to a basic love of everything pulpy. If it's pure, unadulterated, lovable or poppy they'll go for it, they tell me. But they're not naively stupid.
"Yeah, we've learned that innocence doesn't always click when you're involved with something like being in a band, which will ultimately become marketable," Jarvis explains.
"Like when we played our first real gig at the local arts centre, we thought the future would be super fine, just because we had our own flashy dressing room. We soon hit the ground during the following two weeks when we had to play pubs like the Hallamshire, with shoe box rooms to get ready in."
Peter tells me of Pulp's basic ambition.
"We'd like to see pop getting back to an innocent, trashy, disposable medium, which allows more time for humour and cuts down on the gloom."
Jarvis quickly intervenes: "But just because we've got a sense of humour doesn't mean that we want to be seen as some kind of 'joke' band.
"I just don't want to write about kicking the Russians out of Poland," he continues. "I'd rather that be said from a political platform than having somebody on a music stage saying it. We're simply not interested in either sloganeering or coming on all pretentious and illegitimately boastful."
What slant do you actually write from/on, then?
"Well, at bottom I suppose I write what you'd call love songs," says Jarvis.
"It's universal, probably the main emotion in life. So if I can say something politic about love everyone can at least relate to it."
How did the Peel session came about?
"He was appearing at some unemployment benefits at the local Poly when we just approached him with a tape of ours," says Jamie. "He said he'd listen to it on the way home, we said 'liar', but the week after we got a call from his producer asking us to do the session."
Pulp are solid in their defence when I suggest that Peel's selection criteria have shown glaring holes over the last year.
"Alright, so perhaps his show has gone off the boil lately, but it's hardly his fault that there's much to choose from, but not much that's any good," Peter shouts at me. "Put it this way; without him we'd probably not exist and you'd not be here."
We move sideways to discuss the less controversial subject of Pulp as a live commodity. "We see ourselves very much as a challenging live group," Jarvis says.
"I know it sounds a real cliche but we'd really like people to move away from their preconceptions. We find it amusing to get up on a stage six inches above everyone else. They're expecting something abnormal from us, so we just try to make them see that they shouldn't do.
"They're as important as us; together we can have a real fun party, but if they won't play we find it difficult to motivate ourselves."
Pulp live is a carnival of lunacy, probably the future focus of live performance in essence: humour, participation, letting your hair down, but backed up by a whirling synthesizer pop music which ultimately keeps the party punching.
"You're dead right, we are interested in performance art," Jarvis tells me. "We want to bring fun back into pop but not facile fun, like driving cars into swimming pools. That's stupidly excessive."
Pulp have confident ideas about their future. "I'm wary of signing to a big company and then releasing a single," Jarvis explains.
"I think it's better for credibility to release a single on an independent first," he adds, "then you can build from a good base, with people looking at you with that important initial respect."
Apparently, Armageddon are already giving some thought to a possible deal and Pulp are relishing that or a similar prospect.
"We just want to get onto 'Top Of The Pops' as soon as we can," Jarvis says, tongue firmly in cheek. "Wacky surrealist comedians, that's us. You've got to laugh or we'll cry."
We are not emused
AT ONE time the word pulp was used to denote a type of cheap American fiction magazine, the term derived from the fact that the magazines were printed on low-grade recycled pulp paper. Nowadays the word Pulp denotes a wilfully eccentric five-piece pop group whose music generates a kind of fairground/carnival feel.
The members of Pulp are all good Yorkshire lads. Jarvis Cocker is the main man, tall and skinny (what the Yanks call 'rangy') with a poise reminiscent of Olive Oyl. The muscles of his brawny arms stand out like knots on cotton, as my dear old dad used to say. His credentials as a singer and guitarist are pretty much unimpeachable. I've just spent the best part of an hour watching him lead Pulp through their paces, an initially enjoyable but ultimately unfulfilling experience.
The songs were all brisk and sprightly, with lots of loopy melodies reminiscent of XTC, only not as irritating. I'm not going to play the old comparisons game cos that would be taking the easy way out. It's crass and lazy, a shortcut to original thought. Besides which, Pulp are tricky, hard to pin down.
Decent numbers included 'What Do You Say', allegedly the highlight of Des Moines' new 'Your Secret's Safe With Us' compilation, and the slow-burning 'How Could You'. Very nice stuff indeed. The unfortunate thing is that when I go to a concert, I often find my attention beginning to wander about two-thirds of the way through, and so it was with Pulp. They have a certain charm, it's true. But charm is a hard quality to pin down, and after a while I began to think of other things. (I couldn't help wondering, for instance, why the skinhead in front off me kept shouting, "Where's my emu?"). This may have been purely my fault, or it may have been due to some latent deficiency in Pulp's music. Either way, I never managed to regain my initial enthusiasm.
The Sheffield fanzine Pink Flag recently referred to Pulp as "Unpredictable, whacky, possible brilliant outsiders." I'm more inclined to think of them as the musical equivalent of a Milky Way bar, a band you can safely listen to without fear of ruining your appetite for something more substantial when the times comes.
Pulp are a quite different proposition. While on the surface they may appear to be a more conventional group than Danse Society, in their own subtle way they kick far harder against the established rock mores. Danse Society are humourless and superficial. Pulp are funny and sincere. There's reason behind their lunacy. They ridicule the idea that pop music can have more than momentary impact, so pose tongue in cheek and take the piss, mainly from themselves. Singer Jarvis Cooker introduces songs in precisely the same tones of resigned existentialism as John Peel, but in their changing moods manages to scream lyrics with a manic and uncool devotion. In fact it was a bad night for Pulp. To appreciate their finer points and realise they're more than just another pop group one needs to observe at close range and hear the words, which was practically impossible in the prevailing atmosphere. Even so the audience loved them and demanded an encore. A Pulp LP would be wonderful though I don't know if anyone would buy it. Though 'trash' is their favourite word and disposability their creed I'd hate to think of Pulp remaining unknown only for somebody compiling an album of 80's trivia to rediscover them in the year 2000 and wonder why they weren't famous.
'We're not a joke, we're a silly band'
A certain member of Pulp, who for reason of dignity shall remain nameless 'was once reduced to tears by the relentless hee-heeing of a Sheffield pub audience.
Funny thing, humour. It's a mainstay of the Pulp way of life. But there's always been a fine line between the audience laughing with – and at – Pulp.
Some poor, unenlightened souls even regard them as a bit of a joke. After all, you are treading on dangerous ground when you cut up your mam's curtains and wear them as trousers on stage.
Or when you wreak an awful revenge on a heckling member of the audience by biting him on the head. Step forward singer Jarvis Cocker...
It's when things go OVER the audience's head that the problems arise. Pulp are clever, witty and satirical – and maybe a bit misunderstood.
They send up everything. "The music's not humorous. It's serious," says Jarvis. "But I hate the precious artistic stance that lots of bands adopt. We make fun of that.
"The funny side is the band sending themselves up, I once said, 'Come on, we're rock stars, let's have some respect', and the audience thought I meant it.
"I try and take the mickey out of the audience. Sometimes they just stand there looking gormless."
"I like to antagonise the audience", says new Pulp member Peter Boam, ex-Mortuary In Wax.
"I do," agrees Jarvis. "though not insult them. We're not a joke, we're a silly band. We're not afraid of making fools of ourselves. I'm sure some people do laugh at us."
"It's a bad thing to be laughed at constantly," says Peter.
There are signs that Pulp are starting to take things pretty seriously.
Some serious gigging, starting with a slot at the Crucible's new Stars On Sundae concert series tomorrow along with Treehouse and Mark Miwurdz.
But tomorrow at the Crucible promises to be a right laugh, as they say.
"We might do something surreal," say Jarvis. "But not anything funny ha-ha like someone on a West Street pub crawl showing his bum in the Hallamshire."
Well, that's a relief.