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Saturday 31 March, 2100 - 2200

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The programme will be available from Saturday night to hear for seven days after transmission

MARIANNE FAITHFULL presents the story of Pulp, the Sheffield band which grew from an underground 80s act to one of the most popular British bands of the '90s, evolving constantly through changes in membership, record label, style and sound. From simple acoustic ballads to Bowie-influenced glam dance-rock, Pulp, led by charismatic frontman Jarvis Cocker, has been a part of the U.K. music scene for more than 20 years.


Britpop had many heroes, but none were as unlikely as Jarvis Cocker and Pulp. Oasis may have accrued more record sales with their defiant plundering of the Beatles, and Blur were the genres most defiant anglophiles. But there was always something genuinely different and perhaps a bit odd about Pulp.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with their age. Britpop was defiantly young at heart, but Pulp had been scraping around the UK's turgid indie circuit since 1980. The realm of student unions and letters to the John Peel show, right on politics and cheapskate records, 80s indie was an unforgiving land for any band to learn their trade.

It's to Pulp's credit that they persevered through a variety of line-up changes, at one point even including a performance poet. Two albums had been released and disappeared without trace, and it was only with 1992's Seperations that they finally made a mark when single My Legendary Girlfriend was made Single of the Week in the NME back in the days when that used to matter. A lot.


It paved the way for their major label debut, His and Hers. Jarvis' fascination with seedy sexuality flowered on the voyeuristic Babies, while he explored the loss of virginity on Do You Remember the First Time. The latter was accompanied by a quirky film in which various people were asked about their experiences, including another great English eccentric, the late Vivian Stanshall.

A last minute headlining slot at Glastonbury after the Stone Roses dropped out confirmed Pulp's rising status, but it was with the release of Different Class in (?) that they won a confirmed place in the hearts of a generation. Sorted for Es and Whizz stirred up the obligatory tabloid controversy, even though it was a sly critique of the essential emptiness of rave culture. Common People pilloried the posh penchant for slumming it so prevalent in the 90s, when private schoolboys pretended to sound like East End barrow boys. Disco 2000, meanwhile, was the fullest manifestation of Pulp's glam rock stomp.

It made Pulp, and Jarvis Cocker in particular, public property. Jarvis became the pervy elder brother of the Britpop family, always seemingly distanced from the media circus even as it sucked him in. His unscheduled deflation of Michael Jackon's self serving pomposity at the Brits (when he invaded the stage during Jackson's performance) was one of pop's greatest moments.


Of course, fame and fortune is a double edged sword. When Pulp returned with a new album in 1997, it was the dark and moody This is Hardcore, which effectively turned its back on Britpop and found Jarvis in introspective mode. After the huge success of Different Class, it was a relative commercial failure, even if its critical reputation has grown over the years. The departure of fellow founder member Russell Senior had also altered dynamics within the band, and the following years were to prove difficult. Almost an entire album was recorded and scrapped before Cocker hero Scott Walker was called in to produce what eventually became We Love Life.

More warmly received than Hardcore, We Love Life didn't reach the same heights as Different Class, but found Cocker older, wiser and more reflective. It sounded like a band making peace with the world, almost a valedictory gesture. Soon after, the band announced plans to take a sabbatical. Cocker, the quintessential English misshape, moved to Paris. At present there are no plans for them to reform, although a final split hasn't been announced.

Whatever the band decide to do, they have created one of the most intriguing bodies of work in 90s British pop. Jarvis Cocker, the disaffected council estate indie kid who became a reluctant generational figurehead, is a national treasure - a genuinely original voice, a style icon and the most unlikely sex symbol since Dudley Moore. Different class, indeed.

Official Pulp Website

Pulp on Radio 1
BBCi Music Profile

Pulp on 6 Music

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