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Members include Nick Banks (joined group, 1986), drums; Jarvis Cocker (born on September 19, 1963, in Sheffield, England), vocals, guitar; Candida Doyle (joined group, 1984), keyboards; Steve Mackey (joined group, 1988), bass; Russell Senior (joined group, 1983), guitar, violin; Mark Webber (part-time member, 1992-95; became full member, 1995), guitar. Addresses: Record company--Island Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website--Pulp Official Website: http://www.pulppeople.com.

The English pop band Pulp soldiered away in obscurity through the 1980s and part of the 1990s, before achieving fame in their home country and some measure of recognition elsewhere. Fronted by the flamboyant Jarvis Cocker, the band merged everything from classic pop melodies to disco beats. In the words of National Public Radio commentator Mark Jenkins, "The sextet's musical style is flexible and eclectic so as to best suit the lyrics, which are clearly the most important element." Those lyrics often sketch seedy, ambivalent tales of London's restless working-class. "A standard Pulp song," declared Newsday, "is a cocoon of catchiness wrapped around a larva of verbal irony and storytelling." Cocker himself has noted that he values the pop form for its lack of pretense. "It's cheap and it's throwaway," he told Face, "but somehow--and nobody really knows exactly how--a song can crystallize a certain moment and a certain feeling."

A native of Sheffield, in England's industrial north, Cocker had a difficult childhood. He was nearly killed by a bout of meningitis, which severely affected his vision. Tall and skinny, fitted with huge glasses, he felt doomed to be unpopular for the rest of his life. His father left the family when the boy was only 7, running off to Australia to pursue a music career. As a teenager, Jarvis himself decided to form a band; first known as Arabacus Pulp, the embryonic project first performed at his school, where fellow students paid for the privilege of seeing them perform during lunch hour. The group made an impression on John Peel, the BBC radio host who had helped many British acts achieve stardom. With Peel's encouragement, Cocker and his mates decided to continue--though the singer has since noted that if he'd known how long it would take, he probably wouldn't have invested the effort.

A panoply of musicians have passed through the group's ranks over the years. After a 1983 debut EP, It, on the Red Rhino label, and a follow-up album in 1986, most of the lineup that would survive into the 1990s came together. This included guitarist-violinist Russell Senior, keyboardist Candida Doyle, and drummer Nick Banks. Bassist Steve Mackey signed on in 1988, while Mark Webber--who participated as a part-time guitarist starting in 1992, would not become a full-fledged member of Pulp until 1995.

The band struggled through the 1980s, working low-paying jobs or living on welfare (also known as "the dole") and scraping by. Senior met Cocker when the singer was working in a Sheffield market selling crabs. Doyle had trouble keeping her job in a toyshop. "I was on the dole for six years in Sheffield," she told the 'zine Pulpfreak, in an interview reprinted on one of Pulp's Internet websites. "The first few years were hard because I was working at the same time," she added. "We never got money for being in Pulp--in fact, I spent more money on the band than I made from it."

Cocker sustained serious injuries when he fell from an upper-floor window in the course of trying to impress a female acquaintance and was forced to perform several shows in a wheelchair. The singer referred to the experience as "a major watershed, a point at which my life changed course" in an interview with Rolling Stone. "I really believe," he added, that "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger." He moved to London in 1988 and enrolled in art school, studying film--a skill he would later utilize in making videos for his own and other groups. The group's third album was completed in 1989, but for various reasons wasn't released for three years.

After a handful of releases on the independent label Gift, Pulp were at last offered a major label deal, signing with Island Records. Island then put out a compilation of the group's work on Gift, titled Pulpintro. It was with the 1994 album His 'N' Hers, however, that the band began to achieve widespread recognition in England--and the beginnings of a substantial cult following in the United States. Rather than release a video to accompany their successful single "Do You Remember the First Time?" Jarvis and Mackey instead collaborated on a 26-minute film, in which various personages--some relatively famous--were asked the song's title question.

Pulp had at last arrived in Great Britain. "If somebody told me in 1981 that it would take 13 years to get recognized, I would have been horrified," reads a quote from Cocker in the band's Island Records biography. "I guess it was self-belief that kept it going all the time, because for along time nobody else seemed to like it. But we thought we were doing something that was worth doing, so we kept doing it and hoped that the world would come round to our way of thinking." This "coming round" had much to do with the ascendance of "Britpop," practiced most successfully by international hitmakers Oasis and the more parochial Blur. "I don't know what it's like in America," Cocker noted in Musician, "but in England, there's a bit more personality coming back into the music." And along with this personality came a renewed interest in rock fashion, of which Cocker was an accomplished practitioner.

Pulp's 1995 release Different Class enjoyed mass success in England and earned the band a higher profile in the United States. With its trenchant single "Common People"--the story of an upper-class girl who "slums" among the less privileged for the sake of artistic authenticity--the album made a marked impression on American critics. Newsday deemed Different Class "perhaps the best British pop album of the last year," though he admitted that "it may just be too culture-specific for the American mainstream." He was correct; the album didn't sell well stateside. But in England, Pulp were heroes. Different Class debuted at the top position on the British charts, and BBC Radio One and Melody Maker deemed Pulp "Band of the Year"; after filling in for their friends the Stone Roses at the Glastonbury rock festival that year, they won the Mercury Music Prize.

The Mercury award was a particularly sweet plum for the group, which had been shut out of the Brit awards earlier that year. Even so, Pulp were the stars of the Brits ceremony, thanks to Cocker's disgust with Michael Jackson. The American pop megastar was in the midst of a performance that involved his Messianic deliverance of Third-World children, among others. Cocker, appalled at the egotism of the display--particularly given accusations of child molestation that Jackson had averted but never disproved--leapt onstage and frolicked sacreligiously.

At that point, wrote producer-composer Brian Eno, in a letter to London's Independent, "Jarvis, here seen as the voice of the people, pricked the balloon [of Jackson's pomposity], and the beg men on stage disguised as deprived Third Worlders jumped him." In the ensuing melee, some children were mildly hurt; Jackson's people accused Cocker of "attacking" them, and the singer was briefly detained by authorities. Ultimately, however, he was hailed by many as a hero for daring to deflate what observers considered Jackson's megalomaniacal display. The incident only reinforced Cocker's defiantly down-to-earth stance. "People go along with [Jackson's Messianic self-presentation], even though they know it's a bit sick," the singer griped to Musician's Mac Randall. "I just couldn't go along with it anymore."

It was an impetuous outburst from someone capable of immense patience. "We've already existed for 16 years," he told Randall, "and most groups are long gone by that time." In Spin, he marked his own progress: "I'm really well-adjusted now," he ventured. "It just took me a long time." That the story of Pulp has so often been the story of Jarvis Cocker is not lost on his bandmates. "I'm glad that so much of the attention is focused on Jarvis," Doyle asserted in Pulpfreak. "But that leads people to say Pulp is Jarvis' band, that we wouldn't exist if it wasn't for him--and that's not true. We all have a say in what happens in Pulp." Even so, she mused, "I would worry if I got as famous as him."

Pulp released This is Hardcore in 1998. A large step away from the catchy pop of Different Class, Hardcore boasted a darker mood, though it was "teeming with anthemic songwriting and gourmet guitar tones," much like their previous releases, according to Kyle Swenson of Guitar Player. The album artwork, featuring scantily-clad computer-modified women in a setting of the aftermath of a wild party, caused a stir at the time of the album's release. Still, the album was a hit with critics. An Entertainment Weekly reviewer proclaimed "Lyrically deft and musically arresting, Hardcore's proof that the genius ascribed to Pulp's Jarvis Cocker is no fiction."

Waiting three years before releasing another album, Pulp returned in 2001 with We Love Life. Again, it seemed that Pulp could do no wrong with the press. Pitchforkmedia's Joe Tangari gave the album an 8.2 out of 10 rating, writing "On their seventh album, Pulp have pulled off yet another remarkable reinvention of their sound and outlook, while simultaneously making their most organic album since their full-length debut, It, was released almost two decades ago."

We Love Life was Pulp's last studio effort. One last album fulfilled their contract with Island Records, a greatest hits compilation that left them free to put the band on indefinite hold. Cocker remained active in the British music scene, recording with some of his greatest influences, including Lee Hazlewood and Marianne Faithfull. He released a limited edition record with a new group, Relaxed Muscle, and became a father when he and his wife Camille brought a son into the world in 2003.

by Simon Glickman

Pulp's Career

Band formed in Sheffield, England, c. 1981; recorded EP It for Red Rhino, 1983; signed with Fire Records and released album Freaks, 1986; signed with Gift Records and released single "O.U.," 1992; signed with Island Records, 1993, and released first album exclusively for that label, His 'N' Hers, 1994; Cocker and Mackey co-directed film to accompany single "Do You Remember the First Time?," 1994, and directed videos for other groups, including Aphex Twin; group performed at Glastonbury music festival, 1995; Cocker appeared on Barry Adamson album Oedipus Schmoedipus, 1996; released This is Hardcore, 1998; released We Love Life, 2001; released Hits, 2002.

Pulp's Awards

Mercury Music Prize, 1995; named BBC Radio One and Melody Maker's "Band of the Year," 1995.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Pulp Lyrics

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about 16 years ago

Love Pulp..."like a friend" is my favorite.