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JARVIS COCKER has been making music for over two-thirds of his life. Over two-dozen of these years were spent in Pulp, a group with whom he enjoyed most of the experiences you can have as the singer in a band.
First feted by John Peel and then ignored during the long Dole Years, the group eventually became the country’s slowest overnight sensation during a heady period book-ended by ‘Common People’ becoming a touchstone anthem at their Glastonbury headline slot in 1995, and Jarvis invading the stage during Michael Jackson’s performance at the Brit Awards eight months later.
With hindsight, most things that happened to Pulp before or after can be defined in their relation to these twin events, as emblems of sought-after success and its darker cousin, over-bearing fame. The early, striving under-achiever albums (‘It’, ‘Separations’, ‘Freaks’); the gradual pop awakening (‘Intro’, ‘His’n’Hers’); the commercial culmination (‘Different Class’); the comedown (‘This Is Hardcore’) and the final, bittersweet recorded swansong (‘We Love Life’).
Over this time, Jarvis went from being the quintessential outsider to being one of the most recognised and cherished figures in Britain. He brought a rare, bookish wit to the pop charts, and cut an original dash in a rock’n’roll world of dominated by reductive cliché.
Going into hiatus in 2002, they returned in the summer of 2011 to make a number of much-celebrated festival appearances, including slots at Glastonbury and Primavera. 2012 saw them play the Royal Albert Hall, U.S. shows, including Coachella, and finish the year with a celebratory homecoming show at the Sheffield arena.
In January 2013 Pulp, as always, did the unexpected and released ‘After You’, a single mixed and produced by James Murphy (DFA / LCD Soundsystem).
After Pulp’s 2002 pause, Jarvis consoled himself with semi-retirement, moving to Paris, making occasional media appearances to talk about Outsider Art, Scott Walker or other personal crusades, and sometimes writing songs for others (Marianne Faithfull, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Nancy Sinatra and Air). No longer identifying with the “Jarvis Cocker” of the public imagination, he tried an alter-ego band (the electro-Goth Relaxed Muscle), in an effort to try and rid himself of some of the un-parental thoughts coursing through his ever febrile imagination.
He wrote three songs for, and briefly appeared in, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, and took part in the ‘I’m Your Man’ tribute to Leonard Cohen around the globe, as well as appearing on an album of Serge Gainsbourg songs.
Sooner or later – as he himself recently observed (in another song written for Lee Hazlewood) - the big stuff comes around, however. And Jarvis was forced to confront the fact that he was, in fact, ill equipped for life outside the performance arena. And so, he started writing songs to be sung by himself again. One of the first to emerge was the sensational ‘Cunts Are Still Running The World’, written in response to the rock-cum-politics love-in of the G8 summit in Glasgow. The song enjoyed a protracted life as a firm download favourite, given its unsuitability for the delicate sensibilities of radio.
The appearance of his debut solo album ‘Jarvis’ at the end of 2006 was greeted with an open-armed goodwill it is hard to imagine being reserved for many other singers.
After picking up these raving reviews, he toured with his band around Europe, USA and Australia in 2007. Jarvis also guest-edited the Observer Music Monthly, curated the Southbank Centre’s Meltdown Festival and performed a duet with The Gossip’s Beth Ditto for the NME Awards. They covered fellow Sheffield band Heaven 17’s ‘Temptation’, which was later released to profit Shelter, a charity which battles homelessness.
In 2008, Jarvis premiered his lecturing skills with ‘Saying The Unsayable’, a talk about lyrics at the Brighton Festival. He repeated it at In The City later that year, just after returning from a two week long trip to the North Pole with Cape Farewell, an organization which takes a few select artists and scientists on a journey through the Arctic each year to see the affects of climate change firsthand.
He also celebrated Rough Trade Records’ 30th anniversary with the ‘Looking Rough at 30’ tour and guest-edited BBC Radio 4’s prestigious ‘Today’ programme. All this between recording his follow-up album, ‘Further Complications’, with Steve Albini in Chicago, which was released in the May of that year.
The album was complimented by a project which proposed to tackle the question, ‘What is Music?’ by examining its role and future. Consequently Jarvis and his band took over a Paris art Gallery for five days to perform various tasks from playing live, hosting yoga classes and inviting local musicians and artists along to collaborate. The ‘happening’ was later repeated in London.
2009 saw Jarvis appear in ‘animated stop-motion’ form in Wes Anderson’s much-loved adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’. The following year he worked with the National Trust to produce an album of sounds recorded at 11of the Trust’s historically significant sites and narrated Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
In January 2010 Jarvis began presenting his own Sunday afternoon show, ‘Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service’ on BBC Radio 6 Music. Winning the eminent ‘Rising Star’ award at 2010’s Sony Radio Academy Awards, Jarvis’ much-cherished show continues to this day.
In between Jarvis has found time accept the role of ‘Cultural Ambassador’ for Eurostar and publish a collection of his lyrics entitled ‘Mother, Brother, Lover: Selected Lyrics’ through Faber, with whom he would later take up the role of ‘editor-at-large’ commissioning his first book, J.P. Bean’s in-depth history of British folk clubs, ‘Singing From The Floor’ which will be published in the spring of 2014.