Friday, June 20, 2008

Pulp in Peckham

Pulp are normally referred to as a Sheffield band, and true enough Jarvis Cocker and co. did start off in that Yorkshire city. But their breakthrough into mid-1990s Britpop superstardom came courtesy of a spell in South London, or to be precise Peckham.

When Stuart Maconie interviewed Jarvis in Select Magazine in 1993, he was living down our way and on the verge of making it big:

‘Autumn in Peckham. Is there a more romantic phrase in the English language? On the balcony of Jarvis Cocker's town residence, every bird in South London seems to have ritually defecated on Jarvis' bicycle. He points to a sheet of stagnant water lying on the top of the adjoining row of lock-up garages. A few forlorn fag packets and plimsolls loll in the oily water. "We used to have a family of ducks living there. How stupid can you get? You've got the ability to fly, you stupid birds. Don't live on top of some garages in Peckham!"

Inside, the orange curtains are emphatically drawn against the glorious sunshine. A massive fairground amusement labelled 'Cupid's Secret' dominates the front room. Above the stereo is a large anatomical model of the human ear. There are two vases filled with outlandish plastic sunflowers. And a football-sized transparent strawberry on the coffee table. This has been Jarvis' home for the last two years and now he is moving on. The end of an era.'

Pulp drummer Nick Banks moved down to London in 1991 and lived with bassist Steve Mackay in Camberwell. Banks recalled: 'It was a 14th floor squat in Camberwell, at a place called Crossmount House. I think it’s been featured in a few episodes of The Bill, it was quite orderly, though. We didn’t have any dogs on strings’. Jarvis moved in with them, and then having been evicted ended up living on the Sceaux Gardens Estate on Peckham Road.

Mackay, who worked for a while at Burntwood School in Wandsworth remembered: “The main thing about Jarvis is his clutter. He is the skip king. It was a bad time, because I was at college and I was tired all the time. I’d come home just wanting to watch the TV and the front room would look like Andy Warhol’s factory. You couldn’t move for Joe 90 annuals… My best memory of Jarvis was when we moved to Peckham, by which time the band was beginning to get a bit more popular. Jarvis started to get paranoid about signing on, so every second Tuesday he’d get dressed up in his grunge outfit – one of those hats which pull down right over your ears and a really scruffy jumper. I used to stay in and miss college just to see him”

The original video for Pulp’s 1992 song ‘Babies’ was partially filmed locally. According to Jarvis: ‘This is probably our most successful completely self-made video and it was also one of the easiest and least traumatic to make. I had met Selina and Sophie round at Bob Stanley [of St Etienne's] house and I thought they would be perfect to play the sisters in the song. I filmed all their scenes one Sunday afternoon in Tufnell Park. The band performance scenes were shot in an "infinity room" in a studio in Camden. The exterior shots were filmed on the Sceaux Gardens Estate in Peckham, where I was living at the time" (Jarvis).

Another Pulp song from this period is very specifically set in the area. ‘59 Lyndhurst Grove’ was ‘inspired by a party I'd been to the week-end before. We were thrown out by an architect so I got my own back by writing a song about the event. It was a really crap "right on" party - there were children there. You don't take children to a party in my book. I sent a copy of the CD to 59 Lyndhurst Grove, the lady of the house, because she was in a bad situation married to this prick, but she never wrote back. (Jarvis). The lyrics to this SE15 classic are as follows:

There's a picture by his first wife on the wall
Stripped floor-boards in the kitchen and the hall
A stain from last week's party on the stairs
But no-one knows who made it
Or how it ever got there
They were dancing with children round their necks
Talking business, books and records, art and sex
All things being considered you'd call it a success
You wore your black dress

Oh, oh, Oh, oh...

Oh, he's an architect and such a lovely guy
And he'll stay with you until the day you die
And he'll give you everything you could desire
(Oh, well, almost everything -Everything that he can buy)
So you sometimes go out in the afternoon
Spend an hour with your lover in his bedroom
Hearing old women rolling trolleys down the road
Back to Lyndhurst Grove
Lyndhurst Grove, oh

In this period too, Pulp played a number of times at the Venue in New Cross: on August 30 1991, 28 February 1992 (with Lush) and June 20 1992.

Jarvis’s most notorious/celebrated moment came in 1996 when he stormed the stage at the Brits award as Michael Jackson performed his "Earth Song" accompanied by a chorus of children. Another sometime Peckhamite came to his aid when he was arrested: "Bob Mortimer used to work for Peckham Council in the legal department so he offered to speak in my defence and deal with the legal aspects of the case".

Sources include: Truth & Beauty: The Story of Pulp by Mark Sturdy (Omnibus Press 2003)

No comments: