Pulp Interview: Jarvis Cocker On The 35th Anniversary Of Their First Gig

August 16, 1980: a Saturday that will live in rock infamy. It was the day Jools Holland quit Squeeze, Franz Ferdinand’s Robert Hardy came into the world, and a young Sheffield band called Pulp played their first ever gig while smelling slightly of cabbage. On May 4, Jarvis Cocker and co were honoured with a PRS for Music Heritage plaque commemorating the 35th anniversary of their live debut at the place where it all began, the Sheffield Leadmill. After the unveiling ceremony, NME caught up with the band to take a walk down memory lane and find out what the future might hold.

What do you remember about your first gig at the Leadmill?

Jarvis: “It was a festival and we were the second band on in the afternoon. It was the first time we’d been on a proper stage, and when our bass player started experiencing feedback he didn’t know what to do, so he started walking towards the front of the stage and fell off it. People found us entertaining, but only because we were a bunch of mad kids who didn’t know how to play. We also made one of the best entrances of all time. There was a man across the yard with a mobile grocer’s van, and we used that to transport our equipment. We stunk of cabbage. I certainly wouldn’t have thought that, 35 years on, there would be a plaque commemorating such an event!”

What makes the Leadmill so special to Sheffield?

Steve Mackey: “If you were a local band, you felt that you’d at least be noticed if you managed to get a gig there. Back then, getting a spot at the Leadmill was how bands like us managed to get out of the rehearsal room.”
Jarvis: “It seemed massive as well, didn’t it? There was only one other place, The Limit, which was just a small underground club. If you played at the Leadmill, that was a big, posh, proper concert. Some of our best concerts and some of our worst concerts took place here.”

Go on, tell us about the worst one.

Jarvis: “The one that’s in the film [‘Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets’] happened here. That was when we tried to have the whole multimedia extravaganza, but the video projector was broken, so we had to have a telly with tinfoil on it. The bass player had put all these coloured things on his fretboard to make it look like a rainbow, but he’d covered all the dots up, so he kept playing wrong notes all the time. It was horrible.”

And the best?

Jarvis: “We did a Christmas concert here in ’89 where we gave everyone bingo cards when they came in. Cleverly, we’d put all the same numbers on them, but they were all jumbled up in different orders. So when we read the numbers out onstage, everybody shouted ‘House!’ at the same time, and we went straight into ‘This House Is Condemned’. Very high-concept stuff!”

What’s on the horizon for Pulp? Are you thinking about doing any more gigs or a new album?

Jarvis: (shaking head) “Steve and I are DJing here in four hours, so that’s our next gig. But I’m thinking we might do a tour of venues we played 30 years ago, and just go around the country unveiling all these plaques; the next one will probably be the Adelphi in Hull, and we’ll just go in chronological order from there. I think plaques are the way forward for Pulp now…”