If Blur’s ‘Parklife’ defined Britpop and Oasis’ ‘Definitely Maybe’ broadened its parameters, Pulp’s 1995 masterpiece ‘Different Class’ – released 20 years ago 20 – perfected it. Capturing the outsiders-taking-over-the-asylum spirit of the scene with the rising tide of political and social discontent and some of the greatest pop tunes of that (or any other) decade, it came to epitomise everything defiant, optimistic, hedonistic and frankly a bit saucy about indie rock’s finest hour. Here, in archive quotes and brand new interviews, the central figures explain how it all happened.
With ‘His ‘N’ Hers’ spawning Top 40 hits in the form of ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’ and ‘Babies’ (on its re-release), Pulp had emerged after 15 years in the indie gutter as pivotal movers and shakers of the Britpop scene. The sudden attention, however, struck Jarvis Cocker as odd after so many years as a waggle-fingered wannabe.
Jarvis Cocker (Pulp singer): “The first time the fame things really struck me was when I was on holiday in the south of England, and these big blokes would lumber up to me and I’d think, ‘Oh shit, I’m in for a right hammering here for looking like a weirdo,’ and they’d shake my hand and say, ‘Like your song, mate’. That was nice… Of course, as soon as I get used to it, some big bloke will lumber up to me, I’ll say, ‘Hello, who shall I sign the autograph to?’ and he’ll twat me for being a weirdo. There was a time when I was quite paranoid about going out. Not really getting hassled but, even if people don’t say anything to you, you can still see them nudging each other going, ‘Oh, ’e’s ’ere’, and it’s just like, ‘I just fancied a drink, really’. But I don’t complain about it, because I used to do it myself if someone famous walked in. It’s like what people say if there’s a disaster: ‘I never thought it would happen to me’.”
Melissa Laurie (Pulp’s PR in 1995): “Everybody was quite surprised, the way things were going. Pulp had spent a long time in the wilderness. There were loads of people saying, ‘They’re really old, they’re never gonna do it, they’ve been going round for years’. There was a sense of, ‘Is it really happening?’”
Jarvis Cocker: “You can kind of lose it, because people let you get away with murder, ’cos you’re a famous person. So, if you’re not careful, you can turn unto a really horrible person, just because you can take advantage of people all the time… I’ve always tried to strive to be as irresponsible as I possible can, so it’s difficult to discipline yourself.”
‘COMMON PEOPLE’ STORMS THE CHARTS
The first glimpse of material from Pulp’s fifth album came over the summer of 1994, when ‘Common People’, ‘Disco 2000’ and ‘Underwear’ began appearing in festival sets. But Pulp’s star really ascended, however, with the runaway Number Two success of ‘Common People’, which captured the musical and political tone of the decade (pop, anti-Tory) with its euphoric melodic crescendos and sharp-witted defiance of class tourist snobbery.
Jarvis Cocker: “I used to think class was a myth. I always got really irritated when people went on about it. Then I came down to London and I had to admit it did exist. And it wasn’t a money thing, it was more about people’s expectations from life. If you come from a certain background, if you’re intelligent and you want to do something other than go out every Friday and Saturday night and get pissed, then have a curry and fight or a shag, if you can get one, then its pretty difficult. Creative aspirations aren’t what’s expected of you. You see all these fucking idiots with flash cars in London, and you think of all these people in Sheffield with so much about them, but who were slowly going out of their minds because there’s no outlet for what they wanna do. So if there [was] a war to be waged, then it [was] creative people trying to invade the mainstream.”
Candida Doyle (Pulp keyboard player): “I just thought [‘Common People’] was great straight away. It must have been the simplicity of it, and you could just tell it was a really powerful song then.”
Jarvis Cocker: “I’d met the girl from the song many years before, when I was at St Martin’s College. I’d met her on a sculpture course, but at St Martin’s you had a thing called Crossover Fortnight, where you had to do another discipline for a couple of weeks. I was studying film, and she might’ve been doing painting, but we both decided to do sculpture for two weeks. I don’t know her name. It would’ve been around 1988, so it was already ancient history when I wrote about her… It seemed to be in the air, that kind of patronising social voyeurism… I felt that of ‘Parklife’, for example, or Natural Born Killers – there is that noble savage notion. But if you walk round a council estate, there’s plenty of savagery and not much nobility going on.”
Danae Stratou (wife of former Greek Finance Minister, thought to be the girl in the song): “I think the only person who knows for whom the song was written is Jarvis himself!”
Jarvis Cocker: “I remember the day when ‘Common People’ went to Number Two… and I suppose that should have been the moment when we knew we’d finally achieved something. Our finest hour to date, I suppose. But the actual day was so weird… The Sunday they announced the charts it was presented live in Birmingham, and all the chart acts had to mime to their songs. We didn’t know what position we were, so we waited in this back room for them to call us. It got to 6pm and everyone was getting shaky. I went to the toilet to put my contact lenses in, but I hadn’t rinsed them properly, so my eye went bright red… We had to go on, and I was still in quite extreme physical pain, and my eye was streaming, so people obviously thought I was crying because we were Number Two. It’d been raining, so there were big puddles in front of the stage, and just as ‘Common People’ reached its climatic chorus, I jumped off the monitor quite spectacularly, as you do, landed in a puddle, slipped and fell flat on me arse. So I’m left thinking, ‘Fuck me, this is meant to be your ultimate triumph, and you’re flat on your back in a puddle, your eye killing you, on a wet Sunday afternoon in Birmingham’. Not quite what I’d been dreaming of for 20 years.”
PULP RESCUE GLASTONBURY 1995
Jarvo had a rather more rewarding time at Glastonbury 1995, when Pulp were the surprise last-minute replacement headliners after The Stone Roses pulled out. The event, more than any other, has come to define the Britpop era and rank among the greatest ever Glastonbury sets. ‘Triumphant’ doesn’t tell the half of it.
Jarvis Cocker: “I’ve never experienced anything like that before. With ‘Common People’ people were singing really loud and I thought, ‘Well they’re definitely gonna know if I mess the words up!’ That’s a lot of people who knew the words. That’s when success seemed real. Undeniable. Concrete evidence. It did move me. Tears? I did feel a bit of a lump in me throat. But… heh, I toughed it out.’’
Melissa Laurie: “It was so exciting watching them. The atmosphere was electric. They were camping there and wandering around, they really enjoyed the festival as well, they went for the whole experience. I don’t remember them being nervous, they just enjoyed it for what it was. It captured a moment. It suddenly exploded.”
BAN THIS SICK STUNT! TABLOID SCANDAL OVER ‘SORTED FOR E’S AND WIZZ’
Debuted – perfectly – at Glastonbury, ‘Sorted For E’s And Wizz’ explored both the celebration and desolation of drug and rave culture. When it was released as the album’s second single in September, though, the origami guide to folding a drug wrap included in the artwork was picked up by the Daily Mirror in the infamous ‘BAN THIS SICK STUNT’ splash.
Jarvis Cocker: “‘Sorted For E’s And Wizz’ is a phrase a girl that I met in Sheffield once told me… and she went to see The Stone Roses at Spike Island and I said, ‘What do you remember about it?’. And she said, ‘Well there were all these blokes walking around saying, ‘Is everybody sorted for E’s and wizz?’’ And that’s all she remembered about it and I thought it was a good phrase.”
Kate Thornton (Mirror journalist): “We wanted to see the sleeve pulled and we thought it was a crusade we would take up single-handedly. I [thought the sleeve was] something that will concern our readers, although it may not concern yours.”
Jarvis Cocker: “…’Sorted’ is not a pro-drugs song… Nowhere on the sleeve does it say you are supposed to put drugs in here but I understand the confusion… I wouldn’t want anything we do to encourage people to take drugs because they aren’t a solution or an answer to anything. I don’t think anyone who listens to ‘Sorted…’ would come away thinking it had a pro-drugs message. If they did I would say they had misinterpreted it.”
Melissa Laurie: “Once the tabloids start going for it, they go for it. That was ridiculous how the whole thing blew up around that. They weren’t advocating taking drugs but at the time we still had the drugs tsar who was saying people were dying from ecstasy so how dare people celebrate taking drugs. It seemed ridiculous that they would suddenly jump on this in the tabloids. There were a couple of people at the tabloids who were possibly trying to make a name for themselves. A couple of tabloids ran away with it.”
‘DIFFERENT CLASS’ IS RELEASED
When ‘Different Class’ arrived in October it was in, well, a different class. Beyond the obvious big hits, the likes of ‘Mis-Shapes’, ‘Underwear’, ‘F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E’ and ‘Something Changed’ bristled with deeper, edgier emotions that made the record an instant Britpop benchmark.
Jarvis Cocker: “It’s less obsessed with sad relationships. it’s about situations I’ve been in since coming to London. From living in a squat in Mile End to going to a party at Gianni Versace’s, which I did, the only super-celeb party I’ve ever been invited to, which was alright. Rod Stewart was there. And Brian May in a shocking shirt with an explosion on it. All the stuff that I write about is taken from me own life anyway. And I justify it to myself, that you’re not just telling stories about your life, you’re turning it into something else, into songs. ‘I Spy’ was my justification for being a doley scumbag. I thought to myself that I was actually working undercover, trying to observe the world, taking notes for future reference, secretly subverting society. And one day, when the time was right, I would come out of the shadows and pounce on the world. ‘Something Changed’ was about the idea that you might meet someone who’s going to be important in your life, when you’d been debating whether to go out at all that night, and your life took a different path.”
Rankin (album photographer): “I got brought in by Jarvis when they were recording the album in Shepherd’s Bush, Jarvis and Steve had this photo I think he’d found in an old magazine of a couple in black and white in a scene that was in colour. Jarvis said, ‘There’s something about this I love’. I said, ‘What if we were to make cut-outs of you and take them on location?’ He sounded really keen. We did the studio shoot with the whole band and then [another photographer] Donald Milne got half of them and I got half of them and we spent about a week each going around taking pictures everywhere with them, we’ve got hundreds of unused pictures. I took mine up to Scarborough and we were shooting them on the beach and in the amusement arcades and Russell came past with his family, it was one of those weird moments. From that they came up with this idea to do a choose-your-own-cover. It’s one of my favourite covers, a real moment in time. One of the cut-outs was on TFI Friday forever, behind Chris Evans. It became a culturally iconic set of images so it was great to be a part of it.”
Melissa Laurie: “It was a period of time when music felt really exciting, it felt like something new was happening and ‘Different Class’ summed up a lot of that. Mark Webber joined the band around that time and he brought in a different influence, musically. ‘His ‘N’ Hers’ had loads of stuff that they’d already released, it was a collection of songs that had been around for a while, so this was more of a progression, they were definitely moving forward. “They all reacted to [its success] quite differently. Some of them were still up in Sheffield, some of them were in London. It was a big change for them, ‘Different Class’ really put them into the spotlight more than they had been before. Russell left shortly after so it did create some tensions in the band. Lots of attention on people can cause tensions, they were all very different personalities so they were always going to react in different ways. Because Jarvis and Steve were in London they got more attention than the rest of the band.”
THE BRITS, JACKOGATE AND THE FALLOUT OF FAME
‘Different Class’ became Pulp’s first Number One album, won the 1996 Mercury Music prize and found Pulp hob-nobbing with global megastars at the Brits. However, riled by Michael Jackson’s quasi-religious performance, Jarvis jumped onstage and waggled his buttocks at the King Of Pop. He was an instant indie folk hero, although Jacko’s disguised security detail, the Brits organisers and copious plod failed to see the funny side.
Jarvis Cocker: “My actions were a form of protest at the way Michael Jackson saw himself as some Christ-like figure with the power of healing. People go along with it even though they know it’s a bit sick. I just couldn’t go along with it anymore. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision brought on by boredom and frustration. When someone appears onstage and wants to be Jesus, I think it’s a bit off. It was all being allowed to happen because of who he was. I just ran onstage and showed off.”
Candida Doyle: “It was all my fault though! Well, no, it wasn’t entirely, but I was encouraging him. But you can’t make Jarvis do anything; he only ever does what he wants to do.”
Nick Banks (Pulp drummer): “I thought the whole thing was hilarious! It was like the Keystone Cops, all these bouncers dressing up as beggars and hiding behind Michael Jackson – they looked ridiculous. Then to watch them chasing Jarvis all around this huge pyramid-shaped set, it was a farce. When Jarvis came back and sat down, all the audience were stamping and cheering. People kept coming up to him, slapping him on the back, giving him the thumbs-up and going, ‘Good move Jarvis!’.”
Steve Mackey (Pulp guitarist): “To be honest, I could see it was going to happen. I could see Jarvis was well in. But he’s a better dancer than me so I let him get on with it while I stood on a table and clapped him on.”
Jarvis Cocker: “I didn’t make physical contact with anyone as far as I recall. I certainly didn’t push anybody offstage. I found it very insulting to be accused of assaulting children. As I was trying to leave, one of the organisers came up with a policeman and said, ‘It’s better if you talk about it’. What ‘talk about it’ actually meant was going to a room and being arrested. I couldn’t really see what the police were arresting me for. They said I got in front of the stage, got hold of some children and threw them around by the neck. I ask you… is that the sort of thing I would do? One person has been accused of tampering with children and one hasn’t…”
“I was in this room with the police, and they brought in this music business lawyer who looked like a… very raddled version of [comic actor] Tim Brooke-Taylor, and he was so pissed he couldn’t make sense. He was meant to be advising me on what to say and do and was just fucked. I was far more sober than him.”
“Bob [Mortimer] used to work for Peckham council, in the legal department, so offered to speak in my defence and deal with the legal aspects of the case. As far as I understand, the police kept asking for his autograph and he couldn’t concentrate on his job.
“The next day… It’s like when you get really pissed and wake up and think, ‘God, I can’t believe I did that’. I’m not ashamed of what I did. I’ve always hated it when bands get famous and they bottle it and kind of bland out; they’ll go and shake Alanis Morissette’s hand or go and talk to the head of Sony Records and pretend to be mates with them, because they’ve been accepted into this show business fraternity. I’ve always thought that when you get into a position of privilege, you should abuse it rather than toady along with what’s going on. That’s why I did it. [But] you do something, you think about it for maybe ten seconds, and then you have to live with it for the rest of you life. I don’t really want it engraved on me tombstone that I was the person who waggled his arse at Michael Jackson. I don’t consider it the zenith of my artistic achievement.”