Being Pulp in summer 1988 couldn't have been a particularly fulfilling experience. Fifteen months had elapsed since the release of their previous record They Suffocate At Night. The band didn't have a record deal at the time and were deeply reluctant to continue their relationship with Fire Records. Having let go of their bass player Stephen Havenhand (tenure: 12 months) they were also about to lose his replacement, Antony Genn (tenure: 7 months).
Yet during that time a progression of sorts was made. Pulp were crafting their new 'Eastern European disco sound' and during 1987 recorded three new songs at Sheffield's FON studios. They were, according to Jarvis, Pulp's "best recordings ever, with as much time as we needed and a string section". And yet, despite the band's best endeavours, the recordings were never released. Typical. This spectacular lack of progress led Jarvis to a life-changing decision when he took up the offer of a place on a film course at St. Martin's College in London. Jarvis summed up the situation in a 1993 interview with Select Magazine:
This tale of woe ends with me deciding, at the age of 25, to leave Sheffield. I had to admit that I'd taken a wrong turn. You know when you're in a car and you take a wrong turn, you don't like to admit it. You think if you keep going you'll come right again. But you don't, do you? I'd spent the best part of a decade in bed and in an unsuccessful group. I was forced to admit I'd been wasting my time. It's humiliating. But I was lucky enough to get into St. Martin's College in London doing a film course so I was off. I just imagined the group would cease to exist.
A new city, a new start and a new direction. The scene was set for a farewell 'event' as Jarvis explained on The Beat Is The Law DVD:
I though 'we've gotta go out with a bang!' so we had this concert called The Day That Never Happened at the Leadmill. I had it in mind it was going to be this fantastic multimedia extravaganza. We could have video projections and we were going to have a stage set and all this stuff. I should have known it was going to go wrong. We turned up and the video projector had broken so instead of having this big, massive projection we ended up with a telly at the back of the stage with tin foil on it.
And then people were supposed to come and do all these things. At one bit I wanted it to snow on stage and we got these blowers - they were like a hair dryer basically - so all the paper fell on the floor and then it looked like somebody was hoovering because they were putting these things to it and it would make a little bit of the paper billow slightly. I'm sure it was very entertaining for people watching it but for me I was mortified. I thought it was terrible: 'this fantastic statement is crumbling in my hands'.
Writing in Disco-Very (a magazine produced by the Pulp fanclub) Mark Webber summed up the dazzling array of special effects:
There were the usual films, slides and tin-foil along with a few trees (sprayed white), dry ice (home-made and very poor - it barely spilled over the saucer it was in), smells (Russell had made some charcoal incense, but of course the Leadmill is a big place so it didn't carry too well), video projection (but the projector broke so we had to make do with a television on the stage), and the most sensitive moment was to be a snowfall during a slow ballad... that ended up in a total farce with people running round the stage carrying big hairdryer things.
Surveying the chaos from behind the drum-kit was Nick Banks, quoted here in 'Truth And Beauty: The Story of Pulp' by Mark Sturdy:
They were trying to get this dry ice blowing around, like you see on Top Of The Pops with a couple of chunks of carbon dioxide. It was absolutely ridiculous. The idea was great - if you had 10,000 quid you could make this look fucking great, but you had ten quid. If that. And some daft kids from Chesterfield trying to sort it out. Great enthusiasm, but the theatre of it all was starting to take over in a way.
One of the reasons I thought that was a farce was that we were all setting up, and I went 'Antony, tune your bass.' And he went 'Yeah yeah, I'll get round to it.' He was fannying around with something ridiculously unimportant. 'Antony, tune your bass'. 'Yeah, yeah'. 'I'll do it then.' And I had no idea whatsoever. So I tuned it, and it must've been nowhere near, and he's on stage and I could see him going 'It's out of tune!' Oh, for fuck's sake. He had to have coloured stickers on the neck of the guitar to know where to go, it was that level of incompetence. Too busy fannying around with something else to get it in tune, and that set the whole ball rolling for that evening.
Candida Doyle had a slightly more charitable recollection of the purpose of Antony's coloured stickers:
Our bass player wanted to make his bass guitar look more impressive. So he took all the strings off and put a coloured piece of paper on every fret. And then when it came to play the concert he realised that the dots which tell you whereabouts the notes are weren't there so he had no idea what he was doing at the concert.
So what of the future? Mark Sturdy takes up the story:
The Day That Never Happened wasn't definitely Pulp's final concert - but with no bass player, no record deal, a shrinking fanbase and a singer who was about to move to London, to assume that the band had any sort of future at all would have been wildly optimistic. Jarvis left Sheffield to begin his course at St. Martin's in September, and it seemed for a while that the group would cease to be. Russell stayed in Sheffield with his long-term partner Vicky, who was soon to give birth to the couple's first daughter, and concentrated on his antique glass business and designing his board game, The Housing Ladder. Candida soon moved to Manchester with Pete Mansell and began work in a toyshop. Nick variously worked as a design technology teacher, a wreath-maker, and lived on the dole, moving between London and Sheffield.
But if nothing else, the Pulp story has always been one of survival and progression against all odds. Soon after arriving in London Jarvis recruited Steve Mackey as Pulp's new bass player and the band secured their fifth and final concert of the year at the Sounds Christmas Party in Camden. With no other offers on the table Pulp re-signed to Fire in 1989 and later that summer started to record their next album, Separations.
What then followed was a period of hibernation: Pulp played just one concert in each of 1989 and 1990, largely as a result of Fire's reluctance to release Separations. By Spring 1991, Fire agreed to release My Legendary Girlfriend. A further 15 months elapsed before Separations was finally released in June 1992. But by this time Pulp's sound had moved on again and regrettably their East European disco numbers were gradually dropped from their live shows in preference to newer songs like Babies, O.U. and Razzmatazz.
As Jarvis went on to say some years later, 'the past must die for the future to be born'. Thank goodness that Pulp's fortunes in the 1990s were beginning to look promising.