Guildford Festival: 3 August 2001
Words and 'artistic' photos: Giles
Blimey! It really is true what they say about the Guildford Festival. By late afternoon, you could barely make your way to the front of the main arena without falling over all these families dining from the very best hampers that the local Waitrose could supply. Fold-up chairs, proper golf umbrellas (with the nice wood effect U-shaped handles) and plenty of car rugs in case the ground was too soily - this was so middle class... so Alan Titchmarsh... so Radio 2, so very safe. In fact, Guildford makes the V festivals look positively subversive in comparison. But I'm not moaning - their kids were having an ace time (I'd have loved my parents to take me to music festivals at the age of 8), the stage was dinky, enabling a close-up and personal view of Pulp, and best of all, there was a Carnivorous Plant stall where for £4.99, you could purchase the finest in Venus Fly-Trap plants and not have to worry about collecting it until after midnight. What more could our little souls possibly desire? As Jarvis would later observe, buying a herb plant would certainly give you more satisfaction in the long run than forking out 17 quid for a T-shirt. Maybe plants are the future of Pulp merchandising? Common Pansies? Seductive Begonias? I Love Lilies? The marketing opportunities are endless...
The painful wait always begins at 9pm. The stage has to be cleared of all the other band's clutter, and Pulp's gleaming instruments have to be wheeled on, wired up and endlessly pissed about with to the point of exhaustion. 9:25pm came and went: "okay, so they'll be on in 10 minutes". 9:30 came, waited around a bit, and then most definitely went: "okay, okay, so they'll be on in about 5 minutes." Mark Webber came on stage, pissed about with his guitar, strummed a few chords and then went off again (Eh?) 9:40 came, the crowd cheered, but 9:40 went the same way as 9:30 and 9:25. 9:42 came, on walked host and compere Janice Long (remember her?) What was she saying? Her bloody mic wasn't turned on. "Janice, speak up me dear, we can't hear you!" Blimey, Pulp were going to walk on stage any second with Janice Long still faffing about at the front - what a balls up! 9:43 - Exit Janice. Enter four blokes carrying a huge ladder. What? Something was obviously wrong with the stage backdrop, which needed to be fixed - Doh! So, more pissing about and more puzzled faces watching other people's faces trying to manoeuvre a rather large ladder. Janice comes back on and asks the crowd to put their hands in the air so that some photographer could take a photo of us all. Was this some sick joke?
At last - 9:44pm, 3 August 2001, ladies and gentlemen, Pulp!
Christ! I thought we'd never make it. The swirling synths of Common People swashed around the arena. On walked the band minus Jarvis, with Steve wearing a gorgeous tight black-on-white polka dot top. Jarvis shuffles on stage seconds later, at which point the middle class Waitrose-buying masses go completely bonkers! Jarvis goes right up to the edge of the stage and waggles his right leg around with one of his trademark side-kicks. It looks like he's trying to fend off a particularly disgruntled terrier dog that's gnawing at his ankle. It only lasts a second, and to Jarvis I'm sure it's a perfectly natural thing, but you couldn't get the best choreographers in the world to reproduce this move. It is exclusively 100% Jarvis Cocker, and I absolutely love it!
It didn't take long for everyone to recognise the all-new Common People, which seems to project a different mood with every listen. After the triumphant ending, Jarvis does a rather poor impression of a Japanese tourist saying "Aaaah, we go to Gil-fooouurrd", recognising that the town gets lots of tourists on day trips from nearby London. But now he's stopped jumping about, the true horror of his attire finally dawns on us all. He's wearing that awful brown jumper - you know, the one with the white patterned trim across the chest and arms. Yuk! But the horror soon turns to relief as he asks us if we mind him taking it off. He admits that he only wore it because it looked as if it was going to rain earlier in the day and he squirmingly apologises for the stain on his creamy shirt he's wearing underneath. It was, so he says, just a bit of spilt drink. A case of deteriorating hand-mouth coordination maybe? He scrambles underneath his jumper, arms a tangle, and throws it off over his head with it landing unceremoniously in a heap on the floor. The long suffering Roger comes on stage to retrieve it, only to be barked at by Jarvis: "Roger! Be careful with that." I bet Roger wanted to mangle the bloody thing. (Go on Roger - we dare you!)
New song territory beckoned us on with yet another fantastic performance of Minnie Timperley, aided by that bizarre film-clip of people dancing all over the place. The way it's filmed makes me feel slightly drunk and disorientated (like one of those Kubrick Steadicam moments). Jarvis sings some newer lyrics - something like, "He did what he did, because he wants your kids / Oh Minnie, Minnie if I could, I would give you the rest of my life." I don't think this song will ever stop being exciting - the last half gives the band a licence to take it to places that other songs just can't get to. Lots of pig squealing, lots of "oh yeahs!", lots of panting, lots of noise, lots of ace guitars, and tonnes of pure, passionate, unrestrained Pulp. If Minnie's not gonna become a single in the not too distant future, then those crazy people at Island have almost certainly gone deaf.
Bad Cover Version is one of those songs that desperately needs to be way over-the-top. It won't matter if it's over-produced, nor if it's drenched in a gorgeous slab of strings. It needs that His 'n' Hers Ed Buller production because if you don't go OTT on songs like this, they can fall flat on their face. Lyrically, it's a love song for the ex-lovers. About a relationship that ends up being a pale imitation of the real thing - a bit of a Panda Cola of the soft drink world (an analogy that only Jarvis could provide). On top of the sickly-sweet music, Jarvis croons his way through a series of insults, "And every time he kisses you, he leaves the taste of saccharine", whilst images of cheeseburgers, surgeon's scalpels and Gucci watches float across a garish pink/purple backdrop.
During Bad Cover Version, something strange happens to Mark. He starts playing his guitar like he really means it, like he really and truly loves it. He'd got lost in the music and there was no chance of bringing him back to us. He was great to watch - guitar jolting around, his right arm circling above the body of the guitar and his feet taking him for a little walk. It was very strange indeed - maybe he's finally found love again? Actually, the song wouldn't be out of place at one of those Christmas discos - you know the scene - end of the night, the party's ending and the lights are low. You've had a lot to drink and you desperately fancy the girl the other side of the dance floor. The DJ plays "Last Christmas" by Wham and "Lady In Red" by Chris DeBurgh as the mirror ball bathes the glittering lemonade light over the smooching lovers. We've all been there haven't we? It gives me that sort of mood of regretful love. In isolation, it probably won't hold its own, but like "Last Christmas" and "Lady In Red", if you place it in the right context, it's a magnificent song that induces feelings of a higher emotion.
From stagnant love to dark neurotic panic-attacks. What's that on your back? Sshhhh! It's The Fear. Jarvis strums his acoustic guitar only to find it makes a pathetic limp sound - hardly the stuff of desperation! He sorts it out after joking that he just about had a panic attack when he realised it wasn't working. I'm beginning to wonder if The Fear works best in the more intimate venues because tonight's effort doesn't sound half as good as it did at Hay-on-Wye or at last year's fan club show at the Highbury Garage. Nevertheless, I reckon it's one they've got to keep in the live set because they play it so well and it's such an imposing nails-down-the-blackboard type song.
After that, it was time to lighten up a bit with the now compulsory Sorted For E's & Wizz ("somewhere in a field in Guildford, alright!") Honestly though, they look bored out of their minds playing this. It's like they're on auto-pilot, blank canvasses without expression or emotion. Suddenly, Mark looks like he's asleep - he's lost all his energy from Bad Cover Version and Jarvis looks as though he's trying to mentally write his shopping list for next time he visits Waitrose. The crowd lap it up, the band don't. Jarvis often talks about growing old gracefully, and if songs also aspire to that end, they need to take Sorted out of the set a little more often. I'm not saying it's had its day, but it certainly needs to put its feet up, because at the moment, it's as embarrassing as your Mum asking to come out clubbing with you.
So thank heavens for F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E which continues to get exponentially better with every play. What a masterpiece this has become! Tonight, Jarvis plays the Theremin wonderfully and gets it to sound like a pig that's being raped. Its introduction gets progressively darker, moodier, bleaker, like you're floating around in a lost corner of space. There's something about the start of F.E.E.L.I.N.G that makes you feel like you're actually standing alone with the 3D music circling all around you. It's not a one-way sonic from the stage to your ears, but a sort all-embracing sonic sphere of influence, an electronic field that you're actually standing inside, being manipulated and controlled by and actually being a part of.
I don't think any other Pulp song does that. Seductive Barry came near to it went it went all scary in the middle, but backs away from it when Jarvis sings about lighting the cigarette from a star that's fallen from the sky. If only for this one song, Pulp were proved right to meddle and bugger about with their back-catalogue. I was a sceptic at first, but now I've seen the light.
During the song, Jarvis appeared to struggle with his stubborn microphone lead. Throughout the show he was lugging it, hauling it and getting it untangled from around the monitors, like a little kid making waves with a skipping rope. It was clearly pissing him off. So it was quite a surprise when after the first chorus he climbed up the side of the stage into the scaffolding. He was singing away about small animals that only come out at night whilst hanging like a gangly monkey from the stage roof. Unable to better that a second time around, he went over to Candida and appeared to kiss her on the head. It didn't do much for Candida who remained unmoved by an experience that would send all other women into an orgasmic frenzy of sexual delight. Or maybe not.
Candida did perk up a little during A Little Soul, where she could be seen happily swaying away on her dinky keyboard riser. Next new song was Birds In Your Garden which was once again sung with slightly altered lyrics ("It's 6 o' clock, the birds are singing. I'm wide awake, whilst you're still fast asleep.") Its quiet bits were even quieter and its loud bits have become louder - a song of contrasts, but of undeniable quality. A song which has blossomed from its modest no-nonsense debut in Edinburgh two years ago. If Trees is to be the new benchmark for single eligibility - then Birds is definitely in with a chance.
Weeds provides a fantastic sing-a-long opportunity for those dedicated enough to have played it like crazy since the Radio 1 Homelands broadcast. "You make believe you're so turned on by planting trees and shrubs / But you come 'round to visit us when you fancy booze and drugs" - what a fantastic lyric! Like Birds & Minnie, its prospective single status is earned by its catchy, but never shallow, music, driven forward by Nick's relentless drumming. Combined with Jarvis' witty lyrics and those luscious ascending "Aaahhhs" which sound like they've been lifted straight out of Party Hard, it's just destined to end up on most people's shortlist of favourite Pulp songs.
Help The Aged continues to get healthy respect from the Pulp concert-going public. It wasn't until this point that the gang of 6ft blokes assembled next to me had started to get excited. There they were, the stereotypical beer swigging, larger loving lads in their little group. And what do they do when Jarvis starts singing about old people? They join in of course! They loved it! One of the blokes even started dancing like Jarvis does in the video, complete with those unique elbow movements - these guys were dedicated misfits, dancing along to Pulp's every note, singing along to Jarvis' every word. They're an example of why people who go to Pulp concerts never stop intriguing me. A classic moment.
Jarvis suddenly realises that Party Hard is next up on the set list. But oh dear, Jarvis doesn't have his special microphone for Party Hard. Before you could utter the words piss-up and brewery, Jarvis is at it again.... "Where's Roger?" he demands. (Er - he's at the back of the stage waiting to give you your microphone Jarvis - now come on and hurry up before your vocal is supposed to start!) Just in time, he's sorted himself out and Party Hard rocks Guildford like its never rocked before. At the end of the song, Jarvis provides an extended outro in the form of a few extra "Wee-errrr-ooo-uuu's" which effortlessly glide into the pervy intro for This Is Hardcore.
But the very best is yet to come in the shape of Sunrise, the reception for which was absolutely astonishing. You know Pulp are doing something right when the majority of the crowd go mad for a song they've never heard before. Richard brilliantly teases us with those quiet acoustic guitar pieces, and by the middle of the song people everywhere are jumping around and really getting into it. This was the release, the catalyst that pushed the show onto another level. Just letting it all go and losing it never feels so right when you're listening to them play Sunrise - it's like they're hauling you up on a thin thread till you can't get any higher and the ground below you has disappeared from sight. Higher, higher, and then, with a manic burst of drums, they drop you into a free-fall of euphoria. By the end of their performance, you're physically exhausted. Brilliant!
They go off for the encore just before 11pm and I feel sad because I know that after all that messing about at the beginning, the next one or two songs would have to be the last. They all emerge back on stage, except for Mark, and Richard Hawley goes up to Jarvis and whispers something in his ear. In astonishment, Jarvis announces in a rather irritated manner that the guitarist has just nipped to the toilet. Oh Mark - come on! There's been enough arseing around in this one concert without you going for a wee minutes before the kerfew. HOLD IT IN! As the reality of a two song encore immediately halves, Mark wonders back on stage and incurs the wrath of Jarvis who tells him to look sharp cause it's almost eleven. The crowd giggle in disbelief as we know at this one moment, we're thinking exactly what Jarvis is thinking: what is he like?!
Okay. Ready Mark? Are you sure?
Right, well since Trees is supposed to be their next single, I'd have bet me life on it being tonight's final song. Although Pulp's setlists have become more predictable over the past few years, they still have a capacity to surprise just when you least expect it. So it comes totally out of the blue when they launch into Underwear. As a Different Class track and Common People b-side, the crowd's reaction is nothing but positive. In hindsight, this was a much better move than finishing on a single-to-be that only the hardcore know of. As I enthusiastically join in the singing and do all those pervy finger movements (Jarvis is such a corrupting influence), I gradually forget all about Mark's wee and savour the closing moments of a lovely show.
I'm still surprised that no effort was made to fit Trees into the middle of the set. There was no word from Jarvis about the forthcoming album, and he didn't even mention that Sunrise was going to be on the new single or even encourage us to buy it if we liked it. Why are they seemingly embarrassed to do a bit of promotion? I mean, just 10% of tonight's audience could be the difference between a successful single and a flop. We shouldn't get hung up on chart positions, but neither should we stop caring about Pulp's success. We all want them to do well, but after tonight, you wouldn't believe there was a new album getting ready to hit the shops.
Afterwards, I catch sight of a setlist and my heart sinks when I see that the full encore should have included Trees, and possibly, the brilliantly epic Wickerman. Oh well, things do go wrong I suppose - hey, at least Candida's keyboards are reliable nowadays. The day after tomorrow, Pulp will be off to Spain to seduce those laid-back Mediterranean types. Europe, and particularly France, seemed to get left out of their Hardcore touring schedule. There's a true fanbase out there that hasn't seen Pulp play live for years and they'll go absolutely mad on a set like tonight's. As for us Brits, we've only got to wait 'till November(?) and we can do it all over again, and again, and again... See you there!
The below images were taken from the October 2001 issue of Ministry Magazine