Siren Suite, Southwark Cathedral: 9 September 2001
Imagine, if you will, the beautiful floodlit Southwark Cathedral, situated alongside the River Thames and facing the City of London with its Nat West tower and Lloyds Building shimmering in the night-time London glow. Now, imagine a tent-like structure, erected at the top of some steps on the Thames Path. Behind the tent, and almost falling into the Thames, is a generator which the entire event depends upon. At the top of the steps are a few candles, some burning brightly, others refusing to burn at all. At the foot of the steps, imagine a white American sports car, with the boot and its two doors fully open. The headlights of the car are on their full beams which help to light the stage. Imagine there's a DJ turntable and mixing system in the boot of the car and imagine there's about 20 loud-speakers built inside each car door. This is the what they call the Siren Suite on Sunday, run it seems by a group of dedicated musos who love nothing better than to put on a concert, drink plenty of red wine at the nearby Mint Bar, and have a damn good laugh in the process. It was intentionally amateurish, undeniably fun and essentially an event that only Jarvis could be persuaded to perform at.
So it wasn't wholly surprising that the other 2/5ths of Pulp didn't join Jarvis, Mark and Candida for this one-off, and to some extent, impromptu performance. Not that that really mattered though, because tonight they enlisted the help of Antony Genn, who more than ably managed to tap a tambourine in time, Electric Cellist (imagine a guitar fretboard with a large silver chair-leg coming out its base) Phillip Sheppard, who apparently plays on the new album, and Leo Chadburn, who provided some lovely birdsong-style recorder squeals over the top of it all.
One by one, the 3/5ths of Pulp gradually made their way to the back of the tent which is screened off from the front with a number of long white drapes. It's probably the smallest of back stages they've ever waited in and their boredom soon became apparent. At random intervals during the other performances, we were treated to a series of hand silhouettes created by someone messing about in front of a projector. One minute, you'd be watching a silhouette dog fight, then a silhouette submarine, and then any number of other hand contortions which cast the silhouette of some bizarre animals having a fight. Random, rude, but very funny.
Whilst they were waiting back stage, it must have become apparent to Jarvis that the nearest toilet was back at the bar. Unfortunately, the only way to relieve yourself was to get to the front of the stage, walk round the back of the tent and go for a piss in the Thames, minding yourself not to wee all over the generator. Now I'm not saying that's what Jarvis did, but he did nip round the back of the tent, and sheepishly clambered back a couple of minutes later. Maybe he was examining the generator? Yeah, right!
Anyway, their time did arrive, and with the candles re-lit, they finally came on. Jarvis was wearing that awful, AWFUL jumper, Mark was dressed like it was minus 5 and Candida was wearing the usual bright skirt and cardie combination. With guitar in hand, Jarvis tells us: "This is about animals that get run over. We've never played it before so I hope it works out alright. It's called Roadkill." It's such a divine song, but it's melancholic beauty is near impossible to appreciate when it's blasting out the doors of a sports car! You honestly couldn't help but giggle along at the sheer hilarity of the situation. One minute the genuine tenderness of Roadkill would embrace you, the next minute you'd realise they sounded like they did on one of their scary 80's demos. This tug-of-war between a serious, touching performance and something so amateurish that it could have sounded similar to a performance on the stage of the Sheffield City Comprehensive, left me utterly bemused.
That aside, Roadkill is a really beautiful song, plodding along with steady acoustic guitar and some haunting strings, which I assume came from the Cello and not the keyboard. At times Jarvis strains his vocals, but like I say, when it comes out distorted from the side of a car, you can't ask for too much. The assembled crowd, of no more than a couple of hundred people, were very polite and clapped enthusiastically, either pleased to see Pulp in such intimate surroundings, or proud to have got them to play at one of their shows.
The second, and final performance is of Birds In Your Garden which really does hit the spot. It sounded more natural, and obviously more acoustic - rather like its Edinburgh performance in 1999 - which fitted the atmosphere perfectly. Despite playing on Roadkill in the soundcheck, it's not until Birds that Leo Chadburn joins in on recorder, and if real birds could ever sing along to this song, then they'd probably sound like these recorder parts. Antony Genn begins to get excited as his time comes to properly play the tambourine. In fact he's the only one who visibly takes the whole show for what it was really worth - a good opportunity to spend the day arseing around and getting pissed - and for most people there that night, the music was just a convenient excuse to achieve that end.
Birds starts off brilliantly well, but as Jarvis gets to the bit where he sings "as I stood there listening", the stage lights go out and the music suddenly halts. Bugger it - the generator's bust! (So Jarvis did piss on it then!!) It was one of those moments where you search around for a 50p piece to shove in the electricity meter. Bloody hilarious! Mark and Candida giggle, Jarvis looks vaguely embarrassed, though too laid back to be irritated by it all. No-one looks worried, everyone laughs, the crowd cheer. Hooray! Jarvis tells us to hold on for a couple of minutes as someone goes round the back of the tent to fix the generator, and I got the feeling there was a mad behind-the-scenes scramble for some Sellotape and string. So, generator sorted, and it's back to the business of re-setting / re-programming Candida's keyboard... With that chore done, it's back to the top and another attempt at Birds.
Wholly successful this time, and with tonnes of additional bird noises sprinkled throughout the song, it's a wonder half of London's bird population hadn't descended upon Montague Square. With the closing bars in sight, I was holding my breath that the generator would hold out. It did, and they ended the song as soothingly and gracefully as intended. Everyone lapped it up, probably still amazed to see Pulp playing on such a dinky stage. It was that bizarre 'pinch-yourself' sort of performance. Okay, it wasn't technically, or acoustically great (far from it!), but it was never really intended to be anything more than the carrying out of a promise Jarvis rashly agreed to a couple of weeks before.
So, with Pulp's briefest of performances over, there was one last thing to do before the end of the night, and that was to go back to the bar for another round of drinks - cheers!
See more photos of the performance by clicking here