When Pulp played Glasto '95, it catapulted them into pop's premier league. Can they better it this time?
Jarvis Cocker is absent-mindedly swinging a designer sandal from the end of his gnarly big toe. His mouth's shut tight, but his eyebrows are doing all the talking, dancing around each other like windscreen wipers in a monsoon, as those notoriously deadpan Cocker features slowly contort into a smile.
"You found out about that, did you?" he purrs. "Hmmm..."
Ever the wag, Jarvis donated his platinum disc for Pulp's most successful album "Different Class" to his old cub scout troop to auction off. (It's been reported that only three tickets have been bought out of a possible 10,000 - and those three were purchased by the same person.) Considering the way a lot of people have been grumbling about how Pulp's claustrophobic new album, "This Is Hardcore", isn't exactly poptastic, isn't giving away your platinum disc emblematic of turning your back on all that pop success, Jarvis?
"The woman who runs the cub pack collared me in Boots," he says, that half-questioning tone of his echoing around our quiet nook in the BBC TV Centre where Pulp are rehearsing for a telly appearance. "And she said about the cubs needing somewhere to do their thing. And I thought: well if you can 'elp in some way... I'll give 'em something.' It was good was scouts, when you went camping out and that. It was a good laff."
Ah camping. Rolling fields, dewy meadows and, for the next couple of months, more kids than Gary Glitter could shake a juggling stick at, all practically wetting themselves at the expectation of seeing Pulp's first public shows since their recent comeback. To the punters in Europe, that's the Bratwurst Boom Bang-A-Bang Bonanza in Bavaria or somewhere. To you and me, that's Glastonbury, T In The Park and Pulp's own shindig in London's Finsbury Park next month.
Glastonbury, of course, still carries the significance for Pulp that the Alps carried for Hannibal - it was the final hurdle, the victory that brilliantly grasped the pop pendulum as it momentarily swung in their favour. And it all happened by chance. Back in '95, Pulp stepped into the headline slot at Glastonbury after The Stone Roses' 11th-hour injury crisis, sang "Common People", and suddenly revelled in a spotlight that's never left them since. And this week it's all going to happen again.
"Hmmm, Glastonbury's gonna be quite weird," Jarvis hums, taking a tentative nibble on his processed chicken and grape sarnie. "I mean, because it was quite a special thing for us when we did it in '95, it'll be quite a challenge to go back and play it again."
There's been an awfully big deal made over how your new songs are murky, introverted chasms of torpor and despair. Not exactly prime festival fare, are they? "Yeah, that's true, but I bloody hope they work! I don't see why they shouldn't do. But it is gonna be quite nerve-wracking. I will be shitting meself! Cos that's the most nervous I've ever been, when we played Glastonbury in '95. I was in such a state for the whole two or three days before. I had to go and, like, sit in me tent for about two hours and try an' get me 'ead together. Focus! It might not be as bad this time."
If you had to pick one festival-related event which perfectly summed up the dramatically less complicated, almost cartoonish Jarvis Cocker we used to know, it would probably be when he wandered around Chelmsford's V96 disguised as a gorilla. Damn weird, Jarvis. "I just wanted to see it as it really was," he shrugs. "But that festival was really weird. We were first approached to do it, like, 'Instead of just playing Reading or something like that, why not have your own festival? Pick the other bands who are on, and Virgin'll put a bit of money into it.' So we said: 'Oh, all right. We could have a dance tent, make it a real proper event,' And then, gradually, the Virgin logo got bigger than ours. It turned out that Richard Branson wants to have his own... has got his own festival now. And he kind of used us to set that up!"
I guess Finsbury Park will be a bit like another V96 for you - your own outdoor show.
"Yeah, that should be good. I like Finsbury Park. I went to that Essential Weekender effort there last year and that was good. That's the only festival I went to where it didn't rain! It did feel like you were somewhere else. I remember being really surprised when I saw a bus go past, cos I'd kinda got into that headspace where I thought I was out in the country. But I love festivals: I'm really looking forward to 'em."
Enough to rough it in a tent with the common people?
"We did it last time we played Glastonbury!" he boasts, trying in vain to puff out his non-existent chest. "Well, we were only added to the bill quite late and all the hotels were already booked, and all the big Winnebagos. But it was better doing it like that. I'd do that again this year if we were gonna be there for the whole weekend."
How about at T In The Park? "T In The Park is a good festival - there's always some really funny people there. Loads of people who just nick over the fence." So there's a possibility you'll be tenting it there? "I can't say!" Tease.
Down in the twisting guts of BBC TV Centre's labyrinthine dressing room complex, Pulp's keyboardist Candida Doyle is a) trying on a nifty belt made out of bullets, b) pulling down her suede microskirt every 10 seconds and c) contemplating what Jarvis' symptoms would be were he a venereal disease.
"A lot of pain!" she ventures, "And it would never go away!"
"Persistent irritation I'd say!" adds Steve Mackey, Pulp's bassist. "It would make you late for everything and there'd be no known cure... yet. Can it be passed on to other people? We've often discussed it! No, it's like herpes - it stays with you for life!"
Typical smutty Pulp. Ever since people have been aware of Jarvis Cocker (i.e. the past four years of Pulp's 19-year existence), he's been tagged as something of a perv: the Sheffield sex maniac who hides in the bushes/shadows/his sister's cupboard desperate for a peak at something warm and wobbly. But this year (especially with the release of Pulp's most powerful single to date, "This Is Hardcore"), it looks like sex - and pornography in particular - has finally caught up with him. This year has become the year of the empty shag and post-coital depression for Jarvis. He's become, to some, a monster.
"Yeah," he grumbles. "Well, I invited it by talking about the genesis of that song, or some of the ideas for it. That's the trouble - if you say: 'It was written about porn stars and watching porn on the telly', people just assume you're there at home with a box of Kleenex next to you, with your trousers round your ankles, wanking yourself off all day."
You're not then?
"Heh! Which isn't true! Yeah, everyone does, but not all day!"
Have you met any porn stars?
"No. I'm a bit disappointed by that! I thought the union might ring me up! I wonder if they've got a union - do you think? Maybe there's a limit to the number of penetrations per hour!"
While Jarvis might be happy enough to joke about it today, you suspect that - possibly for the first time he's having regrets about stripping away taboos. Trouble's finally starting to catch up with him.
"This is what's got me down a bit today," he begins. "There's been a bit of controversy about the cover of the album [an apparently naked woman, arched, pained and distant]. They've been saying it's demeaning to women. Apparently, the Independent On Sunday made a big deal about it, to the extent that their editorial said: 'Don't buy their record!' But the idea with that picture was that, initially, it would be attractive: you'd look at the picture and realise it's a semi-clad woman. But then her look is vacant, it almost looks as if she could be dead; or a dummy. So it was supposed to be something that would draw you in and then kind of repel you a bit. That was on purpose."
Jarvis shakes his head, takes off his specs and almost violently rubs his eyes. "Maybe people don't like things to be too explicit. I don't know."
Is it all getting a bit much? Are you tired of being a pop star?
"It's not like a life sentence, is it? If you don't want to do it, then you stop doing it."
He asks for trouble, you know. Just like he asked for trouble when he wiggled his arse at an undeniably deserving Michael Jackson at the '96 Brits ceremony. Just like he asked for trouble when the sleeve to Pulp's "Sorted For Es and Wizz / Mis-Shapes" single featured a supposedly diagrammatic picture of a wrap of speed. Just like he's opened up a whole new can of worms with Pulp's new, failed father-themed single, "A Little Soul", dredging up memories of his estranged father, Mac Cocker, who ran off to Australia when his son was only seven.
Jarvis clears his cigarette deprived throat and stares testily at the no smoking signs that surround us.
"I suppose I am, yeah. I don't know. It's not really about me dad, cos I don't really know me dad that well. l was just thinking about how they usually go about portraying reunions in TV programmes, and I took the most anti-line to that that I could."
Does that mean you've finally had a reunion with your father, then? He's hesitant, but he answers. Carefully.
"I've met 'im, yeah. I met 'im earlier this year. He's all right, it's just difficult, you don't know what to feel. You think it should be a big deal cos, obviously, he's somebody that a lot of your personality's come from, but you don't know him at all. So, at once, there's a real closeness but also a real awkwardness, cos you're not sure how to behave. They are a stranger to you really. But l don't like to talk about it, cos it is something very personal. I would hate it if, by talking about it, it kind of spoit it."
Would you like to have children yourself?
"It's funny, cos in the video for 'A Little Soul' there are younger versions of us who we're nasty to. Each of us had a double, and I got to know my alter-ego quite well over the course of two days [Sophie from theaudience's kid brother, believe it or not]. Would I make a good father? Ffffahghhh, I, don't know. No, yeah, I'd be good. I've got lots of great skills I could pass on. I'm just racking me brains now, trying to think. What skill could I pass on? I can ride a bike now - that's not too bad!"
Does that mean you've sold the infamous Jarv-mobile, your knackered old Hillman imp?
"No," he sighs, "The Imp is dead. I wanted to organise a ceremony where I took it to a scrap yard, played the death march, got it crushed into a cube then gave it away to someone in the fan club. First, I was gonna give the car to somebody but, because it's such a death-trap, if they crashed it, it would be on my conscience - that I'd killed them!"
So how does he feel about himself these days? What does Jarvis Cocker think when he looks in the mirror?
"It depends on what time of day it is! I try and put off the morning look! I'm glad I've just moved out of my old flat - there was this horrendous mirror in the lift - really horrible, top lighting, all fluorescent. You'd just get in the lift and you'd be confronted with yourself, a real close-range view as well. Disgusting!"
Is that why you moved?
"Yeah! There's not as many mirrors in the new house!"
When were you last in a fight?
"I've not been in a fight for a long time. The last time I got a real pummelling was after a Christmas party. We walked home and this bloke walked across the road going 'Wanna fight?', as if it was the most reasonable request in the world. And while I was thinking about it, he smacked me one. Boof! Me glasses went flying. I ended up in the casualty of the hospital that's just off Marylebone Road. And the embarrassing thing was that the security man mistook me for a tramp and tried to kick me out. He thought I'd just gone in to fall asleep."
Five minutes to dress rehearsal, and Jarvis is about to be whisked away by the series of technicians, aides, band members and total strangers who noisily swoop by at increasingly short intervals, like the snooze function on an alarm clock. It's time to get up and go to work.
You never answered my first question, you know. About whether giving away that platinum disc was emblematic of throwing away your pop success. Jarvis breaks into a grin. Then a frown. Then another grin.
"What? I'm gonna become a scout leader instead? That's it! That's me career sorted for after being a pop star!"
"No," he adds, the grin slowly sliding away from his mouth and disappearing behind his eyes, like a dark cloud blacking out the sun. "To answer your question, I didn't attach that significance to it... but who knows? You could be right."
And he could be wrong. Well, this weekend thousands of fanatical, hysterical nutters will finally find out. The pressure's on, but you'd be a fool to bet against Pulp blowing Glastonbury clean out of Somerset. Again.