After 13 years Pulp are Top 40 virgins no more, having finally lost their pop cherry with 'Do You Remember The First Time?' Jonny Dee shares some pillow talk with Jarvis Cocker and comedian/Pulp fan Jo Brand before making his excuses and leaving to poll various popstars about their very own first time.
Pressed up against a hotel room window 25 flights above the city. With UHT cream. And the whole of the Cowdenbeath reserve football team watching. In the toilets on Concorde. On a desk, On the roof. On a washing machine. They did it with candle wax. They did it in a bin liner filled with sun tan lotion. Up against the bonnet of a hired car, in Safeways car-park, at night, right in front of a security camera. With fruit. On drugs. In the bath with a bottle of Matey. She smeared fish paste all over his chest then they went at it like rabbits. In the rain. With Robbie Coltrane. On a mountain. They did it.
For most people, these situations are ridiculous fantasies. It never really happens like that. For the majority of us, it's damp patches, squeaky beds awkward. Pulp realise this. They know there's a world somewhere in between David Lynch and Grange Hill, The concrete world of council estates, Berni Inns, parks and pubs.
Jarvis Cocker, Pulp, Jo Brand and the NME have sat around a table in an East London photo studio all weekend, drinking coffee, telling each other things they'd never dare tell their mothers. About wanking... "I remember when someone first mentioned the word masturbate," remembers Jarvis. "I raced home to look in the dictionary and it said 'to abuse oneself'. I thought what, like shout 'you twat' at the mirror?"
About friends, about going with your best mate's girlfriend, Jarvis has talked about his favourite celebrity perv rumours - the American singer who enjoyed shitting on a glass coffee table while his partner lay underneath; the hamster story; the TV host who said "f--- me 'til I fart" to the producer in what they thought was an empty studio; the '80s star who went to hospital and had two pints of semen pumped out of him ("Later, it became dog semen!").
He talked about his first time, and his last time and the in between times. Now it seemed as if he'd gone too far - revealed too much. Recently Jarvis Cocker told a magazine about an erotic correspondence he keeps with a woman he has never met. Talking about how it had ruined the salacious magic of their postal affair. Revealing his sexual fantasy now would probably do the same. You don't have to tell us if you don't want, Jarvis. But he will. Because Jarvis Cocker loves to talk. And when you talk to Jarvis Cocker it is impossible not to talk about sex.
Pulp's songs are full of it. Their excellent new album, 'His 'n' Hers', is bulging with songs about shagging, and relationships, and what goes on between two people behind the net curtains: 'Lipgloss' - about being chucked by your lover; 'Acrylic Afternoons' - about making love in the afternoon being more special because everyone else is at work; 'Babies' - about spying on teenage lovers from a wardrobe; 'Pink Glove' - about dressing up to keep your sexual appetite feisty; and, of course, Pulp's first bona fide hit single 'Do You Remember The First Time?'.
Jarvis remembers his first time. He talks about it in a short film Pulp have made about the subject which will be shown on Channel 4 next month. It was in a park in his hometown of Sheffield, at night, behind some privet hedges, about 20 yards away from a bandstand. He was 19 and Pulp had just released their first album. Also in the film, talking about who, why, when and where are a dozen or so friends and celebrities - Jo Brand. Vic & Bob, Terry Hall, Alison Steadman. Justine from Elastica and Vivien Stanshall, among others.
"People imagine that celebrities have this idealised life," says Jarvis. "Again, it's the thing about sex being shown in this idealised light and really you should do it on a beach at sunset and violins are going to be playing. And somehow, if you do it in the back of a Ford Cortina then you've not done it properly. These famous people, all their introductions were as fumbling and untidy as anyone else's."
Also in the film is the mother of Pulp keyboardist Candida, a character actress whose credits include Love Hurts, a couple of Mike Leigh films and a brief stint as the posh woman Hilda Ogden cleaned for in Coronation Street. "She just popped by the studio on her way to do some shopping and ended up being in the film," says Candida. Her mother's story is one of the most romantic, a dreamy moment on the banks of a river. And fittingly Candida's is equally Mills & Boon - she waited until she was 21 and the man she lost her virginity to is still her boyfriend a decade later.
Russell, Pulp's guitarist, who has puzzlingly brought along 182 pairs of second-hand sunglasses all wrapped in protective plastic sheets, is, obviously, an obsessively fastidious character. Yet he is a man whose current star status - Pulp are on the verge of their much-longed-for Top Of The Pops and This Morning debuts - is anchored to nappies and bringing home the bacon as father to a six-month-old boy and five-year-old girl. Russell's sexual awakenings are, unsurprisingly, the strangest of all. He was 16 on a camping holiday with some mates... "I met this ginger lass and although I didn't really like her very much I thought, y-know, she was alright. So I asked her back to our tent, there was about four of us in it and nothing really happened but in the middle of the night I got all tangled and I ended up on top of this person next to me, doing it. But it wasn't this ginger girl, it was my friend's girlfriend," And was the friend in the tent at the time? "Oh yeah, he wasn't very happy about it, like"
Bassist Steve, a Sheffield Wednesday fan, lost his cherry in a house that backed on to Sheffield United's Bramall Lane ground when he was 16, to a glamorous blonde nine years his senior. Nick, the drummer, rather suitably since he's the sensible member of the group, lost his in a loft conversion "on some nice orange scatter cushions".
Resplendent in self-applied make-up and jumble sale chic, Pulp have the air of a band that has just stepped out of the salon. Jo Brand, meanwhile, looks like she's just stepped out of Ladbrokes. She is here today to share a makeshift conjugal bed with Jarvis for the NME. The scene is intended to insinuate that Jo has just seduced the lead singer of Britain's most fancy pop band. In reality the liaison is far from romantic - photographer Steve Double stands five feet above them balancing on a wobbling plank suspended between two ageing step ladders.
"Could you light up another fag, please Jo?" asks the lensman as the comedian puts out her 15th Silk Cut of the hour. "Oh, yes please," she deadpans, relishing the prospect. Sadly, in true life, Jo and Jarv are not lovers, but just good friends. They met after Brand professed a liking for Pulp in an NME interview and later agreed to appear in the First Time film. Hers was at a party, in the bathroom, with her head knocking against the toilet through the 30 seconds it took her first mate to climax. Jarvis and Jo make a good couple, both are collected and down to earth and from similar backgrounds - both have cared for people with disabilities, Jo as a psychiatric nurse, Jarvis in a nursery for deaf children. "When I first met Jarvis I embarrassed him by saying I thought 'Razzmatazz' was a work of utter genius," Jo reveals. "I don't really like much modern music, my head is stuck in the bands I liked when I was a teenager - The Clash and The Damned. But Pulp are great. I like Jarvis' songs because he realises that life is basically shit, but it's OK really."
That's Jarvis and Pulp encapsulated. For most people, the realisation that life is basically shit and not all Tizer and Cadbury's Roses comes when they're tortured teenagers, Jarvis Cocker, though, had his first Bell Jar moment at the age of five. "I had meningitis, that's what f---ed up my eyes. And because everyone thought I was going to die I got given loads of brilliant presents. then when I didn't die all the presents had to be burnt. All except these crap rubber spacemen 'cos they could be boiled. Things were never the same after that."
Amongst the confessions in the film there is an almost inconsequential long shot of a heavily pregnant mother wheeling a tot in a buggy. It's there to tell you that this, without precautions, is what the sweaty moments on shag-pile carpets result in. More tellingly, it looks as if the woman is no actress but has been filmed surreptitiously. Likewise, Pulp songs sometimes seem like small fragments of life glanced at from outside basement windows, lives constructed from strangers spotted in bus shelters.
"The reason I wanted to do the picture of me taking the photo of a couple kissing is because songwriting is in Iots of ways a very voyeuristic occupation," explains Jarvis of another of today's photo shots. "It is a bit exploitative, but I don't think there's any way around it. But I'm not a peeping Tom if that's what you mean." Do a lot of people think you're a bit of a pervert? "Talking about sex doesn't mean you're a perv, does it? It's not like I'm writing songs about people having it off with donkeys and stuff like that. Most of our songs are about fairly normal situations, it's not hanging from the ceiling or something. They're either about things that have happened to me or things friends have told me."
It is easy to see why friends readily confess their amorous liaisons to Jarvis. He's easy to get on with, with a gentle Sheffield accent and unflappable nature. It is only when he forgets himself and starts mimicking the NME photographer's southern tones during the photo shoot that you see a different side of him. "Innit, innit," scoffs Cocker. "Taking the piss?" snaps Double half-jokingly. Cocker is visibly flustered. He is not, it seems, a man who enjoys confrontation - especially not violent ones. 'Joyriders' on the album is inspired by a gang of 14-year-olds his Hillman Imp broke down next to on a Sheffield estate. For a moment he thought they were going to attack him: that used to happen a lot when he was a kid because of his height and his glasses. Instead they made him sit in the Ford Sierra they'd stolen, listening to a rave radio station, while they hotwired his car for him.
So when was the last time you were hit? "It was about four days before last Christmas in London, about 3:30 in the morning. Me and Steve were walking back from a party and we saw these three kids on the other side of the road. One of them said, kind of cheerfully, 'Do you wanna fight?' It was said like, 'Have you got a light?', not aggressive, really casually. And while I was thinking about it he hit me in the face and my glasses went flying. Steve tried to pick my glasses up and he got kicked in the face." Did you hit him back? "No."
Have you ever started a fight? "Only once, at school. It was with one of my friends and we didn't really want it to happen but we kind of got stuck in this thing of saying 'I'm harder than you' and before we knew it everyone was crowding round us shouting 'fight, fight'. It became known as the longest fight in school history. I've never liked the idea of hitting someone in the face, it doesn't seem right, so I was trying really hard just to hit his sides and he couldn't reach my head anyway, so it just went on for hours."
Who or what do you despise? "Quality music - this spineless soul or castrated reggae that seems to mean quality, all this 'we're sophisticated us' when they're about as sophisticated as a plate of whelks. AOR music - Phil Collins, Eric Clapton. the main reason being - apart from the dire quality of the music - that by inference it implies that if you're an adult you're only interested in blandness. It's like once you get to a certain age you're not interested in anything exciting any more, you just want something that sounds OK on the M25."
Surely Phil has his good points. You're just not seeing both sides of the story, Jarvis. "I don't need to, he's just an irritating turd, Ooooh, he's one of these people who if you went round to his house the first thing he'd do is show you his gold records, he's probably got pictures on the wall of him shaking hands with Eric Clapton and Sting. It's anti-music really. That's why I'm glad we're pop and not rock. The thing about pop is it's not just about the people who make music, it's about the people who listen to music. And the music's place in popular culture is that it's something that happens while you're hoovering or in a bed. It's not just this esoteric 'we jammed in Memphis, man' - that's where Primal Scream have gone wrong, all this 'we're part of rock heritage' vibe as if it doesn't relate to people buying. That's what I've always liked about making records - that people feel excited enough to go out and buy it and have it in their house."
Right now thousands will be having a Pulp record in their house for the first time. 'His 'n' Hers' is a perfect introduction: like a box of chocolates with equal portions of milk and dark, it is scattered with the teenage pop sensibilities of 'Babies' and 'Lipgloss', and with the crooning adult symphonies of 'Someone Like The Moon' and 'Pink Glove'. It is, indeed, utterly wonderful - Jarvis' voice reaching hitherto unheard ecstatic highs, from a Bryan Ferry, to an Ian Curtis, to a cheesy crooner, forever sounding like a man possessed by the music and only just managing to keep his composure.
Right now Pulp are possibly the most fashionable band in Britain, yet to many who have never been convinced by Cocker & co's shenanigans there lurks a deep suspicion that Pulp somehow aren't a proper band. They've been around too long (13 years), they're too old, they're a joke. They are all unpretentious, candid people who treat their fans as friends and maybe this is part of their problem - there's no mystery. Where most bands would spend their record company advance on fast cars and the latest Issey Miyake, Pulp take the train and shop at Cancer Research. Steve, currently homeless, prefers to sleep on Jarvis' floor rather than take up the offer of a free hotel bed.
Most of Pulp are all too aware that there are people who loathe their band for all the wrong reasons. They've read the ground-level presumptions: that Pulp are ironic, wacky and kitch, one too many times. They're hardly likely to carve '4 Real' into their forearms but, says Steve, "Just because we don't take ourselves too seriously doesn't mean we don't mean it." "We didn't set out to be different from other bands," adds Jarvis, "it just sort of evolved. That's what upsets me when people write those things - it implies it's all a clever joke. And the minute you mention the word ironic it implies you're not involved in things, and that's not true. I'd hate people to think I was observing things from a great height and saying 'this is what human beings are like, aren't they silly'. It is heartfelt."
The 'In Bed' pictures finished, Jo and Jarvis untangle themselves from the bedsheets and change out of their nightwear. They sit around for a while, flicking through the 1970s Men & Women magazines Jarvis bought from the charity shop across the road, and talk naturally turns to sex once more. "I read this problem in a tabloid paper recently," Brand tells us. "It was from this woman who enjoyed smearing fish paste on this bloke she was having an affair with. Then one day her husband came home from work early and the only way her lover could get out of the house was to jump through the window. And her question was: 'Can I get the council to repair the window?'"
It is that time once more. Time to ask Jarvis about his darkest sexual fantasy. Has he done it pressed up against a window, in a bin liner, with fish paste? With a nun? With two nuns? "I'm not going to tell you," he says, temptingly, mysteriously. "But it involves sherbet fountains."
In this week's spirit of sexual openness, Uncle Jarvis and Auntie Jo crawl out from under their continental quilt to tackle the readers' most intimate problems. Read on, worriers...
My girlfriend split up with me six months ago, I wasn't expecting it.Since then I've found out she's seeing my best friend. I want to kill him and I've told her to tell him I'm out to get him. But she says it's none of my business. (Bitter of Stafford)
Jo: Well, that's a bit strange: 'I've told her to tell him'. Instead of just going round there in a Platoon sort of way and blasting him out. This happens quite a lot. If you get on well with someone you're bound to get on with their best friends. He's just got to accept it. It's a bit unfortunate but we've all done it.
Jarvis: I don't think I have, actually.
Jo: I did it when I was 17.
Jarvis: Actually I have... About two weeks ago... No.
I've got a new girlfriend who I've been seeing for about a month. She's very attractive and I like her a lot. When we've slept together it hasn't been very successful because I can't keep an erection. When we start kissing I've got a stiffy but when it comes down to it I go limp. (Limp of Leeds)
Jarvis: I know this sounds very American, but you have to talk about it with the person you're failing to get it on with, don't you? I think that's quite a common thing for men, once it's happened on one occasion you keep thinking it's going to happen again and the longer it goes on the worse it is. So I've heard.
Jo: If you like someone you're not as concerned about their sexual performance as you're led to believe by the media. If he's confident that she likes him then he should talk to her and sort it out. But that's something British men find very hard to do. So, sadly, I'd say that relationship is on its way down the toilet.
Jarvis: Ahhhh, no, don't say that.
I've known this boy for 12 years and our relationship has never been anything other than platonic. However, recently we got drunk and ended up having sex. The next day I was mortified but he thought it was great. Furthermore he told me that he'd fancied me for years. I don't want to spoil our friendship. (Perplexed of Stourbridge)
Jarvis: It depends how honest she's being with herself there. Because to have done it in the first place, no matter how pissed you were, you must kind of want to have done it a bit.
Jo: I don't agree with that. I think you can get very pissed and have a shag with an old tramp. Do You know what I mean?
Jo: You've obviously never got drunk enough have you?
Jarvis: Well, if you get that drunk you're not going to be able to have sex with anything anyway are you. You'd be suffering from 'Brewers'.
Jo: We don't have that problem, we just have to lie there.
Jarvis: Well, you're alright then. Fair enough.
Jo: She's going to have to tell him. Maybe that will risk them being friends but ultimately he's going to have to cope.
Jarvis: It might be a bit iffy. They're f---ed, aren't they?
My girlfriend really wants to meet my parents. But I don't want her to 'cos I hate them. She thinks that me not wanting her to nneet them is my way of telling her I'm not serious about our relationship. (Stubborn of Solihull)
Jo: It can turn out two ways. Either she thinks they're crap and therefore they can agree that his parents are rubbish. Or she might like them and help him to see his parent in a different way. They might all end up getting on marvellously really.
Jarvis: That'd be nice, wouldn't it?