Jarvis, Alex & Richard
Words: Jan Webster, Photographer: Chris Saunders
Taken from Sandman Magazine, December 2006

It's been a good year to be a band from Sheffield. The explosive success of the Arctic Monkeys and Richard Hawley's slowburning but expanding presence on the national consciousness have pulled attention towards the City. When both were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize Sandman thought it'd be good to do a double header with them. Then somebody suggested Jarvis might be up for it too.

Despite having originally left Sheffield in 1988 there aren't many people more entwined in the notion of Sheffield than Cocker. His new solo album was forged in Sheffield, using the skills of Hawley and a ranch of Sheffield musicians and is the return of a much missed voice; acerbic, funny, able to nail common, shared thoughts and feelings in a way which lodges in the brain. Sandman said yes please, thank you very much.

Hawley, 39, and Cocker, 43, old mates, come from a proud City which was almost beaten into submission in the 1980s by economic measures designed to fragment traditional, strong working class communities. In the first interview Sandman ever did, Richard Hawley said, "kids are great for optimism," and Alex Turner, 21, and his crew, seem to represent that new optimism, that sense that the city's talent now has an outlet.

Sheffield, in one form or another, is inherent in their work, in a way that just isn't possible for people from a new place like Milton Keynes or somewhere as diffuse like London. We convene in a café which also serves a labyrinthine set of rehearsal studios; Quantic Soul Orchestra and The Rifles seem to be in that day. Earlier we'd spotted Alex heading the other way by the Arctic's logo stencilled on the flight case of the guitar he was carrying, just another slim young musician heading to a studio, except this one has set fire to the conventions of a moribund music industry. Jarvis and Hawley are late, having put in an appearance on the BBC's Culture Show; they spill out of a taxi; a loud 'Nah then, kid!' from Hawley.

There's something slightly elfin about Alex: his face, with its pointed chin is dominated by large, alert, brown eyes. Jarvis Cocker looks, inevitably, like Jarvis Cocker, he looks remarkably familiar to someone who's never actually met him, his long, spatulate fingers flicker as he speaks. Hawley, in comparison to Jarvis' delicate, ascetic frame, looks like a bruiser. Look out for Pete McKee's pictures, his quaffed up 50s Ted, always leaning with a fag hung from a lip is a ringer for Hawley. When listening back to the tape, you've got a bloke from Pitsmoor, one from Intake and another from High Green. Different accents from the same city but all unmistakeably Sheffield. It's all very unstarry.

Sandman: Have you ever met each other before?

Jarvis: Briefly, it was at the NME awards wasn't it?
Alex: Yeah, that press gauntlet, fucking horrific weren't it? And I met Richard at the Mercury's (where Alex accepted the award with the words "Ring 999, Hawley's been robbed!"). It were funny, me Grandad rang me and asked, "are you going to see that Hawley there tonight?"
Hawley: It was the most non-popstarry conversation ever, right good, "yeah, my Grandad's married your best mate's mother." We'll have to get 'em back in touch.

You looked quite surprised when Jarvis presented you with the South Bank Show award, did you not expect that?

J: I had to pretend that I was down for another reason, I told him I was there 'cos Melvyn Bragg wanted to meet me.
H: I was there getting somewhat hammered and even when he walked on stage I was just thinking "what's that fucker doing there?" Typically Hawley's acceptance speech ended with a story that finished with the indelible image of Shirley Bassey squatting over a sink in the Batley Variety Club dressing room for a piss. "If it's good enough for Shirley..."

What are these award do's like?

J: You get to meet other people in bands and you can check them off, "knobhead, knobhead, alright, knobhead," but I'm not very good at going up to people just to say "hello."
A: Aren't you playing City Hall next month?
H: Yeah. For me that's going to be the cherry on the cake of the maddest 18 months of my life, know what I mean? It's been crackers since that record came out, I've grafted like a fucker. To play the City Hall in my own town, and it's sold out, that to me is an achievement. It means more than any award cos it's Sheffield folk who've bought the tickets.

Jarvis, you're doing the London show tomorrow night but there was some talk of a quiet warm-up gig in town?

J: It's just because we were rehearsing in Sheffield, and it was one of those over optimistic things that you think, just because we've done three days of rehearsal...
H: ...after one day's rehearsal we had to play Jools Holland...
J: Well, you don't want to get too tight, do you?
H: It was the four of us who played on the album (Jarvis, Hawley, Steve Mackey and Ross Orton) and Tim (McCall from Sheffield outfit Pollinates) and (former Longpig and Mescelero) Simon Stafford, who'd not heard a fucking note, it was quite hairy.

Apparently you've learned to play piano for the album?

J: The reason I had the piano was cos I'd hired one for me kids to learn but neither of them showed any interest and I thought I'm not bloody paying 55 Euros a month for nothing so I ended up playing it.

The album was recorded completely in Sheffield. Were you not tempted to get in a load of sessions musicians and nob off to Guatemala or whatever?

J: It was recorded partly at Yellow Arch and partly at what used to be Axis studios. It's mainly because of Hawley, because he's got about 200 guitars, it'd have been a right nightmare, we'd have had to get an articulated truck to take them all to Paris or London.
A: Are they in a room, all chained up?
J: Yeah he'd have been like Jacob Marley, just clanking away.

How's it been doing a solo album, less democratic?

J: I've never been democratic at all, I've always been a twat, haven't I?
H: I don't know. You'd decided how you wanted the record to sound and you chose people to do it who would be sympathetic to that without you having to ram it down people's throats.
J: I felt more responsible. I bought everybody food at the end of the day, some nice takeaways or something. I just thought it would be too sly, you can't expect people to play on the record and then put their hands in their pockets.
H: On my first mini-album, even though it was just me and Col[in Eliot] in the studios I shit myself because I'd never really sung properly on a mic. We just got a crate of ale in and I got hammered before we did the first vocal. You can hear it on the record, I'm pissed on that track.
J: Getting other people in crossed me mind in a certain way because I didn't want it to be upsetting to the other people who'd been in Pulp cos I'd been in a group for years. I felt it would be a bit snidey to then just form another group as if I was saying 'oh, I don't like you lot anymore.' So it crossed me mind but then when we started playing it sounded good so it seemed pointless to go off to LA or whatever.
J: So, are you like writing songs in the day and then recording them at night?
A: Allegedly, like.

(In decidedly non rock 'n' roll fashion, but typically Sheffieldian in its thoughtfulness, Hawley offers a pack of Rennies to help settle Alex's stomach from last night.)

J: Did you have anything before you came down here?
A: Yeah, a few songs, we've done a few acoustic, but we've been getting into the practice room and trying to do that and everyone's not getting into it, so we've tried to let it morph into something else, something a bit more fun. Y'know what I mean, there's a lot of drums going off. There's been a few melodies and a few bits of lyrics and we're piecing them together. A lot of it comes from that, working it out that way, from a groove.
H: It's funny, I've got millions of lyrics and it's funny how lyric led songs can turn.
J: I think that's it, you can't have a hard and fast way of doing that. It doesn't work twice does it? You might end up at the same place but you have to take a different route to get there.
H: It might be an age thing but I get bored by the concept of having a song finished and going into the studio to record it. It takes all the joy out of it. Jarvis, you had songs pretty much finished but the general vibe of them was through what people came up with and changed. There's not many albums I've played on where I had that much freedom to do what I wanted.
J: It's a good job, if they'd stayed the same as I recorded them it would have been a fucking mess. They weren't very musical.
H: That's the thing with working with people for a long period of time. There's a kind of periphery of acceptability, musically, if you see what I mean. Nobody in your band is going to come out with a Led Zep solo.
J: Well, if they did they'd get the piss taken out of him. You wouldn't get that with a session player would you? You'd say 'that's wank' and they'd just put guitar back in case and walk out. Very hurt. You can be brutal with people you know.
H: 'Yeah. "THAT IS FUCKING SHIT!" It is so savage in bands.
J: But you don't want people going 'hmm, that's great' do you?

That savage humour, Hawley believes, is something integral to Sheffield. His Dad's first job was to bring buckets of beer to the steel workers to keep them hydrated as they forged steel. Looking through the doors of the foundry was like 'looking into hell' as the sparks bounced off the leathery skin of the workers and a strong, black sense of humour was a vital part of keeping everyone going. 'You've got to have humour to get through things haven't you', he says. A recent review of Jarvis' album described him, albeit, affectionately, as a 'misanthrope' while Noel Gallagher ('he's a fine one to talk' sniff both Hawley and Jarvis) reckons the Arctics are young, grumpy old men. Both seem to miss the point. Jarvis talks about the idea of trying to make 'something beautiful' out of something ordinary, some people only seem to see the ordinary and mistake it for complaint.

What was that about on your website when you posted something about getting a Gold record for Coles Corner but took it down again because you felt embarrassed?

H: Yeah, I was embarrassed, but when it happened I was chuffed to fuck because I knew I could give my Dad a gold record. I'm not that bothered myself but I knew he'd cherish it, he's such a massive part of why I'm involved in music. But it felt like I was bragging. I just thought, 'you fucking tool'. I've spent the last 39 years trying to be one of the lads and not be a cunt. I think if you become remote or distant because you think you're better than everybody else then that would upset me more than anything else.

What about you, when it all went daft?

A: I dunno, it was when that tune went number one. That seemed so ridiculous. We do go out but we keep us heads down.
H: I tell you, I sat at home watching telly when Pulp headlined Glastonbury in '95, I was on holiday and my baby was asleep, I was roaring my eyes out because at that time nobody from Sheffield was doing fuck all. It was a moment, y'know, Go On Lads! Alex, you must know most of Sheffield is rooting for you in exactly the same way. That's what I love about Sheffield now. It used to be, and always will be, a little bit, 'cos it's a Northern town, people with their arms folded at the end of the dancehall in the Leadmill going 'go on then, my band's better than yours.'
J: There was nothing in Sheffield then, there were some fanzines at the end of the 70s but they all fizzled out and then there was fuck all.
H: I think that went hand in hand with what was happening politically in the country. Sheffield used to be this Socialist capital of Britain, then all of a sudden Thatcher got involved and everybody, gradually, was taught to be selfish. They'd do that to us by fear, making us afraid of poverty. It was a subtle invasion. There was a strength in the City before that, that was unshakeable and was slowly eroded, well not slowly, it was fucking sledge hammered, and I think that affected the whole generation. It's all about solidarity. They'd taken away that basic working class solidarity, 'you think you can make us do what you want, but all we have to is stand together and you can't make us do owt'. Once they smashed the miners and steel, that were it. I think people stopped believing that. I wish people would realise how much power they've actually got. But how much power does anybody actually want working in a call centre?

Are you much aware of what's going on in Sheffield at the moment?

A: Gas Club, they've got some good songs.
J: I've not seen any bands playing in Sheffield for years, I left in 1988. I did this Observer Music Monthly thing [Jarvis edited an edition last month and organised guest writers including Hawley interviewing Lee Hazlewood] and Russell [Senior] who used to be in the band went out and did a Friday night in Sheffield and he said venues were now advertising for bands, as if there almost not enough bands to go round which it the opposite of what is was it were when I was there.

For bands at the moment it seems there's an opportunity available to them, a door's opened but it might not last long?

H: I disagree. I think Sheffield has now been put on the map forever. Like Liverpool and Manchester, it's a city where there is a guaranteed source of talent. As long as musicians in City believe that and don't get the passion hammered out of them like's happened in the past. Clock DVA is a great example, that first album of theirs has got to be the best Sheffield album, no offence to anybody. That album is the bollocks; it was out there, right extreme, especially at the time it was made. It's called First, especially a track called 4 Hours, you'd love it, Alex, it's very important.

Jarvis, you took a bit of a break from song writing at one point, how was it when you started again?

J: Me? Yes I did. Analysing your own song writing is a bit weird but I did think about it when I came to this record because I thought maybe I'm not going to do another one so, with starting again, I was thinking what am I good at then? So you start writing songs again and the first ones I wrote were a bit vague, like Don't Let Him Waste Your Time and Heavy Weather, they're not so specific and then I 'found my voice' or whatever, seemed to come round to doing what I can do and other people can't do. I don't know how the other guys do their song writing but I'm not really one of them who can sit there and play guitar and come up with something. A little phrase or a tune will come into my head and if it's still there a day later I'll stick it on a tape recorder.

With lyrics do you tend to take notes?

J: Yeah, I've usually got a notebook with me just in case.
A: I'll write things into me phone or whatever.
H: I just got mine robbed by fucking pissheads.
A: Exact same thing happened to me. I was like 'shit' and I keep remembering things that were on it.
H: Savage, int'it? I've been travelling all the time I've been using it as a notebook and there were 22 brand new songs on it. But as Jarv says if I can only remember three of them the others must have been shite. When I wrote Coles Corner, the song, that started in my head when I was walking down to Endcliffe Park and by the time I got to the Park to put me sons on the swing the whole fucking lot was there, words, melody everything, I could hear strings and everything. I started bombing home.
J: Did you leave your kids in the park?
R: Aye, 'stay here kids!' I bombed it home and put it down as reference for later but that melody stayed in my head for two months. It were one of them where I couldn't get rid of the melody, so it must have been worth hanging on to. Not three bad.
J: Richard's got a good voice and also he can play the guitar so he's got an advantage over me. If I write a song I can't fall back on having a good voice or doing anything particularly interesting on the guitar so for me to make a song interesting or worth listening to...
H: not so sure about that...
J: I kind of have to do something with the words, I think, because I haven't got the resources otherwise. I can write a melody but...
H: Yeah, you've been known to write the odd one...

The Sugababes cover of Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor is brought up, it debuted publicly at the NME awards show, Alex looks distinctly bemused.

A: Oh man, when that come on... (He looks skywards but won't comment)
H: What was that Latin thing? It was fucking awesome.
A: Aye, right funny. It's that Dancing Shoes tune but Cuban...
H: ...it's them Buena Vista Social Club lot. I heard it on Mark Radcliffe and it blew me away.
A: Yeah, they used an old vocal when I were getting into it more, y'know, raaaargh!
H: It's really venomous. I had a cover version this year, The Maccabees, they've done Just Like The Rain, it's fucking brilliant. But Sugababes, I wouldn't be chuffed about that.
A: They played it us the night before and it was just that overall sense of embarrassment that something you've created becomes...

Do they not have to ask you permission to cover it?

J: No. As long as they don't change the words. I had it with that William Shatner thing [a cover of Common People]. I don't actually mind that cover version because Star Trek I used to watch a right lot when I was a kid so it's an honour, but then it gets to the chorus and then Joe Jackson appears out of nowhere and then a children's choir comes on near the end and it gets a bit daft. But I knew nothing until someone sent me an e-mail and said I must go and check out this link.
A: We fancy Bang To Rights [from Hawley's first mini-album]; I thought it'd be courteous to mention it.
H: That's very respectful, have you worked the chords out yet?
A: Yeah, think so, is it G, Em...?
H: Then back round again, that's it.

Alex, you lot seemed to have steered clear of all the celebrity, haven't done all the interviews. Is it a deliberate plan or just that you don't like doing them?

A: That's it. Simple as that, like. The way it's worked for us is that we haven't had to do that. There's no feeling of mystique.
H: Can't be arsed?
A: Nah, it just freaks you out a bit, especially when you're abroad.
H: I've got a classic. I was in Berlin, they put me in a room that looked like a dentist's waiting room and lead this girl in. She had a great pile of all my records, right from the beginning. She sits down, it's nine in the morning and I've got to be doing this bollocks 'til half six; you talk yourself into a coma let alone anybody else. First thing she says is "So, why does Berlin hate you so much?" The red mist descended, TILT! 'piss off now, I won't be talked to like this, blah, blah, blah, etc'. Eventually the translator came in and it transpired she didn't really speak English and actually meant 'why does Berlin love you so much.'
A: That's it; it's a bit of a language thing, when they're asking you a mad question...

Alex has to head back off to the studio. Before he goes he arranges to come to Jarvis' show the next night.

H: It's a brilliant story int'it? And to meet 'em they're sound as fuck. With downloads it's that thing of an artefact against something that doesn't exist, why are record companies so paranoid?
J: It's only if your album is crap that people aren't going to buy it, if they hear it before and think, 'hmm, he's lost it. If it's any good they'll go and buy it.'
H: It's the modern equivalent of the record booths in the 50s. You'd take about 20 records into the booth and you'd buy the one you liked.

On a wall near the café is a piece of graffiti: Myspace is for losers. While the web company's willingness to take credit for the Arctic's success is questionable - the initial free downloads of the early demos were from fan sites and chat forums, like The Libertines - the ubiquity of myspace is unquestionable. Being established musicians, how does Jarvis see it?

J: I didn't want to get into this guilt of not replying because I used to have that. When Pulp were quite famous we used to get fan mail and I couldn't bring myself to chuck them away. So I never replied to them and had them in a bag under me bed. I felt 'you fucking bastard, all these people write to you and you can't even be bothered to write back?' It really did me head in. This binbag was under me bed for years and eventually I burned them. I made a pact with myself so I write a blog every couple of weeks because I think you've got to keep some sort of personal thing going. But it was also really, really handy for me because I'd written that Cunts Are Running The World song and there was no way of getting it out and it was never going to get played anywhere so just putting it on there meant that people could hear it. It got put up on a Sunday afternoon with no publicity or anything and by the end of that day maybe 100 people had been on, three days later it was 1000s and it's had 400,000 now.

As we head outside to get a last few photos of Jarvis and Hawley, a bloke charges up to Jarvis, grabs his arm, and loudly tells him he's God for 'that Jacko stuff and yer music' as well as introducing him to his baffled Czech girlfriend. It happens really quickly and even though it involved only Jarvis, I found it unsettling, intimidating. What if he'd belted Jarvis? It's a reminder (as is the DJ sticking on a Pulp song when we have a pint in a pub later) that Jarvis' fame went beyond that of music fans. For the record Jarvis treats the fan with a kind of neutral amiability and says he doesn't mind it when it happens. Alex can still go to football matches without attracting attention and Hawley loves the sort of pubs where he can have a pint without being bothered, Jarvis remains something larger.

These are the most visible musical Sheffielders Sandman knows, nice blokes, sane and unpretentious, the tip of a great creative iceberg.

Press Menu    Home