Pulp's greatest album hits is out on November 18 and he's emigrating at the end of the year. It's all change for dad-to-be Jarvis Cocker, but as he explains, he hasn't a clue what'll happen next.
Jarvis Cocker strides into The Crown Tavern in central London clutching a gigantic, used, John Lewis plastic bag all scrunched up in the middle like a bin-liner. It's his suitcase for the day, less Louis Vuitton, more Vagrant Bum. "They said I had to have a change of clothes," he smiles, slightly bewildered. "I'm on me bike, so I couldn't bring much." Arriving, alone on his bicycle (a normal bicycle, not a Penny Farthing), he wears several days' stubble and an Oxfam jacket, with his hair on end, like some Byronite scholar who sleeps in a skip wearing Ronnie Corbett's comedy spectacles. Jarvis, in other words, is exactly the same as ever. And here in the gleam-toothed Popstars era, it seems a miracle he was ever allowed to exist. ("I might collapse," swoons the Pulp fan lad, working behind the bar. "I just want to see him... and smell the moth-balls!").
It's 23 years since Jarvis the teenage fishmonger created the greatest, and most unique, pop band of his generation and Pulp are coming, most probably, to their natural end. Then again maybe they're not. Then again, next week Jarvis is flat-hunting in France, moving to Paris "soon" with his pregnant wife, stylist Camille Bidault-Waddington. These are low-key times for Jarvis, the sometime Most Famous Man In Britain, who spent this summer playing Pulp's last LP, We Love Life, to crowds in forests across rural England.
The most notorious recent sighting saw him dressed as Rolf Harris on Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes, his appearance on the show 'a sort of blackmail'. He contacted the show looking for look-a-likes for the video of Pulp's last single, Bad Cover Version. "The televisual bigwigs said, 'We'll send you tapes and phone numbers and provide costumes and make-up, all for nothing, as long as you'll be on the Celebrity edition.' It was an offer I couldn't refuse. Then I had to actually think what I was gonna do."
This November sees the release of their Greatest Hits, with a companion DVD, after which they're free from their records label, Island, forever. Two weeks ago, he played his debut solo show supporting Lee Hazlewood at the Royal Festival Hall. He showcased four new songs, and garnered reviews which declared him "unwell" and "absolutely marble-less". Today's Jarvis, however - the man who once took an E and believed himself to actually be Paul Nicholas (Just Good Friends-era, and he fancied Jan Francis at the time) has probably never been more sane in his life.
Sparking up a Silk Cut Extra Mild, with a half of bitter shandy, he folds his lengthy limbs and contemplates, in his slow, measured, deeply Northern timbre, the past, the future and hanging off lamp-posts in the Broadband BT advert of the present.
Jarvis Cocker is "Unwell", apparently.
Something like that. There's this bloke who messes about in my cellar making music and instead of paying rent we just do songs together now and again. So for that night at the Royal Festival Hall we thought 'let's play some of that', for a laugh. And most of the people who reviewed it didn't seem to think it was a laugh at all (huge smile). Just showing a different side of my character, that was all.
You broke a bottle on your head and performed karate-chop action with some wood; how come?
Just a bit of stage-craft. To show how hard I am. I've shown me gentle side, now I'm showing the hard side. I've been doing a bit of martial arts recently so I thought I'd show that off. Thought it was about time I learned to defend meself. That was cheating a bit actually, it was only balsa wood. But I'm hoping to get to bricks. I saw Jean Jacques Burnel once. He could get real wine bottles and just bang 'em on his shins and feel no pain. Can't see the point of that really, although I suppose if you played football you wouldn't have to buy a pair of shin-pads.
You won 'Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes'... and some of us missed it.
You missed a treat there. I decided to do Rolf Harris just because I thought me glasses were quite similar so it wouldn't take much effort. The only other serious contender was Lionel Ritchie, I was gonna do Hello, but that was... complicated. Then I found me voice wasn't that dissimilar to Rolfs, which was worrying, really. Then the joke of it was that I won! Because it was kind of done out of obligation I didn't pay attention at the bit where they tell you where to go. They've got all these different staircases. You come through that tunnel, then you leave by that staircase, but you must stop half-way and wave at the camera, and then, if you win, you come down this staircase. So I think I tried to get back down the cloudy tunnel instead of going up the wavy staircase... But I enjoyed it in the end, good fun. It was... an experience.
And now you've been up a lamp-post in a BT Broadband ad.
Very quick access to porn with that. Heheheh. Nah, I've not got it. But, again, it was part of me new macho image. Hanging 25 foot above the ground, doing my own stunts. The people who did the advert are Hammer And Tongs, who we did a couple of videos with a few years ago. They did that Blur Coffee And TV video and they're quite nice, y'know. I've been approached by a lot of people to do adverts so I thought I'd go with that one 'cos if they were doing it it'd be quite good. And I thought, 'Go on, then. Not doing anything that week.' And it's quite funny. As far as I knew it was written with me expressly in mind, but maybe I'm labouring under some illusion there.
And were you actually up a lamp-post?
Oh yeah, I was there. They made a really big lamp-post, taller than a normal one. I have to admit I was on wires, there was crane with wires hanging down and then they just got rid of them on a computer. So I'm not that 'ard.
Seems you've been deliberately low-key in recent times; not on telly much, not anywhere in the media much...
It's just different times. There was a time, six, seven years ago now, where I imagined that people would be sick of the sight of me. And I was aware of that, that I just did too many things. And became a bit irritating. And I even irritated myself. It's like becoming Lenny Bennet or summat, innit, goin' on Celebrity Squares. The trouble is, y'see, I've always liked them cheesy television things, so I've always had a predilection to go on 'em. And rub shoulders with Nicholas Parsons, it just amuses me for some reason. But if you do it too much, the danger is you become one of 'em. I didn't wanna do that. So I just got on with normal life things for a bit. And I realised that unless you pay some attention to that side of your life, you actually don't have it anymore. And then it becomes quite sad. It's like crop rotation, innit, if you grow the same crop on the same part of land all the time the soil becomes sterile, infertile. So you've got to rotate. You've got to plant turnips now and again. So that's what I've been doing for the last few years. Getting me turnips in.
You seemed to have Fame Psychosis for a while. What did that feel like?
Well it just puts you into a different world from the one you've grown up in for 30 odd years. And it's a weird feeling, that. You think you know how things work, and then suddenly you're put in an environment where you don't know how it works but you can't go back. You can get round it, though, if you try hard enough. But I'm really rubbish because I've never liked to make an effort. I never made an effort at school. I can remember coming down to London and being dismayed at the fact you had to make an effort to have a social life. I've always preferred the more casual "Let's walk around and see what we bump into" approach to life. Rather than, "Yes! These are my goals!" Y'know, like Darius, "I will have a platinum album by the time I'm 35!" I've never been one of them motivated people, a go-getter.
Pulp without a record deal by Christmas; the end of an era?
It's definitely the end of an era. It's the end of our time on Island, basically. Robinson Crusoe has been rescued, from his Island. So I don't really know. The history of Pulp has been a bit like that. When I came down to London first, I was pretty convinced the group was gonna split up, but we kept going, in a semi-coma kind of way. We played two concerts in three years. And then, lo and behold, just as I was coming to the end of college, things started to happen. And with me moving to France, and Candida [Pulp's nylon-beskirted keyboard maestro] going off on a jaunt round the world - English-speaking countries only, she's not back-packing - it's gonna be next September before we can get back together. So we'll see how we feel then. See what everybody feels like. I just think it's better like that. Otherwise it gets a bit like Communist Russia, a five year plan. And I don't think life's like that. The good thing about life is you make it up a bit as you go along.
When you look at the Hits album do you see a life that was actually worth living?
Well, the thing I like about it most is it just seems a bit slap-dash, it doesn't seem too contrived. Everyone's become so preoccupied with how something's packaged and what angle are we going for and what niche are we aiming this at and let's do market research... I'm quite pleased that we've managed to be awkward. Not awkward, nasty, but not really fitting in. And just making it up as we went along. We were never... Hear'Say. So that's quite good. A beacon of inefficiency. In a rapidly stream-lining world. I like that. At least it seems human.
Must've been a hoot, putting together the DVD that comes out to compliment the new album.
Oh yeah, you see yourself on Richard and Judy and it's just funny. Half the things I can't even remember, that's the scary thing. An Italian TV thing when a bloke reads out the entire lyrics of Common People, in Italian, while we're standing there waiting to play t'song, and everybody's lookin' right bored, thinking "What the fuck's he on about here?" Until I saw it, I would never have remembered that we did it. All this stuff. Documentary evidence. And none of it's in me head at all.
Is their one defining moment?
Probably a series of defining moments. The defining moment for knowing that we'd kind of moved into public consciousness was when we played Glastonbury in 1995. The defining moment for thinking, "Well maybe you've taken this Celebrity business a little bit too far," the Michael Jackson thing, just not being able to go out t'house for about a month. The defining thing of thinking, "Maybe you should calm down a bit now and try and get your life together" was one night in a club off Oxford Street and doing some drugs in a toilet and the drummer of Dodgy saying (shouts), "Have you been larging it a lot recently?" and thinking, "This in't what you should be doing, with your life." No disrespect to Dodgy's drummer, but that kind of made me think, "No, you've taken a wrong turning 'ere, calm down, think it out a bit."
Most people don't have the wherewithall to see that as it's happening.
Well it's nice of you to credit me with that kind of insight but it probably took a while. I've got very slow reactions, just generally in life. If I open a bottle of pop and it fizzes up, it takes me about a minute to realise I'm becoming wet. It's like that thing about an oil-tanker. It takes a day to stop, 'cos of the massive momentum. You can't do a hand-brake turn in an oil tanker, can you? I've tried to move myself down to a dinghy. It's much more manoeuvrable.
Are you satisfied with the way things have turned out? At least, no matter what 'they' say, you're not insane.
Oh yeah. And I've still got me hair. I've still got me teeth. Me hearin', although the top end's gone. When the phone rings downstairs I'm oblivious to it. So Camille's always nudging me, "Answer the phone." "What phone?" But generally speaking, yeah, I've not come out of it too badly. pretty intact. You can think, "Well, if I'd not done that then, things would've turned out differently." But... too late, innit?
You once said, when Pulp ended, you might do a Jim'll Fix It-type show called I'll See What I Call Do.
Heheheh. Well, you never know! I've been making some videos, for other people [most recently, for The Polyphonic Spree, the white-robed, orchestral, 25-piece Texan spook-pop ensemble] so I think I'll do that for a bit. I've got the luxury of having a bit of time to think. The main thing, for me, is there's gonna be a big change moving to France and becoming a dad, and I'll see what that's like. Maybe concentrate on that for a bit. Just sit in the flat. That's probably the worst thing for me to do, actually, sitting in an apartment somewhere in France thinking, "Yes! Must concentrate!" I dunno what I'm gonna do. But I know I'll do something. It'll all work out in the end.
Have you made enough money to be breezy about time?
Pulp probably never made as much money as people thought we made 'cos of the inefficiency that I was so proud of earlier on. Our records always cost a fortune to make. I mean, just... forever, This Is Hardcore, that cost... a right lot of money. Probably made its money back, just about, but we didn't make anything out of it. So... we've got some money but none of us are millionaires.
I think people wish you were. There's a lot of good will towards you. Maybe wore than anyone else.
Well that's nice. Well, it'd be lovely if someone wants to start a little fund, The Pulp Retirement Fund. And we all go out in Chelsea Pensioners outfits. But it is nice that generally people seem to, for whatever reason, think that we're alright. And have a nice attitude towards us. And that's always been the case. And I don't really know why, seeing as we're all so horrible. We're such twats.
What will you miss, when you're in France?
I'll miss things about the pub, like pub quizzes. You don't get that in France. They're not big on tombola. But to be honest, this is the first time I've been in a pub for about a month. Oh aye. I haven't been out much! In France it's all bars. And they have this pin-ball thing which I've never been able to get me head round. It hasn't even got any flippers on it. Looks rare borin', you can't do 'owt, just let the ball go and then it goes where it wants.
And are you surprised that you're married?
Well, when I was younger I never thought that I would do because of me mum and dad getting divorced and because just about all the marriages around our area in Sheffield broke up. So I just thought, "Well, there's no point in that at all." When you make a decision like that at say, nine or ten, it's like it lodges in your mind, you don't question it in a way. It's just "That's what I think." And it took me a long time to "get over it, as they'd say in America. And in the end, I was quite surprised to find myself proposing marriage. But I'm really happy that I did. It's good to surprise yourself, now and again. I've been married (checks watch) not even three months yet. And it's alright.
How was The Big Day?
It was a good party and everything. It was more stressful than I thought. It was like throwing a party, but more. So I found meself worrying about things like the time it was taking people to get served to have their food. Stuff like that. We had this local French band and they really got me goat. I was trying to get everybody to go up to the disco in the woods and have a dance so I went over to the band and said, "it'd be really nice if you could go up there and start playing, everybody'll hear the music and like the Pied Piper, they'll be drawn" and they said (austerely), "We are waiting for our coffee." And they wouldn't go'n play! I said, "I'll bring you a fookin' flask", which I don't think they really understood.
And what did the groom wear?
In the end I had two suits made. But the suit that I wore was a Marc Jacobs. Very nice. Kind of a velvet, not really super shiny, kind of grey-blue. Looked alright. Except the next morning I looked at it and all the arse of it was purple. I'd obviously sat in a big pool of red wine. Then you tango back in your mind to the events of the previous day and think, "Well, how long was I walking around with that purple arse? Was it the end when it was dark and didn't matter? Or was it most of the day?"
When Jarvis was a lad, he always believed, by the dawn of the 21st Century, there'd be men on Mars and space-craft flying the skies. Instead, we've got corporate tyranny, Reality TV, Celebrity Culture bedlam and the possibility of World War III. None of it, particularly, depresses him except the bit about war.
Does it scare you?
Why d'you think I'm moving like a rat deserting a sinking ship? France never gets involved in war. Soon as one bullet's fired "We surrender!" Having something like September 11 happening, you'd think the Americans would have the sense to think, "Oh, maybe we should be a bit nicer to people, maybe with the Kyoto thing we should show that we are a bit arsed about the rest of the world." And yet it's carried on, "Oh no, if it's not in our interests, fuck it." And the UK's just going along with it all, "Put me down for two missiles as well." Well it's weird, in't it? When you look at things you're always having to think to yourself, "Has the world really changed fundamentally or is it just that I'm getting to be an old get and therefore more fixed in me ways and against things changing?" And that's one thing I find hard to work out.
Are you a Reality TV fan?
At first I thought, "Well, great, showing real things", but... it isn't great, is it? There's something... uncouth about it. And I feel a bit daft saying that. But it's not trying to do anything. It seems witless, just shoving stuff on the telly and saying "Oh look at these people pissed up in Blackpool showing their arses" and it kind of makes you want to go high-brow, doesn't it? 'Cos for me, what I've always tried to do in lyrics is go into ordinary things and try and elevate them in some way... (pauses) Actually, Faking It's" not bad.
Popstars, the Devil's Opportunity Knocks or just a good laugh on a Saturday night?
I watched Popstars, the first one and I loved it when they had all the people turning up thinking they could sing (bellows like a hippo). But once they'd decided on the five I lost interest. Because all you saw was them being told how to dance and what to wear and how to sing songs written by Scandinavian blokes.
And never drink and never smoke.
Yeah! And then what happens? Don't drink, don't smoke, so they all ate loads of pizzas and became really fat so the programme's main interest then became, "Well, who's put most weight on this week then? Who's been troughing out?"
You're approaching 40. Mad or what?
Well this is it. It was me 39th birthday two weeks ago. At least 40 is a milestone, innit? Thirty-nine's neither here nor there. Like, "coom on, face it, you are 40, just 'ave it, be forty, get it over and done with". I'm looking forward to it, actually. A friend of mine was 40 a couple of years ago, and he's still being unreasonable and doing daft things. And he says it's much better because just about everybody else has gone straight and given up. But people stop trying to change you. They finally say, "he's not gonna change, he's 40, if he's like that at 40 that's it, leave him, let him get on with it". And somebody told me the other day, because of life expectancy going up, 40 is the new thirty. 40 is the new 30. I'm right into that one.