Cocker Speaks Out
Words: Wendy Hampshire, Photographer: Dave Gillespie
Taken from Park Life, August 1996

He was only the fishmonger's assistant, but he went on to conquer the charts and outrage Michael Jackson fans around the world. Today, Jarvis Cocker and Pulp play their final show before heading to the studio to create more songs of everyday life. We met up with Jarvis to find out just how he ended up in Warrington.

I watched you give a raunchy performance at T in the Park - it reminded me of young Elvis. Is he a role model for you?

Well, I share the last three letters of my name with him. I was a bit too young to have an influence about my name. Jarvis is what I was christened as - apparently it means spear carrier.

You also flirted with the audience and seemed to enjoy being in front of all that adoration, do you need their love?

I probably have got emotional deficiencies, but whether I really need that love from people, I don't know. When we do the Warrington festival, it's possibly going to be the last live show for a year, so maybe I'll find out then - if I start getting withdrawal symptoms and start doing desperate things to make people like me. T in the Park was quite scary - it was our first major outdoor concert since Glastonbury last June and I was really nervous.

Glastonbury marked a leap in your popularity. How has life changed since? I had to go through tiers of people just to speak to you.

All that kind of thing is strange, but otherwise you get inundated and you can't deal with the number of people who want to talk to you all the time. I'm quite lucky, I'm quite well known but most people seem to like me - I don't get many people coming up wanting to punch me in the face. At the moment it's all right but it's a bit overwhelming. If you have bodyguards and all that kind of thing, it means you end up getting more removed from real life. Most of our songs are about normal, real life situations so it's a dangerous thing to do.

How do you cope now then, can you do normal things like go to the pub?

No, because it would get on my friends' nerves, you can never settle down to a conversation because there's always somebody coming up interrupting you. I go round to people's houses, I've just bought a new bicycle and I ride that around and I go to concerts now and again. I'm going to see Tiger tonight, who are on the bill at Warrington.

Who are you looking forward to seeing at Warrington?

Jonathan Richman's playing and he's a hero of mine. I remember the very first time I went to Glastonbury, it was the first festival I'd been to and it was raining most of the time. I saw Jonathan Richman play there and that was the only thing I actually enjoyed the whole weekend. I think he's a really good person to have on and I'm really looking forward to seeing him. And it should be interesting to see Gary Numan.

Why is he there?

Because Glastonbury's not on this year, everybody's having their own festivals and a lot of them haven't got a lot of imagination, there just seems to be one type of music. I think there's nothing more boring than having 12 hours of the same thing. I thought with our festival, we'd try and make it as varied as possible just to make it more entertaining for people.

What about your fans, any stalkers?

They seem to be a psychologically well-balanced bunch - I've not had any stalkers. The strangest thing I had recently was a letter from a 13-year-old girl which went into minute detail how she'd like to make love to me. I found that disturbing. You think, 'you shouldn't know about things like that young lady'.

What were you like at 13?

It was an important age for me, like anybody. It coincided with punk rock happening and so that was good timing for me. It saved me from becoming a heavy metal fan. Up to then I'd been saving up for 'Physical Graffiti' by Led Zeppelin - it was expensive because it's a double album. I'd nearly got enough money then punk rock happened, I changed my mind and decided to get into that instead. I started listening to John Peel on the radio because that was the only way you could get to hear that kind of music. It was the punk attitude - the, you don't really to know how to play, you just have to want it and have something to say - that got me interested in being in a band.

When did you start playing?

We played our first concert in 1980, on the outskirts of Sheffield. We turned up in a mobile grocer's van - we all got out smelling of potatoes.

What did you do in those years before you made it?

There was a lot of wasted time. I moved down to London in 1988 and did a film course. I thought that might be the end of the band, but in fact it got things going because I got to know people down in London and that got things working for me.

Where did you study?

At St Martin's College. Hopefully, film is my alternative career when everything's finished.

What about the future then?

It gets a bit embarrassing prancing around on stage in your old age.

They all say that.

I know they all say that, but at least I've got another qualification, so hopefully that will stop me.

What do you think about the Britpop tag?

I don't like it. I never liked it, even when it was in vogue. It's a stupid name. Suddenly there was an explosion of interest in homegrown music. Maybe it was popular, but it wasn't a movement like all the bands got together and decided to have Britpop. To me, the worse thing were bands who were still sounding like The Smiths - only 15 years too late - with jangly guitars and an attempt at a melody, but really rubbish and no feeling in it at all.

What do you listen to?

I listen to a lot of film soundtracks, like John Barry, and I like Scott Walker, Serge Gainsbourg. The main thing I like to do is listen to the radio because you can come across something you've never heard before. I listen to Radio 2 most of the time - Ken Bruce and Jimmy Young. Ed Stewart I quite like, but I'm not so keen on Debbie Thrower. The worrying trend is that now Radio 1 has supposedly gone more modern, they've started to play Tina Turner and Phil Collins on Radio 2, which I find really distasteful, especially at night. I used to listen to Steve Madden to go to sleep, now it just keeps me awake playing all this bland music.

How do you get away from Pulp?

It's become much more difficult now. In a way it's like having your cover blown. I've always had this idea that I was working undercover - looking at things and using them. But because you're a recognisable person, it's much more difficult to be undercover and to be in a situation and observe it. If people recognise you, you affect that situation straight away. It sounds pathetic, I spent all my adult life trying to escape it, and when you do, you say oh God, I can't go to a football match and be anonymous any more, when the last thing you ever wanted to be was anonymous.

You strike me as someone who might have been desperate to be famous, is that true?

I probably was when I was younger. What you think you'd like, and what the experience is, are always two different things. But I'm not complaining about it, you just have to try and think of a way round it. In a way, it makes life more interesting because it gets boring doing the same things. I don't want you to get the idea I'm one of these moaning rock stars who goes on about the pressures of fame.

You mentioned another career - are you ready for change?

I think we're playing really well at the moment and I hope we can keep that up in Warrington and go out on a high. Then, if we get round to playing again, people will be interested in seeing the band. If you play all the time then familiarity breeds contempt or at least a lack of interest. I'm not sure what's going to happen in the interim. I don't want to get into that cycle that bands do of recording an album and touring it, recording an album and touring it. It's just not interesting. The thing that makes this band interesting is that we've always tried to do outside things - we've made a short film and we're doing a couple of bits for a film. By working in a different kind of way and meeting different kinds of people, rather than music biz type people all the time, it keeps your brain alive.

What's your worst fear?

I've never had a real job, I've been an assistant fishmonger, I've sorted mail and I've worked in a care centre, but they were all part-time jobs. I guess that's why you form a band, to get away from that sort of life, and so if it ever started to turn into being like a job that would worry me. That would be my greatest fear - if it ever became routine. Luckily it isn't. Like I said, I was really nervous playing in Glasgow and I was happy about that because it still means something, I'm not getting blasť about it.

Who are your fans?

I don't know who they are. I like to think about it, especially when we've a record in the charts and you imagine people listening to it in the car or the bath. Someone sent a letter saying when she was having a baby, she had the radio on in the labour room. Just as the baby's head popped out, Disco 2000 came on the radio and she says she will always associate that song with having her kid. That's nice - to know you've got woven into the soundtrack of people's lives.

Warrington may be your last performance for some time - are you going to pull something special out?

Well, if you rephrase the question, yes. We're going to make it a night to remember.

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