Side two, track one: a sepia-tinted dream. In a deserted old church hall, a group of amateur musicians stand around an old piano playing an old standard, while children play outside. An effortless display of musicianship played for the benefit of nobody in particular. How strange that this effect could have resulted from such a tortuous writing process.
The germination of ‘Blue Girls’ was in the summer of 1982. Jarvis seems to have spent much of his time sitting in his mother’s living room with Simon Hinkler, building ideas into full songs. At this point it was apparently a loud, fast, blues rock song, as astounding as this may seem, and the one public performance it got was along these lines. After the 24th October concert at the Crucible Theatre, Peter Boam appears to have been struck with the incongruity of having lyrics and chords which speak of nothing but melancholy being performed as if it were ‘Milk & Alcohol’, and that night retired early to work out how he could make it work.
At the ‘It’ sessions, a month later, Pulp recorded a take of the ‘fast’ version. For whatever reason the flaws seem to have been recognised by everyone this time, and the tape was wiped before the session was over. As they were wrapping up, Peter took a moment to play them all his piano version. That first runthrough, mistakes and all, is the basis for the song we know, though that was never Peter’s intention at the time.
Through the remainder of the sessions the group kept coming back to ‘Blue Girls’. A new vocal was added, then minute touches of bass guitar, recorder, organ and backing vocals from Saskia, Jill and Simon, all so low in the mix that it’s still hard to pick them all out on this year’s remaster. Finally Barry Thompson (father of Greg from Heroes of the Beach) arrived to add improvised flourishes of flute and clarinet.
This mix, available on the remastered version of ‘It’ still wasn’t quite satisfactory, and when the band were given an extra day’s studio time in January 1983 it was one of the two tracks they decided to remix. The piano track was treated with extra reverb, covering mistakes and bumping up the wistfulness. Jarvis’s vocal was also re-recorded. The variation in pitch required had proved too much of a strain, but with the aid of vari-speed the problems were ironed out.
Hearing the original mix after years of listening to the final version is an odd experience. Though in a sense the difference is negligible, the spell is broken enough to ruin the effect. The clarity from the lack of reverb lets you pay too much attention to Peter’s piano work, which, while very accomplished, is still a first take with a fair few bum notes and off-timings. Jarvis sounds less comfortable, worried instead of thoughtful. Fortunately the band saw sense and kept the best version.
‘Blue Girls’ is undoubtedly one of the best things on ‘It’. Original, melancholy, mysterious, it creates a mood like nothing else on the album.