“We’d made this gentle, polite LP, so I thought, ‘Fuck off, let’s go to the other extreme.’ – JC
So much for Pulp prehistory. September 1983 was year zero. For a group that had reinvented themselves so much and been through so many members, making a break with the past was old hat by this point. Nothing short of a severance was required, a total negation of everything they’d been before. That negation came along in the form of Russell Senior.
Russell isn’t new to our story – he’d known the band since the early days, had interviewed them for his fanzine and organised concerts. More distant friends of the band had tended to drift in and out of the line-up, but Russell had been studying, bizarrely, business administration at Bath University, and had to be content with carrying out his musical experimentations down among the boureois residents of Tears For Fears’ hometown. As soon as he’d graduated he returned to his own hometown, and with a few months had joined Pulp rehearsals – not as another muso in the mix, but on an equal footing with Jarvis. Strangely enough, his arrival co-incided with the departure of half of the band. Simon Hinkler had been on his way out anyway – other musical projects were competing for his time – and David and Peter soon followed suit when they saw the direction the band was taking. Both accomplished musicians, their dislike of Russell’s untrained avant-garde noisemaking was inevitable. Interviewed later for ‘Truth & Beauty’ David later said that “anyone who had a guitar that didn’t have all six strings wasn’t someone I wanted to work with.”
So that left Jarvis, Russell, Tim and Magnus; not really a band, yet, more a group of friends with a shared interest in breaching artistic boundaries, in one form or other. The first project they started was a theatre group called ‘The Wicker Players’, assembled from the remnants of the band and whoever else would join in in order to perform Russell’s dadaist agit-prop opus “The Fruits Of Passion” at various venues around Sheffield.
The play opened with the direction to “Put vacuum cleaner on stage. Switch it on. Leave it on until audience become restless.” Audience tolerance was further tested with absurdist vignettes featuring characters like First Authoritarian and Second Authoritarian (“There’s no difference” – Russell) interspersed with early versions of some of the more abrasive songs they’d been working on. Finally the performace would reach a climax with a scene featuring Jarvis eating a plate of shit at a job interview. On the final performance, at The Crucible Theatre, Russell changed the recipe for the ‘shit’ without telling Jarvis and smiled enigmatically at Jarvis from the wings – though it was only chocolate and peanut butter.
Unsurprisingly, a fair amount of audience members would leave at one point or another during each performance. Those who stayed, however, had proved themselves to be of the same mettle as the new group, a more selective fanbase to build on as they embarked on one of their oddest eras. Though Pulp would move on from the avant-garde after a few years, a part of them belongs there permanantly, as shown by their confrontational choice of Minty as a support act during the UK tour in October 1995.
The Wicker Players put on a few more performances, including an infamous Christmas pantomime at the Hallamshire Hotel and ‘Cabarets’ where Magnus displayed his baked-bean-vomiting and on-stage-wanking skills. By the end of the year, though, they were starting to coalesce into a proper band again, and since everyone knew the name Pulp, there was no reason not to use it again.