“This song’s about dying.” – on-stage introduction
On the 3rd of March 1987, in a nightclub in the basement of a disused Jeans factory / warehouse, a new group took to the stage for what Russell Senior had recently called a “multi-media cosmic tangerine experience” on local radio. The stage was bedecked with the usual rolls of kitchen foil, which must have done something at least to dispel the gloom of the place.
“At the end of its time it had enjoyed a sorry reputation for violence, drugs and sleaze. But the place was certainly legendary. The atmosphere inside was always dark and dingy, due to the insides being painted black, the roof was very low and there was always the smell of marijuana, which hit you as you went down the stairs. The carpet was very sticky, and Mark’s friends used to say that the only reason you didn’t bang your head on the roof was because you were stuck to the carpet. In fact the floor was in such a state, with spilled beer, that it seemed to be covered in tar. And the next morning you would find this horrible tar down the bottom of your trouser legs. All drinks glasses were plastic, due to the amount of glassing that had occurred in the past ( allegedly )” – from thewookie.co.uk
This group were a fair bit different from the one that had bowed out at The Leadmill the previous November*. The rhythm section were gone – off to India, or a regular job – and while Candida had returned to take the place recently vacated by the unreliable Captain Sleep, Magnus and Manners were gone for good, barring a bit of ‘additional programming’ and a famous stage invasion in the 1990s. The new bass player was Steven Havenhand, former singer for Lay Of The Land, a minor band on the local indie scene whose other members would go on to found Warp Records a few years later.
And on drums, Nick Banks – former member of Phono Industria, promoter for The Hallamshire Hotel, nephew of England goalkeeper Nick Banks, future proprietor of Banks Pottery and (of course) a member of Pulp for the rest of their natural lifespan. He had applied for the job after seeing an advert in The Leadmill, and instead of auditioning ended up going on a trek round the city to try to get rid of a pit bull terrier which had followed Jarvis home. The creature was dispatched over a fence, and since the ice had been broken and they got on well enough, he was accepted into the group before they’d even heard him play.
The gamble paid off. Magnus had been a great drummer, but his eccentric style would not have suited the new direction the group were about to take. Nick’s steady professionalism was what they really needed – though you wouldn’t guess it from the likes of ‘Heart Trouble’.
As a set opener for a comeback gig the song is nothing short of bizarre, not to say willfully aggravating. We start with a thumping drumbeat, which is supposed to replicate a palpitating, over-stimulated heart – a concept lifted wholesale from Madness’s ‘Cardiac Arrest’ – and a wheezing, stuttering thread of violin, simulating strained breathing. This is all acceptable, at first, as are the muffled lyrics about not fearing death, but forty seconds in, the violin line turns into what can only be described as a very unpleasant, almost ear-splitting noise, which continues for the remainder of the song. If that wasn’t enough, Jarvis’s vocals transition into some fairly challenging caterwauling – the sort they probably should’ve learned to avoid after the recording of ‘Silence’.
What must the audience have thought? Fortunately at two and a half minutes long there wasn’t enough time for the audience to decide to walk out of a concert they’d paid £1.50 to see (£1 for anyone with a UB40) – and as the song came to its unearned climax, without a pause the group launched into ‘Death Comes To Town’ – which must have come as a relief to all present. ‘Heart Trouble’ was dropped from the set soon after, and replaced by much more audience-friendly set-openers like ‘Love Is Blind’ and ‘Space’. The days of truly audience-challenging, avant-garde Pulp were over for good, and probably all for the best.
* In the meantime there had been an odd performance art piece about the devil coming to Sheffield, which had taken place at the Leadmill in January or February, but this seems to have been one of Jarvis’s side projects and not an official Pulp concert by any means.