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End of Part One

23 Jun

Youtube playlist featuring all the songs so far covered

By the time ‘Everybody’s Problem’ was released, Pulp had ceased to exist. The Hinkler brothers were in the new lineup of Artery. Peter Boam, Michael Paramore and Tim Alcard had returned to their own projects. Tim will continue to play a minor role over the next few years. Magnus was playing, temporarily in Tony Perrin’s Sheffield supergroup Midnight Choir. Jarvis had his own side projects – or rather the side-projects had him. The scene had moved into an era of ad-hoc performances and one-off lineups. Pulp weren’t dead though, just entering a pupal phase. What emerged in the January of 1984 would be a very different animal altogether.
We’ll get to all of this a little later. For now, let’s look back at the band’s first era. As I get through this discography I’ll be stopping after each album to put together an alternative tracklisting. For ‘It’ I’ve decided to go for an overview of the band’s first half-decade. Thematically it’s all a bit of a jumble, but I’d say it’s a good overview.

1. I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield (Live in Bath, 1982)
2. What Do You Say?
3. Turkey Mambo Momma
4. Wishful Thinking (Peel Session Version)
5. Refuse To Be Blind
6. Sickly Grin
7. My Lighthouse (7″ mix)
8. Blue Girls (LP mix)
9. Love Love
10. There Was…

So now it’s over to you. What would you put together to sum up this era?

#24-27 – The Rotherham Demo

23 Mar


A street in Rotherham, 1982. Click through for a superb ‘then and now’ photo gallery.

In the catalogue of Pulp mark one, there is little more than a few crumbs of available material in a desert of the unrecorded, unreleased and uncirculated. Given the chance to unearth one tape from this era, I suspect that most would choose the Rotherham demo. The session features four tracks, none of which are available elsewhere, recorded at a time when the band were much more well-rehearsed and professional than before, and produced by a talented, sympathetic producer.
Kaley Studios in Rotherham were a slight improvement on Ken Patten’s living room, but obviously nowhere near the standard of the BBC’s Maida Vale. It seems to have been little more than a bit of derelict office space with sound-proofing and an 8-track mixing desk. The session was produced by David Hinkler’s brother Simon, whose day-job was playing keyboards and guitar in Artery. With the help of the studio engineer he was able to get four decent recordings out of the band in the time allotted.

#24 – Why Live?

From Mark Sturdy’s description, ‘Why Live?’ sounds pretty depressing. David plays mournful spanish guitar while Dolly joins in on the xylophone. Jarvis’s lyrics sound, on face value, to be indulgent teenage whining – “To moan and whine about my life is my perogative / Pessimistic overviews are all I have to give” – but the group were self-aware enough to know how silly po-faced whining could sound, so I suspect there may be more to this song.

#25 – How Could You Leave Me?

Here we find Pulp’s one and only attempt at playing Jazz. A slow-paced, bluesy thing, with one of Jamie’s walking basslines, Wayne’s swing rhythm, Dolly’s blues guitar licks and David playing the ‘vibes’ setting on his keyboard. Jarvis sings a warbly, melancholy vocal, and Simon joins in with a piano solo at the end.

#26 – Teen Angst

Another of the band’s upbeat ska pop songs – an upbeat, bouncy thing about girls and parties, with heavy synth parts from Dolly and David.

#27 – Barefoot in the Park

An upbeat one, apparently “power pop”, heavy on Dolly’s pitch-bended moog. It’s impossible to tell what this song is about from this fragment of lyrics, but you can safely guess that it’s not particularly serious – “Alternative reality/ Reject responsibility/ We’re walking barefoot in the park/ They lock the gates when it gets dark”

This was to be the line-up’s final recording. In the following months Jarvis, Dolly and Jamie took their A-levels, and band activity had to be suspended. When the exams were passed, it was time to go to university, and while Jarvis’s mother was happy enough for him to defer his place, the other two were not so lucky. With interest in the band petering out, the end of this particular Pulp was inevitable.

#13 – I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield

17 Mar

I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield
The Pulp Story (song audible under interview)
I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield – Pulpwiki

By 1980 17-year-old Jarvis was the singer in a band who were regularly playing live at venues around Sheffield. Personally speaking, I’d say that constitutes a healthy enough social life – at that age I was still mainly staying in, watching The Beiderbecke Affair and playing Civilization II – but for Jarvis’s mother it still seemed that he still needed help making friends, so she took the action any responsible mother would and got him a job in the market, selling fish for an (allegedly) alcoholic fishmonger.
It was a bit of a mixed bag for Jarvis. On one hand he was going to plenty of parties, and rather than improving his social skills he was hampered by a lingering odour of fish, which had to be scrubbed out with bleach at the end of each working day. On the other hand he turned out to be a very talented fishmonger, so much so that future Pulp stalwart Russell Senior would stop by to watch him at work.

“He had a very convincing patter for selling fish, with lots of sexual innuendo around it. People would ask, ‘Have you got any crabs on you, cock?’ and he’d say, ‘Ooh missus, the trouble with me,’ and scratch himself, or, ‘I’ve got a lovely piece of tail end for your husband, love.’ He was one of the best performing fishmongers I’d ever seen. He’d charm all these old ladies into buying more crabs than they needed and things. They loved him: he’d be, like, ‘Would you like an extra claw, Mrs Hayworth?’ – so the sexual innuendo was there at an early age, really. That was what brought us together. He was a very good fishmonger.”

One day Jarvis arrived at work to find that a consignment of crabs had been delivered early and left in stagnant water overnight. Naturally they had started to rot, but despite the smell being noticeably bad, the crabs still went on sale to the public, and a few had already been sold before a health inspector arrived to condemn them all.
Jarvis used this story as the basis of perhaps the most famous early Pulp track, “I Scrubbed the Crabs That Killed Sheffield.” In this version, things start much the same.

Early on a Saturday morning
Sometime after eight o’clock
I received a vile warning
It all came on as a bit of a shock
There were crabs all around me
Hundred, thousands; well quite a lot
They’d been put in water; left them through the night
Now that they’d died they had started to rot

Instead of selling just a few, though, the crowd seems to be attracted by the crabs’ pungent odour, and though they complain, they gather round and buy the things, driven by some terrible mob instinct, which drives the fishmongers to sell them the poisonous crustaceans.

The stenches were quite amazing
Still I had a job to do
Later on I heard some people complaining
But the terrible smell just grew and grew
Eventually they had finished boiling
A crowd began to gather round
Well, we took them out and put them under the counter
And we sold them off; 28 pence a pound

As the song comes to an end the protagonist wails in regret at the results of his actions.

I didn’t mean to kill them
Just did as I was told
All those women and children dead
Because of the crabs that we’d sold

For many years the only circulating clip of this song was a muffled scrap of a live recording which was broadcast, barely audible, under part of Radio 1′s “The Pulp Story” in 1998. Since I first wrote this piece the full version has emerged, apparently recorded at the January 1982 concert at Bath University organized by one Russell Senior. It’s a funny crowd-pleasing little ska-punk-pop song, all trebly high speed guitar and trebly high speed organ. Bass and drums are barely audible until the instrumental break, when they transform this funny little song into a bit of a classic simply by repeating the same chords. It sounds messy but well-rehearsed, the band holding themselves in time by sheer force of nervous energy. The strangest thing about it is Jarvis’s voice – he sounds aggressive, almost belligerent and exaggerates the Northern and working class in his accent. This was the band’s first live date in the South of England, and from the introduction it seems as if he’s playing this part, winding up the soft Southern mummy’s boys in the audience. Barely 18 years old, he’s already showing himself to be a natural frontman.

#19-23 – Missing Songs, Early 1982

9 Mar

With the Peel session broadcast, and the band on the front of the Sheffield Star in their school uniforms, Pulp went overnight from being also-rans, not good enough to get on the decidedly patchy ‘Bouquet of Steel’ compilation, to the relative heights of the Sheffield B-league. As the A-league had largely migrated to London by 1982, this meant Pulp were headlining their own gigs, or supporting well-known groups like Artery. They even had their own feature in Melody Maker and a review in Sounds – everything looked like it was on the up. Sadly, though, the next year would see the attention begin to fade, and now they were finishing their A-levels there was pressure on Jarvis and Dolly to finish messing around and go to university.
This is another era where almost nothing is in circulation, but recordings do exist, so we’re more likely to eventually hear some of these than Message To The Martians or Shakespeare Rock. These five songs were performed live, but none were ever professionally recorded. What little information we have on them is largely sourced from Mark Sturdy’s book.

#19 – Thrash

A noisy instrumental song used to open shows, with a typical Jamie Pinchbeck bassline smothered in spiky guitar chords.

#20 – Zhivago

Could this be the start of the band’s mid-80s obsession with Slavic culture? At a gig at Bath University Jarvis describes ‘Zhivago’ as “that rare thing in modern music, a Russian love song.” Mark Sturdy describes the song as having a “jerky, Eastern-sounding bassline, thudding, syncopated drums and  a nicely dissonant guitar.” With lyrics like “Days out in the snow, seem so long ago” it sounds very much like the song may be based on the 1965 film version of Doctor Zhivago

In February that year, Pulp gained a 5th member. David Hinkler (younger brother of Simon Hinkler of Artery) had previously played with Wayne in Vector 7-7, and had a roving role, playing guitar, keyboards and trombone, generally expanding and augmenting the band’s sound. After a short while he settled down as the group’s keyboard player, setting up on one side of the stage, with Dolly on the other with his organ and cornet.

#21 – Red Letter Day
The first of three tracks preserved in an (uncirculated) recording from The Limit, in April. This one is, apparently, a moody, down-tempo song about receiving a ‘Dear John’ letter. It was a new one, but didn’t survive to be recorded for ‘It’ a year later, so the song may never have been properly finished.

#22 – You’ve Got a Face
Another song first performed at The Limit, this one seems to have been “twitchy ska”, perhaps in the vein of ‘I Scrubbed The Crabs…’.

#23 – You Go First
The third new song from the gig at The Limit, a moody number built around Dolly’s wobbly synths.

#18 – Refuse To Be Blind

3 Mar

Refuse To Be Blind (John Peel Session 1981)
Refuse To be Blind (Pulpwiki)

There are two ways you can take ‘Refuse To be Blind’ – seriously (in which case it’s a bit embarrassing), or as absurd, melodramatic cabaret piece (in which case it’s entirely successful.) The first view is the more common one, as expressed by Owen Hatherley and Jarvis himself, but today I’d like to make the case for the second.

My argument is simple enough – where else in the world can you find a post-punk gothic horror prog-rock epic like this? Yes, I must admit that it’s stitched together in a not-entirely-convincing way, but I can’t help but admire the ambition and sheer chutzpah of the thing.

The first ‘movement’ (yes, a post-punk song with ‘movements’) starts with a clanking, repetitive synth drumbeat, over which the we soon hear Jarvis’s (possibly Dolly’s) clanging Martin Hannett style guitar riffs, Jamie Pinchbeck’s *two* ominous bass lines, and a wibbling electronic sound which sounds like a theramin, but is actually Dolly’s Moog synthesiser’s pitch-bend wheel. Jarvis’s description of the song as a “blatant joy division rip-off” comes into play here – a fair judgement, perhaps, but one that doesn’t apply once the vocals appear. The choice of words, the way Jarvis sings, and in particular the relish he takes in over-pronouncing words like “fetid” and “relinquish”… it sounds like a Nigel Kneale TV play, or an episode of Doctor Who from Tom Baker’s first couple of seasons, or a parody of these things, but one played completely straight.

A third of the way into the song, we lurch with a drum-fill into the instrumental section, which is at an entirely unrelated tempo and rhythm to the rest of the track. For the first minute or so it goes along very nicely, with the theremin sound taking the place of the vocals, but then it breaks down into a couple of other brief sections which stretch the band’s ambition past breaking point. The burden is on Wayne Furniss’s shoulders, and unfortunately he seems unable to carry it off, so the transition sounds painfully clunky.

The third and final section starts as a slightly slower version of the first. The lyrics have moved on from general to personal horror.

It’s not that I am so unstable
It’s just that there’s something inside me
It’s fighting, tearing for a way out
So at last it can be free

Is this to be taken literally, or as a strained metaphor about self-expression? From Jarvis’s description of the song in 1995 it would seem the latter – “it just sounds like I’m trying too hard. It’s a bit like when you find a bit of poetry you wrote when you were 17 and you try to say everything about the world in three sentences. It always seems a bit too much.” It might not be fair to question a writer’s view of his own lyrics, but I find the end section to be much more playful than he gives it credit for. The teenage Jarvis seems to not only be aware of his own pretention, but confident enough to poke fun at it.

We’ve previously seen that this incarnation of Pulp were not particularly adept at finishing songs, and ‘Refuse To Be Blind’ offers the definitive example of this. It was a new song, the only one not previously demoed, and they appear not to have even finished it when they arrived in the studio. While they were searching for effects they could use, session engineer Peter Watts turned a dial which made Jarvis’s voice sound like a dalek. This excited the four of them enough that they demanded it be used as the ending of the track – and Dale Griffin, reluctantly, had to agree. As they mixed it, the van driver arrived back, drunk, shouting “I am a fucking dalek!”

The dalek voice sounds very silly indeed, and if you’re still attempting to take the song seriously this is the point where the song breaks down into utter ridiculousness. Take it as campy gothic horror, however, and it’s the ludicrous cherry that tops off the preposterous cake. All in all, it’s a joy to listen to.

Next week we again venture into the land of missing songs and line-up changes.

#17 – Wishful Thinking

25 Feb

Wishful Thinking (John Peel Session 1982)
Wishful Thinking (‘It’)
Wishful Thinking (Cover version by Golden)

How can we measure the value an artist places on a song? For a band like Pulp, songs were often written, performed, recorded, and slipped out of the set list and into obscurity in the space of a year. Where others tend to recycle or re-release, they always preferred to do something new. There are exceptions, of course – ‘Babies’ had two single releases, and was on two different albums, if you consider ‘Intro’ to be an album.*
Then there’s ‘Wishful Thinking’ – recorded for their first demo, re-recorded for the Peel session, re-recorded for ‘It’, chosen to be covered in the early 90s by Golden… What is it about this song which kept Jarvis coming back to it?
Listening to the version made for the Peel session, it certainly stands out. In amongst this selection pack of post-punk influences, there appears this emotional new-wave ballad, a little like The Cure, a little like the Postcard Records bands, but generally feeling new, raw, and unlike anything else they were doing at the time.
The construction of the song is quite simple – short verses intercut with a simple mantra of “I’ve got this love inside of me.” Each time it relates to the verses in a different way – at first glowing satisfaction, then doubt and longing, and finally quiet despair. It’s a hard trick to pull off, but Jarvis just about succeeds in doing it here simply by putting as much genuine feeling into it as he can, and his vocals are more successful than they would be again for most of the 80s. It’s a simple evocation of first love, and even if it seems naive it has an honesty and an integrity which can’t be denied.
Underneath the vocals the rest of the band also put in some of their best work. Jamie Pinchbeck contributes a trademark deep, echoey bass line, Wayne Furness adds a solemn, economic beat, and Dolly adds swirling, understated organ. Dale Griffin’s production, probably at the insistence of the band, is almost absurdly echoey, but it suits the track.
Fifteen months later the song was recorded again, by a very different lineup, for Pulp’s first album ‘It’. This version is the better known one, but it’s nowhere near as successful. The gentle acoustic production strains so hard to be sensitive that the vocals threaten to tip over into mawkishness. Everything is too polite – the drums and maracas sound like they are hesitating to come in, and the entire band sound like they are trying their hardest not to offend anyone. Jarvis’s vocals are also much worse – he seems to have either forgotten their meaning, or (more likely) finds them embarrassing. Later he would comment that the song embarrassed him – “because it’s a very direct love song – I remember who it’s about, and it just gets me.” His crooner phase in full bloom, he sounds like Morrissey doing an impression of Frank Sinatra – exactly the approach the song doesn’t need. Saskia’s flute solo is actually very pretty, but unfortunately it’s so tied up with the wimpy production that it pulls the song further down into midmorning chat-show territory.
One thing both versions have in common is the ending, or the lack of one. Nobody seems to know how to finish the song, and we trail off on an unsatisfying, unresolved note.

In 1994 Golden, a girl group mentored and produced by Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne, released a version of “Wishful Thinking”, making it the first Pulp song to be professionally covered. It’s like a Saint Etienne version of Talulah Gosh, with the tweeness brought to the fore (in a pleasant enough way) and the lyrics altered to reflect the change in genre. it’s worth a listen, and possibly improves on the ‘It’ version.

*Which I do

#16 – Please Don’t Worry

18 Feb



Please Don’t Worry (Peel Session)

Please Don’t Worry (‘It’ sessions out-take)
Please Don’t Worry on Pulpwiki

Like most young bands trying to make it on a local scene, Pulp Mk 1 had a theme tune, a poppy crowdpleaser that everyone could get behind. ‘Please Don’t Worry’ seems to have been popular with band and audience alike – it was a staple of their set even up to late 82, when the band’s line-up and sound had changed considerably. So why does it sound so out of place now?

Play the song to an unsuspecting member of the public and they would most likely imagine the song to be an indie-pop hit from the early 90s, a chirrupy strummy thing with a silly electronic sample over the verses and a swirling organ-like keyboard riff over the chorus. The first time I heard the session (in 1995 when Jarvis and Nick visited John Peel’s house) I couldn’t quite believe that this wasn’t a new track in the vein of We Can Dance Again or Mile End* – only more silly and cheerful, a bouncy, jolly bit of light relief. The trouble with “bouncy” and “jolly”, though, is that they are apt to morph into “annoying”, and as the years have passed my enjoyment has waned and my iritation risen.

The main problem is the main keyboard riff. Eight years later the band would be experimenting with some very unusual electronic noises indeed, but it’s a credit to Candida that they always bear up to repeated listening, showing hidden layers of complexity, even when they are dressed up to be naff and tacky. The riff on ‘Please Don’t Worry”, on the other hand, sounds like someone has just bought a new keyboard, and hasn’t worked out how to play anything more complex. At once it’s the centre of the song and at the same time drowns it out.

Another issue is the drumming. Wayne Furniss, lacking any professional equipment, had bought along a syn-drum made from a plan in ‘Practical Electronics’ magazine. A schoolfriend had constructed it from an electric calculator and a burglar alarm mat as a project, and it didn’t survive the journey to London in working condition. As Wayne crouched on the floor, bashing away on the thing, trying to get some sort of sound out of it, Dale Griffin apparently put his head in his hands. Eventually the thing was fixed, but the sound produced was far from satisfactory, a basic rhythm that struggles to stay in time throughout the song.

The vocals are also problematic. There’s nothing wrong with lyrics that are sincere, surreal, simple or obscure, but here I suspect that Jarvis has adopted the technique of putting together a list of phrases that sound like they could mean something – the dark arts, in other words, and the curse of Oasis and Coldplay. One of the reasons Jarvis is generally a successful lyricist is that he resists this tactic – Please Don’t Worry may represent his only slip.

I don’t want to pretend that this song is terrible – in fact, it has quite a bit going for it – I can’t deny that it’s catchy and fun, and the “I feel fine, I’m having a good time” coda sounds satisfyingly sarcastic. but I still skip it.

This week has seen the release of another version of Please Don’t Worry, and as it’s on an official album it may well end up being the more well-known version. The recording is from a year later, during the ‘It’ sessions, when Pulp had an entirely different lineup, aside from Jarvis of course. While that lineup was a lot more musically accomplished, they also seemed to be less adaptable. The fizzy proto-britpop of the song seems to have baffled them – only Jarvis seems to be on the ball, with everyone else playing parts they have learned, but haven’t really understood or appreciated. On the plus side, this means that the song is less annoying – the broken synth sound replaced by a swirling organ, the backing staying in time, little extra fills and flourishes throughout – but in the final analysis it sounds like a cover version, and a half hearted one at that.

*Neither of which I’d heard at the time, of course.

#15 – Turkey Mambo Momma

11 Feb

Turkey Mambo Momma
Turkey Mambo Momma at Pulpwiki

In the 1970s and early 80s John Peel used to travel around the UK playing “roadshows“. These weren’t live Radio 1 appearances at Butlins with Gary Davies, but smaller DJ gigs, often at universities, where he would, in his own words, “play lots of music that nobody liked very much. People would stand around looking glum and slightly puzzled.”
Jarvis, who had discovered punk and post-punk music via the John Peel show, took bassist Jamie Pinchbeck along to one of these nights at Sheffield Poly, paying 50p to get in. After John had finished his set, Jarvis and Jamie managed to corner him outside in order to give him a copy of the demo recorded in Ken Patten’s living room. “I’ll listen to it in the car,” John promised. And then, surprising as it may sound now, he did just that. A week and a half later, John’s producer John Walters called Jarvis at his gran’s house to offer the band a session.
This was a huge milestone for the band and a source of great excitement all round. Up until now Pulp had been a very minor name on the Sheffield scene, but having a Peel session would make them a much bigger deal. The show was in its post-punk heyday, and the list of sessions for 1981 includes The Cure, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Fall, Killing Joke, The Teardrop Explodes, New Order and The Birthday Party.
A few weeks later (a month exactly after the day of the roadshow) the band, along with friend Lee Fletcher, took a hired Transit van full of semi-functional home-made, borrowed and secondhand equipment down to London’s Maida Vale studios. The producer for the session was Dale Griffin, former Mott The Hoople drummer, not a devotee of the DIY ethic, but a veteran of the early 70s, when rock musicians took their craft very seriously. Arriving at the studio sporting long hair and cowboy boots, he must have been at the very least bemused to see this collection of scruffy schoolboys struggling to set up their borrowed drumkit and propping the keyboard up on an ironing board. His direction to the group was just to set up at play like they were at a concert – an instruction the band roundly ignored. This was their first time in a proper studio, and the four tracks recorded feature a host of sound effects, double tracking and general experimentation.
Turkey Mambo Momma is perhaps the most experimental of the four, in terms of form, if not production. At first listen it sounds vivid and original, but on closer inspection the song has been repeatedly accused of being no more than a Frankenstein’s monster of post-punk Peel show influences. The greatest chunk of the thing seems to come from The Pop Group and Pigbag, the verses sounding like a sped-up version of ‘She is Beyond Good and Evil’ from The Pop Group’s ‘Y’. When the session was finally given a commercial release in 2006, Jarvis admitted as much:

“You can certainly tell that we’d been listening to the John Peel show fairly religiously for the past 4 years – “Turkey Mambo Momma” is one part “Gone Daddy Gone” by the Violent Femmes (we’d borrowed a xylophone from school) mixed with a bit of early Pigbag (Peter Dalton was given cornet lessons by a bloke who ended up being lead singer in The Thompson Twins).”

In 1981 the Violent Femmes were still buskers in New York, and Gone Daddy Gone wouldn’t be released until 1983, so Dolly’s xylophone parts may be a good deal more original than Jarvis gives him credit for… and while they definitely sound like *something* on the chorus, the way they shift into a minor key to accompany the second verse is inspired. Dolly’s double-tracked cornet solo does indeed start off like Pigbag, but within a few notes it has unravelled into a mess of tumbling, drunken sounds, almost free-jazz-like. It may have been little more than an accident, but his contributions here turn this homage into a secret success.
Elsewhere Wayne Furniss’s drumming is the weak link – fairly perfunctory and just about up to the job, but Jamie Pinchbeck’s steady, growling, funky bass line propels the song along very effectively until it gets lost in the mix somewhere halfway through the song.
Lyrically the song is, well, fairly strange. We’re lost on an island somewhere in the South Pacific with a feral goddess of a woman – a dangerous creature with destructive powers, but so irresistably attractive that Jarvis can’t help but give himself over to her, though he knows she will ruin him.

She steals all the fluid so vital to me
Impaled on the rocks as she tears me in two
At last I’ve found the answer and the answer is you

It’s one big malarial dream of a song, or perhaps a sunstroke-induced hallucination, and darkly, perversely sexual throughout. The arrythmic drive of the backing pushes Jarvis’s vocals into ever-more contorted emotional yelps. Though it’s the shortest track in the session, it’s got the most crammed into it, and it stands up perfectly well nearly thirty years later.

#14 – What Do You Say?

4 Feb

What Do You Say? (youtube)

What Do You Say on Pulpwiki

On the 7th of August 1981, after three intermittent years of existence, Pulp found themselves in a semi-detached council house in Handsworth, belonging to car mechanic Ken Patten. By all accounts it was fairly typical for a council house occupied by a couple in their mid 50s – tidy, polite and suburban, no shoes allowed on the carpet – apart from the fact that it doubled up as a recording studio, going by the name of “Studio Electrophonique.” Guitars were set up in the living room, the mixing deck was in the kitchen, and upstairs in the master bedroom was a room for live performance, equipped with a Simmons electric drum kit (a real drum kit would’ve been too noisy for Ken’s wife to bear.) This strange space was the closest thing Sheffield had to a professional recording studio, and therefore boasted early recordings of artists like The Future (who later became The Human league) and Vice Versa (who later became ABC.)
That day, Pulp recorded four tracks. Three would end up being re-recorded for the John Peel session later that year, and one of those three would make it to their debut album nearly two years later. “What Do You Say,” the remaining track, was released early in 1982 on the compilation “Your Secret’s Safe With Us” – Pulp’s first appearance on vinyl, and their earliest full recording in circulation.

1981 was an odd time for the music scene in Sheffield. In the late 70s post-punk boom acts like Cabaret Voltaire and 2.3 had taken the “anyone can do it” attitude and used it to create sounds more jarring and original than any “punk” band in London. Cleaned up, popularised, Sheffield bands would go on to create much of the sounds of the 80s. By ’81, former stars like the aforementioned Human League and ABC had travelled south, now on major labels, ready to break into the big time. The acts who remained sounded darker, nastier, harder. To me it sounds like a funny time to be joining a scene – like arriving at a party too late, when everyone is sleepy or belligerently drunk – and a fun band with upbeat songs about Shakespeare, Martians and crabs must have seemed out of step.
‘What do You Say?’ is a step towards the consensus. It doesn’t sound particularly like Artery or The Comsat Angels, but more like a much faster version of something off The Cure’s second LP ‘Seventeen Seconds’, one of the albums which started the goth movement. As we will see with the next few tracks, the band seemed to be playing with every different post-punk sound they could find, and this is perhaps the most straightforwardly post-punk of all.
It might not be particularly original, but it’s really not that bad. The melody itself is quite simple, but each note of Jarvis and Dolly’s guitar lines echos both backwards and forwards, overlapping and intertwining to produce a wall of jangling, stuttering pulses. Holding it together there’s Jamie Pinchbeck’s underlying jerking, pushy bass rhythm, allowed its own brief solo, and a basic 1-2-1-2-drum-fill rhythm from the band’s new drummer, 15-year old Wayne Furniss, who was finding it hard getting to grips with his first electric drum set. Everyone sounds like they’re just barely able to keep time with each-other, but somehow the whole thing holds together.
The lyrics, meanwhile, are pretty much textbook sci-fi horror stuff.

Woke up in the morning
Raised my head still yawning
Well I was in for a surprise
Stumbled to the mirror
Realised in horror
The face that stared back wasn’t mine

A little clunky, yes, with slightly forced rhymes and an extra syllable in “realised” needed to make the line scan, but novel enough a concept to make the song stand out. Unfortunately it doesn’t really go anywhere from there, the remainder of the song being spent exploring fruitlessly the different angles he can take on the problem – the protagonist’s “sudden facial change” (to rhyme with “strange”) is not noticed by anyone else, he is concerned that he’s now a ‘stranger’ (to rhyme with ‘danger’) and in the end we finish with

And so I rest my case
I don’t want another’s face

Fortunately the lyrics are not that important here, the sound is the main thing. This was, after all, one of the tracks that convinced John Peel to grant the group a session, but more on that later.

For those that are interested in the Sheffield post-punk scene, I would recommend Made In Sheffield, and Beats Working For A Living, a DVD and book which tell the story in detail. You can find them on the sidebar to the right of the page. If you don’t have time for those, I’ve made a mix to introduce the music of the time. Made In Sheffield describes it as “the birth of electronic pop” – which is (perhaps) right, but the story is a good deal more strange and interesting than that. You can listen here – http://lastnightadjkilledmydog.libsyn.com/meanwhile-in-sheffield-part-1-1977-1981 – just click the ‘pod’ button

#13 – I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield

28 Jan

The Pulp Story (song audible under interview)

I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield – Pulpwiki 

By 1980 17-year-old Jarvis was the singer in a band who were regularly playing live at venues around Sheffield. Personally speaking, I’d say that constitutes a healthy enough social life – at that age I was still mainly staying in, watching The Beiderbecke Affair and playing Civilization II – but for Jarvis’s mother it still seemed that he still needed help making friends, so she took the action any responsible mother would and got him a job in the market, selling fish for an (allegedly) alcoholic fishmonger.
It was a bit of a mixed bag for Jarvis. On one hand he was going to plenty of parties, and rather than improving his social skills he was hampered by a lingering odour of fish, which had to be scrubbed out with bleach at the end of each working day. On the other hand he turned out to be a very talented fishmonger, so much so that future Pulp stalwart Russell Senior would stop by to watch him at work

“He had a very convincing patter for selling fish, with lots of sexual innuendo around it. People would ask, ‘Have you got any crabs on you, cock?’ and he’d say, ‘Ooh missus, the trouble with me,’ and scratch himself, or, ‘I’ve got a lovely piece of tail end for your husband, love.’ He was one of the best performing fishmongers I’d ever seen. He’d charm all these old ladies into buying more crabs than they needed and things. They loved him: he’d be, like, ‘Would you like an extra claw, Mrs Hayworth?’ – so the sexual innuendo was there at an early age, really. That was what brought us together. He was a very good fishmonger.”

One day Jarvis arrived at work to find that a consignment of crabs had been delivered early and left in stagnant water overnight. Naturally they had started to rot, but despite the smell being noticably bad, the crabs still went on sale to the public, and a few had already been sold before a health inspector arrived to condem them all.
Jarvis used this story as the basis of perhaps the most famous early Pulp track, “I Scrubbed The Crabs That Killed Sheffield.” In this version, things start much the same.

Early on a Saturday morning
Sometime after eight o’clock
I received a vile warning
It all came on as a bit of a shock
There were crabs all around me
Hundred, thousands; well quite a lot
They’d been put in water; left them through the night
Now that they’d died they had started to rot

Instead of selling just a few, though, the crowd seem to be attracted by the crabs’ pungent odour, and though they complain, they gather round and buy the things, driven by some terrible mob instinct, which drives the fishmongers to sell them the poisonous crustaceans.

The stenches were quite amazing
Still I had a job to do
Later on I heard some people complaining
But the terrible smell just grew and grew
Eventually they had finished boiling
A crowd began to gather round
Well, we took them out and put them under the counter
And we sold them off; 28 pence a pound

As the song comes to an end the protagonist wails in regret at the results of his actions.

I didn’t mean to kill them
Just did as I was told
All those women and children dead
Because of the crabs that we’d sold

Yes, it’s not the most subtle or serious of songs, but at least it’s quite funny, and had a bouncy ska-punk tune which still sounds ok today, as far as I can tell from the muffled scrap of a live recording which was broadcast as part of Radio 1’s “The Pulp Story” in 1997. It’s impossible to get much of an impression from this brief clip, but as it stands this is the earliest extant bit of Pulp, and someone out there has a full recording.