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.