Tag Archives: john peel sessions

Do You Remember The First Time? (short film)

14 Jun

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Do You Remember The First Time (short film)
Do You Remember The First Time (short film) at Pulpwiki

“We tried to make an accessible film,” begins bassist Steve. “The tone of it’s light, watchable, funny. We’ve discouraged the tabloids – there are enough quotes to bury everyone on it, taken out of context, so we’ve been quite careful there. “As it stands,” adds Jarvis, “anyone could watch it, even people who might find our music distasteful. I’m not obsessed with sex, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that so often it gets written about in an idealised way or a ‘Carry On’ nudge-nudge way. Then again, I don’t think it would be so great if it was more open, like I imagine Norway to be, where they discuss it over the breakfast table.”Melody Maker, 19 March 1994

For the first time in our story, Pulp have a little money to spend, and instead of blowing it on predictable rockstar excesses or wisely squirreling it away, they are going to use it on the making of a short film. Not a particularly pricy one, mind you, but a professional production all the same, and an enjoyable piece of work too, especially for what’s essentially just a series of famous people talking about how they lost their virginity.

An interview area was set up at Brittania Row Studio, where the recording sessions for His ‘n’ Hers were taking place, and Jarvis and long-term film collaborator Martin Wallace set up interviews with whoever they could get. A day was spent filming rude street signs, all found in the London A-Z, and a patch of grass in front of Clapham tube station. This square of lawn was supposed to be in Sheffield, but with a tight schedule there wasn’t time to go up there and film it. Fortunately this works in the film’s favour, adding an extra punchline, and it’s a pleasant surprise to find that it was an accident.

The film was completed in February 1994, and premiered at a screening at the ICA shortly afterwards. There’s not much of a place for this sort of thing on television or in the real world, but it was handy at least to have the film ready to extend the video compilation ‘Sorted For Films & Vids’ to feature length. To claim it’s an amazing piece of work would be to engage in hyperbole, but it’s cobbled together in a clever enough way to make a simple story interesting even on a hundredth viewing, and it’s a good introduction to a cast of characters, some of whom play a part in our story. Let’s have a look at them.

Maurice Blake

Not the star of Life Is Hot in Cracktown or a jewelry thief, Maurice Blake seems to have left no trace anywhere, and I have to assume that he’s a friend rather than a celebrity. He appears to be an old naval man – either due to his appearance (he looks basically like Uncle Albert) or his experience being with a prostitute, aged 22, presumably a common thing for sailors. He isn’t impressed with his story (“we only took off the lower halves of her clothes” “it was ok”) – but not enough to describe it in a particularly squalid manner – and it’s easy to share his lack of enthusiasm.

Viv

A year away from his death, Pulp encounter the legendary Vivian Stanshall in the defeated, resigned phase of his long decline, and while it’s a wonder that they managed to get him into the studio, he isn’t exactly in the mood for witty banter. Viv remains slumped morosely on a sofa, only occasionally slurring out the odd word for the entire interview. A shame, especially as he has a very odd story to tell. He was ten years old (ten!), wearing shorts, and of course he didn’t know what was happening at all. Whether this is a sad story, a funny one, or both, remains unclear. I just feel sad for the man, he’s too far gone to engage with anything.

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An official friend of the group, Jo Brand had just about broken through into the mainstream of comedy in 1994 (the filming took place between the pilot episode of ‘…Through The Cakehole‘ and the start of its first series), and her story is told with her usual winning blend of disdain and relish. Essentially it’s a vignette from a Pulp song – a drunken encounter at a party, aged 15, led to a disappointing further encounter in the bathroom, with Jo’s head dangerously close to the pink toilet mat, and concluded with his mum coming in, catching them at it and threatening to tell her mum. Coming-of-age house parties, squalid sex in an inconvenient location, local social embarrassment; these are just what the film needs.

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We’re (perhaps not so) swiftly approaching the Britpop explosion now, and here joining Pulp in the vanguard is Justine Frischmann from Elastica, another group who were just breaking into the top 20 for the first time, though in their case with only 18 months’ history behind them rather than 16 years. Her story isn’t particularly special – a pool hall, an older guy and a grubby flat – but it does offer a tantalising glimpse into the early life of a britpop A-lister, and that’s more than enough for me.

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Terry Hall of The Specials and Fun Boy Three was flirting with the proto-britpop scene in 1994, releasing records with Damon Albarn and Ian Broudie, and cemented his involvement a year later by performing with Salad on The Help Album. His involvement here shouldn’t, then, come as much of a surprise, but it still does – Terry seems to be from another era, another 70s, and his lighthearted youthful fumblings are expressed in a very confident, matter-of-fact manner. It’s clear that he wasn’t a freak or a mis-shape, and that he has no regrets. This is nice for balance, but it’s a good job nobody else was so unflustered, or the whole premise would’ve been bound for the bin. Terry does have the best line of the film, however – “She was really into the Bay City Rollers, and it put me off a bit…. but not enough.”

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At first glance, fashion designer Pam Hogg seems to be even less of a Pulp person than Terry, but she was apparently involved in acid house and post-punk bands, so maybe I’m wrong about that. On this evidence it’s hard to tell – she’s the most guarded of the contributors, and features the least – her screen time can’t be more than forty seconds. From this we can glean that she was 17, that it was disappointing, and not much else.

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My favourite contributor, and perhaps yours too, is Robert Hulse, though as another non-celebrity he was also tricky to track down. He does seem to have two pages on IMDB, but that’s more of a hinderance than a help. What we can say for sure is that Robert turned up in 2002 in a fairly shoddy Martin Wallace short film called Five Ways John Wayne Didn’t Die, which also features Jarvis doing a half-hearted Darren Spooner, and since then he seems to have become director of London’s Brunel Museum, and can be seen here showing people through the Thames Tunnel.

Robert’s experience was intense and revelatory, and he is still close enough to capture it perfectly. He was 26, had been having “problems”, but finally made it on a wooden palette in a London Squat. “It was the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. It was Blakean. The most extraordinary sense of Euphoria…. If I had a football rattle and a scarf I’d have run outside and told everybody.” Hearing someone talk candidly and openly about a great joy in their life is a rare treat, and more than any other interviewee, he makes the film work.

(Robert is commonly confused with Donald Parsnips, a character created by London-based artist Adam Dant, who was listed as an interviewee, but doesn’t actually appear in the film. Jarvis later wrote an introduction to his book, so they clearly know each-other, but that clears up precisely nothing about why he was cut. Any information on this point is very welcome.)

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A number of years ago I has the misfortune to be teaching surly teenagers, and Vic Reeves‘ performance here is a good reminder of the reasons I swore never to do it again. Obviously embarrassed to be there and unable to step out of character, Vic misjudges completely and comes out with a string of nonsensical jokes about losing his virginity to the back of a car and wearing sacking instead of clothes. At the end there’s a brief moment of sincerity, where he expresses regret at a missed opportunity, but it soon passes. Fortunately his next appearance with Jarvis would be on Shooting Stars, where his surreal comedy has more of a place.

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In 1993 Bob Mortimer had been upgraded from Vic Reeves’ assistant to his double-act partner for The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, and a good thing too as he seems to know how to approach the questions a little better than Vic. Unfortunately he still doesn’t have a lot to say and feels uncomfortable saying even that. The episode was “grubby”, she wore tights and blue platform boots, he said “come on girl, let’s really get down to it” – and he says he can’t remember how old he was, but looks like he just doesn’t want to say. If time constraints hadn’t been so pressing perhaps Vic & Bob could’ve been properly primed before their interviews, and wouldn’t then look so out of place.

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Andrea Oliver
might not be exactly a familiar face to most, but she’s been there or thereabouts in British pop culture for more than three decades. Here she is performing with Rip Rig + Panic on The Young Ones, here she is presenting ‘Baadasss TV’ with Ice T, and here she is presenting a cookery programme with her friend Neneh Cherry. And her daughter is Miquita Oliver, so there’s that too. She has a normal enough story, but tells it well – one day, aged 16 or 17, she decides to lose her virginity, choosing a guy who was always after her, and taking him to the back of a car. It’s predictably disappointing, yes, but in her case she remembers enjoying feeling the power of her sexuality – it was “thrilling” – a different perspective among all the embarrassment.

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The 80s may have been a quiet patch, but by the start of 1994 John Peel (who surely needs no introduction here) and Pulp had resumed friendly terms. A second Peel Session was finished, of course, and Jarvis and Nick would join him at Peel Acres for the launch of Different Class in 1995, eventually standing in for him while he was away for three days in 1997 and playing his anniversary concert in 2001. John’s relaxed, then, amongst friends, so is in full wry, relaxed anecdote mode, and slightly apologetic that he doesn’t have a better story. He was 21 years old, in a small flat in a Liverpool suburb with a girl he had no particular feelings for, and had been dreading it. The encounter was ‘untidy’ and he just seems glad to have got it out of the way so he could move on with the rest of his life – which is fair enough.

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It’s odd to see famous, respected actors out of character for the first time – especially one who’s played as many strong women as Alison Steadman, who seems surprisingly shy in person – though it may just be a reaction to the subject matter. Having starred in Nuts In May, the Singing Detective, Abigail’s Party and P’tang, Yang, Kipperbang, I have to confess to being something of a fan of hers. Her story seems much more innocent and healthy than the characters in her films – she was with a long-term boyfriend, it was unplanned, but their mutual inexperience put them on an equal footing. It sounds very wholesome and fortunate, maybe more so than any of the other stories – except perhaps one.

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It was only in the process of writing this that I discovered Sandra Voe is both “Mother” from Breaking The Waves, and Candida and Magnus Doyle’s actual real life mum. So good on her for agreeing to come down to London to talk about losing her virginity for her daughter’s band. Having said that, there’s nothing in the least bit sordid about her story – in fact, quite the opposite. In a scene straight from a Pre-Raphaelite painting, she tells us about being in the middle of a bed of wild flowers, next to a burbling stream with a boy who was leaving her village, and describes the experience as “exhilarating,” a “vivid memory.” Life in the Shetlands sounds pretty idyllic, though I understand it does sometimes get a bit cold.

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#119 – You’re a Nightmare

14 Dec

Last Year at Marienbad

You’re a Nightmare (7/2/93 Peel session)
You’re a Nightmare at Pulpwiki

‘You’re a Nightmare’ is a step back into the Freaks era.

If the early nineties were about sex and suburbia and the mid-80s were about “power, claustrophobia, suffocation and holding hands” then it’s quite clear where ‘You’re a Nightmare’ belongs. A low-key ballad dealing with personal experience expressed as if it were hammer horror, a simple, brooding bassline, lounge-style guitar, the semi-acoustic stripped-down sound of Dogs Are Everywhere (particularly the version on the French DYRTFT? single) – well, that’s enough to start with, surely? The thing that really nails it, though, is Jarvis’s performance. While a little more accomplished than before, his vocal is essentially a last encore for the croon he’d left behind on his move to London.

The odd, very personal-sounding middle eight also bears out this theory – fittingly it seems like a half-remembered dream: “In a hotel bedroom birthdays / Sleep in factory hallways / I remember always.” – without wanting to read too much into it, does this refer to the same doomed relationship of the Freaks era ballads? The Outrage tour and the Wicker factory building where Jarvis lived? Perhaps it’s better not to pry.

‘You’re a Nightmare’ is a step forward into the mid 90s.

Perhaps you need to face up to your ghosts in order to move on. The lyrics of You’re a Nightmare may have that horror feel of the 80s, but the open-eyed vindictiveness recalls the character assassination of ‘I Spy’. The subversion of the ‘with you in dreams’ trope, the simple rhyming scheme, it all seems designed to be accessible to a wider audience – which is, of course, where we’ll soon be moving. At a stretch, there’s something fundamentally poppy about the song too – it achieves its goals in a much more straightforward fashion, the chorus is moreorless singable, and Candida’s keyboards are cut down to more easily digestible illustrative warbles.

The one place ‘You’re a Nightmare’ doesn’t sound at home is in the jams and production-driven atmospherics of the early 90s.

Pulp had an odd relationship with John Peel. Schoolboy Pulp were invited in for the session that kickstarted their career and kept Jarvis out of university for most of the 80s, then Peel managed to forget about them for the next eleven years. When Jarvis and Steve were invited to his house to play tracks from the then-new Different Class in 1995, John expressed his surprise and regret about this, saying that he would’ve invited them on if anyone had reminded him. To be fair I can’t think of anyone with a greater workload, but it’s still a shame that we don’t have a session from the Freaks or Separations eras with a professional BBC producer in charge. Maybe You’re a Nightmare is the best possible demonstration of what this would sound like – that is, very good, but still not up to the standard of ’93 and ’94 – a tough standard to judge it by, but contextually the only one possible.

There wouldn’t be a re-record. The session version was put out on the b-side of Lipgloss at the end of the year and therefore uniquely appears on both the expanded edition of the His ‘n’ Hers LP and The Peel Sessions. Not re-recording is odd – they were spending plenty of time in recording studios at the time and the session version has an unfinished feel about it, particularly in Jarvis’s vocal – he sounds vaguely ashamed as he sings, and it’s hard to tell whether this is related to the emotional entanglement or the difficulty in rhyming ‘on a bus’/’ridiculous’ and ‘first’/’worse’. Perhaps they thought this version captured something special, perhaps it was a throwaway of a song they didn’t care for,* maybe it was too personal in some way. Whatever the reason, it seems designed for cult listening, personal meaning to be either extracted or applied – and that’s a good enough fate for a session track.

*This seems unlikely – every release at this time seems to be meticulously worked out.

#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.