Tag Archives: sudan gerri

#56 – Silence

29 Sep

Silence
Silence at pulpwiki

“I banned it from going on the Fire compilation, because it’s terrible – I couldn’t live with it being out.”

When writing something like this blog, there’s always a risk that you’ll annoy someone by criticizing one of their favourites. “Silence” is, of course, an exception to this rule. The closest I can find to a defense of it is that it has “a good concept” “hilarious lyrics” or is “likeable just for sheer comedy value.” But despite near-blanket condemnation from every quarter it’s still the only track from Sudan Gerri ever given an official release – an inclusion on the ‘Master Of The Universe’ single in 1987. This choice, when there were many other fairly decent recordings in the vault, is simply baffling, especially as the repeated listens necessary for writing this blog have done nothing to lessen its terrible impact. After three years who could countenance doing anything with this song besides burying it and making sure nobody found out?

Silence was apparently written at the first New Pulp rehearsal in 1983, after which Peter Boam and David Hinkler left the band. I’d challenge anyone to listen to the track and not admit that this seems like a wise decision. For the first thirty seconds or so it’s possible to persuade yourself that there may be some redeeming features here. A sinister organ motif, mysterious spoken lyrics – it could almost be a slightly worse version of “Take You Back”. But then the caterwauling begins and suddenly any shred of goodwill is forgotten.

There’s so much wrong with what follows over the next five minutes that it’s hard to know where to start. How about the tuneless organ drone which continues unabated throughout the entire piece? Or the abominable lyrics with forced rhymes about silence/reliance and guff about “the scars I’ve left on you” and “how much I loved your eyes”? These crimes are nothing next to Jarvis’s pained vocal theatrics, which are stretched way past the point of self-parody to undiscovered heights of embarrassment. The fact that it takes itself so seriously and has so little to justify this opinion is the poisoned cherry on the fetid cake. Or how about the sheer length of the thing? At five and a half minutes it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘outstaying your welcome’. Oh, and then, just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. “WE’LL STILL BE GOOD FRIENDS WON’T WE!?!” Oh Jarvis, what on Earth were you thinking?

If just one of these problems were present, the song would merely be bad. Put together, we have a perfect storm of shit. It’s hard to believe that it’s not a parody, but it really isn’t. How many people had to say ‘yes’ to get this released? It’s hard to even fathom why nobody taped over it while they had the chance. ‘Silence’ isn’t just the worse song in Pulp’s catalogue; it’s up there with some of the worst things I’ve ever heard. Let’s hope it remains buried permanently.

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#55 – Blue Glow

22 Sep

Blue Glow (Little Girl EP, 1985)
Blue Glow at Pulpwiki

“In Sheffield I lived in an old factory building which was right in the centre of town, so coming back from nightclubs at two or three in the morning I would just walk through a semi-derelict industrial landscape to get home. I got kind of used to that thing of walking through deserted places, feeling that you had the city to yourself at that time of the night, which was great because being somebody on social security or whatever at the time, in a band, leading a fairly precarious existence, you certainly didn’t feel that you owned the town when it was light and when it was getting on with its business, but when everyone else was asleep you could walk through and really feel like it belonged to you.” – Jarvis Cocker’s Wireless Nights, BBC Radio 4, 2012

The 1991 film Les Amants du Pont-Neuf has one of the most inspired opening scenes of all time. A homeless man, strung out on drink and pills, stumbles down a vast deserted highway, eventually lying down and passing out in the middle of the road. Cars career down the road, swerving when they see his prostrate form, until one fails to notice him and runs painfully over his ankle. A woman with a dirty eye-patch and a mop of bedraggled black hair runs over to him, and helps him onto a night bus full of other casualties of the city.

When most musicians sing about the night at one time or another, they stick to the club and the bedroom, but there’s a city out there – the same streets, the same buildings, but deserted save for the odd straggler, silent enough that an occasional noise can imbue everything with sudden drama. Jarvis knew this world intimately, and a Pulp geography of Sheffield would surely be placed at 4am, after the last clubber has gone home, but before the first milkman has started making his rounds.

‘Blue Glow’ is the famous balcony scene – only here Juliet is wrapped up inside, watching late night TV on her own, and Romeo is lurking in the bushes below her window. He’s not malicious, just scared… lost in the city, following her out of desperation – a longing for someone to join him. It’s not so much love as a frantic need – she could be anyone, or no-one – perhaps she doesn’t even exist. By the end he’s a lost cause, wandering dirty and shivering by the river with his clothes in tatters, still pleading with her to come and make everything better.

These are some of Jarvis’s strongest lyrics, but they wouldn’t stand up as well as they do without a fine showing from the rest of the band. Peter Mansell in particular puts in one of his best performances – his curious, seedy bass line sets the tone for the whole song, propelling it through various spasmodic pulsations from Russell’s violin and the gothic chiming of Candia’s dulcimer. The verses are perhaps the apex of Pulp’s ‘dark sixties ballad’ phase – understated but perfectly judged, tuneful with a creeping underlying menace.

The chorus is a whole different affair, though. On one hand it’s a solid hook for the track – a blurting of passion to relieve the tension of the verses – and certainly it’s memorable enough. On the other hand there’s a sense that perhaps they are trying too hard here. Matched with something else, it could be perfectly good, but contrasted with the perfection of the verses it can’t help but be a bit of a let-down.

Blue Glow wasn’t anyone’s favourite at the time, but since fans began to explore the group’s early work in the mid 90s it’s been rated as one of the highlights of this era. I even named my first fanzine after it. The inclusion of the track on the compilation “Untitled 3” means that thousands of mainstream indie fans have a copy of it, uniquely for anything else pre-Separations. I wonder what they make of Russell’s wall of screeching violin noise at the climax.

#54 – Cousins

15 Sep

Cousins (Sudan Gerri demo, 1984)
Cousins on Pulpwiki

“It was not at all clear to me now why we had put her in the trunk in the first place. At the time it had been obvious, to keep the family together. Was that a good reason? It might have been more interesting to be apart. Nor could I think whether what we had done was an ordinary thing to do.” – Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden

Where to start with ‘Cousins’, arguably the most opaque entry in the Pulp canon? One of the first questions anyone has about a song is “what’s it about?” – well, clearly it’s about something, we’re not dealing with a stream of nonsense or a patchwork of meaningful-sounding clichés here. But beyond that it really is hard to tell much more. We have a twisted relationship (“I’ll take you on the table / I will creep into your garden”), a dysfunctional family (“your mother’s weighted down with the drinks she’s tried “) and a repressed memory of some historical horror (“you can’t escape the blood and shit / You can’t escape, you’re stuck with it”), but how these standard ’84-Pulp themes tie together is frankly anybody’s guess. The lyric is either a well-constructed imitation or the genuine article – a dark recollection of… something, phrased in an off-handed, reticent manner in order to prevent the terrible truth from emerging.

Musically the song is an odd mishmash of styles which somehow just about works. Running through the whole piece is an ominous two-note bass riff, accompanied by variations on a twangy guitar phrase. So far, so “Take You Back,” but there’s more energy here, a smooth, hip energy, and when the jazzy brushed drums come in on the chorus we’re suddenly on the verge of psychobilly – a transition that becomes complete in the final section. An odd journey, and one that doesn’t entirely click, but the contrast never seems jarring. Instead it seems like a song in development – a promising one, which with a bit of thought and direction could be polished into a classic. But it wasn’t to be – after one demo and one live performance the song was abandoned, presumably because the band had gone through their psychobilly flirtations and were looking to build a more coherent album.

Not exactly a lost classic, then, but not bad either. It would’ve made a good b-side for Maureen.

#53 – Srpski Jeb

8 Sep

Srpski Jeb (Sudan Gerri Demo, 1984)
Srpski Jeb at Pulpwiki

“There are several reputedly ‘national’ positions or approaches. Serbian intercourse (srpski jeb) is mock rape – you throw her down, seize one ankle in each hand and raise them over her head, then enter her with your full weight (do this on something soft – the traditional bare earth is beyond a game).” Alex Comfort, “The Joy Of Sex”, 1972.

In his late teens Russell Senior took a trip around Europe, returning with a smattering of obscene Russian slang and a taste for Eastern European folk music. The outlet for these would eventually be Srpski Jeb, a song so ridiculous that it feels a bit silly to be writing about it at all, but here we are.

Over a pounding Slavic rhythm – a semi-competent pastiche using entirely inappropriate instruments – Russell repeatedly chants a single four-line verse about a “village maiden” and her masochistic sexual fantasies. The rhythm gets faster and faster, suddenly stops for five seconds, then starts again from the beginning. The effect is convincing enough – in its own way – but I thought I’d seek out a couple of genuine Slavs, to see what they make of it.

I don’t regard the song as offensive at all, although it pretty much depends on what audience it is addressed to. I mean the song is not ridiculing anyone – the “soviets” are a very vague category (it probably means communist Russians) and I think the girl in the lyrics just expresses preference for Serbian men. We have quite a few songs in Czech that are much more offensive. I don’t think that me being a Slavic speaking person changes anything on that judgment. I think that the pulp went to Yugoslavia in 1984 and met some Yugoslavian punkers who taught them this song that was all the rage there at the time! – Jan

I laughed out loud. – Marketa

To be fair to ‘Sprksi Jeb’ it’s silly enough that any dubious content can’t be taken seriously at all. As a piece on its own it’s a silly bit of escapist fun – brief, funny and enjoyable, but within the story of Pulp it’s the first sign of a movement. As the group found they enjoyed playing pseudo-Slavic folk music it would become a major part of their sound towards the end of the decade, and you’d never guess it started with something as ludicrous as this.

#52 – Simultaneous

1 Sep

Simultaneous (Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) EP, 1985)
Simultaneous at Pulpwiki

1984 may have been one of Pulp’s most productive wilderness years, but it was also a high-watermark of social and commercial isolation for the group. Their audiences – a drunken rugby club and the patrons of a brothel for example – were at best unimpressed and sometimes openly hostile. Their recording sessions were in spare rooms used for karate and table tennis, and record companies showed no interest at all.

It was on the 10th of July 1985, nearly two years after the release of ‘Everybody’s Problem’ that Pulp signed a recording contract again – a deal with Fire Records, an indie label set up by Clive Solomon. It was hardly a huge leap forward, unless that huge leap is into a sodden mire, but at least it allowed the budget to embark on professional recording sessions again. The Little Girl (With Blue Eyes) And Other Pieces EP was the result of the first of these sessions. Simon Hinkler returned as a producer and did an outstanding job. Pulp had been rehearsing these songs for years, but each one has their performance captured at its peak – though daubed in layers of ghostly reverb each instument sounds distinct and individual, while retaining an intense spontaneous feel.

So, anyway, if all this backstory reads like a reluctance to discuss the song at hand then that’s because it is. ‘Simultaneous’ is easily the least remarkable thing on an excellent EP. It’s comprised of parts which remind you of other songs from this era – the fast section from ‘The Will To Power’, the violin drone of ‘Blue Glow’, second-person lyrics about a failing relationship like ‘There’s No Emotion’, a ‘waking-from-a-dream’ motif similar to that in ‘Being Followed Home’ – all of which draw unfavourable comparison. The one highlight is Jarvis’s dulcimer, which sounds splendidly medieval and discordant. The lyrics do contain a few minor gems – the opening “There’s a place for you / You’d better stay in it” and the stuff about “timetabled kisses” “well-rehearsed phrases” and “separate bedrooms” – but it’s all spoiled by dodgy rhymes like “forsaken / mistaken” and a general feeling that we’ve done this topic already.

It’s 85-Pulp-by-numbers in other words, and is easily outshone on the ‘Masters of the Universe’ compilation by pretty much everything else. It should be noted, though, that the band felt differently, for whatever reason, and ‘Simultaneous’ remained a baffling mainstay of live sets around this time.

#50 – Take You Back

18 Aug

Take You Back (Sudan Gerri Demo, May 1984)
Take You Back (Live at The Hallamshire Hotel, June 1984)
Take You Back at Pulpwiki

Close your eyes, think back into your past… An old sports hall… The karate equipment you once used. Four men and one woman playing those cheap instruments you knew so well… The noise that gives you a headache!!

Take You Back is ridiculous – but where other attempts at high horror (like the half-hearted piss-take of one above) fall short, it grabs what it’s reaching for. Rural nostalgia lurches (and what a lurch!) into repressed horror with complete conviction. This is Nightmare Pulp, on their first trip into the depths of Jarvis’s subconscious.

We start with an ominous organ drone. Jarvis leads us through a hypnotherapy regression, possibly to a past life – stones, a valley, a house. Low key guitar and drums build up gently but persistently in the background, like an animal about to pounce. It feels like one of those dreams where you wander through well-known places before suddenly encountering something terrible and being jolted awake.

Then the jolt comes – the lurch into horror. The tune is the same but the feeling is diametrically opposed – aggressive, snarling, with a thumping primal drumbeat and a jeering chorus of “laaa!-laaa! la-la-laaaa!” Jarvis suddenly sounds cruel and dismissive, his description suddenly one of ruins, a revelation that the whole act is a trick, then he joins in with the jeering as the track rears to a climax. This minute or so just works perfectly – the most aggressive (and therefore best) version coming from a live performance around the same time.

Take You Back succeeds completely, but it’s still just a couple of notches away from being terrible pretentious guff. If you substituted the horror story for a personal one, and ramped up the melodrama a few notches you’d get, well, something else, something we’d rather never existed!

#49 – Anorexic Beauty

11 Aug

Anorexic Beauty (Freaks, 1987)
Anorexic Beauty (Live, 1985, Fascinations Nitespot, Chesterfield – Video)
Anorexic Beauty (Ping Pong Jerry Demo, Nov 1984)
Anorexic Beauty at Pulpwiki

Eight unusual things about Anorexic Beauty by Pulp

1. It wasn’t originally a Pulp song. Written by David Kurley of early-Pulp contemporaries New Model Soldier, it was sold to Russell for £1 after a gig. The song dates back to an earlier David Kurley band, Blimp, who featured a young Magnus Doyle on drums. New Model Soldier were an interesting enough group in their own right – a few of their recordings can be heard here. The song was extensively re-worked by Pulp, but the lyrics survive intact.

2. Kurley’s lyrics could easily be from a post-modern treatise on desire and repulsion. I mean that in a good way – for a pop song it demonstrates an unusal level of forethought. Of course, on the other hand, we lack any insight into the author’s real feelings, but frankly, who cares? Situationist posturing about commodification, objectivisation and alienation is such a rarity in pop music. If it was presented in a po-faced manner (or used impenetrable language like “situationist posturing about commodification, objectivisation and alienation”) this might be a problem, but fortunately it’s witty, blunt and accessible enough to work.

3. Russell is singing – not a unique occurence, but he’s actually singing here rather than just making a speech with ominous backing music. In earlier versions of the song Jarvis would sing in tandem with Russell, but on the LP version his vocal has been mixed far down enough that you wouldn’t notice it unless you were really paying attention.

4. Jarvis is playing the drums, not with a great deal of precision, but considering he wasn’t a drummer the effect isn’t as bad as it might’ve been. The song doesn’t require him to do anything beyond a simple two-handed smash every second, so it probably didn’t require lessons.

5. Magnus is playing the guitar – again, not with a huge amount of finesse, but this isn’t exactly a delicate musicianly piece, and anyone who’s been in as many bands as he had would surely have picked up a few chords. Later on in the Pulp story another drummer trying out a guitar bit would create something rather special.

6. It’s not really about Lena Zavaroni. A child star of the 70s, she had her own TV variety show between 1979 and 1981. Her condition wouldn’t become public until the mid-80s, when the song was already five years old. Presumably it was dedicated to her on the sleeve of ‘Freaks’ because she was in the news at the time. In hindsight this seems rather cruel – Lena wasn’t a model, and she died in 1999 while in hospital waiting for experimental brain surgery, her last years spent on a council estate, living on state benefits.

7. Most unlikely fact of all, perhaps; this postmodern sex & death thrash somehow functions as a bit of light relief on ‘Freaks’. Reviewing the LP for Sounds magazine “Mr Spencer” remarked that “this presumably is Pulp’s idea of a ‘fun’ song.” – and while that may not strictly be the case, it’s certainly a lot more enjoyable to listen to than “Life Must Be So Wonderful” or “The Never-Ending Story.”

8. In the quarter-century since the song was recorded, it seems to have become popular with the online ‘pro-ana’ crowd. See this video, this website or this one or this one. On each (particularly the video) there is a debate raging over whether the song is a celebration of anorexia or a condemnation of it. In truth the lyrics don’t engage with this debate in either direction – David Kurley’s interest being more in performance art and philosophy than actually writing about an ‘issue’ – but it’s fascinating to find out how complex and multidimensional the disease is in the minds of sufferers, and how many of them are willing to use dark humour to discuss it.