Jarvis Cocker has been making music for two-thirds of his life. Two dozen of these years (1978 – 2002) were spent in Pulp, a group with whom he enjoyed most of the experiences you can have as the singer in a band. First feted by John Peel and then ignored during the long Dole Years, the group eventually became the country’s slowest overnight sensation during a heady period book-ended by Common People becoming a touchstone anthem at their Glastonbury headline slot in 1995, and Jarvis invading the stage during Michael Jackson’s performance at the Brit Awards eight months later.
With hindsight, most things that happened to Pulp before or after can be defined in their relation to these twin events, as emblems of sought-after success and its darker cousin, over-bearing fame. The early, striving under-achiever albums (It, Separations, Freaks); the gradual pop awakening (Intro, His’n’Hers); the commercial culmination (Different Class); the comedown (This Is Hardcore) and the final, bittersweet swansong (We Love Life).
Over this time, Jarvis went from being the quintessential outsider to being one of the most recognised and cherished figures in Britain. He brought a rare, bookish wit to the pop charts, and cut an original dash in a rock’n’roll world of dominated by reductive cliché.
After Pulp, Jarvis consoled himself with semi-retirement, moving to Paris, making occasional media appearances to talk about Outsider Art, Scott Walker or other personal crusades, and sometimes writing songs for others (Marianne Faithfull, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Nancy Sinatra and Air). No longer identifying with the ‘Jarvis Cocker’ of the public imagination, he tried an alter-ego band (the electro-Goth Relaxed Muscle), in an effort to try and rid himself of some of the un-parental thoughts coursing through his ever febrile imagination.
He wrote three songs for, and briefly appeared in, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and took part in the I’m Your Man tribute to Leonard Cohen around the globe, as well as appearing on an album of Serge Gainsbourg songs.
Sooner or later – as he himself recently observed (in another song written for Lee Hazlewood) – the big stuff comes around, however. And Jarvis was forced to confront the fact that he was, in fact, ill equipped for life outside the performance arena. And so, he started writing songs to be sung by himself again. One of the first to emerge was the sensational Cunts Are Still Running The World, written in response to the rock-cum-politics love-in of the G8 summit in Glasgow. The song enjoyed a protracted life as a firm download favourite, given its unsuitability for the delicate sensibilities of radio.
The appearance of his debut solo album Jarvis at the end of 2006 was greeted with an open-armed goodwill it is hard to imagine being reserved for many other singers.
After picking up these raving reviews, he toured with his band around Europe, USA and Australia in 2007. Jarvis also guest-edited the Observer Music Monthly, curated the Southbank Centre’s Meltdown Festival and performed a duet with The Gossip’s Beth Ditto for the NME Awards. They covered fellow Sheffield band Heaven 17’s Temptation, which was later released to profit Shelter, a charity which battles homelessness.
In 2008, Jarvis premiered his lecturing skills with Saying The Unsayable, a talk about lyrics at the Brighton Festival. He repeated it at In The City later that year, just after returning from a two week long trip to the North Pole with Cape Farewell, an organisation which takes a few select artists and scientists on a journey through the Arctic each year to see the affects of climate change firsthand. He also celebrated Rough Trade Records’ 30th anniversary with the Looking Rough at 30 tour and guest-edited BBC Radio 4’s prestigious Today programme. All this between recording his anticipated follow-up album, Further Complications, with Steve Albini in Chicago, which Rough Trade will release on May 18th (UK)/ May 19th (US).