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Jarvis Cocker on Britpop's legacy

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Jarvis Cocker on the new Pulp documentary and getting the band back together

There’s a new Pulp documentary coming out, with footage from your recent reunion shows. How did you feel watching yourself?

Pleasantly surprised. We [the band] are not in it that much, actually. It’s got lots of people from Sheffield in it, so it’s as much a portrait of the city as it is of us, which is appropriate.

Did you have any say in who was interviewed for the film?

We didn’t, really. Florian [Habicht, the director] is from New Zealand and he’d never been to Sheffield before. So I gave him a copy of my lyric collection, underlined some place names, and gave him my sister’s number. It was a pleasant surprise that he went there, not knowing anything about the city, and managed to find these people I didn’t even know would still exist.

He visited Castle Market where you once worked as a ‘fish man’. Did the desire to stop smelling of fish drive you to be a rock star?

It reminded me that [that job] had quite a strong formative experience on me. That was a job my mother got for me. She thought I was too much of a shrinking violet, that I should mix with some normal people and stop being so arty farty and airy fairy. I wasn’t really vibing off the idea, but I have to say, once I started working there, apart from the smell, it was a laugh. It made me look at my surroundings and I realised there’s a lot of stuff here that doesn’t get written about much. I have gotten rid of the smell of fish now, I’d like to point out for all the readers.

Common People has been rated the top Britpop anthem. Do you feel proud of the Britpop tag now or at the time?

We hated it at the time – it’s just such a horrible name. Because it’s got ‘Brit’ in it, it has this slightly unpleasant whiff of jingoism and nationalism. The Union Jack, and all that business, I’m just not into that. But at the start, I have to admit the idea that these outsider indie bands would become pop bands was exciting. There have been loads of articles on [Britpop], so you don’t need me weighing in, but it didn’t quite live up to its promise. It ended up quite a conservative with a small ‘c’ movement. It didn’t bring anything new, and it didn’t really move stuff on, so that was a shame.

Do you still have all your crazy, itchy-looking outfits?

Yeah, I’m waiting for the time when I’ve got my own museum. All that stuff will be in there. Maybe it can just be a touring exhibition. Not all my clothes were synthetic fibres. A lot of them just looked that way. Most things did at least have some element of cotton in there.

What about the on-stage acrobatics you used to do? Those knee-bends must be beyond you now, right?

I can still do them. I did do quite a lot of Pilates in the lead up to the concert. There isn’t a lot of archive footage in the film, but there are a few bits, and I suppose you look at yourself and think ‘I didn’t look too bad then.’ I’m sure at the time I thought I looked a mess. That’s just the shame generally in life, isn’t it?

Are there any young pretenders to Pulp’s throne today?

I don’t think we ever had a throne. We’d have designer deck chairs or something. To be a pop group was important to us, so being in the charts was exciting. It might just be because I’m an old fart now, but I feel the charts aren’t important any more. Pop music doesn’t occupy that space in the popular consciousness. So I don’t know if a group like Pulp would come again, because we were formed by pop being central to youth culture.

Are you glad your heyday was pre-social media?

I don’t know if I’m glad about it, but I think it’ll be our generation’s claim to fame that we remember a world ‘BC’ – Before Computers. They’ve totally changed the way people interact. That’s what will define us as a generation: the last people who remember what it was like before. The servers will go down and everybody will stand there thinking, ‘What do we do now?’ Answering emails, responding to likes and dislikes and retweets and stuff. I’m talking like I’ve ever been on Twitter, which I haven’t.

Are there any Pulp songs where you think, ‘I can’t sing that now I’m a grown-up?’

You have to remember, I’m very immature. So that wasn’t a problem. There’s a song called Mis-Shapes, which we missed off our greatest hits because we’d gone off it, and we decided to rehearse it and it ended up being one of the best ones. We rehearsed for almost a year before we played a show, to convince ourselves it wouldn’t look phoney or bogus. And we managed it.

There’s a lot of nostalgia for the Nineties now. Do you buy into it?

I’ve only just got over the fact that they had nostalgia for the Eighties, which was officially the w*nkiest decade ever. And now it’s the Nineties, which to me seems like it was yesterday. A lot of the Nineties was a rehash of something else. I can feel there’s a sort of nostalgia, but I haven’t even got an opinion on it because it’s so daft.

Pulp is out 7 June, and streamed live from Sheffield Doc Fest; pulpthefilm.com

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