The pop group Pulp were formed in Sheffield, England, in 1978 by then 15-year-old school-boy Jarvis Cocker (vocals, guitar). They were originally known as "Arabacus Pulp", but this was soon shortened.
They are most famous in the UK, where their blend of disco-influenced pop-rock coupled with the amusing down-to-Earth kitchen-sink lyrics of lanky, rubber-limbed front-man Cocker, saw them become popular during the mid 1990s.
The first line-up was Cocker, David Lockwood, Mark Swift and Peter Dalton, though this soon disintegrated into a fairly un-set membership of Cocker and whoever else was around at the time. They played their first proper gig at Rotherham Arts Centre in July 1980, and made a demo tape the following year which they gave to the DJ John Peel. Amazingly they landed a Peel Session, and the tracks they recorded were pretty much in the typical Sheffield sound of the time (cf. Human League, Comsat Angels) - sort of electronic new wave.
Despite the exposure on national radio, success was not forthcoming, and most of the then line-up left for university. A new set of musicians was gathered: Simon Hinkler (who later joined The Mission and produced All About Eve), David Hinkler, Wayne Furness, Peter Boam, Gary Wilson, and Cocker's sister, Saskia. They managed to get enough local backing to record a mini-album in late 1982 entitled It. This largely consisted of jangly, happy-go-lucky, folkish, romantic pop tunes, and was in the main a bit of a change of direction from the Peel Sessions.
But fame was still not knocking, and Cocker was becoming unhappy with his chosen musical direction, especially after being forced to cut a single in the style of the then prevalent pop-group Wham. He was all set to throw the towel in and go to university, when he decided to hold a practice with Russell Senior (violin, guitar, vocals) and Magnus Doyle (drums). The three of them established a new, more experimental, artier, and noisier direction for Pulp, and were subsequently augmented by Peter Mansell (bass) and Tim Allcard (keyboards, saxophone, poetry).
Having survived a number of ill-fated gigs, Allcard left to be replaced on keyboards by Doyle's sister Candida. Following her first performance with the band, they were signed to a label called "Fire", and began to record a number of singles that were later released as the compilation album Masters of the Universe. These tracks were much darker in tone than those on It, and often veered towards the likes of The Fall.
These releases were followed by an album, Freaks in 1986, recorded in one week due to pressure from the label. Its release ended up being delayed for a year, and the record was not well received. It is either loved or hated by fans, and might be considered the antithesis of the happy and optimistic It.
It was during this mid-80s period that Cocker fell out of a window while trying to impress a girl, and ended up in hospital, and temporarily wheelchair-bound. This gave Cocker ample time to consider his direction, and when, later, Freaks failed to be a success, Pulp folded, with Jarvis going off to London to study film.
The fold was short-lived however, and a new line-up of Cocker, Senior, Candida Doyle, Nick Banks (drums) and Steve Mackey (bass) emerged. They recorded another album for Fire after a separate deal fell through. This album, Separations, was a progression of the style of Freaks, with Leonard Cohen-esque ballads on side one and a more disco / Acid House infused track-listing on side two. Like Freaks its release was delayed, to an extent lessening the potential impact.
Pulp were then signed up by Island Records who released the singles "Do You Remember the First Time" and "Lipgloss", to modest chart success. These were followed by the Ed Buller produced album His n Hers which reached No.9 in the UK charts, and which, sonically, was not a million miles away from Suede.
This sudden increase in popularity was certainly helped by the massive media interest in a new wave of Britpop ushered by the likes of Suede and Blur, the latter of which Pulp supported on a US tour in 1994.
1995 saw the peak of Pulp's fame, with the release of their No.2 UK Hit single "Common People", their much loved performance at the Glastonbury festival (standing in for the Stone Roses at the last minute) and their Mercury award winning album Different Class (the first album featuring Pulp fan-club president Mark Webber, who became a permanent member of the band on guitar and keyboards). This album, with its disco-infused pop-rock, and the trademark sordid yet witty lyrics about sexual encounters and working class life, is for most fans what Pulp are about. While Blur and Oasis were fighting it out over which band were the true kings of Britpop, Jarvis Cocker and co. saw the opportunity to steal the crown, and "Common People" was arguably the stand-out single of the year, if not the decade.
But domestic attention was never really equaled in the rest of the world, and if they are known there at all it is perhaps more likely the result of Cocker's antics at the infamous 1996 Brit Awards, when he invaded the stage in protest during Michael Jackson's Christ-like performance (for which he spent the night in the cells on the ungrounded charge of having injured some of the children that Jackson was "healing"). This incident propelled Cocker into even greater notoriety in the UK, and having spent the last 15 years trying to be famous, he grabbed the attention with both hands, becoming something of a Gala Premiere stalwart, and celebrity whore.
It was during this period of intense fame that long time member and major innovator in the band's sound, Russell Senior, decided to call it a day to spend time with his family (and out of the tabloid press). Cocker was also having difficulty with the celebrity lifestyle, resulting in the breakup of a long-term relationship.
The fallout of all of this, and the ensuing depression induced by finding the one thing he'd been after all his life (fame) and then deciding that it wasn't really up to much, was the subject matter of the follow-up album This is Hardcore: a trawl through the seedy world of Soho, which during its more navel-gazing, depressed-singer-in-a-hotel-room moments stylistically approached Pink Floyd's The Wall. Many of the fans who had so enjoyed the happier, more amusing and light-hearted approach of Different Class were somewhat turned off by the darker tone of the new record.
Pulp then spent a few years in the wilderness before reappearing in 2001 with a new album, We Love Life, symbolising another new phase in Cocker and Pulp's development. Produced by Scott Walker, it was a much happier and more popular album than Hardcore.
In 2002 the band announced they were leaving their label, Island. They brought out a greatest hits package: Hits and organised a music festival: Auto (held at Rotherham's Magna centre) where they played their last gig before embarking on a temporary hiatus from the music industry.