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In conversation with Jarvis Cocker

Posted on 31 May 2022

In the latest Academy session, musician and broadcaster Jarvis Cocker spoke with Communications Manager Sarah Lau about his formative years in Sheffield, stories from his multifaceted career and how the process of clearing out a loft led to his new memoir.

Jarvis formed the band Pulp while at school in Sheffield in 1978, which went on to become one of the UK's most successful groups, producing some era-defining anthems along the way. He is also known for his beloved BBC 6 Music programme "Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service", which ran from 2009 to 2017.

More recently, he soundtracked the BBC show, This Is Going To Hurt with his band JARV IS… and collaborated with Wes Anderson on his film The French Dispatch.

In this memorable session, Jarvis discussed his new book Good Pop, Bad Pop, offering insights into storytelling, songwriting and early adventures in flyposting along the way.

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions
In Conversation with Jarvis Cocker

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

Welcome everyone and thank you so much for joining us today for this Mishcon Academy Digital Session, part of a series of events, videos and podcasts looking at the biggest issues faced by businesses and individuals today.  I am Sarah Lau, Communications Manager at Mishcon de Reya.  It is my absolute honour today to introduce our guest, Jarvis Cocker.  A musician and broadcaster, Jarvis formed the band Pulp while at school in Sheffield in 1978 which went on to become one of the UK’s most successful groups producing some era defining anthems along the way.  Jarvis’s musical output also spans scoring the recent series ‘This Is Going To Hurt’ with his band, Jarv Is and collaborating with Wes Anderson on his recent film, The French Dispatch.  He is also known for his beloved BBC 6 music programme, Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service which ran from 2009 to 2017.  However, he has most recently turned his attention to perhaps his most ambitious creative project yet, a loft clear out.  This significant undertaking forms the basis for his new book, Good Pop, Bad Pop and we are delighted that he is able to join us today.  Please welcome Jarvis
Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Hello.  Thank you, hi.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

Hi, hello, welcome.  Could you explain the central premise of the book for anyone who is not familiar?

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah.  Somebody’s trying to get in actually.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

Desperate to, we are just expanding the room, there’s too many people who want to join us.

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Well as you say, you kind of introduced it perfectly, I… there was, there is a house in the East End of London that I lived in at one point and I’d left a lot of stuff in the loft of this house.  Some of it was stuff that I had brought down from Sheffield with me years and years before, other stuff was less thought out, it would be like if my mum was coming to the house and it was really untidy I would just like run round the house, grab it all and just chuck it into this loft.  It was like, ‘oh yeah, I’ve really got it together, my life together’.  So it was all there, then I kind of moved away from London, I went to live in France, I got married, all this kind of you know, grown up kind of thing and the stuff just stayed there gathering dust and I always thought and I suppose everybody probably has something like that, it might not be a whole loft, it might be a cupboard, it might be a coat that’s just like stuffed with bits of paper or whatever, it’s like I kept thinking well you know, I’m going to… one day I am going to go through that stuff and see if there is anything useful or whatever but I never really got round to it and then eventually three or four years ago I, I did start getting round to it and something made me, rather than do the sensible thing which would be just like ring a skip and say, ‘I’m just going to be chucking lots of stuff out of a window just put it below’, I kind of thought because I thought there was something there, or there was the potential that there was something there that I, I thought right okay, I’m going to look at every single thing that’s in here and take a picture of it and then I’ll decide what I am going to do with it and, as I kept doing that it kind of dawned on me that actually I was looking at a bit of a life story because these things had kind of, they were things that I had kind of accumulated – I wouldn’t say collected – I just kind of accumulated them over the years and so they triggered memories, I mean sometimes it would take ages, I’d look at something and go… what the hell is that doing there you know, what is that?  Who would hold on to something like that you know.  For instance, there’s a piece of soap, there’s a piece of Imperial Leather soap which basically is just the label of the soap with a tiny bit of soap attached to it and I am thinking, you know, did I ever get washed up here, why is that there? And then when I looked at it a bit longer I remembered that sometime in maybe the early 90’s Imperial Leather changed the label design on their soap.  This was a major problem for me and I hated the new label design so I would go to shops and kind of really feel towards the back of the shelf and find one you know, with the old design on it but after a couple of months you know, the new design was everywhere and this, this little fragment that was left was like the last one with the original label on it and when I got to the end when you just could not use it anymore because it was basically just label, not much soap left, I kept it.  So you know that’s, I mean that’s kind of terrible isn’t it.  It’s a, it must say something about me as a person but it’s not a particularly good thing I don’t think so, so that’s you know, so stuff like that I did realise that it was… these things were telling me something about myself.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

In the book you explore the idea that we kind of shape and re-shape stories for ourselves and tell ourselves versions of stories or critical moments from our life so was there anything that you found challenging as you were uncovering items and thinking about particular memories or anything that you were surprised by?

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah I mean I think that’s why I was kind of relieved in a way that I found this particular way in to, to writing a memoire I guess.  I had you know, people had asked me over the years, ‘are you ever going to write a memoire?’ and I always kind of resisted the idea.  I think coming to it from this direction made it different because as you say, if I had sat there you know, in a well upholstered chair and I’ll just think about my life now, cast my mind back, I would remember different things.  I would and I would be viewing it from here where I am now so I would embellish it according to what I thought had happened but sometimes objects would actually tell me something happened you know, in a way that I didn’t remember correctly.  You think that the past is a fixed thing you know, you think well that’s done, that happened, that’s a fact, that’s solid like a, like a plinth that I am standing on but it’s not.  When you actually start to, to examine the past it gets very slippery and strange.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

I wanted to ask you a question and maybe this is slightly cheeky because you warn against it specifically in the book about delving too much into the creative process.

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah I mean I think that’s why I was kind of relieved in a way that I found this particular way in to, to writing a memoire I guess.  I had you know, people had asked me over the years, ‘are you ever going to write a memoire?’ and I always kind of resisted the idea.  I think coming to it from this direction made it different because as you say, if I had sat there you know, in a well upholstered chair and I’ll just think about my life now, cast my mind back, I would remember different things.  I would and I would be viewing it from here where I am now so I would embellish it according to what I thought had happened but sometimes objects would actually tell me something happened you know, in a way that I didn’t remember correctly.  You think that the past is a fixed thing you know, you think well that’s done, that happened, that’s a fact, that’s solid like a, like a plinth that I am standing on but it’s not.  When you actually start to, to examine the past it gets very slippery and strange.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

I wanted to ask you a question and maybe this is slightly cheeky because you warn against it specifically in the book about delving too much into the creative process.

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah I mean I think that’s why I was kind of relieved in a way that I found this particular way in to, to writing a memoire I guess.  I had you know, people had asked me over the years, ‘are you ever going to write a memoire?’ and I always kind of resisted the idea.  I think coming to it from this direction made it different because as you say, if I had sat there you know, in a well upholstered chair and I’ll just think about my life now, cast my mind back, I would remember different things.  I would and I would be viewing it from here where I am now so I would embellish it according to what I thought had happened but sometimes objects would actually tell me something happened you know, in a way that I didn’t remember correctly.  You think that the past is a fixed thing you know, you think well that’s done, that happened, that’s a fact, that’s solid like a, like a plinth that I am standing on but it’s not.  When you actually start to, to examine the past it gets very slippery and strange.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

I wanted to ask you a question and maybe this is slightly cheeky because you warn against it specifically in the book about delving too much into the creative process.

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah I mean I think that’s why I was kind of relieved in a way that I found this particular way in to, to writing a memoire I guess.  I had you know, people had asked me over the years, ‘are you ever going to write a memoire?’ and I always kind of resisted the idea.  I think coming to it from this direction made it different because as you say, if I had sat there you know, in a well upholstered chair and I’ll just think about my life now, cast my mind back, I would remember different things.  I would and I would be viewing it from here where I am now so I would embellish it according to what I thought had happened but sometimes objects would actually tell me something happened you know, in a way that I didn’t remember correctly.  You think that the past is a fixed thing you know, you think well that’s done, that happened, that’s a fact, that’s solid like a, like a plinth that I am standing on but it’s not.  When you actually start to, to examine the past it gets very slippery and strange.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

I wanted to ask you a question and maybe this is slightly cheeky because you warn against it specifically in the book about delving too much into the creative process.

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah I mean I think that’s why I was kind of relieved in a way that I found this particular way in to, to writing a memoire I guess.  I had you know, people had asked me over the years, ‘are you ever going to write a memoire?’ and I always kind of resisted the idea.  I think coming to it from this direction made it different because as you say, if I had sat there you know, in a well upholstered chair and I’ll just think about my life now, cast my mind back, I would remember different things.  I would and I would be viewing it from here where I am now so I would embellish it according to what I thought had happened but sometimes objects would actually tell me something happened you know, in a way that I didn’t remember correctly.  You think that the past is a fixed thing you know, you think well that’s done, that happened, that’s a fact, that’s solid like a, like a plinth that I am standing on but it’s not.  When you actually start to, to examine the past it gets very slippery and strange.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

I wanted to ask you a question and maybe this is slightly cheeky because you warn against it specifically in the book about delving too much into the creative process.

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah I mean I think that’s why I was kind of relieved in a way that I found this particular way in to, to writing a memoire I guess.  I had you know, people had asked me over the years, ‘are you ever going to write a memoire?’ and I always kind of resisted the idea.  I think coming to it from this direction made it different because as you say, if I had sat there you know, in a well upholstered chair and I’ll just think about my life now, cast my mind back, I would remember different things.  I would and I would be viewing it from here where I am now so I would embellish it according to what I thought had happened but sometimes objects would actually tell me something happened you know, in a way that I didn’t remember correctly.  You think that the past is a fixed thing you know, you think well that’s done, that happened, that’s a fact, that’s solid like a, like a plinth that I am standing on but it’s not.  When you actually start to, to examine the past it gets very slippery and strange.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

I wanted to ask you a question and maybe this is slightly cheeky because you warn against it specifically in the book about delving too much into the creative process…

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

…and asking people about their creative process.

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

But you also gave me a ‘get out of jail free card’ in describing your experience with Leonard Cohen which is just throw to the audience the questions so we might be turning to the audience sooner rather than expected depending on how this pans out.

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Okay, okay.  Go on, fire away.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

What I was curious about was you, in terms of your musical output, you’ve collaborated with so many different people, in fact just across the course of your career and I wondered whether do you find that your creative process changes depending on who you are working with and who you are collaborating with?

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah for sure.  I think that’s in some ways, that’s the point of collaborating you know because it can show you a different way of how people do it.  I think you evolve your own way, you kind of stumble into ways of working especially if you work with a group which is where you kind of, you all have to adapt to each other’s kind of strengths and weaknesses and you know the drummer might tend to play a bit fast, they always do so you have to kind of keep up with them but that gives it a sound you know, that, that you couldn’t get from a computer or something like that.  And then  yeah, so you get it so it kind of works for you and then you will go and see somebody else doing it like I was flabbergasted once we were in Town House Studios which sadly has gone now in London and we were working on a record and in the studio next to us, Elton John was there and it turned out that Chris Thomas who was producing us at the time had worked with Elton John so he introduced us to him and we went into the studio and he just had like some words you know, on the music rack where… on a piano he had just got the words, some words there and apparently he writes a song you know, is barely talking whoever is working with him will send in the words, puts them on the thing and then he goes… dun, dun, dun… and he kind of reads it and puts music to it as he is doing it and I thought, ‘euhhh, how can you do that?’.  It was like, because for me my whole career a very consistent thing has been we’ll struggle to come up with a piece of music that we are happy with and then the words are totally the last thing and often like the night before we are going in the studio it will be me staying up late, kind of right trying to get it done you know and so the idea that somebody would start from the words and actually be able to read words and think of them how music would go with them, that… so you are always learning from people that you work… I didn’t work with Elton John but you learn from seeing how other people do it yeah.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

Do we have any questions in the room?

Audience

For a room full of lawyers, the hero of your life story is obviously Bob Mortimer.  Have you got any souvenirs of that episode that you might put in the book or is it an episode you tried to forget?

 

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

No, well you are referring to an incident that happened in 1996 but… where Bob Mortimer having got a bit of a legal background came to my aid - which I will always be grateful to him for – that doesn’t get mentioned in this book, no, because chronologically this book kind of stops in 1985.  Sorry.  But I am sure if I do decide to write another book and we move into that time I will definitely talk about that for sure, yeah.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

I did see a really lovely review which said that the person said they hoped you had enough tat left to write a second volume so…

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

I don’t have to worry about running out of tat, I mean a lot of other things in my life I can worry about but that, not that one.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

Excellent an endless supply.  We’ve got a question from Helen which has come in on line.  Looking good Jarvis, any tips?

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

That’s not a question.  It’s like a really lovely statement.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

The second part to it is, any tips?

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

That’s not a question.  It’s like a really lovely statement.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

The second part to it is, any tips?

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Any tips?  Being… no, well I, I do feel okay at the moment thank you very much and I haven’t got any kind of like, I am not sponsored by any products or anything like that.  You have to stay interested in life, I know it sounds kind of like I’ve read that on the back of a cornflake box or something but yeah you’ve got to kind of, I am curious, I think that’s something that keeps you excited by life you know, I mean there’s a lot of stuff going on that can really disgruntle you and you’ve just got to kind of not ignore that but just, there’s so many great things in the world to find and discover and to be stimulated by, just seek them out.  That would be my advice.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

Are any particular pairings that you would recommend in terms of something that’s made you particularly disgruntled and then something that’s offset that?

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Well I mean just general public life is pretty, I mean we’ve got Monkey Pox on the horizon now which I wish they wouldn’t show you pictures of like what it can do, I mean like so you know, obviously stuff like that is, is not a great vibe.  But I think you know, but I think that’s the thing, there is a slightly more serious point I suppose as in like yeah, like I went and did a tour of the West Coats of America maybe four years ago and that was the first time I was going back to the USA since Donald T – I can’t mention his name either just like Margaret T – and I just thought you know because I’d obviously watched the news and stuff like that I thought what’s it going to be like being in America.  I was kind of you know, a little bit worried about going and I went and it was fine you know, it was, you got this feeling that sometimes that they were like two worlds, there’s the world that kind of jumps out at you from a laptop or your phone or whatever which is always going to be this kind of like apocalypse imminent if not actually happening right now, and then the actual world that you walk through and you know, just meeting people, an unmediated experience which was very pleasant and I think you have to keep that in mind that things only really sell if they are like apocalyptic and that’s not actually the experience of real life.

Audience

What sort of interactions with common people do you think Yanis Varoufakis’s wife would like to have?

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Well you are talking about, yeah you’re talking about she’s the wife of the ex-Greek Finance Minister right, yeah.

Audience

Correct.

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah well there was a rumour going round a few years ago, it was even printed in the Guardian I think that she was the actual, she came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge that she was that person.  It’s unfortunate that he didn’t ask me that before they actually printed the article because I could have told them categorically that she isn’t.

Audience

Damn.

Jarvis Cocker, Musician and Broadcaster

Yeah.  Because I can understand where it came from because she did study sculpture at St Martin’s College and she’s Greek so you know, but as you all know as lawyers, that doesn’t make a case does it really.  It could be just a coincidence and the thing was that the person who I wrote the song about I met her, well let me back track a bit, St Martin’s College at that point, I don’t know if they still do this but in your second term in the first year they would send you off on this thing called crossover which was that you would do another discipline for two weeks which I thought was a really nice idea.  So I was studying film and they gave you like what do you want to do, do you want to do painting, do you want to… and I thought sculpture, I’ll have a go at that so I had signed up for that and this woman that I met and ended up writing the song about was doing the same.  So she wouldn’t have been studying sculpture at St Martin’s College but it wouldn’t scan if I went ‘she was doing crossover for a two week…’, it wouldn’t really work as well so I took a bit of artistic licence and changed it and I think that’s where the mix up has come from.

Sarah Lau, Communications Manager, Mishcon de Reya

I am not sure where to start, this has been brilliant and I know and can say on behalf of the audience that we are so excited and so happy that you have been able to join us today.  I think you have shared some really wonderful things about the book and it is an incredible read and we are really grateful that you were able to join us today so please join me in thanking Jarvis Cocker.

 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.
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