Sunday evening saw Mareel’s Cinema 1 quite packed out. It seemed likely that the audience (many of whom appeared to be of this reviewer’s particular vintage) had come to enjoy a couple of nostalgic hours listening to the soundtrack of their youth, writes Genevieve White.
Yet Pulp: a Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets (dir. Florian Habicht) ultimately offered much more than a musical stroll down memory lane. In keeping with the band’s quirky image, this turned out to be not your average music documentary. Instead, the film was an ode to the people of Sheffield and an exploration of how the city inspired some of pop’s most enduring music and lyrics.
The film is based around the band’s 2012 return to Sheffield to play their last ever UK gig. This valedictory concert assumed special significance in the mind of Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker, for whom it offered a way to right the wrongs of the band’s disastrous 1988 Sheffield performance.
Cocker sees the band’s return to Sheffield as an attempt to exercise some control in shaping the seemingly “random” narrative which is life. Clearly dissatisfied by the ending of Pulp’s story, he yearns to write a better one.
The film follows the band’s journey towards the heart-warmingly wonderful final gig, in which the audience in Sheffield Arena is bombarded with rolls of toilet paper (echoing the band’s early stage décor in which reams of toilet paper were draped over the stage and coloured by lighting) and blanketed in paper snow.
The audience’s delight is no mean achievement: the people of Sheffield are famous for their way with faint praise. In fact, the highest plaudit you will ever hear from natives is the grudging “It’s alright” (an observation which is beautifully illustrated by interviews with locals).
The real stars in this film are the people of Sheffield: the knife maker, the fish mongers in the shop where Cocker had his first and only ‘proper job’ and the ‘hard-core’ fans who queue for tickets in the cold.
The city’s native wit (evident in so many Pulp songs) comes across in interviews with locals such as the young musician who tells the story of how he moved to London, only to flee home after being repeatedly mugged.
Singing the praises of his home city he adds: “It’s not like you don’t get mugged in Sheffield, ‘cos you do. It’s just that it’s funnier cos you usually know the person who’s mugging you.”
The film was enhanced by the Q&A session, in which special guest Candida Doyle was quizzed by Davie Gardner and members of the audience.
Doyle joined Pulp in 1984 and was the band’s keyboard player and vocalist. She has strong Shetland connections and comes here every summer to spend time with the numerous cousins she has dotted around the islands.
In this congenial and often amusing conversation Doyle reflected on the “special place” Shetland has in her heart, the band’s 1996 concert at the Clickimin and the part she played in egging Cocker on before his 1996 Brit Awards prank on Michael Jackson.
One of the films’ most surprising revelations was that Doyle has suffered from arthritis since the age of 16, yet for many years preferred to keep the condition hidden from her bandmates.
When asked why she opted for secrecy she admitted not only to feelings of embarrassment but also to a stoical contempt for pity: “I’d never take sympathy well.”
Asked how she fell in with Cocker, Doyle replied: “It was inevitable we’d meet at some point. In Sheffield, if you dressed unusually you had two choices: you either hung around with other people like you or else you’d get beaten up”.
This entertaining Q&A concluded a memorable night’s entertainment. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will be revisiting Pulp’s back catalogue over the next few days.
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