How Jarvis Cocker made an isolation anthem by accident

Jarvis Cocker

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Daniel Cohen/Lumen

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Jarvis Cocker has also read out bedtime stories for listeners online during lockdown

In recent months, songwriters have been sitting with their guitars and pianos, attempting to articulate the fears, frustrations and, at times, freedoms brought on by confinement.

None of them, as-yet, have succeeded as emphatically as Jarvis Cocker – with his March release, House Music All Night Long.

“Saturday night cabin fever, in house nation / This is one nation under a roof” declares the former Pulp frontman, on the acid house-style banger about a rave enthusiast trapped at home while longing to be out chasing kicks with the object of his heart’s desire.

The track, however, was in fact created when Corona was, for most of us, still just the name of a brand of Mexican beer.

Speaking from his own lockdown bunker in the Peak District last month, the singer reluctantly agrees it’s turned out to be a rather apposite tune for the times.

“It’s been really weird that, you know,” says Cocker.

“Emma, who plays the violin in the band, a friend of hers caught the virus quite early on and had to self-isolate, and she said, ‘the lyrics seemed really pertinent to what I was going through’.

“But the song was written two years ago, so it’s just one of those spooky coincidences. I’m not a clairvoyant, and I’m not going to go into business giving readings or trying to see into the future.”

He adds: “When you’re a songwriter, you’re always kind of hoping that you’re going to catch the zeitgeist or whatever, write something that kind of chimes with people’s actual real experience.

“But in this case, it’s not really something to be that happy about, is it?”

While the Britpop icon was far from thrilled to have helped herald in the era of literal house music, one line in the song did give him cause for celebration.

“God damn this claustrophobia / ‘Cause I should be disrobing ya” he offers, with the kind of seductively half-sung/half-whispered wordplay that saw him become an intellectual pop pin-up of the ’90s.

“I was proud of that,” he admits.

“I’m not a self-congratulatory person, but sometimes when you get a rhyme like that – I might even have slightly punched the air.”

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Jarv Is/Rough Trade

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Jarv Is: The press notes for their experimental debut declare, “This is not a live album, it’s an alive album”

The irony is that his accidental isolation anthem – like all of the songs on the upcoming Jarv Is… Beyond the Pale project – was actually “conceived in the live arena”.

His new band were formed in 2017 to workshop material in front of an audience at Sigur Ros’s festival in Iceland.

And the song was first performed to a big crowd before it was even finished, at the All Points East festival in east London last summer. When Cocker spontaneously dipped the toes at the end of his famous long legs into the crowd-surfing sea, for the first time.

‘Psychic phenomena’

“I had pretty much written most of the words,” he explains, “but I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen in the middle… so I just thought I’ll go out to the crowd barrier and I’ll see what comes into my mind.”

It was at that precise point his radio mic broke.

“I was stood there in front of the crowd,” he continues. “I had no way of singing to them, so I thought what the [heck] am I gonna do now? Somehow it just came into my mind – crowd surf!

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Getty Images

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Cocker had to think on his feet at the All Points East festival last summer

“I got up on to the barrier and launched myself and I loved it, it were great. Going on for 40 years in a band, man and boy, and I’ve never tried it before, but it’s a really good feeling. It’s like you’re part of a psychic phenomena.”

After having been “instinctively” and safely deposited back at the front by his fans, Cocker went back for more at several subsequent gigs.

“The sad thing is,” he reflects, with such gatherings on hold for the foreseeable, “when will I be able to do it again?

“You couldn’t do a socially-distanced crowd surf, that’d be really dangerous.”

Domestic Disco

Jarv Is managed to squeeze in one album promo gig at London’s Steel Yard venue in early March 2020 BC (before coronavirus), after which they were all left in limbo.

So, to continue the house music theme, their star soon began volunteering his services as an interim Domestic Disco DJ, from his front room up north.

Cocker’s girlfriend egged him on to do it after the couple had been watching a US DJ do something similar, and he says he finds dancing around the house “therapeutic”. It certainly provided blessed relief for his quarantined Instagram followers.

“The attraction, at first” says Cocker, modestly, “was people seeing how I dealt with all the technical problems that happened, which was usually not very well. And I would kind of lose it and start shouting at pieces of equipment and stuff like that.”

He blew an amp early on, but was later lent a smoke machine and lasers, which took things “to the next level”.

“We just used what was in the house to have a party, basically.”

As lockdown got a little “looser” in June, the singer was heading to Paris to look after his 17-year-old son, who he’d been unable to see for three months.

The 56-year-old would have “banged his head on the roof,” he says, if this pandemic had happened when he was that age, and “life was about to begin”. Back then Cocker senior was fronting a very nascent and unknown Pulp.

Nostalgia for his old band, who appear to have ridden off into the sunset following a series of glorious reunion shows in 2011/12, was ripe again online last weekend, after the BBC replayed their career-defining 1995 Glastonbury headline set (where this year’s coverage, including Jarv Is, should have been).

Having filled in for The Stone Roses at the last minute, the Sheffield band climaxed with a rousing rendition of another new song that Cocker acknowledges was “in sync with what was going on in the UK at that time” – called Common People. Now speaking just after its 25th birthday, the song’s writer believes its continued popularity is “a bit sad” as it’s proof that the British class war described within is ongoing.

His latest collection of songs, including Must I Evolve?, Children of the Echo and the Leonard Cohen-inspired Save the Whale, shows him contemplating what really matters in life today.

“Before this virus hit,” he muses, “people were almost in lockdown anyway.”

“Now, as soon as the ability to hang out with each other was taken away, I think people sort of realised, ‘Wow, human contact is important’, and in some ways is what makes life fun and interesting.

“So I think that realisation will stay with people.”

On his return to these shores, Jarvis won’t be appearing in a field (in Hampshire or anywhere else) near you this summer, though Jarv Is have put on a digitally-enhanced virtual performance.

He’s “got everything crossed” that their rescheduled tour can take place in November, if gig venues can re-open like many pubs will this Saturday.

But, he confesses, even “Mystic Jarv can’t make that prediction”.

Jarv Is… Beyond the Pale is out on 17 July.

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