Jarvis Cocker's Pulp lyrics about Sheffield feature in A-level Geography exam

When Jarvis Cocker wrote his lyrics for the Pulp song Wickerman, he was inspired by a real-life journey he undertook through the subterranean rivers in the middle of his home city of Sheffield.

By Richard Blackledge
Monday, 10 June, 2019, 19:44
Jarvis Cocker speaking during a convention on a second EU referendum in central London in January 2019.

And now the evocative verses’ local references – from mentions of Sheffield places The Wicker, Forge Dam, The Moor, Broomhall and The Leadmill to ‘Little Mesters coughing their lungs up’ and ‘the old Trebor factory that burned down in the early seventies’ – mean the composition has been deemed worthy of academic study.

Wickerman formed the basis of a question posed to students sitting exam board AQA’s Geography A-level Paper 2, on Human Geography, last Thursday, June 6.

The Porter Brook river near Sheffield railway station.

Candidates were shown 13 lines from the song – an eight-minute, part-spoken word epic which featured on We Love Life, Pulp’s final studio album to date, released in 2001 – before being asked to compose a response to a specific brief.

Stacey Hill, head of curriculum for geography at AQA, said: “The question was on how external factors such as art can influence a person’s perception of a place, as opposed to how a local person – in this case someone from Sheffield – might feel about their surroundings. The reason we chose the Pulp lyrics was because they fit the purpose for this type of this question very well.”

Cocker, who grew up in Intake and formed Pulp in Sheffield in 1978, based the lyrics on a piece he wrote for World Of Interiors magazine in 2000. In the article, he explained how he and a group of friends decided to follow the Porter Brook – which runs through a concrete channel near Sheffield railway station before disappearing into a tunnel – as far as possible one day in the mid-1980s.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

“At first we attempted to stay out of the water as it appeared very polluted,” Cocker wrote of the risky escapade. “This soon proved impossible and we waded through the knee-high water. Sometimes the river would run through a dirty brickwork tunnel for a quarter of a mile or so and then it would emerge in another part of town – never where we expected. It seemed quite amazing to discover such an adventure in the middle of the city we had grown up in and which we all professed to be totally bored with.”

Wickerman’s title is explained at the song’s conclusion in the line: “I used to live just by the river, in a disused factory just off the Wicker.”

The recording also includes a sample from Willow's Song by Paul Giovanni, from the film The Wicker Man.

Last month Cocker’s passion for geography – in this case, caves – surfaced again when he released the first material with his new solo project JARV IS. The track Must I Evolve? was largely recorded during a gig at Peak Cavern in Castleton.  

Later this year he will supply original music for a production of the play Light Falls, by Simon Stephens, at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.