Back in Pulp position at last

On stage: Jarvis Cocker of Pulp performing during the second day of the Isle of Wight festival on June 11, 2011.         Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
On stage: Jarvis Cocker of Pulp performing during the second day of the Isle of Wight festival on June 11, 2011. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
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THE call that Nick Banks had long anticipated came while he was in the least rock ‘n’ roll of places.

“I was lying in the bath,” recalls the Pulp drummer, “and the phone came thrust through the door with ‘it’s Jarvis on the phone’.

Last concert: Pulp at the Magna Centre in 2002.

Last concert: Pulp at the Magna Centre in 2002.

“He was, ‘How you doing? Shall we get together, play some music?’ I went, ‘Yeah, sounds like a good idea. Okay.’

“We’ve been meeting since last December, a week here, a week there, just gradually, not trying to do too much at once. All the electronic-type stuff was on old technology and needed getting into a playable state. And, of course, there was trying to remember how to play.”

That was easier for some than others as Pulp followed an initial meeting at Nick’s Sheffield home with another armed with instruments at a city centre rehearsal space.

While Nick kept his hand in with acts such as Pollinates and “punk glam covers band” Big Shambles, in between running the family pottery business in Catcliffe, and Steve Mackay played bass in Jarvis’s solo band and produced the likes of MIA, Candida Doyle hadn’t touched her keyboards much, neither Mark Webber his guitar.

How they were: Pulp in the early days .

How they were: Pulp in the early days .

“It’s not like we were super rusty although Russell Senior hadn’t been playing for 15 years. He got his son to teach him all the parts.

“But this is what rehearsals are about, getting it all together and ironing out problems. The songs that are easier play, it was like where we left off. It felt exciting, very natural. I think we surprised ourselves how relatively easy it was, but it’s all in there somewhere. You’d start playing a song thinking ‘I’ve no idea what comes next’ but your body just does it anyway. We probably rehearsed 50 odd songs.”

Fast forward several months and Nick admits there were nerves when the band booked their warm-up gig at the Bikini Club, in Toulouse, France, ahead of a larger concern at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival. To follow are massive crowds at Serbia’s EXIT, London’s Wireless on July 3 and Leeds/Reading festival in August.

“You’ve been thinking ‘I wonder when that call, if it does, will come?’,” says Nick. “Then it did and I was quite excited but quite nervous about it, which I find are the same emotion.”

Partially that’ll be down to the wave of expectation that greeted news last November that Pulp would tour, the re-entry level being some of the biggest festivals in Europe – and now Australia with China also seeking a slice.

Although aware of affection the likes of Common People and Do You Remember The First Time generated first time around, Nick seems to have been unprepared for the furore a comeback would cause.

“You just don’t know. You think, will they be bothered or have they just seen us as ‘wrinkly old dads get back together again to relive their spotty youth’. But it seems to have been all right.

“The concert promoters have more of an idea where abouts we would be. I don’t think it was ever Pulp get together and play the back room of the Dog & Duck, we wanted to do it right, put on a great show, for it to sound as good as it could possibly sound and for as many people to come and enjoy it as possible.”

That includes Nick’s two kids. With eight years out of Pulp, he got to be home for Jeannie, now 12, and 14-year-old Jackson, both heading along for the ‘down under’ dates with “some Pulp” on their iPods.

“As Jeannie said ‘I’ve never lived in a house with anyone famous before’ these days,” quips Nick.

“Jackson remembers it a little from before and I remember him sat swinging his legs over the stage at Reading with hands over his ears going ‘it’s too loud’. Now they’re quite excited about it. That kind of age is a good time to be going to some big gigs and seeing what it’s all about.

“It’s a double-edged sword, though. It’s a very surreal family holiday. Rather than the usual day round the pool, a day out on a trip, a morning at the beach, an afternoon shopping, it’ll be ‘you’re only here for a day’. They’ll be saying ‘I’m bored of seeing festivals now, I’m sick of that music’.”

One person not off to Oz is plane-hating Russell. And, although he also got the call, Richard Hawley is unlikely to resume his latter days role as guitarist.

The classic line-up on fresh manoeuvres has, of course, prompted speculation about new material. For now, however, these would seem to be testimonial matches rather than a catalyst for a new productive period for Pulp.

“I don’t know if it is the start of a next era. There are no plans for new music, for any recording, so it would be more of a case of suck it and see.

“At that first meeting we all pretty much said ‘new stuff, nah’, because it’s really hard writing new stuff and once you’ve been on a long break...and if you’re only playing 75-90 minute shows, even now we’re having to leave out loads. If you play new numbers you have to leave out even more. When you see bands that are mature if they go ‘here’s a new one’ it’s bar time.”

Either way, judging by the response to shows so far, it would certainly seem churlish for Pulp to call time after the summer.

“Generally there are more festivals these days. Europe-wide you could go out Thursday to Monday every weekend and go to a festival. Fifteen years ago there wasn’t that many.

“Maybe it’s a case of you liked the band’s first rush of success but never got to see them and then they come around again and it’s ‘they might die next week, I’d better go and see them’.

“And you never know what is around the corner. Jarvis is a bit of an ‘I’ll put that off until tomorrow’ kind of person, so maybe this was ‘if you put it off too much it might never happen, which would be a bit of a shame’.”

How long Pulp stay on the ride now they’re back is open to debate, although feedback from Spain and last weekend’s Isle Of Wight would suggest it could be a while.

“The idea was do this lot, then see how everyone feels; if it’s a great success we might do some more. And if it all goes like Barcelona there could be a good chance.

“You’re never quite sure what the audience reaction is going to be, but right from the starting gun everyone was going bananas. It felt really good.

“Then our concert agent is never wrong. If he says they’ll be up for it, they’ll be up for it. It’s uncanny. If every concert is like Barcelona it’ll be an absolutely fantastic summer.

“There’s no pressure to sell records, to do interviews, that kind of stuff. You turn up and it’s just sit, get bored, try not to touch the drinks beforehand - in Barcelona we didn’t go onstage until quarter to two in the morning, but it’s a bit calmer. Then there always was herbal tea, Candida likes her infusion.”