Pulp - London, UK, Autumn 2000
10 Feb 2004
'... jarvis didn't want to play the stylophone so he asked me if I would help him with that. it kind of went on from there, with me playing the organ as well...'
Sometimes, behind the busyness and bustle of the limelight, lurk tales of significant interest, in fact of a quality just as strong as those that exist in the forefront. What this means? Well, Pulp are an example which can help explain the point. When you think of this band, which came to prominence during the mid-nineties with their album of epic proportions, 'Different Class', the mind conjures up images of the lead-singer, Jarvis Cocker. The reasons for this? Well, he became a cult figure: his unconventional song lyrics reached the top-five in the charts, triggering controversy on the topic of drugs, but on top of that he famously waved his arse at Michael Jackson at an awards ceremony in 1996. It doesn't get much better than that.
However, this is merely the aforementioned forefront of the Pulp enterprise. Sure, he sings, writes the lyrics, strums on a guitar in concert and provides much of the charisma and image for the band, but there are four other members which write the music and play with him. After all, it's also known quite commonly known that these people each get the same amount of royalties to one another. So, rather than conducting the obvious and queuing up to speak to the man Cocker at this stage, it was decided to meet someone else within the group who has built up his own reputation, thanks to his club nights 'Little Stabs At Happiness' - lead-guitarist and occasional stylophone/organ player, Mark Webber.
The club nights took place at the trendy ICA in London - the situation for today's meeting - boasting 'Quiet Music, Films, Loud Music & Dancing'. It became a cult hit, not just amongst Pulp fans, keen to meet their favourite lead guitarist in person, but also to those in search of a different kind of club, a rare kind that offered an air of sophistication, but a good time in the same evening. His interest in unconventional art and obscure movies has merely added to the mystique of this Pulp member, and rockfeedback wanted to find out more.
Mark Webber joined Pulp at a later stage within the current members' existence. It wasn't an anticipated move, 'it just, well, kind of happened'...
'I was about fifteen and I used to go around interviewing people,' he reveals. 'It was mostly just local bands in Sheffield and Chesterfield because my parents wouldn't let me go anywhere else! People always used to tell me how great Pulp were and they played Chesterfield at the Arts College. I managed to get an interview with all of the members apart from Jarvis before the show. I then saw them live and thought that they were very different. For the time, they were very provocative. And they also made a load of noise! The great thing though was that Jarvis had just had an accident where he fell out of a window and he was pushed on to the stage on a great big wheelchair and performed the set sitting down in it. However, at the end of the show, he just got up and walked off, which was quite interesting!
'One of my friends used to always go to concerts and because Pulp played Sheffield a lot - as no one else would have them - we just started following them around. We also started visiting Russell (ex-guitarist/violinist) in his flat. As we were young, we hadn't heard of herbal teas properly so he started making them for us and he kept trying to make us guess what they were. As we didn't have a clue what would be in them, he always used to pretend that we were drinking something really outlandish like cockroach or something! This led on to us travelling around and helping them set up because they used to have very elaborate stage sets, consisting of toilet tissue, tin foil and projections whilst they played!
'After that, Pulp went away for a while and came back with a sound which was in a more popular vein at around 1990, in the era of 'My Legendary Girlfriend' (critically acclaimed early single) and all that. They began to get more like a proper band. A Canadian lady then started to manage the group and after being in big businesses had all these ideas about how things should be and it started with her saying that they needed a tour manager. They decided that it should be me as Russell and I used to take the money after the concerts and deal it all out. So, I was tour manager for a while when I was about 19 or 20. I didn't know anything about it at all - I made it up as I went along! But, what I did know, after going around and interviewing all these bands, was that tour managers were generally bastards! So I tried the opposite approach and was really nice to everyone - and it worked out well! I once made one girl cry, though because she wouldn't move our drumkit, but that was the only time!
'Anyway, Pulp started writing all these new songs - I think 'O.U.' was the first one - where they weren't really able to play them live onstage because Jarvis didn't want to play the stylophone so he asked me if I would help him with that. It kind of went on from there with me playing the organ as well. Meanwhile, as the group got more popular, Russell and I started the fanclub and in between all that I was tour-managing and playing live with them! To promote 'Do You Remember the First Time?' we did a long tour, which took its toll on me because I just couldn't juggle all of these different things. I decided to ask them which job they wanted me to continue doing the most and they said that they wanted me to play with them. That kind of pleased me because it was the easiest job! My good friend Alex took over the fanclub and a man called Richard became our tour manager who carried on in the friendly vein that I'd like to think I started!
'I went to rehearsals to learn new songs and then we recorded 'Common People' and it started getting blurred again as to what my job actually was. We were also recording 'Different Class' and it was getting to the point where the group was ready to get really popular. Then there was a meeting with Geoff (Travis, Pulp's manager) and the rest of the band, which I wasn't allowed to go to.
'I considered all the possible outcomes of the meeting and thought that they were gonna say, 'You know, we're gonna be popular, so f**k off!' However, I was quite surprised when they told me that they wanted me to stay. It was very flattering and it certainly beat being put on those wages I had been on for quite a while at this point!'
Obviously, the rest is history. Bringing it to more or less the present day, Pulp really triumphed at this year's Reading Festival - what was it like for the band when you played the show because many deemed it to be your finest...
'Absolutely horrible. That gig was just horrifying and one of the worst we had to cope with! We were quite nervous, but the sound onstage, because of the wind and everything, was unbearable and we couldn't hear ourselves properly. We thought it had all gone wrong, but then we got off stage and everyone just seemed to say how great it was! It baffled us, but maybe, because we tried so hard to perform well through all the conditions, what came through is that we gave a spirited performance, but I can never judge if that was the case! To us, it was a nightmare.'
'Yeah, the club, 'Little Stabs at Happiness', started in about December 1997 here at the ICA. When I was just following the band around and stuff at the beginning of it all, I also used to run my own club night in about 1987, '88 with some friends in Sheffield called the 'Groovy Fishtank' (laughs to himself). We had bands that would play live and we also played loads of records. When I moved to London, I always wanted to do that again. I suppose it was during going out to loads of parties and premieres and all that other nonsense you get invited to that I realised I wasn't enjoying the places I was going to and there weren't any clubs I wanted to go to. I didn't have a girlfriend... I didn't like the look of the girls I was more commonly meeting at this point either! So, out of all this, I just decided to do a club that I liked and wanted to see if there was anyone else interested in what it was all about.'
'Little Stabs...' has shown lots of unusual and obscure films. When did you develop such an interest in cinematography?
'Well, for me, the first real piece of music I got into, apart from that phase just before you discover your proper, favourite music and just listen to a load of pop rubbish from the charts, was David Bowie and it developed from that to the Velvet Underground. I became totally enamoured by them and I then learnt about their interests in Andy Warhol. That inspired me to look at his experimental films, for example, as well as other pieces of film made in the sixties. I started to see all these films and just carried on learning about them.
'I mean, some of the films we've shown here have just been in such a state because they're so old and haven't been seen for so long! It's weird because when people come here and see us set up and play the movies, you really notice that they just don't know what film and projectors look like. We're all (as a society) used to our videos and DVDs so it's nice to have a change I think. Well, maybe apart from me, because I don't have a DVD player!
'A few of us sharing an interest in experimental film got together and got the thing started a few years ago, but now the plans are just to leave it for a while now. It's been going for almost three years successfully and we've been able to do the club night in other places all over the country so we're really pleased by the way that it's all gone. Maybe it's time to do something different.
'I'm able to go to film festivals, host film-nights and put together showings such as with Ken Jacobs (film-maker that used unusual production methods) and tour with them so it's nice to have the choice to work on different things.'
As you've talked about, you started off writing for your own fanzine by going around and interviewing various people, so did you always intend to become a journalist or did you visualise yourself becoming a pop or rock star in any way?
'Well, you know when you're at school and your careers officer comes in and you have an interview with them to discuss possibilities of what you could do when you're older? Well, I did that, but there were three other kids in the same room at the time. The kids gave answers like, 'My Dad works for a factory producing cotton wool so I'll probably do that,' and, 'My parents want me to go to university.' However, then when it came to me, I didn't have a clue, so I just said, 'I want to be a pop star!' I didn't really know at all.
'However, it's not always a good thing joining your favourite group. This is because for a few years I was a kind of... conscience of Pulp so I could tell them when they were being crass, but when I joined them that could no longer happen. Richard (Hawley, ex-guitarist of The Longpigs and live member of Pulp) tells us what he really thinks, but I really hope that what's happened to me doesn't happen to him... I wouldn't wish it upon anyone!'
Mark has a great, subtle sense of humour: he doesn't roll over on his back, slap his thigh and emphasise punch lines to get a laugh, he's just himself. To the untrained eye, he may seem like an avant-garde musician, whose only interests are film and art, but this shows that when you just give those that seldom get a chance to get heard individually the opportunity to speak, such opinions can only be truly interpreted as half the truth.
Pulp continue to thrive in originality thanks to the very different elements which exist within the group; hell, they're confirmed to headline Homelands 2001 - and that's a dance festival. Yet, whatever they get up to next, at least we know that today we've uncovered a bit more about one of the key components within the unit. And even though Webber once only joked about becoming a pop star in his formative years, it's amazing how things can turn out nonetheless.