Jarvis Cocker

Sophie Scott 15/11/2006

Last night, Wednesday 15 November 2006, the King of Pop returned. He took to the stage in a London venue, far smaller than those he was used to at the peak of his fame. But, he's been living abroad for a while, keeping out of the press - he's fallen off the radar somewhat, and his appeal has become more selective. For those here tonight however, the die-hard fans, he's never let them down. He's a man so photographed he exists more as a caricature than as a real person, a man who's invented a series of moves which make him the coolest dancer on earth (and anyone trying to imitate him look like an idiot), a man who worked tirelessly throughout the Eighties and Nineties to secure his place as the world's greatest popstar, a man who has written some of the best pop songs ever heard. The anticipation in the room is at a peak. His band take to the stage, and finally, finally he appears. The lights flash, his hand flicks in the air, and the familiar voice fills the room. He's back, he's back!

Across town, hideous 'not paedophile' shambling buffoon Michael Jackson appears at the non-event 'World Music Awards'. This once-great popstar mutters a few words, abandons a song, and shuffles off stage. Thank fuck for Jarvis Cocker, eh?

It's a sad fact that the majority of the British public now remember former Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker chiefly for waving his arse at Michael Jackson at an awards ceremony 10 years ago. This was the event that turned him from high-flying indie popstar to bona fide tabloid celebrity, and also marked the point where he became disillusioned with his long sought after fame. For those who care about music though, he's part of genuine rock and roll history. The composer of at least four of the finest indie-disco anthems of all time and two of the best albums ever made. The greatest lyricist of a generation. The one true star of the 1990s. An icon, a hero, a comedian, a poet and a politician. And he's back, he's back!

He begins with the incendiary 'Fat Children', a sleazy brutal tale of mugging and police incompetence set to post-punk guitars, and the air of anticipation in the room explodes. He's exactly as we remember him: a patchwork of tweed and plaid and corduroy, wrapped around a frame that's eight foot tall and thin as a wire, jerking and spinning and pointing and spitting and groaning. He's clearly happy to be here in KOKO, which in true Britpop manner he still refers to as the Camden Palace ("why would you name a venue after a drink that makes you go to sleep?"), grinning and bantering with the crowd.

Much of the brand new solo album gets an airing. Unusually, in this era of leaking and downloading, the audience aren't very familiar with the songs, suggesting that most have chosen to wait to buy 'The Jarvis Cocker Record' on its official release date two days previously. That the songs are new doesn't lessen their impact however; many of these songs are equal to those on the last two Pulp albums, if not better. They encompass a breadth of styles not seen in Pulp's work - from the soft rock riffs of 'Black Magic' to the gentle country of 'Heavy Weather' (this enhanced by the pedal steel of latter-day Pulp member and star in his own right, Richard Hawley) - while all sounding unmistakeably 'Jarvis'.

The whole set is energetic, engaging and magical, but it's album highlight 'Big Julie' which proves the indestructible might of Mr Cocker. "This song's about a girl," he says. "But they all are, aren't they?", before beginning this oh-so-familiar tale of a sad lonely fat girl, who dreams of the day she'll show those who doubted her, those who bullied her, those who groped her, that she's worth so much more than them. It's pure Jarvis, and it's heartbreaking.

The encore is inevitable of course, and the high ceilings of the Camden Palace are filled with a joyous singalong of 'Cunts Are Still Running The World', the most uplifting pessimistic song since...well, since the glory days of Pulp. It's a perfect end to the night, and it could easily have stopped here. But what's this? "Do you want to hear an old song?" he asks. The cheer is uncertain - of course a Pulp song would be nice, but is it necessary to revisit the past? And which song would be a suitable climax to the show? And what does his wry smile mean - is he teasing us? Or course he is. "It's not one of my old songs," he adds. "It's one of David Bowie's". At which point, a roomful of people already happy reach an obscene level of pleasure. 'Space Oddity' is truly phenomenal, and emotions run high; this reviewer certainly never expected to shed a tear at such a ludicrous song. But that's the magic of Jarvis for you.

There is one more particularly notable thing about this concert. Despite the presence of not only Jarvis Cocker, but also Richard Hawley, Steve Mackey and Candida Doyle on stage, NOT ONE PERSON SHOUTS FOR A PULP SONG. Not one single person. This isn't a nostalgic crowd, seeing a frontman of their beloved band in the hope that he'll relive his past. This crowd love Jarvis, and he is treated with ultimate respect, verging on reverence. This isn't a man trading on past glories in order to keep the money rolling in. This is Britain's one true pop star, he's back, he's back! And he's only just begun.

Long live the King of Pop.

Picture the property of Pedro Figueiredo