If all the world’s a stage, Pulp would be headlining. We’re at Primavera for the Sheffield troupe’s first performance in almost a decade and Jarvis Cocker is addressing the Spanish contingent in the crowd. “It’s irritating when people from other countries make comments,” he says, “but I know some shit went down in the main square today. When the police put 100 people in hospital, it’s not a good thing.” Dedicating the next song to the ‘indignados’ (‘angry ones’) of the ongoing 15-M protests, he draws the biggest cheer of the weekend from revellers at the festival.
If you cast your mind back to Pulp’s heyday, you’ll recall Cocker had a talent for this kind of provocation. Sometime in the downwardly mobile mid-nineties, the charismatic frontman developed a happy knack of plugging his cause into the national consciousness. Whether mooning Michael Jackson at The Brits, sending up a class system Britpop had brought unwittingly to the fore with ‘Common People’, or tapping into end-of-the-millennium nostalgia (‘Disco 2000’), this trenchantly funny outsider who’d had his nose pressed to the glass of mainstream culture for a decade-and-a-half suddenly found himself writing its biography.
All that seems a lifetime ago now, of course, and since then we’ve had the comedown (This Is Hardcore), the convalescence (2002’s largely forgotten We Love Life) and a solo career that suggested Cocker’s mojo may have slipped irretrievably down the back of the sofa somewhere along the way. If his stints as a radio disc jockey were predictably great, there was still a suggestion that this was a man in need of reacquainting himself with what made him such a fascinating figure in the first place. And then the eerie prospect of a Pulp reunion raised its head.
Remarks from the band ahead of the comeback shows were awash with self-deprecatory humour, acknowledging the doubts some people had regarding their motives for the reboot. But in the end they needn’t have worried, since tonight’s Different Class-heavy set doesn’t only do justice to their back catalogue — and paint an electrifying portrait of a performer reborn — it also transcends the nostalgia that inevitably surrounds such an event, thanks to Cocker’s expression of unity with popular sentiment.
Truth is, the band could scarcely have picked a better platform on which to resurrect their bitterly acerbic, socialist pop. Even more than the UK, Spain in 2011 is a picture of economic and political disarray. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s leftist PSOE party were comprehensively routed at the regional and municipal elections, with anger boiling over at his perceived mismanagement of the economic crisis. The result paves the way for a likely People’s Party (PP) victory in the forthcoming general elections — another triumph for Europe’s resurgent right — but even that story fails to take into account the million spoiled or blank votes tendered at the polls, which in turn reflects the reality of the 15-M protests that have been gathering pace throughout the country since May 15. Economic growth is sluggish in the wake of Zapatero’s drastic cuts, unemployment is stalled at 21 per cent (as opposed to 7.8 per cent in the UK at last count), and protestors claim that half the country’s amply well-educated youth is unable to find work.
On the Primavera festival site as well as in the city, reality makes its presence felt; banners showing their support for protesters in the scenic alleyways of the Barri Gotic and on portaloo doors alike. A walk up the tourist-friendly Carrer de Ferran gives out onto an impressively vocal (and lightly policed) protest outside the Catalan government seat. And one early-hours foray onto the Plaça de Catalunya (completely by accident, we’re not treading in George Orwell’s footsteps just yet) reveals the vibrant site of Barca’s 15-M protest, already into its second week by the time of our arrival.
When a Barcelona resident and friend of The Stool Pigeon informs us that 100 people were injured the following day (Friday May 27) when police rolled up — ostensibly to clean the square before letting protesters back in — we are shocked to say the least. The site had looked to be in respectable shape only the night before, and there was no hint of an aggressive mood as we walked among the scores of people camped out for the evening. The banners hardly struck a chord of terror, either; ‘Yes, we camp!’ and ‘Poco pan para tanto chorizo’ (‘So little bread, so many crooks’) being choice among them.
In a country where any act of public aggression from the police inevitably raises the spectre of Franco’s Guardia Civil, such an incident is bound to mobilise support for the (admittedly ambiguous) 15-M cause — and, at the risk of sounding glib, Jarvis hit all the right notes in dedicating ‘Common People’, his definitive statement of underclass bile, to their efforts. As the man himself puts it at the beginning of the band’s set: “It’s not about ancient history, it’s about making history.” What happens next is anyone’s guess.