Cocker In Cambridge

Jarvis Cocker could have said anything and still been amazing. COSMO GODFREE reacts to the indie heartthrob’s visit to Cambridge.

Cambridge cosmo godfree david's last summer jarvis cocker Lady Mitchell Hall lyrics poetry pulp sonic youth sorted for e's wickerman wizz

Wednesday 22nd February, Lady Mitchell Hall.

When Jarvis Cocker casually walked onto the stage, sat down and poured himself a glass of water, there were involuntary gasps all around the room, which quickly gave way to rapturous applause.

The man hadn’t even opened his mouth yet, but this is the sort of effect he was able to have on a packed lecture theatre. The anticipation for Jarvis? talk was clearly very high, and over the course of the next hour and a half, the man certainly didn’t disappoint.

Dressed, as always, like an impeccably dapper geography teacher, it seemed particularly appropriate that Jarvis had chosen to illustrate his presentation with a slightly temperamental PowerPoint.

For an introduction, he ran us through the bizarre story of the FBI investigation into the supposedly subversive lyrics of the Kingsmen song Louie Louie. Despite their suspicions that it might contain such obscene lines as, And on that chair I’ll lay her there / I felt my boner in her hair, they were never able to work out what the hell they were saying.

Jarvis can read French to me any time

It made me realise that I’d sung along to that song so many times before without actually having a clue what most of the words actually were, but still I’m none the wiser. Jarvis? point seemed to be that a song can be good without decent lyrics, but only if the music itself can stand up.

At first I found this a bit hard to comprehend – this coming from a man whose legendary command of the English language has seen him write some of my favourite lyrics of all time. And here he was telling us that they’re not really that important?

The one thing that stuck out though was Jarvis? decision to publish a collection of his lyrics resembling a poetry anthology, while at the same time emphasising that he didn’t consider them as poetry himself.

The liner notes for Pulp albums always contained the words, “NB. Please do not read the lyrics while listening to the recordings”, which is clearly linked to Jarvis? claim that lyrics cannot make a song on their own. But hey, he’s Jarvis Cocker – I think he’s earned at least a self-congratulatory pat on the back, and the book is filled with his illuminating annotations.


A large part of the talk was taken up by Jarvis reading excerpts from the collection, and I would imagine that this was the highlight of the evening for Pulp fans.

Avoiding the well-trodden path, he veered around the slightly more obscure parts of his discography, focusing on spoken-word epics such as Wickerman and David?s Last Summer, both of which were particularly powerful.

By comparison, the words to the classic Sorted for E?s and Wizz fell a bit flat in this context, possibly because it just feels inseparable from the music. Largely though this was a huge success, and the thrill of seeing Jarvis onstage was matched by his captivating delivery and, of course, the unique wit and eye for close detail that characterises so much of his work.

Jarvis is obviously a natural performer, and while there were no hip-thrusts on the agenda, his relaxed charm and charisma were in full evidence, and he held the audience’s attention very easily. One of the next in this series of lectures from famous lyricists will be given by Lee Ranaldo, guitarist in Sonic Youth. I’ve got high hopes, but it would be difficult to be both as enlightening and entertaining as Mr Cocker was tonight.