Wanna look like common people? Former Pulp member Russell Senior spills on the band’s Britpop style inspirations
Russell Senior was the secret coolest member of Pulp. Back in Britpop’s heyday, when Jarvis Cocker was a spindly ever-present on Top of the Pops, Senior could be seen stage-left in a pair of Charles Jourdan sunglasses, blithely sawing at his violin like a member of the Velvet Underground on loan. In fact, the musician was instrumental in shaping the sexy, shopworn look that Pulp perfected in the early-mid 90s, a look that’s weathered better than other, more leisurewear-inclined strains of the Britpop aesthetic. An occasional antiques dealer with a weakness for “Scandi-modernism” and an eye for a dashingly cut suit, Senior bowed out of the band in 1997, after their “Common People”-era peak, before returning for their triumphant comeback shows of 2011/12 – here, he looks at some of the inspirations behind the band’s mismatched aesthetic.
TAKE A BAG TO A JUMBLE-SALE AND FILL IT UP
“We were all great lovers of jumble sales, although we kind of abhorred each other’s tastes – Jarvis would always look at suits like, ‘Look how wide these lapels are!’, and I’d be like, ‘Christ, what does he look like?’ You don’t know what you’re going to find at a jumble sale. You’re going to get things that other people aren’t wearing – you’re not choosing it so much, you’re just getting this random bag of stuff and then you get a new version of yourself. I used to enjoy the idea of being really conservative in my dress-sense – you could be a revolutionary communist dressed like a bank manager with a briefcase! I really did have a briefcase, by the way.
“Jumble-sale chic was a term that got applied to us a lot. It wasn’t just a poverty thing, it was a pride thing. We would come in and go, ‘My underwear cost more than my outfit!’ (Our look) was kind of artless, it was whatever you chanced upon, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have an intellect about it. We were proud of our cheapness!”
CHOOSE TIGHT OVER BAGGY
“Baggy was a genre but it was also a kind of look...or a ‘non-look’. For a while (in the early 90s) our music was quite baggy – we were using that kind of wah-wah sound. So we became quite popular in Manchester, but even though we liked the music we had this contrary thing of wanting to be different – like, all the band t-shirts at the time were really baggy, so we went the other way, but it was hard finding t-shirts as tight as we wanted them.”
IF YOU’RE IN A BAND, COPY YOUR AUDIENCE
“Our audience influenced our look a lot. People would come to our concerts in feather boas and they would end up finding their way into our photoshoots. Or you’d have girls in the audience with necklaces made out of sweets and they’d be carrying Barbie dolls, but they weren’t 15 years old, they would be 23 and doing a degree in postmodern irony! We had Love Hearts thrown at us at shows, so we ended up getting plates made in the form of Love Hearts for one of our videos. We were getting things sent in the post – Candida (Doyle, keyboardist) got jars of kitsch jewellery from people who were picking up on the fact that we were just like them, finding our style on a budget. We had cool audiences, they were often very interesting people. And we fed back into it – our look would give people a bit of boldness, just to walk through town in those outfits. It something that’s articulated best in the ‘Misshapes’ video.”
TRY TO BE A MOD, BUT DON'T TRY TOO HARD
“Mod became a big current in Britpop through bands like Blur and Menswear. I’d always liked the clobber, but I didn’t conceive of myself as a mod until I went to the seaside on bank holidays and found that rockers were looking at me funny. I used to wear Union Jack socks before it became a Britpop symbol, just because I thought it looked good. Then there was the famous cover of Select with Brett Anderson against the backdrop of the Union Jack that really crystallised the feeling, and then 18 months later Oasis had a guitar with a Union Jack on it. I just thought that was a bit try-hard.”
IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE GLAM, BE TRASHY
“We all had this idea that Top of the Pops had gotten boring around 1973, when people stopped wearing outrageous outfits. But our take on glam was rather shamefully not Bowie and Roxy Music, it was the kind of glam that will forever be lodged in some town outside Birmingham, like The Glitter Band, Slade and Sweet. But there was pathos in that.
“We were into all that twisted funfair stuff. Glitter for us wasn’t just shiny, it was seedy – it was, like, the guy making a snuff in a garage on the outskirts of town, if you know what I mean? It was the David Lynch take on glamour. Jarvis loved all the frilly-shirted 70s stuff, which I hated because you end up looking like a working men’s club turn and that was exactly what I was trying to get away from. Mates I knew from school were playing in those sorts of bands, so the idea that you’d skate anywhere near that was absurd to me. But that was part of the tension in the band. And it was a good tension, I think.”
GET ALL YOUR SUITS TAILORED
“This was later, when we had a bit more money to throw around – but of course, the suits would all be based on the jumble-sale suits we loved that were falling to bits. There’s great joy to getting a suit made. It’s working out all the little nuances, like whether you want 13 and a half inches at the bottom of your trousers or if you can get away with a 13 – but will that make you look like a comedy mod? People did say a number of times that I was the best-dressed man in Britpop, which was nice but I also used to think, ‘Well there isn’t much competition!’”
FOOL PEOPLE INTO BELIEVING YOU’RE SEXY
“You can see it in the pictures with Jarvis. He looks like a gawky freak one day and in the next photoshoot he’s being the Jarvis you know. My Auntie Val, who liked spivs and wide-boys, had had this crush on Jarvis for a while, and we were like, ‘What are you talking about? He looks like a bad pub comedian!’ but she loved it. Jarvis started announcing it from the stage – ‘This is for Auntie Val!’ The week after he was Jarvis the sex symbol. But then he’d come offstage and he’d be clipping his toenails… The idea of this guy being a sex symbol made us burst out laughing, but he was, you know? I mean, there was a bit of postmodern irony from our fans in the whole ‘throw your knickers at Jarvis’ thing – it wasn’t really teenyboppers. But it ended up becoming the reality.”