London exhibition mines ephemera from Jarvis Cocker’s past

The musician explores the early roots of his creativity and shares photos and writings from his youth in the exhibition at the Gallery of Everything in London

Pulp Ticket © Mantis Inc (1980), 2022, Jarvis Cocker

Titled Good Pop, Bad Pop – The Exhibition, Cocker’s London show is tied into the release of his new memoir, which is focused on his childhood and youth in Sheffield and the early years of Pulp.

While the band is synonymous with 1990s Britpop, it was actually formed in 1978 and the time period of the book comes to a close in 1986, before the band experienced mainstream success. So its story is less a wild ride into pop fame, and more an exploration of the roots of Cocker’s creativity, and life in 70s Britain.

Included in the memoir are a series of photos and images of ephemera that Cocker found stored away in his attic, the clearing out of which fed directly into the book. “The thing that makes it a bit more interesting,” he told the Guardian, “is that because it’s based on real, tangible objects, sometimes it triggered memories that wouldn’t have voluntarily come up. It wasn’t just the party line I was giving.”

Jarvis in Sheffield Wednesday Kit (Sheffield 1970), 2022, Hugh Hoyland
1980 Exercise Book / Pulp Praying Mantis (p14), 2022, Jarvis Cocker

A number of these objects are now on display at the Gallery of Everything, an unusual space which describes itself as “a platform for alternative, neurodiverse and non-academic art-makers”. The show includes a recreation of Cocker’s teenage bedroom, as well as artefacts, photos and musical instruments. There is also the Periodic Table of Influences, a series of images of ‘elements’ that make up Cocker’s story, including broken glasses, a Marmite lid, and a beer mat from an early Pulp concert scribbled with the set list.

On sale at the gallery are prints of sketches and drawings editioned by Jarvis, a set of modern colour prints of original photographs by Hugh Hoyland, and a poster of Jarvis’ Periodic Table of Influences.

Perhaps the most illuminating items in the exhibition come from a school exercise book where Cocker idly sketched logos for the band as well as detailed drawings of the ‘Pulp Wardrobe’.

1980 Exercise Book / Pulp Wardrobe (p4), 2022, Jarvis Cocker
1980 Exercise Book / The Pulp Master Plan (p8, 10), 2022, Jarvis Cocker

Included alongside this is ‘The Pulp Master Plan’, a two-page handwritten description of Cocker’s hopes for the band. The tone of the text is formal but its words are prescient. “The group shall work its way into the public eye by producing fairly conventional, yet slightly off-beat, pop songs,” he writes.

Cocker then lays out his plan for Pulp’s success to be a vehicle for others to make it in the industry too. “Its aim will be to demystify the recording process and give the opportunity for new talent to emerge.”

There is something wonderfully ordinary about these relics of Cocker’s past – it’s easy to believe that many an attic across the UK may contain similar hopes and dreams for bands which sadly never came to fruition. Thankfully, Cocker’s did, to the benefit of us all.

Mac Sending the Kids into Space (Portsmouth 1970), 2022, Hugh Hoyland
Jarvis in the Playground (Dronfield Park 1969), 2022, Hugh Hoyland

“If it could be represented in visual terms, the contents of my brain would probably resemble the contents of this loft,” he writes in a text accompanying the show. “A jumble of things with no one factor in dominance – it’s the mix that’s important. Seemingly inconsequential items can end up having long-term effects if added to the mix in the right quantities.”

Good Pop, Bad Pop – The Exhibition is on show at the Gallery of Everything in London until May 29;