Pulp non-fiction: Why I walked away from band that made me a rock star

Russell Senior, guitarist in Pulp.
Russell Senior, guitarist in Pulp.
  • He walked away from music and ended up selling antiques, but 20 years on from Britpop Russell Senior tells Daniel Dylan Wray why he is ready to talk about Pulp at last.
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When I meet with Russell Senior – the one-time guitar player and violinist of Sheffield’s legendary band Pulp – it is exactly 20 years to the day that the group released Different Class. Reaching number one in the charts, it saw the band catapulted into the big time and anthemic tracks like Common People and Disco 2000 became a soundtrack to the decade.

Senior can’t recall what he was doing on that day in particular, “I think I was home and it came on the radio and my daughter jumped up and down,” he says a little vaguely. The slightly fuzzy memory is forgivable and not just because Britpop and the days of Cool Britania are long gone. It’s also because for some time Senior disassociated himself from the group that he had helped shape. After frontman Jarvis Cocker’s infamous incident at the Brits in 1997, which saw him invade the stage where Michael Jackson was performing and with the Britpop bubble looking set to burst, Senior left the group that same year.

He severed his ties so completely that he says he was not even aware of what his old bandmates were up to.

“I put Pulp down big time,” he says. “Also, my car was broken into shortly after I left the band when I was staying at Candida’s (Doyle, also a Pulp member) house. My clothes were stolen as was my Filofax. I didn’t have a contact for anyone and I didn’t have any clothes, so it was like an enforced, monastic existence. I suddenly found I had this new life.”

Senior found a new career as an antiques dealer, although he did rejoin Pulp in 2011 for the band’s hugely successful reunion tour. Having put enough distance between himself and the Britpop heyday, he has also released a book, Freak Out the Squares: Life in a Band Called Pulp, a wickedly funny series of reflections and observations of his time in the band, from his joining in 1983 through to his tour bus tales on the reunion.

“I’d never typed in Pulp into the internet before this book,” he says, reinforcing just how divorced he had become from music. However, it was the 2011 tour that was the impetus for putting pen to paper.

“I’d always felt that I should write a book about Pulp and the scene but never quite found a way in. I was in the band for 14 years before I left and so much happened that to chronicle it all would have been a huge, confusing read. However, during the course of that 2011 tour I kept a few diaries and was inevitably reminded of past times. Suddenly it seemed to flow quite naturally.”

Many books reflecting on a life in music can end up as a platform for bitterness and score settling but Senior set out with a number of clear cut rules. The first one, he says was ‘Don’t be horrible’.

“If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all. To say all the nasty things would have taken too long. When you’re in a band for a long time, there’s a lot of boredom, a lot of tetchiness and that’s not that interesting,” he 
says, before finishing off jokingly with, “So I thought to myself be a nicer person that I actually am.”

Senior was also determined to capture the fizz and excitement of the Britpop years, something he feels has been lost a little bit over time.

“I’ve watched a number of television programmes about Britpop and I found them horrifying because they made it seem lame and anodyne. They didn’t capture the sense of static charge and possibility and the blur of getting lost in the whirl of it.”

The blur and the whirl was largely musical and creative from Senior’s perspective and for those hoping for a tell-all expose of excess may need to look elsewhere.

“One of the really shocking things is probably how little excess there was. Having been pressed for more sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, the truth is most people had partners and it wasn’t hedonistic in the way some people would like it to have been. It wasn’t the 70s. It wasn’t all snorting drugs and groupies, sometimes it’s just watching Casualty and doing your ironing. The book is quite frank in that way.”

The charm of Senior’s book is in the humour 
and the details, such as finding out that he kept a life-sized cardboard cut out of Vic Reeves at the top of his stairs to deter burglars.

However, his memory did lead him astray during the process.

“When I went to check the facts I realised I’d got a lot of things wrong and had to correct them. One thing about doing this book is that it’s made me realise how much false memory we have, you remember things that you never did.”

Senior compares the writing process to the song writing one in some senses.

“In a way it was a little bit like constructing a pop song, it’s very easy to dirge along and make something really depressing but making something with a bit of fizz, keeping the lightness going, is hard. It was a bit like a soufflé that started to sag, so even though there were nice bits I wanted to leave in I had to keep them out. It’s a deceptively light read, I think.”

Senior didn’t do the entirety of Pulp’s reunion tour, intentionally ducking out early like he did back in 1997.

“I know how hard it is to leave something and how easy it is to keep on at the party when the drink is running out and the conversation is running low, I just got it into my head that I didn’t want to get drawn back into it as a career. There was a nice purity about doing those things and then getting the hell out, I was more attached to the romance of knowing when to quit.”

It meant Senior missed the group’s last ever UK show, a hometown show at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena in December 2012.

“It’s a real shame to not have played Sheffield,” he admits, but doesn’t look back with any sense of regret. “I also like the fact that there’s things you haven’t done, that there’s a stone left unturned. There’s a certain kind of poetic beauty to not doing everything and to not go everywhere.”

Senior says that the rest of the band were broadly receptive and helpful to him when hearing the news of him writing a book.

“They weren’t letting off fireworks or anything but they were OK and occasionally helpful and I had reassured them from the start that it wasn’t a nasty book,” he says.

Now that the book is finished and released, have the other Pulp members received a copy of the book and what do they think?

“They have been sent a copy. I’ve not had any feedback yet so I don’t know if they’re still talking to me or not but there’s not reason they shouldn’t be, I could have wielded the dagger a lot more than I did,” he adds with a laugh.

• Freak out the Squares: Life in a Band Called Pulp is published by Aurum Press priced £18.99.