AS a 22 year-old graduate fresh out of university, Russell Senior seemed to have the world at his feet.
Instead, when he returned home to Sheffield in 1984, he found the city on its knees. "A lot of factories were closing and there was a palpable air of gloom. My dad was a steelworker had he been made redundant. I was quite political at the time and I was angry about what was happening," he says.
"The Government had a go at the steelworkers first, then the railway workers and then the miners who were always going to be the toughest nut to crack. So when the miners' strike started, I went to the NUM headquarters and volunteered my services and said, 'What do you want me to do?'"
He was seconded to Nalgo (National Association of Local Government Officers) which ran minibuses through the night taking people to the picket lines and spent the next 12 months as one of the flying pickets. "I was there from the first day to the last when the miners marched back to work with their heads held high," he says.
Senior, who went on to spend 13 years with Sheffield indie band Pulp, is one of the guest speakers tomorrow on the final day of a conference hosted by Leeds University, discussing the consequences of the miners' strike. Several of Pulp's songs are featured in a documentary, The Beat is the Law, which charts the Sheffield music scene during the '80s set against the backdrop of the strike.
For Senior, it was a pivotal time in his life as 1984 was also the year he joined the band. "The two dovetailed, so I was in what was at the time a small band and by night I was out supporting the miners. It was an odd kind of life," he admits. "It was a privilege in a way to be there and at times I felt like Woody Allen's character Zelig, who appears at different historic events, because there were occasions I'd find myself sitting behind Arthur Scargill on a coach heading to a picket line. It felt like an important struggle."
As a frontline picket he witnessed numerous clashes between police and miners, the worst of which was at the infamous Battle of Orgreave. "You could tell something was going to happen. The police formed this shield wall and it was like witnessing a scene from a medieval battle. We'd not seen anything like this in Britain, it was the kind of thing you'd associate with Pinochet's Chile. The way they set about the miners was quite frightening. I was brought up to respect the police, but I changed my mind that day."
When the strike finally ended in 1985, Senior focused on his musical career. "I wanted the band to be world beaters and it was a full-time job, I wasn't just pootling about. The same kind of angst that went in to supporting the miners' strike went into the band."
But although Pulp, and in particular charismatic frontman Jarvis
Cocker, went on to enjoy huge success in the '90s, it was a long, hard slog. "It was fairly grim in the early years when we were desperately trying to get off the ground. I've played more concerts to 50 people than I have to 10,000," says Senior, the band's former guitarist and violinist.
"The best bands often have quite a lot of tension and that was the case with us. We didn't really fit in with other bands and it was only when Britpop started that we found some other kindred spirits." But just as the band was at the height of its popularity following the release of Different Class, Senior decided to quit in 1997. "I liked the idea of ending on a high, I didn't want to slowly fade away."
Senior is still on friendly terms with his former bandmates, but these days the 48 year-old, who lives in Sheffield with his partner and two children, prefers a quieter life and is concentrating on writing his first novel.
However, reflecting on the miners' strike he believes that only now – a quarter-of-a-century after it finished – is it being reassessed. "The miners were portrayed as this brutal mob of football hooligans," he says. "Someone said at the time that in 20 years they will tell the
truth about this – when it's too late."