Russell Senior, Pulp’s guitar and violin player, has released one of the best music books of the year. Here he reflects on his time in the band, and reveals his biggest takeaways.


Russell Senior, Pulp’s guitar and violin player, has quietly released one of the best music books of the year. Freak Out the Squares: Life in a band called Pulp is an acerbic, witty and playful book that looks back on his time in the group (’83 -’97) following Pulp from their early days as they hammered away endlessly in the pubs and clubs of Sheffield – often with little recognition – through to their monumental breakthrough to becoming one of the biggest and (rightfully) enduring bands of the ’90s. Like the core of the band itself, its bite often comes in its Northernisms, a sense of humour derived equally from deadpan quips as it does from the Dadaist experiments Senior took part in so frequently as youngster. As you would expect from someone who was as seemingly passionate about supporting the miners’ strikes as he was about his sunglasses collection, Senior is a unique character and it transpires in his prose too.

Below are 10 extracts from the book, as selected by Senior, that tally up some lessons he has learnt from being in Pulp over the years.

1. Always spend your advance wisely.

Island Records finally took the plunge and signed us up for five albums – a major champagne corks moment. After many years in the wilderness, I got my priorities right and went straight to a theatrical outfitters to buy the biggest stage-mirror money could buy and every conceivable accoutrement a professional make-up artist could own. Over 10 per cent of the band’s advance was spent on make-up and the glitter mines of Moldova cancelled all leave.

2. There’s no such thing as brown light.

In the absence of somebody proper to do the job I became de facto booking agent, which is a little like trying to get indecisive octopi into a very small jar. Jarvis and I scoped out the venue in preparation for the show. There was a conflict about the lighting. Jarvis was adamant that he wanted ‘brown’ light and I was convinced that no such thing existed, arguing that brown was black and orange, and black was the absence of light – so brown light was merely dim orange light.

However, after much debate, brown lighting gels were actually found and Jarvis got his ‘brown’ light – or dim orange if you are a rational being.

3. Gangsters are much better people to deal with than hippies.

If the promoter has a sheepskin coat, a ruddy face, a cigar, and owns greyhounds and a chain of nightclubs from Batley to Cleethorpes, then the treatment will be OK, and he’ll probably send a crate of beer back for you. If they’ve got a nose piercing and have just come back from backpacking in Machu Picchu, then you are in trouble.

4. Never trust a man in beef coloured spectacles.

‘Common People’ was selling well midweek and someone in Island Records’s marketing department dreamt up a radical new strategy: take the records out of the shops. We went into the offices and an enthusiastic young man with beef-coloured spectacle frames explained this counterintuitive plan using lots of buzz words, but we really couldn’t understand it. We’d spent years trying to get our records into shops.

5. Always take a good musician with you when you buy a guitar.

My guitar is stolen and Richard Hawley of The Longpigs is so furious that he smashes up our dressing room. I’m not that bothered; it’s just a guitar, a tool to do a job. I haven’t called it ‘Lucille’, or polished it lovingly with finest Manuka beeswax. So that’s the kind of guy Richard is, a complete drama queen, but fiercely loyal to his many friends and passionate about guitars. Whenever I’ve bought a guitar I’ve always taken Richard with me. I stumble through ‘Smoke On the Water’ on the bottom string, then Richard plays ‘All along the Watchtower’ with his knob, better than Hendrix, and the shop gets out all their nice guitars. Richard gets out his micrometer and takes measurements and tells them that it’s the 1963 import, when they switched to using mahogany instead of rosewood, and the price comes down. Then I buy an amp because I think it’s pretty. Richard approves of my purchase because it’s got a ‘very full bass response’, whatever that is, then tears his hair out because I turn the bass down to zero to get the tinniest sound possible.

6. Galleries Lafayette is NOT a strip club.

Jack wants to go to a strip club and we intend to oblige him. But, as neither Ralph nor I are great habitués of such places, we don’t know the form. One imagines a French strip club has more pizzazz and is less seedy than one back home. There are a couple advertised in the hotel brochure but it’s all in French and we can’t tell whether the Pink Palace is a gay club, so we opt for the one with the classiest models, which is called ‘Gallery Lafayette’ – but the lighting is too bright and the girls turn out to be surprisingly coy, though they do spray you with perfume, which is an overrated kink.

7. When everyone is going on about how boring a place is then it’s the most happening place on earth.

After shows, bands will either be gloomy or ecstatic but almost always intensely facetious. You may be a big cheese, but this doesn’t mean that an overtired, undersexed musician isn’t going to tell you your tie is vile, make a cack-handed pass at you, pretend that you’re a waiter, or vomit on your Gucci’s, because if you sell records they like you and if you don’t, then… well, nothing. Maybe the way down is a little softer but who the hell cares about that?

Anyone who does anything remotely glamorous has, or affects, an air of bored nonchalance and goes on about what a drag it all is. This is supposed to signify ‘Hey, I’m not industry’, or ‘Hey, I’m industry, but I’m cool.’ Everything is either cool or it sucks.

A perky little man with a neatly trimmed beard says: ‘Hey, I’m your publisher, if you’re ever in Seattle drop into the offices and…[observing my face] we’ll bore you’.

8. Don’t fall in with the wrong crowd.

We have a joke fight which knocks a bottle of tomato juice off the table and it shatters on the floor, making a glorious bloody mess. This is funny and Steve goes, ‘Fuckin’ tomato juice,’ and throws one at the wall, then stands back, a bit sheepish. At this point, in walk Blur, who join in the mayhem. All the tomato juice and Cinzano gets smashed, in a parody of a Tarantino movie – and it’s all very funny and quite a cathartic reliever of tension. Then the festival organisers walk in. They don’t shout or get angry, they explain that they are all unpaid volunteers who just do this for the love of it…and we are very, very, very, sorry indeed.

They’re a bad influence, that Blur.

9. Stay in Blighty.

Time is called on the interview by the leather-clad lady, who turns out to be the rep from the record company. I do prefer the German way of doing things – they have their allocated slot, then they bugger off and leave you to it. It’s all very efficient and it does run on time. But, like many things on tour, if you’re not in the mood for it, it can wind you up immensely. After the show she-who-must-be-obeyed collars the very tired and drunk Steve in the lift, insisting that he fill out some kind of questionnaire. He is indignant, bemused (and, I suspect, slightly aroused) by this.

The day after I’m practicing my violin, swishing the bow back and forth to make helicopter noises, and the rep takes umbridge: ‘Just because I wear leather does not mean that I am into S&M and domination and I think people’s sexual preferences are their own business!’ She storms off. Whoever said that travel broadens the mind should get out more. In our experience it only confirms the stereotypes. When people write to us from Germany, it is usually on graph paper.

10. Everything that happens in ‘Spinal Tap’ happens in real life.

See book for details. (May not actually contain relevant details).

Freak Out the Squares: Life in a band called Pulp by Russell Senior. Published by Aurum Press, £18.99, is out now.

Loud And Quiet has a goody bag of amazing Pulp memorabilia to give away (see below). It contains original posters, flyers, gig tickets and a copy of ‘They Suffocate at Night’ on 7″ – all from Russell Senior’s personal collection. See Twitter/Loudandquietmag for details of how to win.



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