Byline: DAMON SYSON
IF you happened to walk down Oxford Street on Monday morning two weeks ago, you might have seen him - a lonely figure dressed head to toe in a skeleton outfit, pacing the pavement and waving a placard saying: "Brothers and sisters, you ain't heard nothing like this before."
Was the man behind the mask in fact a pop legend travelling incognito? I had been reliably informed that I would find Darren Spooner, front man of underground combo Relaxed Muscle, better known to fans as "the sound of young Doncaster".
He was, as arranged, underneath the Selfridges clock tower at 9am, but I knew I had been hoodwinked. This character was five inches too short and his accent hailed from the wrong side of the Pennines. You may be wondering why I bothered. The reason is that Darren Spooner is the bizarre alter ego of Jarvis Cocker, former front man of Pulp, now a semi-retired emigre engaged in a protracted joke at the expense of the British public.
Although Pulp split with their record company, Island, in 2001 after disappointing sales, and are officially "on hold", Cocker has been unable to resist a return from his two-year selfimposed pop exile.
Once an anti-Establishment figurehead, Cocker quickly withdrew once he realised how much part of the Establishment he and his band had become.
Jarvis became renowned for attending premieres, book launches and well-to-do parties. And yet here he is, back up on stage, albeit in the guise of a gothlike figure whose show involves karate-chopping balsa wood, breaking fake bottles over his head and shouting: "I'm dead, I'm dead," between songs.
Cocker now lives in Paris with his wife, fashion stylist Camille Bidault-Waddington, and their baby son Albert. His press officer was reluctant to confirm that Cocker and Spooner were one and the same. "He has played only two gigs," said the agent, "though he's hoping to appear in a battle of the bands competition in the South Yorks area later this summer - once his electronic tag has been removed. Any upcoming London dates will be advertised via cards in phone boxes.'' My request for an interview with Darren Spooner was refused, despite the recent release of his new triple Aside single, Billy Jack/Sexualised/ Year Of The Dog.
Spooner, it seems, is determined to remain a shadowy figure. Clearly all this art-school japery is terribly funny and deceptively clever in a multi-layered, ironic kind of way.
Yet maybe the 39-year-old singer's latest project isn't merely the "laugh" everyone says it is. For if we look beneath the surface of the Darren Spooner phenomenon, you can glean a lot about Cocker's emotional state, and the extraordinary journey that took him from obscurity to stardom and back to obscurity after a spectacular fall from grace.
Jarvis was born in 1963 in Sheffield. His mother, Christine, brought him and his sister, Saskia, up alone after his father left for Australia when Jarvis was seven. He enjoyed quite a bohemian upbringing: his mother had been to art school but, forced to bring up two children, spent her days emptying fruit machines in local pubs and clubs.
ALWAYS the outsider, Jarvis was marked out by his long hair and eccentric home-made clothes, including a favourite pair of lederhosen. …