A Dose of Passion: Jarvis Cocker Is on Hand to Expand Radio 4's Sometimes Limited Horizons

Article excerpt

Zine Scene

Radio 4

It took a good, long break from Radio 4 for me to feel the spontaneous urge to switch it back on. The house had become flooded with verbiage, with "issues", with declamatory announcements, as though it had been towed under cover of darkness to Speakers' Corner. Radio 4, for all its apparent variety and world-curiosity, has a limited lexicon, tending to overuse the phrases "Gloucester Old Spot", "clematis" and "light-hearted", this last implying, not inaccurately, that the rest of the station's output is as heavy as a wet coat.

But switch on I did, and there was the voice of Jarvis Cocker, sounding to me like home. Not that I've ever lived in Sheffield, where he's from; it was more in the sense that he has a regional accent at all. You hear half-gulped generic "northern" voices all the time on Radio 4 trailers and (alleged) comedies, but few as unaffected and specific as Cocker's.

He's been an invaluable source of entertainment and enlightenment since my mid-teens, when I wrote to the fan-club address of his band, Pulp, and was rewarded with a handwritten message from its organiser, Mark Webber, and a limited-edition swatch of tweed from a discarded pair of Cocker's trousers. Webber, once a teenage fanzine writer, went on to become a Pulp guitarist, as did Russell Senior, whom Cocker credited at the start of his two-part documentary Zine Scene (15 and 22 January, 11.30am) as having helped Pulp's cause with a laudatory gig review in the Bath Banker, Senior's own 'zine.

"He sold it to me at the fish market where I was working," Cocker noted, neglecting to mention that he once wrote a song called "I Scrubbed the Crabs That Killed Sheffield".

Self-produced fan magazines began in the 1940s, written by science-fiction obsessives, but much later became an established part of Britain's underground music culture due to two things: punk rock and the photocopier. The first espoused doing it yourself; the second facilitated it. Cocker interviewed two senior academics whose research has brought them into contact with hen's-teeth artefacts such as Kitten Carousel, a feminist punk fanzine whose cover was lettered in pink nail varnish.

For the cultural historian Roger Sabin, fanzine creators are motivated by "avoiding censorship--they enjoy the total control they have over the content". …