Jarvis Cocker on Sheffield's post-punk legends Artery
, July 9th, 2008 00:00
Artery are one of the great unsung bands of the post punk era, but found a champion in Jarvis Cocker, who invited them to close last year's Meltdown Festival. In this article for The Quietus, Cocker explains how Artery changed his life.
I first saw Artery on the 16th of August, 1980 at the Leadmill in Sheffield. I remember the date because, earlier in the day, Pulp had played their very first concert in Sheffield. We had to take our equipment home& I asked someone whether it was worth coming back later to see the bands who were playing in the evening. “ Well, Artery are playing “ they said, “ They’ve been going for ages, but I guess if you’ve never seen them before….”. Somehow that less–than- glowing endorsement whetted my appetite & I came back into town on the bus & witnessed one of the most important concerts of my life.
Artery at Jarvis Cocker's Meltdown, June 2007. Photo by Paul Lister
The stage was dark & there was lots of smoke which smelt like gone-off ice cream. I thought that maybe they were pumping some narcotic substance into the auditorium. The band took to the stage. People started screaming – not teenybopper screaming but full-throated, unhinged screaming. The band screamed back. Then they started playing. It was dense & rhythmic & kind of distorted. The guitarist walked out into the audience, still screaming, & making a hell of a racket. He was quite something - but it was the singer that I couldn’t take my eyes off. He was half-talking & half-singing. You couldn’t catch all the words but the ones you did fired the imagination: songs about someone going up in a hot-air balloon, a girl with fish that swam in & out of her eyes, Peter taking someone’s identical twin sister into the garden…
This wasn’t a concert – it was a ritual, a summoning of primal energies, a trip – all the things I’d hoped music could be.
There were stories here – strange glimpses of a mysterious world. And all the time that almost physically overpowering music: the drums were heavy, the bass distorted, a Vox Continental organ floated somewhere miles above it all.
And now the singer was writhing on the floor of the stage or screaming the words directly into someone’s face or threatening to launch himself from the top of one of the speaker stacks. I’d never seen anything like it before; this wasn’t a concert – it was a ritual, a summoning of primal energies, a trip – all the things I’d hoped music could be. And then some.
I last saw Artery on the 23rd of June 2007 at the Royal Festival Hall in London. I remember the date because, earlier in the evening, I had played a concert to close the Meltdown festival I curated that year. Getting Artery to reform & play at the festival was only right: without their inspiration a lot of what took place in the intervening years probably wouldn’t have happened. Sometimes you see something & it opens a door somewhere in your head. I hope this does the same for you.
Jarvis Cocker June 11th 2008
A live recording of Artery's triumphant Royal Festival Hall concert is available from their website.
Vintage footage of Atery performing 'Afterwards' in Sheffield