Page last updated at 09:46 GMT, Saturday, 9 May 2009 10:46 UK

Jarvis exhibits the art of rock

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

Jarvis Cocker in Paris

"Anyone brought their instruments?"

This, as Jarvis Cocker suggests, is no ordinary gig.

The professor of pop is with his band on a small stage in the corner of a one-room art gallery on a Paris side street.

He asks those in the audience with instruments to form an orderly queue at the side of the stage.

First up is a French boy called Michel, who plugs in his guitar. "You start," Jarvis tells him as his mum and younger brother look on. "We'll join in."

Michel looks dumbfounded and terrified. Jarvis eventually strikes up a rhythm on his keyboard and the boy gets into the groove.

At the end of the five-minute jam, he gets a huge cheer from the hundred or so onlookers who have gathered in the gallery.

They have come to watch, and join in with, Jarvis' latest show, which is part musical experiment and part art happening.

As his old Britpop cohorts Blur and Oasis prepare for massive outdoor gigs, the former Pulp singer is occupying the Gallerie Chappe in Montmartre, the French capital's artists' quarter, for six hours a day for six days.

He says he is trying to find out what happens when a rock group moves out of the concert arena and into the gallery, and when the barriers between a band and their fans are broken down.

Jarvis Cocker with a young fan in Paris
Jarvis welcomed young musicians to jam with him on stage

As well as inviting strangers to jam on stage, he is offering to make up songs based on suggestions, and is letting people watch his band's rehearsals.

To top it off, he and his band are performing impromptu soundtracks to yoga, pilates, aerobics and children's classes in the gallery.

"People say the music industry's dead, you see," Jarvis explains. "So I thought, maybe that means it should move into an art gallery because maybe that's somewhere it can survive.

"Music is still this thing I use to express myself, so to me it's an artform.

"It's just an experiment and it seems to have gone quite well."

Jarvis may have a grey-flecked beard these days, but the lank-limbed movements are unmistakable, as is the Sheffield accent, even on the occasions on stage when it is speaking French.

He became a national icon with Pulp in the mid-1990s. Now, he divides his time between France and the UK, eats Marmite on baguette for breakfast, and is about to release his second solo album.

Normally, he would be behind closed doors right now, in rehearsals for a conventional tour, which starts at the end of this month.

Jarvis Cocker with a young fan in Paris
You get complete strangers - but if you play music with people you do build up some kind of relationship, and that's quite interesting
Jarvis Cocker

Instead, he is rehearsing in public. For the first couple of hours of every day, he and his band are on the gallery stage, presenting themselves as living exhibits as they run through their songs.

For that session, Jarvis barely registers that the audience are there. "The idea is that if you go into a gallery, the painting doesn't perform just for you," the singer says.

"You sit there and you look at it and you see what you get from it. So we tried to approach it in that way.

"We just do what we normally do, and it is up to the audience whether they want to sit there and watch it for an hour or leave in disgust after 30 seconds."

When the gallery opened on Friday, just two young French fans were sitting, watching quietly and carefully.

They were soon joined by 10, then 20, then 50, cross legged on the floor.

The crowd got more involved during the exercise sessions, which forced the band to play in new ways, Jarvis says.

"The yoga was quite laid back. Calm," Jarvis says. "That was quite mellow music without much of a beat."

When a bellydancer popped in on Thursday, she asked the group to give her a tune.

Jarvis Cocker in Paris
The ex-Pulp singer is about to release his second solo album

"She said it was good if there were tempo changes and a certain rhythm that goes with bellydancing, and it kind of worked, made us play a different way. We wouldn't have played something like that spontaneously.

"I had a listen to that last night and it sounded really good," Jarvis says.

The famously flamboyant frontman even gave local schoolchildren a lesson in on-stage antics while leading a children's dance class.

"That was probably the one where I was most nervous," he says. "Because kids, if you don't occupy their attention, then they'll just tear a place apart.

"I was slightly worried about that. But it went OK. It was a bit like Simon Says - they just had to copy my movements. And they did pretty well actually."

And then there is the open jam session. Following Michel is an 11-year-old boy called Simon on the trumpet and Amy, 25, with her acoustic guitar.

"You get complete strangers, but if you play music with people you do build up some kind of relationship with them, and that's quite interesting," Jarvis says.

"Communicating without words. Very nice."

'Lack of imagination'

The whole idea was in part an attempt to break the normal rock routine of writing an album, recording an album, playing concerts, doing interviews, and then starting the whole thing again.

"A lot of time people lack imagination and don't test themselves and I think that's a shame. So yeah it was an attempt to get away from that."

The songs composed with bellydancers and budding young musicians have all been recorded and may see the light of day - in some form - on future releases, while Jarvis is keen to repeat the experiment elsewhere.

But he adds: "I'm not claiming it's the future of rock music."

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